Monday 8 March 2010

Thrush Saturation Saturday

As every week has begun since the beginning of time, I went to visit the Best Bird of the Weekend post on 10,000Birds this Monday morning.
The problem is - as it is with every Monday morning visit since the beginning of time - that I seem to be the most trigger-happy commenting birder from the Olde Europe to do so, and as I am 6 to 10 hours ahead of North America the comments section is usually empty and I get to not read anything but write the first comment instead.
If I have something, or rather anything, to tell - a basic requirement only rarely met by myself not since the beginning of time but since moving away from the Baltic to shabby industrialized, built-up and crowded yet Central Park & Jamaica Bayless Heidelberg.
Not so this time, and after telling the world who wasn't willing to know what I wanted it to know on 10,000Birds, I found myself wondering why I didn't turn this comment into a post on my own blog.
So here we are now, not sure if being here was a smart decision in the first place but as we can always blame Monday morning, we might as well stay and see how things will develop.

I do realize that this blog of yours truly has been very rich in words recently and poor in pictures. Therefore, I'll just quickly copy and paste my aforementioned comment here and then follow up with the story in pictures.

What was your best bird of the weekend?
"I’ve had quite an interesting weekend around Leimen/Heidelberg, on my usual stroller stomping ground. We had a sudden re-emergence of winter Friday night with approximately 10 cm (4 inches) of snow, extremely unusual for March.
A lot of migrant songbirds in the surrounding mountains of the Odenwald got caught in this mess and decided to quickly dash down into the warmer valley of the Rhine. On early Saturday, during cloudy conditions and occasional flurries of snow, I watched a constant stream of small songbird groups making their way west, mostly thrushes (5 Turdus species, sadly no Ring Ouzle though) but also a few skylarks and - rarest of all - a Wood Lark. During the afternoon, conditions were better with blue skies and sun, but the entire landscape except for the roads and paths was still covered in snow.
Along my stroller route, I encountered more than 50 song thrushes searching for snacks right beside the road. This is great as I’d normally be happy to see more than 2!
On Sunday, the entire show was over with just 8 song thrushes during the morning walk and only 1 in the afternoon.

So, I guess Song Thrush, despite being a very common bird, deserves to take the cake as best bird of the weekend.
However, I’ve also had a fabulous observation of a Common Buzzard and found the nest of a Long-tailed Tit. The latter is good to know in case a certain birder from New York shows up with vendetta on his mind…"

This is not what one expects to be greeted by upon leaving their apartment in southern Germany around the middle of March, but it certainly wasn't enough to deter me from my plans of going for a stroller walk with my son - weekend quality time is weekend quality time and always will be weekend quality time until the end of time. According to this post, New Yorkers would have died left, right, and centre in such a "blizzard" just by looking out of their apartment windows, but Leimen is not New York. Definitely and clearly not.

I will freely admit there were times during the walk when I questioned my decision to just ignore the snow and literally push on.

Especially as the landscape did not specifically hold out the promise of many birds.
... of any birds.

This Great Spotted Woodpecker only gave its presence away by its pertinent scolding. No, I did not mean to write "impertinent".

Looking at the state of its habitat, I can't deny I had sympathy for the old grump, despite being of a more sunny inclination myself even on winter days in March. There was clearly spring in the air, okay? Even if there weren't any gulls around to set (purely potential) doubters right. Yeah, right!
And yes, the tiny spot up there, that's it. No, not spring. I mean the woodpecker.

Unlike the weather and conditions on ground and tree, the sky was on fire. Apparently the weather was even worse in the surrounding mountains of the Odenwald and was actively pushing migrant songbirds down into the Rhine valley. Well, it might not have been pushing them actively, but if ever there were songbirds on a mission to get from somewhere to somewhere else and get there fast, it was last Saturday and it was around Leimen. The majority of the fugitives were thrushes, mostly Fieldfares as in the picture above, but with plenty of Song Thrushes mixed in, a few Blackbirds, an odd Mistle Thrush or two and even at least one Redwing.

Stupid Fieldfares, mistaking Leimen for Lisbon and coming down to roost.

This all happened before the high noon nap of my son. However, dad's weekend quality time doesn't end there, it goes on until bedtime and specifically includes an extensive afternoon stroller tour as well. And sure enough, times had changed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., as seen in the two pictures below. The small and lovely flurry of snow .... ahem, I mean the ferocious and totally deadly blizzard of the millennium, for potential New Yorkers reading this, had ceased to shed its white shroud over the landscape and a ricocheting spring had managed to at least reclaim the roadsides.

This is Thrush Heaven, South Central.

Suddenly, there was grass! And boy, were the thrushes happy to see it. The grassy sides of the roads were literally covered in thrushes, mostly Song Thrushes with over 50 recorded where I'd normally be happy to encounter two during migrational days of excellence, but there were also a few Eurasian Blackbirds and a single Fieldfare who had lingered long enough to notice that those Fieldfares pushing on towards Lisbon were indeed the stupid ones...

In the above pictures, you can see a Blackbird with three Song Thrushes and three Song Thrushes with no Blackbird. The second picture may help you in figuring out which is which in the picture on top. Kidding. Look, the thrush isn't called "BLACKbird" for nothing, right?

Same game again: two Song Thrushes (identical bird) and a Eurasian Blackbird. I love Catharus thrushes. That's why I love the Song Thrush. The Song Thrush is not a Catharus thrush. But it reminds me of one, and beggars can't be chosers. Particularly those beggars residing in the moldy hell of Leimen. This is why even Blackbirds are more than fine, too.

