Sunday 2 June 2024

Birding Germany May 2024


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. 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 ‘Bluethroat’ benches at the T-junction overlooking the northern reedbed and accompanying pools. From here the paths to the left or right allow for the northern perimeter to be walked.

A variety of species can be seen on this reserve and it is a great place to see and study species that are scarce Spring/Summer visitors to GB. Our highlights from two visits just beyond mid May 2024 as follows. The weather was fair throughout with light variable winds, although thunderstorms threatened late afternoon on the second visit.

The first visit saw a tally of around 75 species seen or heard, the entrance allowing passerines to get a head start of the marshland birds. Nightingales widespread though not as showy as last year. The entrance hedgerows and woodland edge held Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs plus Greenfinches and Goldfinches. Most unexpected was a low pass from a Black Woodpecker. A sentinel Red-backed Shrike was the start of many about the reserve and as the paths opened up to reveal the first nettle/reedbeds Marsh Warblers soon added to the list as were Turtle Doves, nice to see at least half a dozen over the two visits.

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 Little Egret was unexpected, more expected a lone Great White Egret. Grey Herons present and the colony of Purple Herons are now at the northern edge of the reserve. The pool/scrape north of the ‘Bluethroat’ benches held passage waders on the first visit such as Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Wood Sandpipers and Little Stints and more local Lapwings and Little Ringed Plovers. Activity from the Black-headed Gull colony best viewed from here and an adult Mediterranean Gull present plus a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls with a pair looking like they were nesting. Nice to hear the deep call, well different to Herring Gull. A 1st summer Little Gull dropped in and on the second visit, and a Common Tern flew over the site heading towards the Rhine.

Marsh Harriers over the reedbeds where one Bluethroat showed well late afternoon on the first visit, the white spot shone like a mirror reflecting sunlight. The reedbeds home to Reed Warblers, a reasonably showy Savi’s Warbler, with at least one more heard, and Cuckoos. Along the north west perimeter the poplars held a singing Golden Oriole that would not be seen although a party of Short-toed Treecreepers could be found. Here the line of reeds held a ‘croaking’ Great Reed Warbler.

As in previous visits over the years it is not just good birding at ground level, up above always something on offer. White Storks ever present, Marsh Harriers  returned from their wanderings. Common Buzzards and Black Kites in the skies as well as Kestrel. A single and brief Hobby was surprising, thought more would have been seen and more regular sightings. Raven heard to the south east and Red Kites only seen on the second visit, but numbers soon made up for the first visit absence. More to offer as at least one Osprey over the northern area of the reserve one came in from the north and on show for a bout 5 minutes before heading off north east. It or another came back from the north and drifted west towards the Rhine mid-afternoon. A dark type Honey Buzzard came in high overhead and drifted north east, typically not flapping once. On the second visit the north east corner saw a pale type Honey Buzzard patrolling above the woodland edge even ‘wing-clapping’ on several occasions. But a ringtail Harrier that came in high from the south and drifted off north east put Honey Buzzard and Osprey into 2nd and 3rd place. We could quickly establish it was Pallid or Montagu’s and a look on site at photos taken by another birder confirmed my gut feeling of Montagu’s Harrier, a 1st summer ringtail. Key was the pattern of the inner primaries. I’m thinking 1st summer male based upon the very pale underparts and the big pale ovals seen on a brief view of the upper-wing, whose true colour may have been ‘bleached’ out by the sunlight.

Red-backed Shrike

Great Reed Warbler

White Stork

Montagu's Harrier


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. The grasslands spread for miles and looks to be of birding interest throughout the year.

As to be expected at this location on approaching the pit/lake the far carrying song of Great Reed Warblers was heard. However, another could be heard by the workings near the start of the walk. The ones by the pit/lakes showed reasonably well where as in the past Great White Egrets, Grey Herons and several duck and geese species seen. Marsh Harrier seen in the distance and A Ruddy Shelduck could well have been a Category C (or equivalent) on the German list.

Kingfisher heard and brilliant views of feeding Sand Martins over the water. White Storks nesting nearby with Kestrels, Black Kites, Red Kites and Common Buzzards over the area. A ‘prup’ call revealed a fast flying Bee-eater that moved north west, perhaps no longer a surprise sighting.

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