A trip to the Leverkusen area of Germany in search of exotic bird life (oh, and to visit some in-laws) has resulted in me wracking my brains to see how much German I remember from Mrs Dawson’s GCSE classes… As it turns out, it’s not a great deal – Mainly items of food.
The pre-planned new species excitement was due to be a visit to the Wupper (a river that sounds a bit like a Pokémon… Not that I know anything at all about Pokémon – Honest!) to re-visit the only place I have ever seen a Dipper before.
Dippers are one of those birds that are actually correctly named after what they do – When standing on a rock in their favourite habitat of fast-flowing water, they bob up and down. They are plump black/brown birds with contrasting white chest plumage
This is obviously not the same as a skinny dipper. If you discover one of these, you have probably stumbled across Magdalen Bridge in Oxford in the early hours of May Day (and have used a time machine to get there, as this activity is now banned) If you ever see a big dipper, you are probably looking skywards during a night time visit to Thorpe Park.
Chicken dippers on the other hand…
Before the trip to the Wupper, however, I went for a stroll around the woodland just five minutes from the house and was just in the process of trying to stalk the first Speckled Wood Butterfly I’ve seen this year when I heard the whispered shout of “Dipper” from a member of my scouting party. I stopped pursuing the fluttering insect, briefly considered if ‘whispered shout’ was an oxymoron, and swiftly walked in the direction of the bridge over the nearby stream.
Just a few metres away, with a beak full of what looked like insect larvae was a Dipper. It was doing exactly as it was supposed to – dipping up and down. What an excellent new species for the year that was spied even before the scheduled trip to go and hunt it out. That’s efficient bird-spotting!
I managed to get some very amateur video footage of the Dipper in action – I imagine the BBC Wildlife Unit won’t be head-hunting me to help with the filming of the next ‘Planet Something’ series…
A different-to-the-usual looking Buzzard was in the sky up ahead – A lot lighter in colour than your average Common variety… Could this be my second new species of the trip? Could it be a Rough-Legged Buzzard? Or was it just a Common Buzzard?
Buzzards often catch me out as there seems to be potential for considerable variations in their colour. After the mis-identification of a juvenile Buzzard (I foolishly thought it was a Hen Harrier) a few weeks ago, I’m always a bit wary when I see a bird of prey in local airspace.
Later on, after a post-dinner discussion, the judging panel decided that it was a Common Buzzard – which, I guess, is what it was always likely to be!
A day trip to the Eifel National Park would hopefully provide a great opportunity to rack-up a few new sightings for the list… According to the leaflet I had downloaded from the internet I would have a chance of seeing Black Kites, Black Woodpeckers, Beavers and Wildcats. This leaflet promised much, but never once suggested that I would have to endure occasional bursts of torrential rain and hailstorms. It’s odd how publicity materials don’t mention the weather – Unless it’s 35˚ C and sunny every day.
For the purpose of the bird spotting challenge, I was especially keen to see the Kite and Woodpecker. For the purpose of innuendo, I was hoping to see the odd Beaver. Shameful, I know.
Within moments of the first rainstorm ceasing, I had (provisionally) ticked Black Kite off the list. There was a bird of prey swooping over the lake in front of me. It was instantly recognizable as a Kite (forked tail), but looked darker in colour than the Red version that’s on the increase in England. I took some photos in anticipation of presenting my findings to the judging panel later on.
And now for the next bird on my list… I had absolutely no idea how large a Black Woodpecker was or in which trees I might be likely to see one. As a result, I quite often found myself excitingly whisper-shouting (it’s catching on, evidently!) “Black Woodpecker!” whilst scrambling for my binoculars, only for it to ALWAYS turn out to be a Common Blackbird. Each whisper-shout was immediately followed by an apology. I was embarrassing myself.
After a number of erroneous IDs, I finally got to see a Black Woodpecker… However, it was only a picture of one on an info panel (this information provided details on the National Park, from its history, to its trees, to its animal inhabitants, but, strangely, never once mentioned a risk of hailstorms).
I managed to add a Marsh Tit and a Common Redstart to my list. The former gave itself away with a ‘pit-choo’ call from miles up a fir tree. The latter just landed on a metal post a few metres in front of me as I was about to get in the car.
The judging panel has deemed the bird to be a Black Kite. I never did get to see a Beaver…
Can you work out what each of the following birds I saw on my trip are in English?
And the prize for the best German-named bird goes to the Zilpzalp