Birding In Germany

Last week I sang the praises of May travel. The floral profusion which so impressed us was met, if not exceeded, by the plenitude of birds, as we were in Central Europe during the same season as many migrants from Africa. Because most of my previous visits had happened in late fall, I had missed out on this exhilarating experience.

Vergangene Woche besang ich die Vorzüge einer Reise im Mai. Die Fülle der Flora, die uns so beeindruckte, wurde von der Vielzahl an Vögeln übertroffen, da wir uns in Mitteleuropa in der selben Zeit aufhielten, wie viele Zugvögel aus Afrika. Da die meisten meiner vorherigen Besuche im Spätherbst stattgefunden hatten, waren mir diese erquickenden Erfahrungen entgangen.

At this point, I m asking a dear friend for forgiveness, as, by his own account, his eyes glaze over when I start to revel in birds (I am sure he is not the only one). Sorry, Arnim. You might want to skip this one! 😊

An diesem Punkt bitte ich einen guten Freund um Entschuldigung, da seine Blicke, wie er mir selbst gestand, in die Ferne driften, wann immer ich mich über Vögel auslasse (er ist bestimmt nicht der Einzige). Es tut mir leid, Arnim. Diesen Beitrag sollst Du vielleicht überspringen! 😊

One of my absolute favorites among feathered beings is the White Stork, as I have expressed in a previous post. Fortunately, in the vicinity of my father’s home are several known nesting areas, so I was thrilled about multiple sightings of Mrs. and Mr. Stork.

Einer meiner absoluten gefiederten Favoriten ist der Weißstorch, wie ich bereits in einem vorherigen Beitrag berichtete. Glücklicherweise gibt is in der Umgebung meines Vaters einige Nistgebiete, so daß ich mich total glücklich schätzte, Frau und Herrn Adebar wiederholte Male zu sichten.

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While the encounters with these long-legged, elegant creatures were not unexpected, another one with a similarly endowed visitor was. Eurasian Spoonbills tend to spend summers at the coast, or at larger inland lakes. The Rohrwiesen in Rheinhessen, where I was lucky enough to see one, has several small ponds, but it was an unusual destination, and only used as a layover. Whenever I am in Germany, I spend a lot of time at this amazing birding hotspot, which I introduced in another previous essay.

Die Begegnungen mit diesen langbeinigen, eleganten Kreaturen waren nicht unerwartet, im Gegensatz zu einer mit einem ähnlich ausgestatteten Besucher. Löffler verbringen normalerweise den Sommer an der Küste, oder an größeren Binnenseen. Die Rohrwiesen in Rheinhessen haben zwar einige kleine Tümpel, aber dieses ungewöhnliche Ziel war nur ein Zwischenstopp. Wann immer ich in Deutschland bin, verbringe ich viel Zeit an diesem tollen Hotspot, den ich früher auch schon mal vorgestellt habe.

To continue the long-legged theme, I happened across a Black-crowned Night Heron one evening, whose acquaintance I had made in Colorado, but this was my first European sighting. The Purple Heron, on the other hand, I had never seen anywhere else—a “lifer,” like the spoonbill!

Um das langbeinige Motto fortzuführen—eines Abends erspähte ich einen Nachtreiher, dessen Bekanntschaft ich bereits in Colorado gemacht hatte, aber dies war meine erste europäische Sichtung. Einen Purpurreiher hatte ich allerdings noch nie zuvor gesehen—ein „Lifebird“, wie der Löffler auch.

It is a goal of mine to recognize birds by ear, and springtime is a good season to learn their songs and calls, as it is breeding season, during which they advertise their presence vocally to attract mates or warn off potential rivals (this is, by far, not a complete list of the astounding usage of bird language). Few other songs are as recognizable as the voluminous melody of the Common Nightingale, whose vocalizations, contrary to popular belief, are not limited to nighttime. Additionally, I first consciously saw and recognized Eurasian Blackcaps, also beautiful singers. While a Bluethroat’s song might not be able to compete with that of a Nightingale or a Blackcap, with regard to outfit, it wins the contest hands-down. This jewel was one of the birds on my wish list, and I was delighted to find one, singing from the same perch on the same tree on two different occasions.

