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Dear all,

I would like to introduce you to one of my “patches”. First of all, though, please bear with me that I am just a bird watching amateur and not a professional ornithologist – nor a biologist, for that matter. Also, I have not been everywhere in the area I am about to describe and I have not seen everything there is to see. All I want is to introduce you to this patch to show my appreciation for it and hopefully to show you something new.

Also, I have decided to break this up into several parts because … this description is a bit “longer”.

While we are only at the beginning of my description, things are already getting complicated. The whole thing I am presenting here is called a “Vogelschutzgebiet” (bird reserve) in German but also consists of various and not necessarily interconnected “Naturschutzgebiete” (nature reserves). Moreover, it is part of Natura 2000, a European Union network of protected areas. What I am getting at is the “Vogelschutzgebiet Haardtrand” in the southwestern state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany.

The Haardt (from old German for forest) is a range of hills and actually part of the Pfälzerwald, or Palatinate Forest, a what we would call “Mittelgebirge” in German. The Haardtrand is at the edge (hence “Rand”) of that mountain range. I like to say that the Haardtrand is located “zwischen Wald und Wingert” – between woods and vinyards. The Pfälzerwald is characterized by sandstone, often very sandy soil, and especially European red pine tree (but also, though to a much more limited extent, chestnut – a reason why the Pfälzerwald gets flooded with people looking for “Keschde”, as the edible seed is called in the local dialect, during fall).

The transitional zone between the Haardt forest and the vinyards is characterized by a mix of trees and also the presence of fruit tree orchards. At least in “my neck of the woods”, many of the latter are slowly but surely (re-)taken over by the “wilderness” because, I guess, their owners are either dead, too old to still be able to care for their gardens, or do not even know that they actually own said property … The apple, pear, and cherry trees there are not cultivated anymore and slowly dying, giving way to other plants. There is a lot of clematis vitalba, which we would call “Waldrebe”. There are also lots of blackberry shrubs. In spring, almond trees, dog roses, and lilacs are blooming there. And thrown in for good measure (or rather to personal taste) are some trees planted only because of the respective gardener’s aesthetic feelings but not necessarily because they “fit” in there “naturally” …

The photo exemplifies the location of the Haardtrand "between woods and vinyards".

To be continued ...


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Before passing through the orchards and the hedges to the next defining characteristic of the Haardtrand (and the “Vorderpfalz” in general), please allow me a small historical digression. The Palatinate is a region rich with history, with remnants of human settlements dating back to at least Celtic times. After the Celts came the Romans and left their mark with villas and stone quarries, and perhaps the Romans’ most lasting legacy was the introduction of wine. All along the Haardtrand from the French border (starting already in Alsace, to be exact) in the south up to the north (and beyond there into Rhine-Hesse, another part of Rhineland-Palatinate), you will find vinyards. The most famous Pfälzer Wein is perhaps the “trockene Riesling”, the dry Riesling, but of course today, many other grape varieties are cultivated here. The flipside to this, though, is that the vinyards constitute more or less an agricultural monoculture. This was surely exacerbated by “Flurbereinigung” (land consolidation) in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to a loss of biodiversity. While some of this has been remedied (or is in the process), for example by instituting bird and natural reserves, it would be a far stretch to say that nature and agriculture coexist in harmony at the “Haardtrand”, with shrubs and old trees (which are home to various life forms) regularly removed along vinyards solely for, in my humble opinion, generating a couple more bottles of wine.

