Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 2

During last fall’s sojourn in Stuttgart, I enjoyed re-visiting some cherished corners of Baden-Württemberg’s capital. Upon completion of my stroll through the Schlossgarten, I directed my steps along the Neckar River. A few miles farther north, another beautiful, man-made oasis appealed not only to this human, but also to her favorite feathered friends.

Strolling along the Neckar River

Great Cormorant in the river

A message of love

Max-Eyth-Lake is bordered to the west by the Neckar River, whose steep slopes are covered with award-winning vineyards, and to the north and east by a hill burdened with high-rises. A suspension bridge (aka Max-Eyth-Steg) leads across the river, and a foot path encircles the lake. In summer, boat rentals afford an additional experience. Cafés and restaurants invite the weary walker for a culinary pause. The body of water was created in the 1930s at the location of a former sand and gravel quarry, and became a nature preserve in the 1960s.

Max-Eyth-Lake with bridge and surroundings (the featured panoramic photo above was taken in the previous year, about three weeks earlier in the fall)

Lovely willow

Late fall colors

Site of a heron rookery, I found large numbers of these long-legged, long-necked, long-billed wading birds. Flocks of garrulous Graylag Geese inched their way across stretches of lawn that served both as buffet and lavatory. Here, too, mallards, coots, and moorhen were right at home. I was thrilled to once again observe an elegant black swan. Was it identical to the one I had encountered  the previous year?

Gorgeous Gray Heron

Grazing Graylag Geese

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Swan

European Robin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following a period of rain, this day’s sunshine did not succeed entirely in evaporating the moisture in the air and on the paths, and as soon as the sun approached the horizon, the humidity consolidated into a layer of mist that hovered over the water’s surface. As the solar body took its leave, I reluctantly followed, but not before vowing to return.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/stuttgarts-grune-seiten-teil-2/

Birds of Ages

During one’s short stint on our blue planet, some days stand out because of sadness and pain, others for the joy they bring. As humans we are privileged to witness natural phenomena likely to give wing to our imagination. Colorado’s San Luis Valley with its stunning scenery happens to be the stage where, for eons, the twice annual migration of the Rocky Mountain population of Sandhill Cranes to and from their summer breeding grounds takes place. In March of this year, I was again fortunate enough to immerse myself in this spectacle. Unlike a previous time, my hopes were not disappointed.

Between 18 and 25 thousand cranes might appear in any given year near the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge (my 18 to 25 thousand reasons to keep returning). The vast majority are Greater Sandhill Cranes, not easily distinguished from their slightly smaller Lesser and Canadian cousins. On their way to the Greater Yellowstone area where they will raise the next generation, they pause between the middle of February and beginning of April to eat, eat, eat. On the refuge, fields of barley and wheat are mowed to coincide with their arrival, and the cranes obligingly gather early in the morning and again before sunset to fill their tummies. The feeding fields are wonderful places to observe these big birds, with their lanky limbs and crimson caps.

Not immediately obvious, their myriad numbers are composed of families, consisting of an adult pair and last year’s offspring (typically one). Mating for life, which can span two to three decades, spring feelings for one another are expressed by droll dances whose elements include hops of varying height, flaps of wings that span up to 78 inches, and contortions of long necks. After spending the winter with their descendants in the vicinity of New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and undertaking spring migration together, the juvenile is forced out by its parents, to fend for itself, until it starts its own family, between the ages of two and seven.

Full of commotion and commingling, these gatherings are furthermore sites of characteristic concerts. Each arriving or departing group of cranes is accompanied by guttural sounds unlike any others, emanating from long, coiled tracheas that transform the tones and attach to them an otherworldly quality. Even when the feathery hordes disperse to wet meadows or other mid-day destinations, their calls permeate the air. Across many miles, the awed spectator is never out of earshot of the vocalizations that evoke ancient history. For 2.5 million years these living relics and their ancestors have witnessed the earth’s ups and downs, and if we knew how to listen to their stories, we might learn valuable lessons about life, love, and loss.

