It is a stroke of good fortune that my father’s residence is located a mere 3 miles from one of Germany’s 30 so-called “hotspots of natural variety”, islands of re-naturalized habitat wrested from the surrounding agricultural and industrial landscape. They are living proof that nature, given the opportunity, will reclaim its own. Since the regional branch of the country’s largest conservation group (Naturschutzbund, aka NaBu) completed this particular site in Rhineland-Palatinate in 2011, called Rohrwiesen am Seegraben, which could loosely be translated as “reed meadows near the creek bed”, a minimum of 160 bird species have re-populated this oasis, along with additional animals and plants.
It is formed by a creek, called Seebach, a tributary of the Rhine River, one of Europe’s major shipping arteries. In order to facilitate nautical traffic and to prevent flooding prevalent throughout many centuries, the large stream and its side channels were straightened, resulting in loss of habitat. Once the creek in question was allowed to again leave its prescribed bed and to flood fields, it created ponds and wetlands in the process which attracted numerous resident and migratory birds. A viewing platform and an observation hut invite the nature lover to linger and observe the environs.
One of my regrets is my non-interest in birding when I grew up in Germany. Except for our frequent feathered denizens, I did not know most by name. I also was not aware of birding enthusiasts, or of dedicated groups, like the one I belong to in Colorado which meets weekly. In another bit of luck, my visit in Germany this past fall coincided with Euro Birdwatch, a continent-wide bird count each October. So when I had the chance to set out with four experienced local birders for this European event at this very hotspot, I jumped at it, benefited from a higher number of avian sightings than I could have reached on my own, and expanded my German vocabulary. Among the rarities I surely would have missed were Dunlins, Little Stints, Spotted Redshanks, and Common Greenshanks. Just thinking of shorebirds characteristically puts me into a state of complete confusion.
After count day I continued to frequent this serene enclave. One morning, I happened upon a pair of Mute Swans, one adult and one juvenile, still asleep in a pond, seemingly without a worry in the world. Only when approached by Eurasian Coots and Common Moorhen did they pull their elegant necks from under their wings, survey their watery realm regally, and commence their morning toilette.
A flock of Graylag Geese interrupted the silence as they circled noisily, before landing in a lake where they continued their garrulous chatter.
I typically encountered Great Egrets, Gray Herons, Little Grebes, Mallards, Eurasian Green-winged Teals, Tufted Ducks, Gadwall, and a lone Common Shelduck. Common Buzzards were, indeed, common, but on a few lucky occasions I saw Red Kites and Eurasian Marsh Harriers.
Cormorants, Common Kingfisher, Common Snipe, and Northern Lapwing also counted among the regulars, and some of the smaller callers were Eurasian Wrens, European Stonechats, Common Reed Buntings, Northern Wheatear, and Great Tits. The latter are among Europe’s most abundant and gregarious little birds, as cheerful to behold as the related chickadees in North America.
Sunrise and sunset painted the boggy, reedy scenery in warm auburn hues and the air was filled with the waxing or waning of bird calls. I immersed myself in this sanctuary as often as possible. During a previous trip I had learned about the increasing numbers of the White Stork population in Western Europe. This thriving ecological niche was a further encouraging example of what can be accomplished when humans put hearts, heads, and hands together.
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