Standing in the vinyards and looking back to the forest, one will see many castles dotting the edge of the Pfälzerwald, many of them dating back to the time of German Emperor Frederick I, also called “Barbarossa” (and it was Trifels Castle where Barbarossa’s onetime contemeporary, English King Richard I a.k.a. “Lionheart” was incarcerated after the Third Crusade). The various local knights and other noblemen regularly battled it out against each other, fighting over control of the land but also of the important trading roads that went through the various valleys of the Pfälzerwald. The German kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire had a hard time keeping them under control, despite some making the Pfalz (from “Kaiserpfalz”, imperial palace) their area of residency during the High Middle Ages. The presence of kings and emperors is felt not only because of castles and monasteries they funded in the region; a UNESCO World Heritage Site is found with Speyer cathedral on the Rhine, made with sandstone from – the Pfälzerwald. But I have already ventured too far and would lead you more and more away from the Haardtrand, through the vinyards and large-scale industrial farming fruit orchards and then the vegetable farms of the Upper Rhine Valley, telling you, along the way, about the many wars and armed conflicts that raged there, in that important north-south thoroughfare along the Rhine, from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages to the Modern Era, from wars of power and religion (some churches in the Palatinate are actually one part Catholic, one part Protestant) to the post-Napoleonic era when the Pfalz was a part of Bavaria to … But I digress.

The first photo shows an excavated Roman villa.

The second photo shows a typical example of a castle built during the High Middle Ages on the Haardtrand to command the immediate part of the Upper Rhine Plain and a valley through the Pfälzerwald going westward.

In the third photo: Speyer cathedral.

To be continued ...


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Let us go back to the Haardtrand. It is not only that I grew up between woods and vinyards that makes me think it is a special place; this very location between the Pfälzerwald and the Upper Rhine Valley, with a very steep fall from the top of the Haardt with its pine forests to the hills just at its foot with their partially overgrown orchards and then the vinyards eventually tapering to the plain of the Rhine Valley creates a special environment. Did I already mention the climate? If wine and almonds can grow there, this should already be an indicator for a mild climate. Some dare to say that the Palatinate is Germany’s Tuscany – or maybe Tuscany is Italy’s “Pfalz”? In any case, there are many hours of sunshine (keep in mind that the Haardtrand faces eastward), and winter is usually very mild (if it snows, the snow usually only remains for a day or two; but late frosts in March or April can be a danger to the vinyards and orchards). Precipitation has been a problem in recent years because in general, there is not enough rain during the year. But it can get humid and sweltering during the summer months (a reason why, along the Rhine itself, mosquitos are fought off with chemicals from helicopters to avoid the return of malaria 200 years after the river's Rhine), and during November and December it might be weeks before the fog dissolves and sunshine returns.

Still, it is a wildlife and bird paradise.

European roe deer are a frequent sight, and if you are (un-)lucky, you might stumble across some wild boar. I surmise that the variety of vegetation and the possibility to quickly cross from the woods via the orchard line into the vinyards contributes to these larger mammalians’ well-being. It seems, though, that some vintners are fighting a war against these mammals because from April to September, the wine farmers cordon off their vinyards with metal wire and plastic nets … European hare are also quite abundant in the vinyards, and at the right time and place, you’ll see red fox. In recent years, Eurasian lynx have been reintroduced in the Pfälzerwald. Another special, and tiny, inhabitant of the Haardtrand is the garden dormouse – my little “Zorros”, as I like to call them.

The first photo shows four roe deer. During the winter, they will often get together as a "Sprung" (a group of roe deer); with spring, though, their ways will usually part before pregnant females will give birth and then try to raise fawns in as great a secrecy as is permitted (second photo).

The third photo shows "group" of wild boar, in German "Rotte". Mild winters have led to year-long reproduction of wild boar, and you better stay away from the pack leader sow if she has squeakers! But I've also stumbled upon pigs of the sounder who were more afraid of me (and the dog) than vice versa.

Photo no. 4: Until the re-introduction of lynx, red fox were the largest predator around.

Photo no. 5: This rowdy European badger thought it a good idea to look for food at the bird feeder.

The sixth photo shows a hare. They have become more numerous in recent years.

Photo number 7: A garden dormouse. These is a near-threatened species only existing in several non-connected "islands" all over Europe. I recommend taking a look at this project: In Search of the Garden Dormouse

To be continued ...