Es ist eines meiner Ziele, Vögel an ihrem Gesang erkennen zu können, und der Frühling bietet sich besonders dazu an, ihre Lieder und Rufe zu erlernen, denn es ist Brutzeit, während der viele Vögel ihre Präsenz mit lauter Stimme verkünden, um Partner anzulocken oder Rivalen zu warnen (das ist bei weitem keine komplette Liste der erstaunlichen Anwendungen der Vogelsprache). Wenige Lieder sind so leicht erkennbar wie die schmetternde Melodie der Nachtigall, deren Musizieren, entgegen der landläufigen Meinung, nicht auf die Nacht beschränkt ist. Ich sah und erkannte auch zum ersten Mal Mönchsgrasmücken, ebenfalls wunderbare Sänger. Das Blaukehlchen kann zwar nicht mit dem Gesang der Nachtigall oder Grasmücke konkurrieren, doch was sein Kostüm anbelangt, gewinnt es mühelos. Dies war einer der Vögel auf meiner Wunschliste, und es hat mich riesig gefreut, den selben Vogel an zwei Gelegenheiten an dem selben Baum auf der selben Warte anzutreffen.

To see the fruits of some birds’ labors, so to speak, was another bonus of a springtime visit. Baby birds were in evidence everywhere. A breeding pair of Great Tits in my father’s yard was raising its second brood during our visit and we often watched the young ones getting fed by their tireless parents. The lone Black Redstart toddler on the fence also awaited the next free meal-on-wings. Since we don’t reside in an area where swans breed, I was awed by a family. It took me a moment to realize that one of the adults had not one but two riders on its back. Once I beheld them, I realized that I disagree with Hans Christian Andersen. Cygnets are no ugly ducklings, they are already adorable in their infant stage.

Die Früchte des (Er)schaffens einiger Vögel zu Gesicht zu bekommen, war eine weitere Zugabe dieses Besuches im Frühling. Überall gab es Nachwuchs zu sehen. Ein brütendes Kohlmeisenpaar im Garten meines Vaters zog bereits seine zweite Brut auf, und wir beobachteten oft, wie die unermüdlichen Eltern ihre Jungen fütterten. Das Rotschwänzchen im Kleinkindesalter wartete auch auf sein nächstes Essen auf Schwingen. Da wir nicht in einer Gegend leben, wo Schwäne brüten, war ich von einer Schwanenfamilie entzückt. Es dauerte einen Moment, bis ich registrierte, daß einer der Erwachsenen nicht nur einen Reiter auf dem Rücken trug, sondern zwei. Sobald ich ihrer gewahr wurde, war mir klar, daß ich Hans Christian Andersen nicht zustimme. Schwanenküken sind keine häßlichen Entlein, sie sind bereits im Kindessalter Schönheiten.

All progeny, avian or otherwise, epitomizes such potential and hope in the future, an outlook often lacking in other worldly goings-on. Maybe it’s one of the reasons why I spend so much time in nature, with my beloved birds.

Jeder Nachwuchs, mag er vogelartig oder sonstwie sein, verkörpert solch Potential, und solch Hoffnung auf die Zukunft, eine Aussicht, die sonst im Alltag nicht oft gegeben ist. Vielleicht ist das einer der Gründe, warum ich so viel Zeit in der Natur mit meinen geliebten Vögeln verbringe.

Springtime In Germany

I hadn’t paid a vernal visit to Germany for many years, until my husband and I arrived there in early May of this year. Living in the semi-arid climate of Colorado’s Front Range, we are accustomed to many more shades of brown than of green, but the photoreceptors responsible for numerous nuances of that latter wavelength worked overtime during our springtime sojourn.

