Hamburg has plenty to offer birders besides the Carl Zeiss Bird Station. Way out to the east of the city is Lake Öjendorf, where several rare duck species can be observed, especially during the winter.
With top-end ZEISS gear in tow, Sören Rust meets the Young Birders Club at the lake – together, they make a few remarkable discoveries. Even the bad weather can’t dampen their spirits.
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.
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.