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As there are still dry stone walls in the vinyards, you will also find European wall lizard; other reptiles are grass snake and slow worm. Among amphibians, there are fire salamander and various types of frogs and toads.

I am not an expert on insects, but there are lots of honey bees, wild bees, wasps, European hornet, …; I’ve seen European stag beetle and hummingbird hawk-moth. There are, especially in the Pfälzerwald, dung beetle. Also, you can find various kinds of ants like the red wood ant. During August, there are European mantis – again, this shows how “mediterranean” the climate along the Haardtrand is. Many, many other insects can be found, and most of them cannot be named by me. And then there are of course all kinds of spiders – those with jaws and those making nets to hunt, you name it. The arachnids I am not really fond of are ticks, chiefly the castor bean tick. They were a pest when I was a kid and they still pester my parents’ dog (and humans too if they do not stay alert and pick them off in time -- always check after having been outdoors). But everything on this planet has its purpose … Widespread are also escargot, fittingly called "Weinbergschnecke" (vinyard snail), and Spanish slugs.

Then there’s of course all kinds of other flowers and shrubs and whatnot. If human would not remove them, there would be even more animals – and less problems with the interconnected problems of too much monoculture in terms of agriculture, diminishing numbers of insects and therefore also less birds …

Photo 1: European wall lizard.
Photo 2: Fire salamander.
Photo 3: Slow worm.
Photo 4: Common toad.
Photo 5: European green toad.
Photo 6: European stag beetle.
Photo 7: European mantis. You can find brown and green ones.
Photo 8: European hornet.
Photo 9: A castor bean tick full of blood. It simply fell off the dog.


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Oh, birds. Well, this is the Bird Forum, so I should probably, eventually, finally get to the point …

Going back to the beginning of what has turned out to be a rather essay-ish string of posts, there are several “Zielarten” (I would roughly translate this as “target species”) in the Haardtrand (please also refer to its profile: Natura2000 VSG Gebietssteckbrief 6514-401):

  • Grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus)
  • Woodlark (Lullula arborea)
  • Middle spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius)
  • Red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio)
  • Boreal owl (Aegolius funereus)
  • Black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)
  • Northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
  • Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo)
  • Corn crake (Crex crex)
  • Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
  • Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla)
  • European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus)
  • Eurasian hoopoe (Upupa epops)
  • Cirl bunting (Emberiza cirlus)
  • European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)
  • Rock bunting (Emberiza cia)

I am sorry to disappoint you, but I cannot boast having seen, even less photographed, all of them there. I have heard the European eagle-owl (Uhu) many times; I’ve seen black woodpecker (Schwarzspecht), middle spotted woodpecker (Mittelspecht) -- both in the Pfälzerwald --, wryneck (Wendehals), and woodlark (Heidelerche). I do have photographed red-backed shrike (Neuntöter or Rotrückenwürger), northern wheatear (Steinschmätzer), and cirl bunting (Zaunammer).

The cirl bunting I have actually seen and photographed a lot. And by that I do mean a lot. The photos (1: male, 2: female, 3: youngling) are only some examples. The Haardtrand is one of the cirl bunting's main habitats in Germany, and, due to overpopulation there, there has been migration to the Central Rhine Valley – and I would not be surprised if other, quite recent populations in southern Germany are also descendants of the cirl bunting’s Palatinate population.

It is the oft-mentioned inbetween-zone between woods and vinyards with overgrown orchards where the cirl bunting seems to thrive, both during summer and in winter. But I have also seen (and heard) it singing from my parents’ neighbors’ tallest tree; its song is a quasi soundtrack to the Haardtrand. It also likes to sit on the posts and wires of the vinyards – and this is a favorite position for many a bird. There, they find perfect places to sing or to hunt from. Accordingly, please refer to the photos of the red-backed shrike (photo 4: male, photo 5: female) and the wheatear (who benefits from the vinyards' dry stone walls) in photo nos. 6 (male) and 7 (female) photo.

