The weather around Bonn was unpredictably volatile in May, with some extremely sunny days followed by a series of cold and wet ones. This made being outside rather tricky, and I got me caught in the rain by surprise several times. I guess it’s normal for weather to change unexpectedly (and for the various rain radars to be inaccurate), but leaving office on a sunny afternoon and getting home 15 minutes later drenched to the bone seems somewhat unusual. Either way, I resorted to not planning far ahead (at least with regards to weather, not the other aspects of my life) and so one morning before work I packed my birding equipment and decided to stay the night in Mannheim to visit the Wagbachniederung the next morning: the weather looked promising. I’ve been to the Wagbachniederung before (see a previous post) and it seemed like a good site to visit again, being slightly more easy to reach than the similarly interesting nearby Saalbachniederung when traveling by public transport. Questioning my reliance on spontaneity, the rain was drumming onto the roof of the hostel when I woke up in my dorm bed in Mannheim at 4AM. By the time I arrived at the Wagbachniederung, the rain had fortunately cleared making way for a light drizzle for the rest of the morning. Not ideal conditions, but it seemed as if the birds remained more active and were singing for longer as the heat built up much later.
Common Nightingales and Common Cuckoos where calling everywhere. While I’ve heard and seen both species multiple times, these atmospheric songs in the humid dawn, with songs of other species and the sound of water dripping through the foliage in the background, was already a highlight of the day. As it became a bit brighter, I attempted to see some of the Common Nightingales but was mostly left with fleeting dark shapes in the undergrowth before a bird offered me a decent view. A Common Cuckoo seemingly had to take things more slowly with its wet plumage, allowing me to observe it from a hide as it was drying itself.

Common Cuckoo

The reeds and waterbodies in the wetland host many waterbirds with chicks, including Black-necked Grebe and Red-crested Pochards. It seemed to me that this species has a much more liberal approach to raising offspring compared to that other waterfowl: the young chicks were sometimes exploring the wetland dozens of meters away from the mother – so far I think I’ve always seen ducklings to follow their parents quite closely. I wonder if the helicopter pochard parent will be a thing in a few years.
Black-headed Gulls were also breeding in the wetlands in large numbers, becoming very agitated when a Western Marsh-Harrier quartered low over the reeds.

Red-crested Pochard
Western Marsh-Harrier

Other birds didn’t make too much of a fuss about the harrier, including a Savi’s Warbler whose cricket-like buzzing I heard before eventually spotting it far away. This was a lifer I’d been hoping to see for a while, and my first Locustella. I initially wrote “second” instead, having seen a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler in Sri Lanka, but then realized it’s not a Locustella. Then I remembered a sighting that still haunts me from time to time: the glimpse of a bird near my home in South Africa around 10 years ago which I’m still 99.9% sure was a River Warbler, but the missing 0.1% forced me to accept the Savi’s Warbler as my first Locustella. While I continually remember some sightings of birds I’ll never know what species they were, I quite enjoy this as when I see them one day (assuming I will), it will be all the more satisfying and they remain somehow special even when I see them again and again in the future.

Savi’s Warbler

To round of this post of course, the obligatory Purple Herons (I’m not sure whether to call it a special or a standard species of the Wagbachniederung) needs to be included. Their breeding mounts in the wetland were removed, probably because things were getting out of control with photographers. I believe this is a good thing as probably reduces the number of visitors, which may put quite a strain on other wetland species as well.

Purple Heron
Written by Luca
Family holidays to nature reserves and the abundance of nature books including bird guides at home paved the way for Luca Feuerriegel to be a committed birder by the time he was in his early teens. Growing up in Namibia, South Africa, and Sri Lanka provided the perfect setting for this interest. Luca recently completed his BSc in the Netherlands and currently spends his time working (and birding!) before starting his MSc.