Just a normal friday

Now that I have shown so many beautiful sides of Scharhörn, I want to point to the less beautiful ones. Scharhörn lies in the North Sea – an industrially very heavily used water. As national park ‘Hamburgisches Wattenmeer’ the area itself is well protected and the disturbances are low on Scharhörn and Nigehörn.
However, even there one is constantly reminded that mankind is changing its entire environment. Already at sunrise this cannot be denied.

Oil drilling platform, cargo ship and 65 wind turbines in view of Scharhörn at sunrise

Scharhörn lies next to the Elbe fairway – which means that many container ships, fishing boats and more pass it every day.

Map showing the current position of ships (coloured arrows) around Scharhörn (red dot in the centre) and the routes of the ships within a year (blue = individual voyages, red = many voyages). Copyright: www.marinetraffic.com

This means, among other things, that you can hear the ship’s engines – no tragedy. What is worse is that much of what is thrown overboard arrives. Also the currents carry what gets into the sea at the East Frisian islands to Nigehörn. The garbage is counted and collected regularly on a defined route. Last Friday I collected the garbage on a distance of 120 meters.

Here is the result:

Garbage which I collected on 120 m length at the beach of Scharhörn.

113 glass bottles, 9 light bulbs, 2 wheelbarrows full of plastic waste (plastic bottles, canisters, crashed balloons, cords, ropes, shoes, shoe soles, etc.), spray cans, cleaning agents as well as two wheelbarrows fishing waste (nets and the like) and 80-100 kg heavy oil. This rubbish did not collect there for years, but was the result of the spring tide of the 18th September. To emphasize this again: All in all seven wheelbarrows filled with garbage as result of a single spring tide on a 120 m long distance at the beach. So – just a normal Friday… Do we really want to leave the earth like this?

During this work it occurred to me that it was Friday for future – a work fitting well for this day even though it has nothing to do with climate protection. But the next day was the international coastal cleanup day


Just a normal friday

Scharhörn at its best

Within few days, Scharhörn proved to be a wonderful site, worth every minute spent.

Rugosa rose in the dunes on Scharhörn

Birds migration has started and there were amazing numbers of Sanderlings, and also some sucess while doing seawatching with Leach’s Storm Petrel and Sooty Shearwater passing by.

Sanderlings and Dunlins while feeding

The real highlight however was a Little Bunting, a very small and rare scandinavian / siberian bird, which flew by calling. Lateron, I found it again, resting in the meadow and could also watch it shortly. Well, the bird is mainly brown – but a nice combination of different brown and white tones.

Little Bunting – the photo was not made on Scharhörn but in the Ural mountains in Russia few years ago.

I hope it was able to leave the isle alive – not as this Meadow Pipit which was dinner for a Sparrowhawk:

Sparrowhawk having Meadow Pipit for dinner

Scharhörn lies next to Nigehörn, an artificially washed sand island. Over the years the two islands have almost grown together and only during the high water they are separated from each other by a tidal creek, surrounded by salt marsh.

Salt marsh between Scharhörn and Nigehörn

One of my tasks as a bird warden on Scharhörn is to count the birds that are resting on both islands. Therefore I also had to walk to Nigehörn to count the birds there. However, as the water came earlier and much higher than expected, I was cut of from Scharhörn and had to wait for 3.5 hours before I could return.

Scharhörn seen from Nigehörn – unattainable during this little storm surge. In the distance you can see a container ship on the Elbe fairway. Even at this distance it is much higher than my hut (left in front of the container ship).

Whata  pleasure to lead a life that is determined only by the sun and the tide.

Sunset on Scharhörn

Mobile office

Since yesterday, I stay on the German Isle ‘Scharhörn’ which is my home for the next days. That’s the advantage of being able to work from anywhere: All I need is a computer and internet access.

After a long journey by train, ship and tractor, I had to clean the hut first for hours, since the last guy on Scharhörn suddenly fell ill and was immediatly brought from the isle.

FInally, I could enjoy the moonrise over the island. It already feels like home and I am looking forward to the following days.

Moonrise over Scharhörn
Luggage for a stay of 10 days on Scharhörn. All the photography and sound recording equipment, food, water etc.
First morning in the hut on Scharhörn
Mobile office

Alpine Swifts in southern Germany

It is time again: In the next days the first alpine swifts should arrive in Freiburg.

Alpine Swifts above Freiburg

When I walk through the streets and hear the calls of these birds, I realize that summer is just around the corner. All Central European Swift-species are migratory birds that are only here during summer.

In my opinion, they fascinate people because they live the dream of flying in the extreme: they spend their lifes in the air! They fly very fast with almost 100 km/h, they hunt insects in flight, they collect nesting material in flight, they drink while flying flat over a lake, they bath in the water by a short splash on the water surface, they sleep in the air and even the mating takes place in the air!

