Two back to back visits to Westhavelland. 15 to 18 and 18 to 21 October
Two groups of 8 from Bristol Ornithological Club visited the Westhavelland region of Brandenburg travelling by minibus, and based at Semlin and Zauchwitz.
Sunday 15 October
Late pm flight Bristol to Berlin Schönefeld
Monday 16 October
Tree Sparrow and a pair of Black Redstart were outside the hotel. On the way to Buckow, Crested Tit were seen during a short stop by the lake. Close to Buckow 12 Great Bustards were watched feeding in a rape crop. At the main hide were Buzzards, Merlin, ring tailed Hen Harrier, a Red Kite and distant White-tailed Eagle. 5 Golden Plover here and large flock of Lapwing. On the way to Rathenow we were distracted on the way by excellent views of a perched Rough legged Buzzard. At the pump house on the north shore of Gülper See were at least three Eagles. A fine adult patrolled the edge of the reeds and then perched in a dead tree. The first Cranes flew over. A new woodland area near Schollene revealed Marsh Tit and Siskin, but this diversion was not really worthwhile. A Great Grey Shrike was watched by the lake at Semlin.
Tuesday 17 October
Clear skies again. En route to the southern side of Gülper See, were flocks of small birds – mainly Tree Sparrow and Yellow Hammer and Corn Bunting, and a large flock of Cranes. From the main hide overlooking the lake were 2 Little Stint, Snipe and Dunlin. Also Gadwall, Shoveler, Pintail, Tufted Duck and Teal. Further along the shore were views of hundreds of Bean and White-fronted Geese, 4 Barnacle geese and a couple of Ruff. In the afternoon headed for Zauchwitz, where we visited the large ponds at Stangenhagen where there were a lot of geese, but views were distant and the area was a bit disappointing – except for one member who saw a Black Woodpecker fly into the woodland.
Wed 18 October
Colder today, but still clear skies. We set off for a walk near Rieben at 8.30. On the way we were distracted by a very pale Buzzard sitting in a tree, which turned out to be Rough-legged when it flew. During the walk through fields there were large numbers of geese – mainly Bean. They suddenly all took off at the arrival of an Eagle which plucked one out of the air and there was the amazing sight of it flying a few yards with the goose dangling from it talons. The final bonus was a Great Grey Shrike sitting on a dead branch.
Left around 1030 for 1.50 flight to Bristol.
The second Bristol group of 7 led by Ken Hall flew in to Berlin 18 October and met Andrew White on arrival.
Black Woodpecker was the best bird during a lakeside stop. At Buckow was a Rough-legged Buzzard and Hen Harrier, but only a distant view of a single Great Bustard.
At Gülper See where we are confronted by an amazing spectacle – Roger’s pre-trip notes had promised thousands of Geese, but the reality far exceeded our expectations. As we walk to our lunch stop Greylags, White-fronted and Bean Geese fly in from all points of the compass, Great White Egrets occasionally pop up from the reeds and a White-Tailed Eagle patrols the lake margins. By the time we leave, the centre of the lake carries a couple of acres (maybe that should be hectares?) of geese.
When we arrive at the Gülper See hide we have to wait while a platoon of chain-smoking European birders descend, each carrying a scope mounted on a wooden tripod which would have a Manfrotto salesman eating his heart out. With all the windows open the smell of smoke soon disappears and we can scope the ducks and waders which have already vacated the centre of the lake to leave room for the landing geese.
The light isn’t that good, and the ducks a bit far off, but as Ken reels off the plumage features by which he is identifying the birds I begin to wonder if I have the only monochrome telescope in the hide. Still, our walk takes us towards the birds and eventually I can identify the various ducks, Ruff, Redshank and Little Stint for myself. If we approach from downwind we can always tell and avoid the hides which are occupied by the other birders by the aroma of continental tobacco fumes. As we eat our lunch near an old windmill a light rain starts to fall, but eases off before we start on what will prove to be a spectacular afternoon’s birding.
Stopping to look at a Ring-necked Pheasant, we see four Common Cranes in a corner of a recently ploughed field that had held Indian corn. A quiet exit from the minibus and we soon have them in the ‘scopes, only to discover that the field goes far beyond the corner and is covered in Cranes. The word must have got round that the feeding was good there, because soon Cranes are flying in from everywhere and we eventually are looking at well over two hundred birds – an amazing sight. It is easy to see that they tend to stay in family parties. We even manage to see one or two dancing.
Time to leave for our second hotel, but en-route Andrew takes us to another Great Bustard site. Again we are lucky, as we spot a dozen birds just before they disappear behind some long grass. Five minutes later and we would have discarded the site as empty. Knowing their location Andrew is able to take us much nearer to a spot where, sheltered from their view, we can view them through a gap in the hedge some four hundred yards away. Silhouetted against a grey sky, but lit by a strong evening sun behind us, they make an unforgettable sight and one that keeps the photographers busy. To add to the enjoyment some of them decide to do a fly-past so that we can better appreciate their plumage – truly an excellent day.
At dinner that evening we are joined by Roger and Christine and compare our list with that of the earlier party. They prove to be very similar, but we are now up to eighty three species which puts Ken on his mettle for our final day’s birding.
The group help with Short-toed Treecreeper and Grey Wagtail before we leave the hotel for a short walk through lightly wooded fields on a beautiful autumn morning. Brambling are heard, and Ken spots a distant Goshawk. The last bird of our trip however is a Great Grey Shrike sitting in full view and in full sun – a great way to finish a memorable short break. We just managed the magic ninety birds.
(Shortened report by Clive Leyman)