Birds of Germany

I returned to Canada last Tuesday and have since been thrown back into everyday life, including calving, the last curling bonspiel of the season, and school. A definite change from the previous four weeks, which were filled with various trips to visit relatives a road trip to Rome with stops along the way in Lucca, Pisa, and Florence, and Parma. A cousin and I also took the train to Berlin for a two-day trip of sightseeing and a little shopping. I had a really lovely time in Europe and came home with so many wonderful memories.

I’m planning to publish some Europe posts throughout the month, mostly be about birds/birding, but with some non-bird photos from the various cities we visited as well.

Below are some of the bird photos I took in Germany, mostly taken in passing since I was travelling with my grandmother and other relatives. All these photos were taken with my Nikon D610 and the 200-500mm lens.

The photography conditions were not always ideal in Germany — full cloud cover, rain, and wind were common; however, this photo of a European Robin was taken on one A rare sunny evening,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

This Great Tit photo was taken the same evening as the Robin; you can see the pretty golden light shining on the tree branches,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Another Great Tit in the same location in Oer-Erkenschwick, but taken on a cloudy morning,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/200, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

On the way to Italy we visited Schloss Nordkirchen (which translates as Castle North Church), located 34 kilometres north of Dortmund in Germany. The landscape and architecture are similar to Fontainebleau and Versailles in France, with big gardens and water features with several pairs of Mute Swans and Mallards.

One of the Mute Swans which was molting,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 200, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

One of the classiest looking jays around, the European Jay,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,000, ISO 1000, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Common Blackbirds are certainly common, but I found them to be quite skittish,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/400, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

This Common Chaffinch was positioned perfectly in the sun and on the really lovely lichen-covered branches so I photographed it until it flew away,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 200, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 200, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 200, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

A European Starling,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 160, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

I found the Eurasian Nuthatches really fun birds to watch, and their song is very melodic,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,250, ISO 800, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Please stay tuned for more posts from my trip!

Birding at Parc St. Aubin

One of the things that sets France apart from North America is how little towns and cities run into one another. You’ll be driving through one town, but by then you’ll see a sign for the next town, but you’re already in it — there is often no clear distinction between the towns.

One of these little towns is Samoreau, near Fontainebleau. On January 17th, my father and my youngest brother discovered Samoreau’s Parc St. Aubin along the Seine river, while my mother and I caught up on emails at a nearby McDonald’s (it’s very handy for travellers that McDonald’s offers free WiFi).

After we finished at McDonald’s, they picked us up and we drove back to the park. From the parking lot I could see the pond, with six Mute Swans along the bank.

There are walking paths all around the pond, so I set off to see what I could see. Unfortunately, it was another very rainy day so I didn’t bother taking my camera out.

I saw Tufted Ducks, Common Pochards, Eurasian Moorhens, Eurasian Coots, and Black-headed Gulls on the water; and Eurasian Blue Tits, Eurasian Treecreepers, a Eurasian Wren European Robins, and Eurasian Blackbirds in the bushes. I also saw what I thought was a Eurasian Green Woodpecker feeding on the ground, but the bird flew away before I could get a good look.

I didn’t make it all around the pond as we had to get going. On the way back to the car, a bird flew overhead and landed in some trees along the river. I looked through my binoculars and saw a Eurasian Jay — a lifer!

I saw 23 species* while birding around the pond; you can view my eBird checklist from my first visit to Parc St. Aubin, here.

The next day, I went back to Parc St. Aubin for more birding. The sun was shining and there seemed to be a good number of birds around. My father dropped me off at the parking lot, and this time I had time to walk around the whole pond. Below are some of the pictures I took.

Male and female Tufted Ducks,


European Robins have the most beautiful songs,


There were quite a few Common Pochards on the pond,


A pair of Mallards — I’m not sure if the bird on the right is partially leucistic or domestic,


In the birch trees along the pond were Eurasian Siskins feeding on catkins — another lifer for me. I wasn’t able to get a photo of the siskins as they were in the shadows.