Ich hatte Deutschland schon lange keinen Besuch mehr im Lenz abgestattet, bis mein Mann und ich dort Anfang Mai dieses Jahres eintrafen. Da wir im halbtrockenen Klima des Vorgebirges der Rocky Mountains in Colorado leben, sind wir an mehr braune als grüne Schattierungen gewöhnt, doch die für die letzteren Wellenlängen verantwortlichen Photorezeptoren haben während unseres Frühlingsaufenthaltes Überstunden geleistet.

From the moment our flight approached the airport in Frankfurt, to a few minutes after take-off four weeks later, when clouds engulfed our plane, we were surrounded by many gradations of green, and a vegetation so dense we perceived it as near-tropical. Deciduous trees in full foliage, high hedges, and generous grasses grew before our eyes thanks to copious rains. In the small but precious garden lovingly designed and tended by my father and his significant other, we made new discoveries almost daily.

Von dem Moment, in dem sich unsere Maschine dem Frankfurter Flughafen näherte, bis wenige Minuten nach unserem Abflug vier Wochen später, als Wolken unser Flugzeug umhüllten, wurden wir von allerlei Grüntönen sowie von einer so dichten Vegetation umgeben, daß wir uns fast in den Tropen wähnten. Laubbäume in voller Kluft, hohe Hecken und großzügige Gräser wuchsen dank reichlicher Regenschauer vor unseren Augen. Im kleinen aber feinen, liebevoll gestalteten und gepflegten Garten meines Vaters und seiner Lebensgefährtin entdeckten wir fast täglich neue Überraschungen.

Horse chestnuts, among my favorite trees, strutted their candle-like inflorescences in white or hues of pink like some immodest phalluses (which, in fact, they are). The branches of fruit trees were weighed down with the future sweet harvest of cherries, apricots, figs, and additional fruits and nuts. In the wine-growing region of Rheinhessen, grapes were only in their embryonic stage, awaiting sunny, warm days to undergo their transformation into honeyed, Rubenesque globes. Verdant fields undulated in the breeze, promising to yield wheat, rye, barley, or oats.

Die zu meinen Lieblingsbäumen gehörenden Kastanien brüsteten sich mit ihren weißen oder pinkfarbenen kerzenartigen Blütenständen, als seien sie schamlose Phallus-Symbole (sind sie übrigens auch). Die Zweige der Obstbäume bogen sich unter der Last der künftigen süßen Ernte von Kirschen, Aprikosen, Feigen und sonstigen Früchten und Nüssen. Die Trauben der Weinregion Rheinhessen waren noch im Embryonalstadium und warteten auf sonnige, warme Tage, um ihre Verwandlung in honigsüße rubenssche Kugeln vorzunehmen. Grüne Felder undulierten sacht in der Brise und versprachen Erträge aus Weizen, Roggen, Gerste oder Hafer.

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Amid the greenery, splotches of color. Both wild and domestic flowers flourished. Peonies unfolded their plentiful petals, and countless rose varieties adorned gardens, parks, country roads, even forests. Orange California Poppies competed for attention with splendid cultivated pink poppies, and their untamed, red counterparts. Myriad other blossoms were woven into the floral fabric.

Inmitten des Grüns, farbige Kleckse. Sowohl wilde, als auch gezüchtete Blumen florierten. Pfingstrosen entfalteten ihre reichlichen Blütenblätter, und zahllose Rosenvarianten schmückten Gärten, Parks, Feldwege und Wälder. Orangefarbiger kalifornischer Mohn eiferte um die Wette mit veredelten, rosa-angehauchten Schönheiten sowie mit deren ungezähmten roten Pendants. Unzählige weitere Blüten fügten sich in das blumige Gewebe.

I often declare that May is a good month to travel, and am glad to report that my assertion was confirmed by our recent trip. Nature’s friendly greeting was equaled by the hospitality we experienced from family and friends. Our sincere thanks to all of you. We hope to welcome you in Colorado to pay you back in kind!

