A Saturday morning with the Young Birders Club at the Carl Zeiss Bird Station

4:45 a.m.: The alarm clock went off. Thinking of sleeping in on a Saturday morning? Not when you're going to watch migratory birds with the Young Birders Club! We began counting all migratory birds even before the sun rose. So we met at the Wedel Marina at 7:30. We've headed to the marina because this is where the river Elbe is at its most narrow, causing the migrating birds to gather so that they can spend as little time over the water as possible as they fly south. This Saturday started out gray with a strong wind from the southwest – not exactly great conditions for migrating because birds generally don't fly when there are headwinds. Despite the weather, a small group of Young Birders met at the marina.

And it paid off! In spite of the wind, large groups of birds were out and flocks of them flew across the Elbe heading south every couple of seconds. Today the record went to the common chaffinch: in three hours, more than 21,500 of them flew across the river. Yet you have to look sharp when there are swarms of finches, because in between the common chaffinches is the odd brambling and hawfinch. Picking out individual species when bird watching requires a special kind of skill. Species that look quite different on the ground can appear almost exactly the same when flying overhead. You can only distinguish between them by their call and flying silhouette.

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An interview with Sören Rust

Sören, what got you interested in nature and birdwatching?

My family has always been very connected to nature. Both my parents are biologists, so I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child and I just grew up with nature, really.

I soon developed an interest in birds when I discovered just how many you can spot in your own back yard and how little I even knew about them. No sooner had I begun did I feel an overwhelming curiosity and I came across ever more species in and around the garden. During one of my various forays, I met another birdwatcher, who was also on the hunt for a kingfisher. He taught me about the Carl Zeiss Bird Station, and that’s when my passion for the pursuit came into its own.

Where does the Carl Zeiss Bird Station come into play?

The Carl Zeiss Bird Station is a fantastic place for ornithologists in and around Hamburg to meet. The Bird Station is situated in a key breeding and resting area for many birds and is equipped with excellent optics, which make it a great place to experience our feathered friends up close. The volunteers there immediately welcomed me with open arms and encouraged me to take an active role myself. Not a month has gone by since my first visit that I haven’t been at least once – in fact, I usually stop by every week. I also very much enjoy showing interested visitors the Wedel Marsh and its birds, and I love watching the birds and capturing shots of them myself. As a volunteer, my duties include station service and assignments designed to ensure the birds always have a place to breed and rest.

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They focus on two successful birding activities

Signed on the dotted line: On 9 October 2017, Deputy Executive Director of NABU Angelika Richter and Head of Consumer Optics at Carl Zeiss AG Jörg Schmitz concluded an agreement in Wetzlar regarding a long-term collaboration between NABU and Carl Zeiss Sports Optics.

ZEISS will sponsor the two NABU hands-on activities: Hour of the Garden Birds and Hour of the Winter Birds. The goal of the partnership is for the signatories to provide new impetus for enjoying the beauty of nature and for birdwatching topics. That’s why ZEISS is also supporting a video series on all aspects of birdwatching.

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Fascinating giants of our seas

Whales fascinate with their size and their elegant moves despite their sometimes clumsy appearing body. Different to birds you may recognize whales with the naked eye though you may need binoculars first for observing their details. Talking about optics it is an advantage to have a large field of view and stable image when panning with them in order not to get motion sickness. Nearly everywhere in the sea you will discover one of the world’s 90 whale species, many only from a boat on the sea. In Europe we show the spots where to watch whales from the beach.

On Germany’s exclusive Sylt island many tourists meet the world’s smallest whale and ask amazed why Flipper is in the North Sea. What many experience as a dolphin at first sight is a porpoise, Phocoena phocoena. The longest specimen measures two and a half meters from nose to fluke. Jumping behavior like that of dolphins is not common as the porpoise has a more calm temper. It is his survival strategy to be as physically small as it lives mainly in the shallow coastal regions of the North and Baltic Sea.

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Birding as a challenge

Some feel a little bit unmasked, others just get amused about well-known habits and a few think the portrayal is too exaggerated: In the film „The Big Year“ David Frankel shows partly realistic and partly overdrawn how three US Americans run a Big Year. The Big Year of birding originated in the Anglo-Saxon countries and nowadays has different new variations across the world. For exactly one year, more specifically from 0 o’clock at the 1st of January local time until 31st of December 24 o’clock, you have to see or hear as many different species of birds as possible. It could become high performance sport, but in the original positive sense it is a sabbatical in nature or enough leisure time for a favorite activity. We show some variants and facts about a Big Year.

