Andy Avram is a lifelong resident of northeastern Ohio, just east of Cleveland. From the time he can remember, every camping, hiking, or simple trip outside was focused on finding wildlife with herps, mammals, birds and native fish as his primary interests. This passion eventually lead into his chosen career field where for the past few years have been happily employed as a naturalist at a county park district. We’re glad he shared this terrific trip report with us…
I may be a little better known in the online, and real-world, herping community than the birding community, but I have been birding just as long as I have been field-herping so I figured I would write up a little something for 10,000 Birds. And for those of you who are completely bird-centric, herps has less to do with diseases and more to do with reptiles and amphibians (and in a way, are not all birders technically herpers too?). So my first, and hopefully not last, entry to this website will be about my last big trip.
When it comes time to for me to plan a vacation I first figure out what herps occur in the area and then what birds and mammals I can also find. Europe… with such low herp diversity the locals split any sub-population of a species that occurs on either the Iberian Peninsula or Italy as a new species just to make them feel better out themselves, naturally is the continent that rose to the top of my trip list. Either that or having family friends in Germany. At least Europe has some great bird species, so this past June my fiancé, Jess, and I booked our trip to Deutschland, for our first trip overseas, where I would focus on birds and she castles, towns, and culture.
Now it was time to research the trip. That is when I stumbled upon this wonderful website, and more importantly one of your very own Beat Writers: Jochen! First hand birder knowledge of Germany, and in English! While Jochen was more than helpful in sending me some great locals, he also made sure to skip town during our trip to his country. I decided then and there that I needed to bird Germany in a way that would make a birding Kraut cry with jealousy.
Our plane touched down in Dusseldorf on June 14 where our friend picked us up. En route to his house, through the rain, on the side of the Autobahn I saw my first bird of the trip, and a lifer at that! It was a Common Wood Pigeon. These large, spectacular pigeons would prove to be quite common on the entire trip. It was much more exciting to me than to my non-birding fiancé and friend. Soon after I was able to tick the ubiquitous House Sparrow in its native haunts where I was allowed to enjoy it. After a few days with our friends we cut off for our own journey. Once on our own, Jess and I decided to try a fun experiment. It consisted of getting horrible, horrible colds. Fighting through the phlegm, I was still able to make a respectable showing, tallying up 87 species of birds, 72 of which were lifers (a few species I have seen in the US, such as Raven, Mallard and Barn Swallow). While this did fall short of my 100 species goal, as Jochen said in an email after my trip, “You saw some mighty fine birds on your trip. Maybe not the quantity you had hoped for, but surely a good quality.”
I read, reread, and was told by Jochen that Waghusel, outside of Heidelberg, is the place to go for wetland birds. I was not lead astray. From Purple Herons to Little Grebes to Red Kites, the spot also yielded a small group of Eurasian Spoonbills for the area highlight. At the city castle I was able to watch, from a distance, a Hawfinch foraging on the ground. After the castle we wound our way through the Black Forest where we were able to watch a pair of Eurasian Three-toed Woodpeckers foraged a few feet in front of us. Quality birds, especially in the area. It was here that we saw the many forms of tits: Willow, Coal, Crested, Great, Old Beach Lady, European Blue, and Long-tailed.
For the next part of the trip we spent a good deal of time in the region of the Disney castle inspiration. Jess and I hiked up to ol’ Ludwig’s entrance, where we waited for our tour to start. Hikes up to the castles is an understatement, as most are steep enough to require ropes, Sherpa and plenty of rest stops. After we reached summit, Jess took a breather while I wandered off to try and spot an A-list bird high on my list. It was there, amongst the Eurasian Crag Martins, that I saw nothing but tourists. I walked back to Jess, who was just sitting quietly at an overlook, and she asked what the little black and gray bird was at the base of the castle wall. According to her, she was watching it the entire time I was off birding. Finally, I was able to see it. WALLCREEPER! The exact bird I was looking for! I got my binoculars on it just in time to see it flash it’s gorgeous red wings a couple times and fly off. Possibly the trip highlight. I just wish I didn’t go looking for it and instead stayed with Jess. That bird alone may be enough to make some Deutschlanders cry.
The last leg of our journey found us in Berchtesgaden, a dingle berry of land hanging out in Austrian territory. It was there, driving down a mountainside road that I saw a black bird WAY in the distance. Previously, all these dark, distant birds turned out to be Eurasian Blackbirds and after turning around and finding a safe place to stop on the incline, amongst speeding traffic in the middle of the road, I put my binoculars to confirm its Blackbird status. A quick sidetrack. Now, I’ve read around on this site enough to know that your very own Corey believes a certain European woodpecker species is likely just a myth to frustrate Americans. Well, I can say that what this American was able to see, and identify, was not the expected Blackbird, but rather a bird that may make some Americans cry: the Black Woodpecker! Views were not as great as they could have been due to the precarious nature of how I was parked, but it was awesome all the same.
By this time in the trip I was coming out of my cold and Jess was deep in hers. One morning I decided to let her sleep in while went to hike a mountain and get up above treeline. My goal was to look for Capercallies and other choice avians. I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you that I did not see any Capercallies. What I did see, after racing up the mountain faster than I would have dreamed possible, were Alpine Choughs. With a love of all birds corvid, I happily descended the mountain after seeing this target bird. Back in the lower elevation forests, I saw movement in the trees and was able to find the cover bird of the field guide… Eurasian Bullfinches! Another highlight bird. I was beaming.
Back at the parking lot I walked back to a white water stream which I scoped out before my mountain climb. The stream looked perfect for American Dippers so in theory it should be perfect for White-throated Dippers. I found a little side trail, stepped to the edge of the bank and thought, “There should be a dipper on one of these rocks in front of me.” For over two minutes I stared at those rocks and then noticed a little puff of feathers on those same rocks ten feet in front of me. The little puff of feathers rhythmically bobbing up and down. My only thought of why it took me over two minutes to see it right in front of me can only be attributed to light-headedness from the high altitude. After watching and smiling a few more minutes I drove back to the sick one.
It was now time to head back to our friends’ house for a couple days before departing for the states. On another Jochen tip I knew there was a colony of European Bee-eaters about two hours out of our way. We decided to try for it. Rain, traffic and frustration turned the little two hour side trip into seven long hours. With tempers on edge, exhaustion on high and starvation setting in, we found some clay cliffs, saw tons of the Bee-eaters and unceremoniously continued on to our ultimate destination. I would like to be able to see those birds again and enjoy them. They are just too cool.
The trip ended all too soon and before we knew it we were back in the USA. A great trip, made even better from the tips Jochen, and this blog, gave me. Any jealous Germans need a tissue?
Thanks for reading, hopefully I will be able to post some more stories in the near future. Oh yeah… I was able to find two species frogs, two species of salamanders, two species of lizards and one species of snake, so I was even able to get my herp fix in!