Spring’s Blue Ribbon

At 6000 feet, spring does not necessarily arrive in accordance with meteorological or astronomical predictions. It does not appear suddenly, but approaches stealthily. A green shoot here, a pink blossom there, an emerald sheen on the lawn, emerging tree buds that suffuse aspens in a hue of red, and cottonwoods in a tinge of gold.

The residual snow on north-facing slopes or in the shade of a rock or tree is coarse and crunches under foot. It lingers until the lengthening days and the increasing angle of the sun succeed in melting these last vestiges of winter.

Migratory birds commence their journey to their summer breeding grounds. Apart from flora’s cheery colors and contagious vitality, the avian presence, vivacity, and music-making contribute to make this coming one my favorite season.

I have already celebrated the return of the robins and their lovely voices in a previous post. Only last week I saw my first Say’s Phoebe, back from its wintering grounds in Mexico. This flycatcher of the dry country perches on fences, frequently dips its tail, and dives for insects.

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

A flying sapphire whose return from southern climes also has come to signify spring is the ethereal Mountain Bluebird. Unlike other members of the thrush family, it prefers open meadows and alights on the top of bushes, trees, or power lines. During its hunt for insects, it appears like a cerulean flash through one’s field of vision.

Male Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

Female Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

The German romantic poet Eduard Mörike might not have realized it, but in my mind this avian jewel represents the blue ribbon of his 1828 poem (my apologies to Mr. Mörike for my translation):

Springtime lets her ribbon blue

Flutter through the air again.

Sweet, familiar scents

Sweep across the land.

Violets dream already,

Dream of their emergence.

-Hark, a soft sound, harp-like, from afar.

Yes, it is you, spring.

I have perceived you.

Wishing all of us a beautiful spring (with apologies to my friends in the Southern Hemisphere where summer is now ending).

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/des-fruhlings-blaues-band/

Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 1

Renewed contact with relatives in Stuttgart in recent years has been enriching not only on a personal level, but has enabled me to combine family visits with those of natural enclaves. A few sites in particular have stolen my heart. Like a siren, they beckon me to return and like Odysseus, I am unable to resist their call. This past fall I sought them out again, following my first acquaintance the previous year.

Stuttgart’s Schlossgarten (Palace Garden) consists of three contiguous and connected parts. The Upper Schlossgarten nearest the center of the city has at its core the artificial reservoir Eckensee and is fringed by eye-catching edifices and monuments, most notably the New Palace, former residence of the kings of Württemberg. A bridge across the busy Schillerstraße near the Main Train Station leads north to the Middle Schlossgarten which merges with the Lower Schlossgarten. These two occupy a wider footprint and feel more removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. From one end of the Schlossgarten nearest downtown to the opposite end that abuts the Neckar River in Bad Cannstatt, the distance approximates two to three miles, depending on the directness of one’s chosen route. I like to meander, but still covered it in about two hours.

One corner of the Eckensee, with adjacent Königsbau on the right, and victory column on the left

Fountain of Fate (Schicksalsbrunnen) at the Upper Palace Garden

Urban natural oases might not offer the pristineness and solitude of more remote destinations, but they are welcome refuges and serve as reminders of nature’s adaptability and tendency to thrive when afforded the slightest opportunity. Surrounded by human habitations and incessant traffic, occupied by manicured lawns and choreographed trees, bushes, and flowers, the verdant lung of Baden-Württemberg’s capital nonetheless offers a home for many wild critters, though how wild they remain through constant contact with and frequent handouts by humans remains debatable.

