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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Nestled in the southwest corner of Florida and perched at the north end of Myakka River State Park, the 1,143 acre Triangle Ranch teems with birdlife. Christmas Bird Counts conducted since the 1940’s have recorded more than 280 species on the property and surrounding areas, including Florida Sandhill Cranes, Wood Storks, and Crested Caracaras. Now, thanks to the vision of the local philanthropist-turned rancher who purchased the property, leadership from the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which secured the funding to purchase a conservation easement on the land, and a grant from the Healthy Watersheds Consortium, this property is now protected forever from development.
Its natural features and ranch lands will provide habitat for birds and help keep water supplies clean for people and nature. Triangle Ranch, which is part of the Myakka Island Conservation Corridor Project, is one of dozens of watershed protection programs underway across the United States that are supported by the Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program. This partnership includes the federal the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the not-for-profit U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. In the first two years of the partnership, more than $4.1 million in grants has been awarded to 25 projects in 30 states. The partnership is planned to continue for at least four more years.
In 2014 Zeiss brought out our new benchmark binoculars for Nature lovers, the Victory SF, and we searched high and low for somewhere special to make our promotional brochures. We thought of places from around the globe but finally settled on Portugal as offering the species, the location and the weather that was necessary – and we’re glad we did as that’s how we came across Quinta do Barranco da Estrada, better known as “Paradise in Portugal” - and not without reason.
The Quinta is a small lakeside eco-lodge in the south of the country and is the home of Frank and Daniela who run it with a care and attention to detail that is a rarer and rarer commodity nowadays.
Not that you’d ever know it, but it’s completely off-the-grid, with no connection to any state-run utilities whatsoever; all the electricity is generated on-site, 90 % of it solar, and of course the same goes for the piping hot water. Its carbon footprint is minimal, but that’s not the only reason it works for the betterment of the environment, for, added to that, it works hard towards nature conservation. In an area of low incomes and high unemployment, it works equally hard for the local economy, providing permanent employment for its staff, some of whom have been working at the Quinta for over 25 years. It’s about an hour’s drive away from Faro’s international airport, so it was easy and inexpensive enough to get to.
Follow Ananda Banerjee exploring the islet and its giant variety of birds
The Pirotan Island is a scrubby barren islet with mangroves and no human habitation. One can only travel to the island by boat after obtaining permissions from the forest department.
When we anchored in the sea, at some distance away from Pirotann, I picked up my Victory SF binoculars for a closer look at teeming avian life on the sandy shoreline of the islet.
And what I saw was a scene right out of traffic crazy rush hour at any cosmopolitan city! Only the
city’s busybody’s replaced by a melee of white, black and brown birds, thousands in numbers congregated on the sandy beach.
While some of the birds stood still like statues others were engrossed in foraging. A pair of Ruddy Turnstone, stocky small wading birds in patchy black and white, scurried looking for prey under tiny stones. It was interesting to watch these small birds – with such clear clarity of the lens - flipping each stone that came their way with their long, slender beaks. The Pirotan’s beach was swarming with the Crab Plovers. These medium sized birds with white and black plumage love to eat crabs and are found, in large numbers, in only two places – the Gulf of Kutch and the Gulf of Mannar. I could spot their long, dainty legs as the birds craned their necks while the flock paraded the shore.
South Africa is, quite simply, one of the most pleasurable birding destinations on the planet, offering unrivalled wildlife viewing, world-class infrastructure and unbeatable value for money. Birders across the world visit South Africa for a myriad of different reasons. It boasts the most regionally endemic and near-endemic bird species of any African country, as well as a rich seabird assemblage and vast numbers of more widespread, yet no less spectacular African birds and wildlife.
Add to this the rich botanical heritage, fine food and wines, friendly people, fascinating history, the scenic splendour of Africa’s most varied nation and the fact that it is home to two very impressive endemic families – namely the striking Rockjumpers and Sugarbirds, and it is not hard to see why South Africa is so popular!
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 hire and inspire people on tours that take in the local bird species.