A haven for aquatic birds in eastern Hamburg

It’s a cold winter’s morning and winds and snow are forecast – sounds like a perfect day to spend wrapped up warm in bed. But today it’s time to rise and shine and meet up with the Young Birders Club at Lake Öjendorf on the eastern edge of Hamburg. Lake Öjendorf is a man-made body of water created from a disused gravel quarry and during the winter it’s a real haven for aquatic birds. That’s why we got here so early – and it turns out that the weather’s a lot better than we thought, with plenty of sunshine.

Our team of eight can’t wait to start looking for anatids and bitterns. Everyone’s hoping to spot a bittern today; this heron is one of the most stealthy species out there, and is normally hidden among the reeds, its excellent camouflage making it all the more difficult to spot. That said, 4-5 bitterns spend the winter here on the banks of Lake Öjendorf, in a small reedy patch, and are pretty easy to spot. Initially, they prove rather elusive, so the group reaches for their spotting scope (ZEISS Victory SF) and discovers hundreds of coots and tufted ducks.

A few pochards can also been seen among the tufted ducks; the males with their red heads and silvery bodies are very easy to spot. Suddenly we spot a goldeneye, a type of duck that only comes to Hamburg in the winter as it broods in old black woodpecker holes in beech trees, which are few and far between in Hamburg. But during the winter, this beautiful duck can often be seen in these parts.

Lake Öjendorf and the Carl Zeiss Bird Station are great locations for spotting these and many other species of duck at close range.

A few meters further down, on a grassy bank, are some geese, including a couple of Egyptian geese and their young. While the young birds have virtually come of age, they still stay close to their parents, and don’t normally leave their families until the spring.

Suddenly, dark clouds appear up above and a hailstorm descends on us – fortunately, shelter is not far away and we rush indoors to warm up with a cup of hot cocoa. Soon it’s time to go on and we’re joined by a flock of common redpolls; northern finches are feasting on alder seeds on the banks of the lake and making their presence known through their calls.

Normally only a few redpolls make their way here, but this year hundreds of birds from northerly climes have made the journey here, creating a fantastic showcase.

As the weather is according to the forecast, the hail becomes a problem, we decide to return to our starting point. But just before we get to the cars, out of the corner of my eye I spy a movement among the reeds and I turn to see a bittern perched atop them. As we watch, another two come into view – that’s definitely something we weren’t expecting to see.

And as quickly as they appeared, they disappear among the reeds once more. Their perfect camouflage makes this sighting all the more special. With this final sighting, we happily make our way home – but the memories from today will remain with us for a long time to come.

Sören Rust

Sören Rust is an enthusiastic Young Birder, nature photographer and volunteer at the Carl Zeiss Bird Station at Wedel Marsh.