To be continued ...


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I will now continue along the list of birds as used in Pareys Vogelbuch. Alle Vögel Mitteleuropas, Nordafrikas und des Mittleren Ostens (Hamburg & Berlin 1983, fourth edition) -- the German version of The Birds of Britain and Europe with North Africa and the Middle East (London 1972).

There is a bird reserve which is part of the Haardtrand and boasts many kinds of water (and also other) birds, but since it is man-made, I do not consider it "typical" or representative -- at least not for "my patch". I will therefore stay with what I have seen in "my patch".


Photo 1: Tachybaptus ruficollis (German: Zwergtaucher, English: little grebe or dabchick)


Photo 2: Ardea cinerea (German: Graureiher or Fischreiher, English: grey heron)


Photo 3: Ciconia ciconia (German: Weißstorch, English: white stork) -- not exactly in "my patch", but within the city limits.


Photo 4: Anas platyrhynchos (German: Stockente, English: mallard or wild duck)

To be continued ...


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Photo 1: Milvus milvus (German: Rotmilan or Gabelweihe, English: red kite) – The only one I have seen so far in “my patch” on the Haardtrand; mid-February 2021. I saw another one elsewhere over the Haardtrand in mid-May 2021. The red kite is far more frequent in my other “patch” in the center of Baden-Württemberg.


Photos 2 and 3: Accipiter nisus (German: Sperber, English: Eurasian sparrowhawk) – At least I think it is one. Allegedly the most numerous (large) raptor in Germany after the common buzzard. I have spotted only very few myself, though.


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Buteo buteo
(German: Mäusebussard, English: common buzzard) – The most plentiful large predator in “my patch”. The photos nicely show the Mäusebussard’s various morphs. One can see them circling all year long or hunting from a perched position such as old, already dead trees just above the “between forest and vinyards” zone, from trees in the vinyards, or from vinyard poles.


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Photo 1: Circus aeruginosus (German: Rohrweihe, English: western marsh harrier) – O.K., here I have to contradict what I myself wrote in a previous post, as this harrier was not spotted in “my patch” but at that aforementioned special bird reserve. Please forgive me, but I have liked harriers so much since I first saw them in April 2021 (but then I like all the raptors [and birds] I present here).


Remaining photos: Falco tinnunculus (German: Turmfalke, English: Eurasian kestrel) – The most numerous bird of prey, after the common buzzard, I have seen along the Haardtrand. They can be found hovering all year long or perched on vinyard posts, trees, larger shrubs, church squires, …


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Photo 1: Columba palumbus (German: Ringeltaube, English: common wood pigeon) – Indeed very common.

Photo 2: Streptopelia decaocto (German: Türkentaube, English: Eurasian collared dove)


Photo 3: Strix aluco (German: Waldkauz, English: tawny owl) – The only owl I have ever taken a photo of.


Photo 4: Apus apus (German: Mauersegler, English: common swift) – Very common during the summer months, both over residential/urban areas as well as the “between woods and vinyards” zone and the vinyards themselves.


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Photo 1: Picus viridis (German: Grünspecht, English: European green woodpecker) – very common, seems to feel quite at home between woods and vinyards, especially after the vintners have mowed or plowed their fields.

Photo 2: Dendrocopos major (German: Buntspecht, English: great spotted woodpecker) – Very common in the forest and the in-between area (and at one’s bird feeder) but not in the vinyards.


Photo 3: Delichon urbica (German: Mehlschwalbe, English: common house martin) -- nomen est omen: pretty common.


Photo 4: Motacilla alba (German: Bachstelze, English: white wagtail). As one can see here once more, the vinyard posts and wires are a preferred perching position of many a bird species.


