Wednesday 24 October 2007

Magic Mallard Moment

Well, today is sort of a "Wordless Wednesday" on this blog.


Because I have to work all day, and today's work assignment is an especially tough one:

a) drive to the nearby city of Wolgast
b) find as many geese as you can
c) map their movements
d) bird all you can when there's no geese around

And as I have to leave early, like ... 10 minutes ago ... there'll be no more words but a handful of pictures I took two days ago of a drake Mallard on the Strelasund coast.

It's funny how it looks all beautiful and nice and smooth but changes into Daffy Duck the moment it shakes its head.

Monday 22 October 2007

Bird of the Month: Common Crane

The general as well as the birding public usually has a firm pattern of associations when suddenly confronted with a particular month. I give you a few examples. If I shouted "May", your thoughts would immediately shift to "Warblers!".
"August" - "Shorebirds/Waders!"
"October" - "Hawkwatch!"
"December" - "Gulling the local dump. Wait, I forgot: and Christmas!"

These associations are both individually and geographically variable but some are so dominant and obvious that they can be considered common knowledge. Like the month of October - and let me check my watch... yepp, it's about that time of the year right now - up here in the far North-East of Germany.

October to us is the month of the Common Crane, Grus grus.

As with so many bird species, this area of Germany must rate as one of the best to experience the migration of the Common Crane, which I will simply call "Crane" from now on in this post as it makes for more pleasant reading.
Basically all of the Scandinavian Crane population (and believe me: that's a lot) cross the Baltic Sea from Southern Sweden into this part of Germany to stay here for a few weeks, get fat in a decent way and then move on to the wintering areas of Spain or Morocco.
The largest concentrations can be found within the "Western Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park". Of course that is an awkward name and the German version sounds much nicer, but at least I was able to find a link to wikipedia in English here. I have tried to find other links to the area and its Cranes in English but failed miserably except for this one here, which is pretty useless.
Anyway, no links - more words.
Crane migration usually starts in the last days of September, peaks in late October and then numbers drop until almost all Cranes have left the area in early December. As with other bird species and staging areas, it is a constant coming and going here as some Cranes move on to Spain while others drop in from Sweden. The maximum number roosting here at a given time is around 45,000 in late October. This year is different however in that we have experienced a lot of coming but not much going yet, which translates to an all-time maximum count of 70,000 Cranes right now.
Some may think that's not all too impressive but while this may be true for species like locusts or even European Starlings, 70,000 birds the size of a Bald Eagle are a sight not easily forgotten.

The downside of all this however is that the Cranes are very strongly concentrated in a relatively small area, mostly north of Highway 105 between Stralsund and Ribnitz-Damgarten (in case you want to challenge GoogleEarth) and the West of the island of Rügen.
Other parts of Germany's North-East also get their share of Cranes, but flocks there will only number in the 100's or low 1,000's.
This year, despite the record numbers, I was not able to visit the main Crane areas, yet. This is why I have only a handfull of rather lousy, heavily cropped images.

Here we go, a group of Cranes the way I usually see them - a few hundred each day from my office window: flying high above the city of Stralsund.

The adults can be recognized by their nicely patterned neck and head: black and white stripes with a red dot on the head.
This year's young birds look more like Sandhill Cranes (sweet memories) in that their head is more uniformely rufous or brown. This is quite variable though and this particular young bird here is rather pale.
Still, neat.

When seen from behind, a Crane's head looks quite appealing, too:

Thinking about it: how much do you think such an image was worth if it was taken in Florida? Surely enough to take me up North and visit Clare, I presume!

The most exciting aspect of these high concentration of Cranes is to scan them for Nearctic or East Asian vagrants and on one lucky morning this year, I was fortunate enough to find a flock of 15 species right in downtown Stralsund. Here's the photographic proof:

Well, I might have just been kidding you. No, as a matter of fact, this migration corridor is so far off the corridors of the Common Crane's North American or Siberian cousins that there has - as far as I know - never been a single record of another species. All the same: Grus grus grus grus grus.
It's okay though. Nothing is perfect, not even Crane migration along the German Baltic sea coast.

Of course it's not all sweet Roses here for the Cranes and although they (and their food supply) are being managed, they also face a few dangers while staging here.
The most recent addition is the new bridge that connects Rügen to the mainland, right here in Stralsund.
This is an image of the bridge a few weeks ago:

It surely wasn't very friendly of the engineers to put these steel wires up right into a flight corridor of Cranes and in the mind of the general public (okay, make that: the minds of a few birders), the bridge is perceived as and thus called a "Crane Shredder".
Hmmm, of course we all think and hope it won't be too bad but if you have to take care of such a treasure, you don't like to see things like this...

