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
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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
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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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French Alps

Another short trip – this time to France. I met a friend and college, Julien R., to record and discuss Crossbills. We visited different places in the French Alps. The days started long before sunrise and we hiked through the mountains during the early morning. Here are some impressions:

Moon in the forest
Vercors, French Alps
Sunset in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
Julien recording crossbills in the forest

As we hoped, we found very interesting crossbills. When I show you the photos, they look like every other Red Crossbill. You need to hear the voice of these birds to be able to recognize them. As this is the topic of my PhD, it was really fascinating to meet some of these special birds of the southern Alps, which I heard on my computer many times but not in reality.

Male Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
Female Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)

Now some more photos from the trip:

Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum)
Opening in the forest, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France
Opening in the forest, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France
Alpine meadows changing colour in autumn, National Park Vanoise, French Alps
Erosion ditches in the slope, National Park Vanoise, French Alps
The last sunray in the valley, French Alps
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Some photos from the last days

Spring is arriving and I spent some time out there, with nice encounters. Here I share some from southwestern Germany.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) perched
A young Red Kite (Milvus milvus) in its 2nd calendar year (born in 2017). It came close as there was a dead hare in the field.
A nice encounter with a Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis), singing between buds
Therefore, I had the chance to photograph it also in the soft evening light.
Sunrise in the Black Forest
My favourite shot of the encounter
Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) within braids in the mountains
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Archive complete

It’s done: all biIt’s done: all bird species of the Western Palearctic that I photographed until December 2016 are in the online archive. Finally I added photos of one of my favourite groups – the Grouses. All birds of this group are hard to find and hard to observe – so every encounter is an adventure.

Black Grouse (Lyrurus tetrix ssp. tetrix) adult female well hiding behind a trunk. Ural Mountains, Russia, 16.06.2016

I have spent many hours finding them, watching them, approaching them without disturbing them and finally photographing them. Some of them live in the densest thicket like the hazel grouse and it is easy to understand that they are hardly observable.

Hazel Grouse (Bonasa bonasia ssp. volgensis), motionless hiding in a tree. Bialowieza, Poland, adult male

Other species of the family are found in the open like the Ptarmigan. However, they live in the high montane regions and, thanks to their camouflage, it takes a long time to discover them in winter.

Rock Ptarmigan 8Lagopus muta ssp. helvetica), Germany, adult male, winter plumage

They sometimes dig themselve into the snow for resting and all you see later are their tracks.

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta ssp. helvetica), track coming from the left. It dug into the snow for resting and later walked further to the back

But as soon as you are rewarded with a real encounter, you know it was worth the effort.

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta ssp. helvetica) jumping adult male, 28.12.2013, Germany
Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus ssp. crassirostris), Germany, adult male, displaying
Black Grouse (Lyrurus tetrix ssp. tetrix), Germany, adult male
Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica), Great Britain, winter group
Willow Grouse (Lagopus lagopus ssp. koreni), Russia (Ural), adult male hiding behind a bush
Hazel Grouse(Bonasa bonasia ssp. volgensis), adult male. An extremely lucky moment, in which the Hazel Grouse perched on this truck. Bialowieza, Poland, 24.04.2014
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