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Photo 1: Prunella modularis (German: Heckenbraunelle, English: dunnock) – This was one of the first birds that I had to "actively" identify with a field guide because it looks so similar to the house sparrow. A common winter visitor to the feeder (or rather to what falls down from it) but prefers to stay in the background – especially with legions of house sparrows nearby! Never seen it during the warmer months. It definitely lives up to its German name ("Hecke" means "hedge").


Photo 2: Hippolais icterina (German: Gelbspötter, English: iceterine warbler) – I took the photo (and recorded this warbler's warbling via BirdNet) but it was actually identified by two birder friends. I have yet to await “official” identification.


Photo 3: Sylvia communis (German: Dorngrasmücke, English: common whitethroat) – A big friend of (thorny) hedges (if they are left standing by human design). I was very much looking forward to (actively) see the whitethroat this year and am pleased every time I observe and hear it.

Photo 4: Sylvia atricapilla (German: Mönchsgrasmücke, English: Eurasian blackcap) – This species is one of my 2021 “revelations”. I had seen it in years prior but the blackcap seemed rather rare to me. Since I have become more “serious” in my bird watching, the blackcap has become quite ubiquitous since early April – at that time it was a harbinger of spring. It is among the five or so most plentiful songbird species in Germany. With the dense foliage, it is now rather heard than seen and usually stays in the thicket anyway. I wish I also had a photo of a female but they are even more elusive than the males (though the latter are easy to spot when you know their song, which to me sounds like a mixture of the European robin's and the blackbird's).


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No photo: Phylloscopus collybita (German: Zilpzalp, English: chiffchaff) – It is definitely there, you can hear it singing from seemingly every second tree in the zone between woods and vinyards. But it is so hidden and elusive – just as its “twin”, Phylloscopus trochilus (German: Fitis, English: willow warbler).

Photo 1: Regulus regulus (German: Wintergoldhähnchen, English: goldcrest) – It’s either a goldcrest or a firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus, German: Sommergoldhähnchen). Very quirky. I have spotted it during winter (usually by ear first), but with dense foliage it seems impossible to locate. An inhabitant of the forest and the in-between zone.


Photo 2: Phoenicurus ochruros (German: Hausrotschwanz, English: black redstart) – Another one of my favorites. Likes to hunt perched from vinyard poles and wires (here: a female) and sings from rooftops. I have the feeling that, more and more, black redstarts stay in Germany during winter. It is one of those birds who seem to easily adapt.


Photos 3 and 4: Erithacus rubecula (German: Rotkehlchen, English: European robin) – Very high upon my list of favorite birds. This little curious bird can be found all year long: singing from the highest trees, hopping around on roads along the orchards and forest zone, visiting bird feeders (preferably when there are not too many house sparrows around), ... They are irritable little chaps who like to fight members of their own species. Was voted Germany’s bird of the year in 2021.

Photo 5: Luscinia megarhynchos (German: Nachtigall, English: common nightingale) – Another one of these elusive birds. Their song is the sound of late spring and early summer and can be heard at almost all times of the day but especially during late evening, at night, and in the morning. This photo is unfortunately not from the Haardtrandt but about 30 kilometers away – the first nightingale I ever actually saw. I've heard it, though, even when stopping at traffic lights ...


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Photos 1 & 2: Turdus merula (German: Amsel or Schwarzdrossel, English: Eurasian blackbird) – One of Germany’s most numerous songbirds and also very common along the Haardtrand. 200 years ago, this was allegedly a shy woodland bird – now, one can find blackbirds in urban areas as well; at the feeder, blackbirds act as if they were king or queen. Its song and calls can be heard all year long, from the early morning until after nightfall. When we hear the blackbird’s warning call, we say, “Die Amsel schimpft” – “The blackbird is scolding”. Also one of my favorites.

Photo 3: Turdus torquatus (German: Ringdrossel, English: ring ouzel) – This was the first and only time I saw one. Early April 2021 – surely on its home-bound migration.

