In 1978 the Wedel Marsh was diked – despite mass protests led by conservationists. The NABU branch in Hamburg did, however, ensure that the extraction site of marine clay needed to build the dams was turned into a substitute habitat for wading and aquatic birds. Working according to guidance and active support of many bird enthusiasts, a 10-hectare body of water was created on an area measuring roughly 17.5 ha. Ever since, the area has been rented by NABU Hamburg and is maintained and further developed by dedicated volunteers on an ongoing basis.

The Carl Zeiss Bird Station was opened in 1984. For more than 30 years, this area, which lies some 15 km to the west of Hamburg, has been used to observe the birds on the Wedel Marsh. This is the perfect place for ducks, geese, wading birds and gulls to find food and to breed.

One full-time and several volunteer supervisors tell visitors all about the local nature, offer them binoculars for loan and inspire people on tours that take in the local bird species.

The reserve around the bird station is an excellent habitat for many bird species thanks to the sheer structural diversity that’s packed into such a small space.

Three observation points offer an unobstructed view of nearby islands and waters.
Height-adjustable viewing ports allow visitors to observe aquatic and nesting birds, sometimes from just a few meters away. Protective walls are in place to prevent visitors from disturbing the birds. Heiner Hofmann is no stranger to the Wedel Marsh; the photographer likes to enjoy the nature around the bird station and has already taken some excellent photos here.

In June 2016 he saw young little ringed plovers for the first time at the Carl Zeiss Bird Station. The birds had all gathered on a gravel island. Their parents were visibly worried when an increasing number of large gulls appeared – a threat to their young. They flew back and forth from the riverbanks to the gravel island, and tried to lure the young birds by calling out to them. Despite their efforts, around an hour later the young birds decided to swim back to their parents. After all, their little wings were still too small for a quick flight back.

Up to 160 bird species can be observed here over the course of a year.

For Hofmann, one very special moment is when thousands of barnacle geese pay a visit to the area early in the year. “In the space of a year, I managed to capture one really impressive image”, says Hofmann. “As they’re known to do at the beginning of each year, some 10,000 barnacle geese gathered around the Carl Zeiss Bird Station in search of food. Suddenly I spied a white-tailed eagle in the distance. The geese paused for a moment and raised their heads. They become more and more agitated, their calls ever louder. All of a sudden they all took off into the sky, as if on command. They flew so closely together – I’ve not seen anything quite like it since.”

The birds that migrate along the East Atlantic Flyway use the Wedel Marsh as a key stopover, where they can enjoy plenty of rest and shelter during the winter. This is how thousands of teals find food in the freshwater mudflats near the former island of Fährmannssand, the sunken town of Bishorst and the Mühlenberger Loch river basin.
Other bird species also spend the winter in the Wedel Marsh; they include barnacle geese, greylag and white-fronted geese, as well as common mergansers. They find protection and sustenance in the area’s grasslands. For more information, please visit: Carl Zeiss Bird Station

Thousands of migratory birds use the freshwater mudflats as a place to “refuel” before continuing their journey that begins in Scandinavia or northern Russia and ends in more southern climes.