Ich beteuere oft, der Mai sei ein guter Monat zum Verreisen, und bin froh, daß unsere jüngste Reise diese Behauptung bestätigt hat. Der freundlichen Begrüßung, die uns Mutter Natur bereitete, stand die Gastfreundschaft, die uns Familie und Freunde entgegenbrachten, in nichts nach. Wir danken Euch allen herzlich und hoffen, Euch in Colorado ebenso willkommen heißen zu können.

Highway Of Miracles

It doesn’t take much for my equanimity to be disturbed, sad to say. During my return from a birding trip to New Mexico in late April, where I had been caught unawares when the thermometer climbed above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius), I was taken equally by surprise by a gathering bank of clouds that eventually spanned the entire firmament from Albuquerque to the state line, before it released squalls of rain and billowing clouds of fog. Associated gusts of wind and an unpropitious weather forecast for the coming night made me choose a motel in southern Colorado over a cold, wet night in the tent. Big mistake!

After a week of camping, I underestimated the horror of replacing a billowy tent with an enclosed room, a constant flow of fresh air with sealed windows, the nocturnal hooting of owls with the constant drone of trucks on the nearby interstate, my firm sleeping pad with an overly soft mattress. I tossed and turned during each expensive hour and could not wait to hit the road again by 6 AM.

I was still squabbling with myself for having overpaid for my uninviting accommodations, and berating myself for being a fair-weather camper, not quite sure how to get over myself. Leave it to southern Colorado’s Highway Of Legends to put me to shame, and pull me out of my foul, sleep-deprived mood by gently but insistently reminding me of nature’s beauty and grace, in a way that even my curmudgeonly self could not ignore.

Early into the 82 mile (132 kilometer) route between the towns of Trinidad and Walsenburg, one of the West’s most striking woodpeckers, a Lewis’s, which I had not seen in ages, clang to a utility pole right next to the road, but my brain registered its presence only after I had already passed it. A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed no cars. I engaged the brakes, shifted into reverse, then pulled over to take a few photos, unable to prevent a smile.

Not long after my woodpecker surprise, complemented by additional animal appearances, I happened upon a herd of at least 100 elk crossing the highway. Seemingly without effort, they leapt across the fences that lined both sides of the road. Most of them threw me wary glances while they kept trotting, but one bull stopped to show himself in his regal stance. I alone witnessed their move from a wintry meadow to one clad in vernal apparel.

My rainy day in New Mexico had translated into a brief burst of winter in this part of Colorado, as I experienced mile after scenic mile on my way to Cuchara Pass at nearly 10,000 feet (3000 meters). By then, my real or imagined grievances were forgotten and I realized that the timing of the day’s encounters only worked out because of where and when I had started out that morning. I was entirely enchanted and utterly happy to be present right there and then, on my Highway of Miracles.

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I will take a break from blogging for at least three weeks as I will be traveling abroad. My apologies if I won’t get around to reading and liking your posts. Thank you for your understanding and Happy May to all of us!

Earth Still Spins

Some destinations exert a magnetic force, compelling us to return time and again. New Mexico’s Villanueva State Park is one such destination for me. Reachable only by a little-traveled county road, it is situated at the end of a fertile valley first frequented by Paleo-Indians and farmed in more recent centuries by Hispanic settlers, with water provided gratis by an early stretch of Pecos River, between its origin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and its eventual destiny in Texas—the mighty Rio Grande.

During my most recent visit in late April, not only do I travel a distance of nearly 300 miles (480 kilometers) south, I also journey into a more advanced stage of spring, with budding or blossoming trees and shrubs, a few blooming wildflowers, and pleasing temperatures, conducive to sleeping in a tent. The park’s campground is hemmed in by towering walls of sandstone carved by the stream and clad with the juniper-pinyon community typical of vast expanses of the arid Southwest. Rocky trails lead to various overlooks with views that touch infinity. The rushing river, swelled by snowmelt in the highlands, provides constant background music, to which resident and early migratory birds add their joyful voices.