Photo 4: Turdus iliacus (German: Rotdrossel, English: redwing) – Also only spotted in late March 2021.

Photo 5: Turdus philomelos (German: Singdrossel, English: song thrush) – Another harbinger of spring. Very vocal in March and April, rather quiet in May, vocal again from June onwards. Very loud and varied song.


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Photo 1: Aegithalos caudatus (German: Schwanzmeise, English: long-tailed tit) – A winter regular at the bird feeder but rather scarce during the warmer months of the year. I suppose that among the winter visitors are many migrants from farther north.


Photo 2: Parus ater (German: Tannenmeise, English: coal tit) – This is one of the very few I’ve seen up until now. Has been a few years ...

Photo 3: Parus major (German: Kohlmeise, English: great tit) – One of the most common songbirds along the Haardtrand and in Germany in general. Can be found in the forest, orchards, at the bird feeder, … It has only been this year that I have become of the actually quite large variety of its song.

Photo 4: Parus caeruleus (German: Blaumeise, English: blue tit) – Not as numerous as the great tit but coming quite close in second place. Same habitat as the great tit. I am quite fond of it, as I am of all tits. They are, to me, like the great tit, among the quintessential "European" birds that mean Heimat to me.

Photo 5: Parus cristatus (German: Haubenmeise, English: European crested tit) – It does exist, but I have not seen it very often.

Photo 6: Parus palustris (German: Sumpfmeise, English: marsh tit) – I would claim this is, numbers-wise, no. 3 when it comes to tits. Also a frequent winter visitor to the bird feeder and also feeling quite happy in between woods and vinyards. (I think its a marsh tit and not a willow tit. If in doubt, simply say you've spotted a Graumeise, a grey tit ... )


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Photo 1: Sitta europaea (German: Kleiber, English: Eurasian nuthatch) – This bird’s other (though rather uncommon) German name, Spechtmeise (“woodpecker tit”), sums it up: small as a tit but mostly active on trees, especially along their trunks, like a (great spotted) woodpecker. The Kleiber is very (hyper)active, and this is also often its downfall: like the little chap in the photo, nuthatches often become victims of collisions with windows (in German: Vogelschlag). At the feeder, it rushes in like a commando unit, picks food like crazy, and flies away with the bird equivalent of an afterburner.


There are definitely Baumläufer (treecreepers) around, but they are small, quick, and elusive.


Troglodytes troglodytes
(German: Zaunkönig, English: Eurasian wren) – I have seen it (and heard it, of course – you cannot overhear it!) but have not yet had a chance to photograph one in my patch. They can sometimes be seen around the bird feeders but usually roam around on the ground and in hedges. Not a bird one would see in the vinyards.


Photo 2: Emberiza citrinella (German: Goldammer, English: yellowhammer) – Not as common in the vinyards as perhaps in other kinds of farm fields (or there are just not as many in “my patch” -- the ubiquitous emberiza species there is the cirl bunting). In general, though, quite a common bird in Germany. In colloquial German, its call is transcribed as “Wie-wie-wie-wie-hab-ich-dich-lieb!”


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Photo 2: Emberiza citrinella (German: Goldammer, English: yellowhammer) – Not as common in the vinyards as perhaps in other kinds of farm fields (or there are just not as many in “my patch” -- the ubiquitous emberiza species there is the cirl bunting). In general, though, quite a common bird in Germany. In colloquial German, its call is transcribed as “Wie-wie-wie-wie-hab-ich-dich-lieb!”
The bird in the second picture is some kind of serin, looks a bit heavy-billed for the local species though. At any rate, not a Yellowhammer (tail too short, bill too large, and lacking the russet tones).
The bird in the second picture is some kind of serin, looks a bit heavy-billed for the local species though. At any rate, not a Yellowhammer (tail too short, bill too large, and lacking the russet tones).
Thank you! There are many European serin around here. Which reminds to write the post about finches ...

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