2016 was a record year worldwide as well as in North America. The Dutch Arjan Dwarshuis set the world record with 6,833 bird species in one year. The most well-known competition for a Big Year certainly is the one in the ABA-area of North America that is defined by the American Birding Association. Thanks to “El Niño“ 2016 was a perfect year to see rare species in Northern America you usually do not see. Besides the meteorological phenomena John Weigel’s success is also due to some few new splits in species taxonomy, which enabled him additional listings. John Weigel surpassed all his predecessors with 783 species as well as his competitor for the year, Olaf Danielson.

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The name given for our new spotting scope

In Greek mythology they pictured a harpy as a mixture between a raptor and a woman. The creature was the personification of the evil, especially of greed. As a kind of an embodied storm wind she was very fast and thereby invulnerable. On behalf of Zeus she killed human beings or just nabbed their soul. Even in Astrid Lindgren’s famous children’s book “Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter” the author took up the harpies that regularly attack Ronia and her friend Birk.

What is so special about this bird that is named after such creepy mythical creatures? First of all it is one of the largest birds of prey, and in fact it is even the strongest raptor. Its wingspan measures up to two meters and the female birds, which are heavier than the male, may weigh nine kilos. There are few photos of them, but in most of the existing ones you see prey under their impressive, strong talons. The back part of a harpy eagle’s talon grows up to seven centimeters.

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Plus ideas for games kids can play on nature trips

Sometimes our kids are not so interested in walks that they forget to look at what’s around them. Just because their parents love birdwatching and soaking up nature doesn’t mean they feel the same way, and sometimes they come right out and say that birding is boring!

Their mood only improves when the first hare scampers across the path or they get a glimpse of a roe deer. Yet when they were small, birds were still an important part of their lives. They could tell the difference between a Eurasian blue tit, a blackbird, and a robin almost before they learned to talk.

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Introducing the New ZEISS Victory Harpia Spotting Scope

From 11 through 13 September, ZEISS Sports Optics invited visitors to come to the city of Hamburg and check out the new ZEISS Victory Harpia spotting scope that will be available starting in January 2018. Invited guests not only got to attend the product demo, but also heard from the Dachverband Deutscher Avifaunisten (DDA), an umbrella organization for bird lovers, and took a boat ride to the Carl Zeiss Bird Station in the Wedel Marsh run by the NABU Hamburg, an environmental protection group.

There, participants had the opportunity to try out the new spotting scope, with its revolutionary optical system featuring a three-stage wide-angle zoom, in real-world conditions.

A chalkboard at the entrance to the Carl Zeiss Bird Station headed by Marco Sommerfeld informs visitors which birds they might see in the Wedel Marsh currently.

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Beauty of Nature in southern France

There are locations in Europe where a nature observer can be almost overwhelmed by the diversity of the natural world. Where one fascinating creature after another appears and you can’t resist lifting your binoculars to identify it, to admire it, and to understand its behaviour. The Languedoc of southern France is one such place.

The variety of habitats there is huge, from the Haut Languedoc with its acidic soils and typical flora, to the vastly different, garrigue-covered limestone causses further south, where the smaller rivers can dry up or at least flow underground in the summer, and where larger mature rivers like the Herault, Orb and Aude flow to the sea.

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A hotspot for birders in Central America

Nestled delightfully as a natural land-bridge between the Americas, Panama provides the perfect introduction to Neotropical birding. This small country is fast becoming a must-visit destination for birders and nature travellers the world over, and for very good reason.
The natural life in Panama is simply astounding. In a country about the size of the state of South Carolina, more than 10.000 species of native flora have been identified!

Add to this the fact that almost one-third of the entire country is protected within 15 nature reserves and it is no wonder that Panama is praised for its natural beauty – it is untouched and abounding! The country also boasts some of the most accessible rainforests and high-altitude cloud forests on Earth. Thing only thing that could possibly outshine Panama’s scenery, however, is its array of birdlife. Birding in Panama is an absolute delight. From Toucans to Tanagers, Hawks to Hummingbirds and everything else in between, the variety of avifauna is sure to keep all enthralled!

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