It is a place permeated by a sense of timelessness, even though I am swept up in its daily arc far more than at home: Up and down with the sun, active early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with decreased activity during the heat of the day, like many fellow critters. The more egregious and topsy-turvy the man-made world, the more I long to be reassured that the earth is still spinning around its axis, that flora and fauna still follow their age-old rhythms. We would do well to heed Mother Nature’s mostly patient and persistent, but recently more urgent, pointers that to ignore those rhythms is to do so at our peril and to our detriment.

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Peace On Earth

As varied as our backgrounds and beliefs, most of us undoubtedly share the hope of a peaceful future for all (wo)mankind. Despite interpersonal differences and strife, we all know individuals who exemplify the good in humanity, or recall instances when someone’s unexpected conduct stopped us in our tracks, and made us reflect how we would have reacted in a similar situation.

I experienced one such instance when I first learned about the provenance of the windows at St. Stephen’s Church in Mainz, Germany, in the late 1980s. The building, whose foundations rest on Roman ruins, dates back in its earliest incarnation to the 10th century AD, having since undergone multiple modifications. After vast portions were destroyed by allied bombings in the 1940s, it was restored in the following decades.

I imagine that, in 1973, St. Stephen’s Pastor Klaus Mayer approached world-renowned artist Marc Chagall with some trepidation, with the request to fashion stained-glass windows for the church building, to replace the clear panels mounted temporarily during the postwar years. Russian-born Marc Chagall (1887-1985) had moved to France as a young artist, and had returned to his adopted country in 1948, after fleeing to the United States in 1941, in the wake of the Nazi invasion. I can’t begin to understand what it took for him not only to forgive the German nation for its genocide of millions of his fellow Jews, but to have the grace and greatheartedness to sublimate his sadness and sorrow into some of the most magnificent stained-glass windows ever created.

To bridge not only the chasm between Germans and Jews, but also between Christianity and Judaism, he chose to depict scenes from both the old and the new testaments. Between 1978, when he was 91, and his death in 1985 at the age of 97, nine windows of his design were produced at the studio of Jacques Simon in Reims, and subsequently installed at St. Stephen’s. Following Chagall’s passing, his friend and fellow artist, Charles Marq, continued the project, contributing nineteen additional windows. Whereas his conceptions over time became less pictorial and more abstract, they nonetheless emulated Chagall’s original color scheme and intent.

The exterior of the stately, yet not sumptuous, church does not prepare for the splendor that awaits behind the heavy bronze doors. A deep blue emanates from the windows, suffuses the interior, envelops the visitor in its calming, comforting glow. It draws the eye into the distance, while highlighting other colors and figures embedded in the glass. Since first falling in love with the serene, soothing atmosphere of this space, I have returned time and again, either to contemplate in silence, attend a guided meditation, or enjoy an organ concert. No trip to Germany would be complete without setting foot in it.

Marc Chagall’s life and legacy inspire. If each of us were to put forth even a modest effort to respect, and reach out to, one another, regardless of our religious or political convictions, skin color, age, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, Peace On Earth would not remain a mere utopian wish, but become a true possibility.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/25/friede-auf-erden/

Back To Nature

Wherever we gaze, natural habitat is vanishing. All of us are aware of the tragic destruction of rain forest, which not only creates, but also compounds global warming, as earth’s green lung is no longer available to inhale thermogenic carbon dioxide in the wonderful process of photosynthesis, which happens to exhale oxygen as an afterthought, in a way. Wetlands, on which countless animals and plants depend, are a second crucial environment that is disappearing at a dizzying pace. In the face of these losses, resignation, if not despair, is an understandable reaction. Fortunately, any restoration of life-giving spheres also restores a little glimmer of hope.

I have been heartened to learn of the success of several such projects during my previous sojourns in Germany. My roots lie in Rheinhessen, a region dominated by the Rhine River, as the name implies. Not far from the Rohrwiesen near the small town of Rheindürkheim (the topic of a previous post) lies a second sanctuary, called Eich-Gimbsheimer Altrhein (literally Old Rhine). A meandering stream for millennia, the Rhine was straightened in the 1820s, which left most of its loops to their own devices. Many dried up, but some, like the body of water in question, received sufficient quantities of water from the ground or skies, aided by occasional flooding of the stream. These inundations were subsequently prevented by the construction of a dam, and the marshes were drained and converted into arable land. The ground water level dropped further when wells were drilled to extract drinking water.