Copulating Common Swifts
Common Swift flying low over a lake to drink water

The only reason to land seems to be the raising of the brood. A recent accelerometer study found that some individuals of swifts spent the entire time in the air between the breeding seasons. The record is held by a bird that spent 314 days in the air without landing. These birds are so well adapted to their life in the air that they can not even take off if they land on the flat ground. The reason for this is that they have very short legs (they simply don’t need them). Normally you can’t see their feet either – but on hot days they sometimes keep their legs out of their plumage for cooling.

Common Swift (Apus apus) exposing its feet for cooling during a very hot day

There several species of swifts in Europe with Common Swift beeing the most common.

Common Swift (Apus apus), Freiburg, 20.06.17

The next similar species is the Pallid Swift, occuring in the mediterranean area (you have also seen the Pacific Swift in a former blogpost, which extremely rare reaches central Europe)

Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus), Oman, 26.01.2013

However in central Europe, just one more species is breeding: The Alpine Swift – the biggest of the species with a wingspan of about half a meter.

Alpine Swift (Apus melba) above Freiburg, 13.07.2017
Alpine Swift (Apus melba), Freiburg, 11.07.2017

While the species used to breed only in rocks, it has now found alternative breeding sites in buildings.

An office building giving room for several pairs of Alpine Swift
Alpine Swift flying in front of its nest. This is in the roller shutter box.

The easiest way to discover a breeding site is to look for the excrement underneath.

Typical feces of Alpine Swifts. It is not always as obvious as here
Examining the feces for the main components

Alpine swifts use narrow cracks to get into buildings.

The nest is just a small ring of soak material, 16.07.17, Freiburg

Two years ago I was given the opportunity to join in ringing the young alpine swifts. The birds are ringed to see how the spread in Germany is progressing.

In 1955 there was the first brood of an alpine swift for Germany in Freiburg. The population has increased considerably and now there are more than 100 breeding pairs and the species has spread to Karlsruhe and Bavaria.

The young Alpine Swifts get ringed for a later recognition. 16.07.17, Freiburg

I look forward to meeting the birds in the next few days.

Alpine Swifts (Apus melba) flying in a group through the streets. 11.07.17, Freiburg

The performance of the Goldeneyes

About one and a half years ago I thought about how I could photograph a Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula). This duck species is spread over the whole northern hemisphere, in Germany it only breeds in the north. But it also spends the winter in southern Germany. The males are coloured black and white, the females brown and grey – despite this lack of colour it is a very beautiful bird species. Two years ago I had the chance to photograph a female in Leipzig – but never a male.

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula clangula), Leipzig, Germany, adult female

Last winter I spent some time with a friend, M. Kamps, in northeast Germany – among other things we were hoping for beautiful observations of goldeneyes. In an industrial harbour I finally had a satisfying encounter.

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula clangula), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, adult male landing
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula clangula), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, adult male landing
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula clangula), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, group, flying with Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) and Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Me, photographing Goldeneyes © M. Kamps

Goldeneyes perform an extraordinary courtship display. The male swims towards the female – suddenly he leans his head wide on his back, holds it there for a moment and then several things happen at the same time: It throws its rear body up while it bends its tail down, pushes its feet quickly under the body till they are put into the air. The water splashes around, so that the male is framed by a ring of water. It finally gives a strange grunt. Then it turns its head with its beak open directly into the sky before returning to its typical swimming position. I hadn’t even dared to hope to photograph this behavior. But shortly after my return from northeast Germany, a Goldeneye male happened to doe the courtship display right in front of me. Here I show you some single pictures from a series of this behaviour:

Here another photo of the series showing the ring of water:

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula clangula), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, adult male, courthship display. Here you can see the ring of water which frames the male.

As you can see, the male does several things in sync, but this is understandably not so easy – not even for a goldeneye. Look at the following photo of a young male – while in the adult bird both feet are almost perfectly synchronized, in this young male the feet have completely different positions and the toes are not even spread. Water droplets fly through the air in a wild mess, but do not form a ring. So males are likely to have to practice this courtship behavior and females may be able to judge the male quality from their performance at the courtship display.

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula clangula), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, young male, failed courtship display.

Hopefully, you enjoyed this series of photos.

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula clangula), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, adult male, taking off

Winter in the mountains

After some very hot days here in February, we have to ask: is this winter already over? It would be a pity!

Here some photos from Switerland I took few weeks ago.

White-winged Snowfinch
Adult Lammergeier
Red-billed Chough
Adult Lammergeier patroulling the mountain slopes
Alpine Choughs in the snow
Adult Lammergeier in front of the Matterhorn
Lammergeier in its 6th calendar year

Far far away

This spring, two friends and I visited one of the most remote Central Asian countries: Tajikistan. A country with breathtaking landscape, full of nice people and amazing animals. Life in this country with swamps, deserts and extremely high elevation areas is not easy. I will certainly tell and show more about this trip at some point. Here is already a first insight.

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