Mute Swan, not bothered by human activity

…nor are these sleeping Mallards near its edge

 

Black-headed Gull, unfazed by humans

…as is the squirrel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pond in the Middle Palace Garden

Vast meadow in the Lower Palace Garden

Autumn splendor

…with inviting trails

The Common Moorhen was very common

…as was the Eurasian Coot

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egyptian Geese, transplants from North Africa

The handsome Graylag Goose

The even more attractive Gray Heron

Despite a near-constant current of walkers, runners, and bikers, I encountered everywhere my favorite feathered friends whose presence perfected this picturesque panorama. As my visit to Stuttgart happened late in the year, autumn’s brush had dipped deeply into pots of gold and amber and burgundy, and had applied its strokes liberally to the local flora. On a day when the sun succeeded in counteracting the cloud cover that clung to the skies during the remainder of the week, those colors carried summer’s residual heat and warmed my heart and soul.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/stuttgarts-grune-seiten-teil-1/

Robinsong

For as long as I can remember, I have seldom needed an alarm clock. I typically awake on my own, without having my dreams disrupted by bothersome beeping. While human sleep and wake cycles result from nature and nurture, in birds these patterns are inborn. I vaguely recollect learning about a ”bird clock” many years back that outlined the sequence in which feathered beings greet the new day. Commencing several hours before and extending well past the emergence of the solar orb, avians don’t need an alarm clock either, but might serve as one instead. In contrast to artificial jingles, these are the wake-up calls I welcome.

I have visited or lived in Colorado Springs off and on for over twenty years, but have resided here permanently for only the last five. Familiarizing myself with our local bird population has been a pleasure and delight. While we are blessed with rare visitors of exquisite color and beauty, especially during spring and fall migrations, the resident denizens, though possibly less spectacular, are nonetheless a joy, and accompany us during many months. Singling out an individual species is a subjective exercise, but I want to sing the praises of a frequent backyard companion.

American Robins (which bear little resemblance to European Robins) are known throughout the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and wide stretches of Canada. Even though, in theory, they don’t depart from Colorado in the winter, they are conspicuously absent from our vicinity. During that season they flock to portions of El Paso County that provide them with one of their favorite foods. Next to earthworms that fill their stomachs during warmer periods, they relish berries, and a paucity of those globular stores of energy compels them to relocate to areas of abundance.

In affirmation of an old proverb, their absence during our frigid spells makes my heart grow fonder and fills me with longing for their return, and, come February or March, I rejoice when I first behold them. Handsomely attired, their slate-colored head, back, and wings, orange-red belly, and well-placed touches of white are as cheering as their carols.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Despite their homecoming before the vernal equinox, before the last snow has yet to make an appearance, and when the cold of winter might linger for months, they promise the advent of spring. The early flocks disperse as the weeks progress, and gather in pairs for the breeding season. I enjoy watching them hop or hurry across the lawn, or sit with wings draped next to their bodies, penguin-like. At our bird feeder they perform aerial acrobatics by hovering next to a suet-filled log, in an attempt to glean tasty morsels from it, and they frequently wait for me in the morning to refill their buffet.

Robins are among the earliest risers, and are the first creatures I hear before daybreak. At the height of summer, their morning concert commences as early as 3:30. An introductory chatter is followed by a series of chirps which transitions into a harmonious phrase repeated many times over. The bellwether is soon joined by another singer, and another… After a while I lose count until all I hear are echoes reverberating from adjoining lots, soon complemented by novel melodies and voices. Interestingly, the robins’ tunes diminish before the emergence of the sun, and their vocalizations during the day are intermittent, only to crescendo again past sunset, as if to remind the listener of their continued presence. Their soli outlast those of other performers, and provide a musical bookend to the day.

Members of the thrush family, reputed to comprise some of the most accomplished vocalists, robins remind me of prevalent songsters of my childhood in Germany, Eurasian Blackbirds, which might account for my favoring robinsong. In the bird world, the choral responsibilities rest mainly on males, and much has been said and written about the significance of their music for outlining territory and attracting females. While scientific explanations make biologic sense and are fascinating to ponder, this human soul is content to be filled with a symphony whose ethereal notes float into the cosmos.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/drosselgesang/

The Joys of Birding

Hardly a day goes by without me birding, either by watching avian visitors at our feeders in the yard, or by setting out with binoculars and camera in tow. Non-birders can’t imagine why anybody might spend hours looking for and rejoicing over feathered beings. I sometimes wonder, too, why I don’t get bored spending vast stretches of time looking at animals I have seen countless times, but I never grow tired of them. Common representatives, such as sparrows, finches, and chickadees delight as much as rarer individuals, and observing the widespread varieties over and over provides the opportunity to learn about their daily, monthly, and yearly cycles and behaviors, and affords fascinating insights into their lives.