Happily, multi-pronged efforts in recent decades transformed the Old Rhine arm into a lake, and resurrected the adjacent wetlands. The 667 hectare area of this nature preserve forms part of the Natura 2000 network, an EU initiative that has as its goal the protection of threatened habitat, with its attendant plant and animal species. While it represents but a minuscule sliver of the surface of the earth, it has resulted in the flourishing of the local flora and fauna, and the provision of a way station for migratory birds. A 3.7 mile loop with several observation huts and towers circles and transects the parcel and affords glimpses of the Altrheinsee (Old Rhine Lake), of several water-filled gravel pits, of wetlands, of small pockets of swamp forest, and of the surrounding agricultural fields.

Because all my visits have happened in late autumn, I have yet to witness the full spectrum of vibrant life, and look forward to experiencing it in springtime. As modest as this haven might be, it nevertheless serves as an example of how we can save our planet, one baby step at a time.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/zuruck-zur-natur/

Home Away From Home

Whenever I have occasion to travel to Germany, I set my proverbial sail for my port of call: Osthofen. Scene of the first six years of my life, before a move to neighboring Westhofen with my parents, it has, once again, become my father’s chosen hometown. It is his company I seek, his domicile, where he and his significant other spoil me (or us) with their hospitality. Much to my chagrin, instead of experiencing their warm welcome in person, I can only reminisce about it at present.

Like many communities in Rhineland-Palatinate’s Rheinhessen region, Osthofen is famous for its wines. Viticulture has been practiced in the climatically conducive Rhine Valley since its introductions by the Romans 2000 years ago. Many families have benefitted from the river’s proximity, and, for generations, have been proud caretakers of countless vineyards. They cover the rolling hills, and change their apparel with the seasons. Distinctive turrets rise between the orderly rows of vines and are reminders of days when guardians took up temporary residence in them near harvest times, to discourage voracious birds from devouring the crops by firing loud shots into the air. Those human deterrents have long been replaced by noise-producing cannons.

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Strolling through town and its environs transports me to back to my childhood: Living with my paternal grandparents when I was an infant, until my parents built our first home. Being baptized at the local church. Attending the first three grades of elementary school. Returning in subsequent years to see family and friends, and to play team handball in a local club. The existence of the railroad has always guaranteed convenient connections to two significant destinations, Worms and Mainz, where I attended high school and university, respectively.

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Osthofen’s chronicles contain both light and dark chapters since the settlement was first mentioned in the 8th century. In 1621, it was destroyed during the 30 Years’ War, before being rebuilt. It hosted Richard Wagner in 1862, when he visited fellow composer and native son, Wendelin Weißheimer. 1933 cast its long, sinister shadow over the town. A former paper mill was re-purposed into a concentration camp for enemies of the newly-elected National Socialists, until their transfer to other facilities in the following year. Today the building houses a museum and an educational center that document the atrocities committed during Hitler’s calamitous regime.

Whenever possible, I spend time in nature. Like many agriculturally overdeveloped areas, arable land not covered in vineyards is subjugated to the plow and planted with grains or beets. Few natural enclaves remain, little habitat for untamed beings. Yet a small, man-made pond attracts waterfowl both domestic and wild, and the local cemetery with its old tree growth provides a haven for feathered and furry friends.

In response to my recent blog post “Sit And Stay A Spell,” my dad sent me this photograph of a bench. It has been in our family longer than I have, and was once a place to lounge on while making phone calls to friends. It has weathered repeated moves, and is now weathering the elements in my father’s driveway, where I hope to (gingerly) sit on it during my eagerly awaited next visit.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/meine-zweite-erste-heimat/