After a few years of construction, the bridge was finally opened to the public last weekend with a huge opening ceremony and celebration. The whole bridge was illuminated and they had something like 30 searchlights that performed all sorts of patterns and movements not unlike a giant laser show. Here's what it looked like, and it was quite a sight for sure:

Despite the bridge, Germany is still a country where we take environmental impact assesments seriously and of course, the danger such searchlights might pose during the opening ceremony to migrating birds was accounted for.
To keep those flocks of thrushes and other songbirds from following the lights and colliding with the bridge, they had some huge fireworks to scare them off, and that must have helped for sure.
Here, again, is a little visual impression of the scene:

I hope you have enjoyed my little excursion into the migration of the truly Common Crane through my home patch.
It's early morning now, the sky is pink, I am at the office and the first flocks should soon arrive over the city, heading south towards their feeding grounds.
Therefore, no more blogging for now: I am off to do some office birding!

The New Bell Tower

This is it then, my first post from Germany. It's been quite a while, more than a month to be precise, and just about a month longer than I had thought it would take.
I have missed blogging quite a lot, and reading other birder's blogs, too.

During the last month, I would have rather been bird blogging or even birding, but then there were planes to catch, and apartments to find, and jobs to do and all sorts of other nasty things to cope with that left no room for putting down thoughts in words.
I am done with most of that now, except for the jobs to do which will still go on for about ... well ... 40 years or so, 30 if I am lucky. Still, I now feel I have just about enough spare time at hand to write a post.

So now, let me introduce you to the New Bell Tower, the current territory of yours truly.

For the moment and possibly the forseeable future, I reside in the beautiful city of Stralsund, on the German Baltic sea coast right next to the equally beautiful island of Rügen.
The old city of Stralsund -which together with Wismar is actually a UNESCO world heritage site - is positioned on a small island. The eastern side of the island is bordered by the so-called Strelasund, a narrow strait that separates the island of Rügen from the mainland. All the other "coasts" of the small island are actually artificial as they comprise of several ponds that were dug out hundreds of years ago to protect the city from unwelcome visitors, like foreign armies or the plague. People today hardly ever appreciate the peaceful times we're living in.
This map gives a rough yet artistic overview of the old city of Stralsund.

In case you were wondering: No, this is not how we still write today in Germany, that's just art to make the map look even more ancient and historic.
And this is a bird's eye view of it, admittedly a view a bird might get on a very cloudy day...

This sculpture was actually designed to allow blind visitors to experience the city's architecture, which I think is a very neat and rather fabulous idea. Beat that, NYC!

My new home after the Ann Arbor flat and the in-law's closet (where I was tolerated and allowed to stay for the first 3 weeks after my return to Germany) lies right at the city harbour on the coast of the Strelasund and can be seen here.

To give you a general impression of my new home patch, here's my route to work each day!

I get up far too early - you don't even want to know, but people are serious about work here - and look out of my bedroom window.
First thought: I'd rather be birding...

Then I drag myself into the livingroom/kitchen area and check the view towards the harbour and the Strelasund there.

Second thought: Darn, still too early in the season for an Ivory Gull at the harbour.

I finally leave the house (we don't have coffee there, only at the office, so that helps a lot) and walk through the inner city until I reach the ponds.
You can cross the belt of ponds at a handful of locations, but the most beautiful spot to cross them is the "White Bridges", and as my office is right next to the White Bridges, I choose that route each morning.

Not the worst of choices, I must say...

... especially when looking back towards the impressive St. Marie's church.

After another five minutes, I let myself fall into my office chair just to glance back at the inner city, the ponds and my beloved bed in the far too far distance:

Now, to the birding, at least a few words (and you knew I'd get there eventually):
Despite the fact that this is all happening within the core area of a 60,000 people settlement, the birding around the city isn't that bad.
Take the view from my office as seen above: the window list now stands at more than 120 species, mostly fly-by's but still nice.
And the White Bridges are always good for nice views of the more common species.
Like the Black-headed Gull, surely the most easily photographed wild bird in Germany.

I like them, I really do, and it might not be a pure coincidence that I chose a picture of a Black-headed Gull both for my first ever real post on Bell Tower Birding and my first ever post on the New Bell Tower Birding.

Full cirlce, I am back again!