Sunday 11 June 2023

Birding Germany April/May 2023


Waghäusel, officially known as Wagbachniederung is a jewel of a wetland located in the Rhine Rift Valley a few kms east of the Rhine itself and in between Karlsruhe and Mannheim, Baden-Württemburg. Characterised by Reedbeds, water meadows and basins this is a well known birding site. Essentially rectangular in shape the main entrance is from the south, heading in just north of the church. The track skirts a cafe and farm passing through the treelined southern perimeter, home this year to probably the world's most showiest Nightingale. Working through this area the meadows flanked by plentiful hedges gives way to the basins, nettlebeds meeting reedbeds in the northern section of the reserve where an expansive 180 degrees view over a reedbed along its northern flank can be had. In the main the paths are elevated throughout and this allows for extensive views and especially from the benches at the T-junction overlooking the northern reedbed and accompanying pools. From here a walk to the left takes you to the western edge where one of its famous summer inhabitants, Purple Herons, make their 'tower' reedbed nests.

A variety of species can be seen on this reserve with Spring bird migration producing nice surprises. It's a great place to see and study species that are scarce Spring/Summer visitors to GB without the need to chase about. It is also interesting to see the style and approach to German birding. Watching German birders dragging carts full of tripods, scopes and cameras is different to the approach back home, but I guess it's quite practical on this reserve. So, our highlights from two visits at the end of April/early May 2023 as follows. The weather was pleasant and favourable for bird migration.

Nightingales simply everywhere, the one mentioned earlier wasn't singing from the middle of a hedge, it sang and showed as would a Song Thrush from a lofty perch. The hedgerows held Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs plus Greenfinches and Goldfinches. A few Turtle Doves "purred" from deep cover, only one showed briefly. The nettlebeds were quiet apart from one or two Cuckoos, a few weeks too early this visit for the returning Marsh Warblers. The ponds held a variety of ducks including Red-crested Pochards and Garganey and three species of Grebe could be found, Great-crested, Little and Black-necked. A very mobile colour-ringed Spoonbill (White FAFB) fed near to a lone Great White Egret, the Spoonbill later seen circling and perhaps heading off. Wood Sandpipers were on passage with Ruff and Greenshanks of note. A Black-winged Stilt drew the crowds and Little Ringed Plovers on territory. Purple and Grey Herons on site and on one visit another star attraction in the form of a visiting Glossy Ibis.

Red-backed Shrikes were back on site in the scrubby bushes west of the benches, and to add to the avian variety a Grey-headed Woodpecker gave its distinctive monotone repetitive call from cover. It eventually flew by, seen mainly in silhouette as it dived back into cover. The benches is a great point to say do 'a big sit' counting all that goes by. The reedbeds held Reed Warblers, flycatching Whinchats in bushes on the edge and at least two Savi's Warblers reeled away. One could be seen and it was nice to hear and compare a Savi's Warbler to the right with a reeling Grasshopper Warbler to the left. Not to forget the species that is arguably the main attraction at this viewpoint, Bluethroat. A couple of white-spotted males burst into sing late afternoon on the second visit, when one started it drew the other into singing from its nearby territory in the reedbed bushes and tangles.

Not just good birding at ground level, up above always something on offer. White Storks ever present, Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbeds occasionally venturing up high where Red Kite and Buzzard noted. Black Kites flew by every so often, Kestrels seen and a lone Peregrine was off to the north. The Black-headed Gull colony attracted Mediterranean Gulls, mainly seen and heard "meeowing" overhead. Less welcome to the colony was an immature Yellow-legged Gull looking for a snack.

Black-winged Stilt

Garganey avoiding Coypu

Mediterranean Gull


Purple Heron

Red-backed Shrike



Black Kite

Saalbachniederung Bruchsal

Saalbachniederung Bruchsal essentially a grassland area with flooded gravel pit is located a few kms to the south of Waghäusel. The walk out from the small car park to the south is pleasant through the grassland on well marked tracks. On approaching the pit/lake the far carrying song of Great Reed Warbler can be heard. A top site for studying this species and one gave good views with at least one more singing from further in the reedbed. The water held a couple of Great White Egrets, several species of ducks and passage waders including Greenshank and Wood Sandpipers. A dapper adult Yellow-legged Gull stopped off to rest, Black-headed Gulls more active and vocal, and on leaving the site a couple of Mediterranean Gulls could be heard "meeowing" somewhere up in the heavens. Didn’t expect a couple of Ravens to be in the area, they "kronked" overhead moving east only to return back west half an hour later. Also unexpected was the Black Woodpecker in flight near the gravel workings on the way back, but the male Red-backed Shrike looking out from a bramble patch tree was a sign of summer on its way.

Great Reed Warbler

Yellow-legged Gull

Great White Egret

Black Forest - Schwarzwaldhochstrasse

The north west corner of the Black Forest is not too far from Karlsruhe to the south, and it's always nice to visit the area up on the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse taking in the walks about Hotel Schliffkopf and then the ski run of Seibelseckle. The latter home to very nice Schwarzwälderkirschtorte and Hot Chocolate as well as good birding over the years which saw us connect with a migrating ringtail Pallid Harrier back in April 2014. Several degrees cooler up here compared with down in the Rhine Rift Valley, but this didn't deter Willow Warblers and Meadow Pipits from singing throughout at Schliffkopf. Dunnock noted and 'continental' Coal Tits in the forest. A blink and you miss it Nutcracker wasn't obliging as it flew low into the forest across the 'High Street'. Notices posted throughout the area of footpath closures during Capercaillie lekking season, German equivalent of the 'Lek it Be' campaign found in Scotland. Just up the road we had the chance in the afternoon to sit outside the ever popular cafe at Seibelseckle allowing for a look for any raptors overhead plus Ring Ouzel on the now grassy ski slope. A male 'Mountain Blackbird' was present, have reasonable views until being chased off down the slope by a 'lowland' Blackbird that appeared to be huge in comparison when seen together,  Black Redstarts around the ski lift building. A Common Buzzard appeared drifting off into the Black Forest not before dragging up a Honey Buzzard, the pair circling together allowing a nice comparison of their flight silhouettes. A Red Kite in the area and then better looks at another Honey Buzzard drifting over from the north, shown below.

Honey Buzzard

Ring Ouzel

A nice long weekend visiting friends, many thanks to Chris and Sue et al. More photos and sightings from many trips to this part of Germany can be found at Birding Germany (pdf).