An adult Common Blackbird,


Canada Geese,


A Great Cormorant,


Black-headed Gulls are the most common gull species in France,


Black-Headed Gulls in winter plumage,


A Eurasian Coot,


While walking back to the car, a woodpecker flew up from a tree. It landed in a backyard and I could clearly see it was a European Green Woodpecker.

Here’s my eBird checklist from my second trip to Parc St. Aubin.

Just like la Plaine de Sorques, if you’re visiting the Fontainebleau area, taking some time to visit Parc St. Aubin is well worthwhile. You will likely see Tufted Ducks and European Robins, and maybe a Eurasian Jay and a Eurasian Green Woodpecker or two.

It’s a very peaceful, beautiful place and well used with many people walking the trails, though no any obvious birders.

The view from the south side of the pond,


* I wasn’t certain with my identification of the Eurasian Green Woodpecker from January 17th, since as I didn’t get a clear view. But after seeing another Eurasian Green Woodpecker on the 18th and confirming the ID, I added the woodpecker to my first checklist.

Birding at la Plaine de Sorques

A short drive from the house where we stayed, on rue Renoult in the village of Bourron-Marlotte (near Fontainebleau, south of Paris), is the Plaine de Sorques near the village of Montigny-sur-Loing. The Plaine is a protected nature conservation area, with two bird observatories overlooking the marsh.

From the parking lot, it’s a short walk to each of the observatories, but the closest observatory seems to be the main one and is very popular with birders and nature photographers in the area. One birder told my mother that the sightings at the first observatory tend to be better “75 percent of the time”! IMG_7175

Unfortunately, it was cloudy on both days that we visited Sorques, which wasn’t ideal for photography, but I got some decent photos.

Here’s the first observatory. As you enter the covered observatory, you can look out the (glassless) windows to the vast marsh beyond.


There were two other birders who were scanning for birds on the water. Any time they would see something of interest, they’d call me over so I could take a look. Not surprisingly, European birders are just as generous as North American birders.

On the lake were Mallards, Gadwalls, Common Pochards, Tufted Ducks, Great Crested Grebes, European Cormorants, Grey Herons, and Northern Lapwings. In fact, there were hundreds of lapwings, another life species for me.

This Northern Lapwing came very close to us. They are very dapper shorebirds with quite the “hair-do”,


I was very excited to see Tufted Ducks as they were a target species for me for the trip.

Two male Tufted Ducks,


A Grey Heron that landed close to the observatory,


One of the favourite birds that the French birders showed me was a Common Kingfisher which liked to perch close to the observatory and hunt for fish. The Common Kingfisher is electric blue on the back and wings with a chestnut-coloured breast.

The kingfisher flew to this perch three times in less than an hour,


The sun setting at Sorques,


My father and I drove to Sorques again at 9 am the next morning to see if I could spot some new species. Two photographers were already there waiting for the kingfisher!

A Mute Swan,


Both of the swans feeding along the edge of the marsh,


I saw two Common Kingfishers flying around the lake, and but this one stopped to do some fishing right in front of us,


While watching the kingfisher, five Little Grebes swam out of the willows past the observatory,


The photographers put some sunflower seeds on the ground and on a rail near the entrance to the observatory. A Marsh Tit was the first bird to check out the seeds,


A few European Robins were also interested in the seeds, but they were challenging to photograph. Here’s one of my better photos,


While I was trying in vain to get photos of the robins, this little bird showed up. It’s a Dunnock, a species that’s uncommon in France during the winter,


After an hour at the observatory, my father and I left since we had other plans for the rest of the day.

If you’re visiting the Fontainebleau area, take some time to visit la Plaine de Sorques. You’ll see some great birds in a beautiful part of the French countryside.

If you need more convincing to visit Sorques, look at my eBird checklists, here and here, from both of my visits to the observatory. And here are some lovely photographs from one of the photographers that I met.

On the way to the observatory I saw lots of trees with “balls” of leaves. I’m not sure what species of tree this is, or if a particular growth habit causes this, but I’d really like to know. My family thought they looked rather like Dr. Seuss trees.