Many birders keep lists, mental or actual, of the species encountered and I would be lying if I claimed indifference to the thrill of adding a new kind, a so-called life-bird, or “lifer”. While this is not a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the avifauna, it contributes excitement and incentive to its exploration. Months may pass without the surprise of a novelty, then might be followed by unusually high numbers. The end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 represent such an unusually productive period for me – 10 lifers. I owe other observers and birding friends thanks who first found and documented these species on “eBird”, a reporting and monitoring website linked with the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The collaboration and support among fellow bird lovers is impressive.

While I generally attempt to capture these new birds with my camera I don’t always succeed, and frequently the quality of the photos leaves much to be desired. I am not showing the Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra), and White-winged Scoter(Melanitta fusca), but am sharing the remainder of the ten winged wonders who have brightened and enriched this otherwise dark and challenging period in my life. I hope they will bring cheer to you as well.

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)

Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)

Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor)

Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii)

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/die-freuden-der-vogelschau/

Peacock Island

After stilling my historic hunger with difficult-to-digest fare, Berlin’s greener and more appetizing morsels beckoned. Filled with harrowing thoughts about the infamous Wannsee Conference, I was grateful for the opportunity to push the reset button while walking on wooded paths paralleling the Havel River which shimmered in the late morning sun, until I reached my next destination: Peacock Island.

I owed my knowledge of this famous gem to a reference in the same vintage visitor guide to Berlin introduced in a previous post. Its mention of exotic plants and birds caught my eye, and although the season was too advanced for floral lushness, I was still hoping to catch a few glimpses of the avifauna. In 1924, a nature preserve was established on the 67 hectare island, and in 1990, the designation UNESCO World Heritage site was added under the rubric Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin. It is accessible only by ferry. The 4 Euro ride was over almost as soon as it started, and I expectantly set foot on terra firma again.

As luck would have it, I benefitted from the mildest and sunniest weather of my entire journey. The slanting, late autumn light bathed all insular vegetation, edifices and denizens in its warm glow. Even though most of the grounds and plants have been man-made, are heavily man-aged, and provide a home to domestic animals, among them sheep and horses (and even Asian water buffaloes, but solely during the summer months), wild life forms, be they be-petaled or be-winged, quickly found and filled their niches, and the area is known to harbor rare wildflowers, bats, several threatened beetles, and over 100 species of birds.

Schloss Pfaueninsel (Castle Peacock Island), built by Prussian King Frederick William II 1795-97 for his mistress

The number of avians present on this early December day was lower, but I admired diverse waterfowl, sparrows, tits, nuthatches, blackbirds, jays, egrets and even a couple of Eurasian Bullfinches.

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

And, of course, those feathered beings responsible for the island’s name whose presence was foretold by a lone blue feather luxuriating on a pillow of moss.

From the top of their nearby aviary, the feather’s former owner was also luxuriating in the late season sun. Peacocks, technically known as Indian peafowl, thanks to their origins on the Indian subcontinent, have been bred on islands like this since Roman times to protect them from theft and to prevent their escape.

It comes as no surprise that, out of my two-and-a-half days in Germany’s capital, the hours spent on this isle, away from the hustle and bustle of crowds, away from controversy, were the most pleasant. My sense of retreat was heightened by the ferry ride, the scarcity of visitors and gardeners at this advanced time of year, the sporadic ship traffic on the stream. I relished the near-illusion of an untamed swath of land where I drank deeply of the fresh air and lolled lazily in the residual warmth of the solar rays. Feeling momentarily light-hearted I was reminded of my ever-growing need to wander under the open sky – especially when it resounds with the cheerful chatter of birds.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/berlin-pfaueninsel/