Aaaand, the grand finale of our little crash course to Thrush Identification! Yupp, Song Thrush and Blackbird. Note the differences in size and how utterly unimportant this is as a field mark.

But of course there were other species as well:

Eurasian Tree Sparrows searching the road for food. Notice the right bird hopping to attract earthworms. This is very unwise as a) Tree Sparrows don't feed on earthworms b) only thrushes are supposed to be doing this and c) it's completely pointless on a tarred road anyway.

I highly recommend looking at Tree Sparrows head-on. Few birds look that sharp when seen head-on. With the possible exception of the Wrybill.

Prime first-wave male Chaffinch, humiliated by having to feed in the mud. Thankfully, the females and male whippersnappers are still somewhere out of sight in southern France and Italy, busy avoiding lime-twigs.

And all this glory was brought to you courtesy of the towering heights of the frightening Odenwald. Migrant Songbirds, heed the warning: don't go there! Fly over Leimen instead.
My weekend stroller schedule is Saturday and Sunday, 09:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 05:30 p.m. or by appointment in case of true vagrancy.
See you there!


corey said...

Wait, so there are birds where you live? And you can look at them and photograph them and blog about them? Well, I certainly expect more blog posts in the future, preferably with crippling good looks at those Long-tailed Tits and maybe some decent Hawfinch shots.

As for Black Woodpecker, well, both Charlie and I know that you just made that species up.

And I would make a comment about the snow, but, seeing as I am back from a nice long walk in the spring sunshine, a walk that featured a pleasing 37 species of birds, many of them in full song, well, I can safely ignore snow until next December. :)

Unknown said...

When I look at that Tree Sparrow head-on, it looks a lot like a House Sparrow.

Jason said...

Just wondering, which wave would include the male whippersnapper Chaffinches and how much later would they be?

Mike said...

You know, Jochen, when I first read your comment, I thought it would make a great blog post! Anyway, I for one am grateful that you're always our first commenter of the work week.

Hilke Breder said...

Jochen, I enjoyed your post, have trouble though identifying all the species that you are mentioning, leafing through my German bird guide. In the future, could you include the Latin names? I am sorry Heidelberg has turned into such a dreary place. I have fond memories of visiting it wayback when I was a teenager.

Laurent said...

I really need to go back home in the spring.....

Jochen said...

@Corey: it is true, right? Possibly the first post in two years about birding my new rotten home patch? Yeah, that just goes to show 1) how lousy it is and 2) that I should start to accept the facts and get on with my birding and blogging life.
And yeah, I'll provide what you demand, possibly, time permitting etc. You'll see...
You might regret it though!

@John: it may look similar on a photo but have you seen them in real life, e.g. around St. Louis? Frankly, if I was a bird taxonomer (is that the correct term for someone working on the taxonomy of birds?) I'd be tempted to give the Tree Sparrow its own genus and place them outside Passer. They are SO different from House Sparrows and all the other Passer sparrows I have seen. Their whole "gestalt", the way they fly etc.

@Jason: Ha! Okay, that depends on who you ask. If you ask the whippersnappers, they'd say their wave is the Surfer wave and that they are right at the heels of those arrogant "prime" Oldtimers.
If you ask the pioneering older males, they'd call the whippersnapper's the "freak wave" and that they have no idea when they arrive as their wave is barely discernible in the dust of the prime male's wake.
Now, seriously, I don't know how much later the young males arrive. I'd guess that they arrive with the females and depending on the weather that'd be (around here) a week or so after the first arrivals. I am aware though that the Chaffinch has a particular migration pattern that differs somehow from the usual migration pattern mentioned above. Time permitting, I might look it up and get back to you with the results you can more depend upon...
By the way: that's a fine blog you got running!

@Mike: I know, I know, some of my comments are horribly long and have nothing to do with the character of a comment, rather with a responding post ...
And thanks a ton for the reassurement. You know, wit is always a very strange feeling to mostly/always be the first to comment. Like the high school eager beaver who has everyone else roll their eyes ...

@Hilke: thanks!! I'll make sure to include scientific and German names in the future as you are right: this is a bird blog based in Germany after all, so a certain reference to Germany might be in place...
Heidelberg, well, is okay when you are someone who enjoys city life. The problem with Heidelberg is that is has become a true metropolitan area and the surroundings of Heidelberg are full of motorways, roads, industrial areas etc. What little open space remains is intensively used for agriculture and thus also largely devoid of birds. And then, it needs mentioning that I lived at the German Baltic coast for 12 years, an entirely different place. It's like moving from the Catskills to Manhattan (without Central Park) and then complaining that there's so much less nature...
By the way: your Florida posts were so brilliant I completely declined to comment... :-))

@Laurent: no, not in the spring! Do NOT leave the Great lakes between April and May. Come here in June. By which I mean you are ALWAYS more than welcome!

Anonymous said...

Es ist schön zu wissen, daß ihr an den Papa-und-Sohn Tagen so viel Spaß habt und Erik die Vögel Europas bestimmen lernt.

Jochen said...

Ha, ich glaube Erik hatte besonders viel Spaß daran zu sehen, wie Papa sich durch den Schnee gekämpft hat!
Und es freut mich auch sehr, dass Erik Spaß an unseren Expeditionen hat.

Jason said...

To follow up my question, somewhere between 1 and 2 weeks is apparently the answer.

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