Friday 17 February 2017

Mid-winter Europe Trip! (part one)

So I went on an eleven day trip to central Europe this winter… 
This is one of my favourite photos from the whole trip: Emma and I in Karwendel on the border
of Austria and Germany at about 2000m elevation with the Austrian Alps in the background
Some might wonder, why visit Europe while doing a Big Year in Ontario? More importantly, why leave Ontario at all during a Big Year that I’ve been planning for two years?? Well, my beautiful, talented, and very interesting girlfriend Emma is currently working in Max Planck Institut Fur Ornithologie in Bavaria, Germany. She has been in Europe since September and probably will not be back until at least mid-April. I miss her a lot – seriously a lot – and I figured that going to visit her would help us both to feel a little more comfortable for the rest of the season while being so far apart. Also, my close friend Josh whose Big Year record I am aiming to beat jokes with me regularly about how any serious Big Year contender needs to leave the province for at least one significant period of time during said year, like he did a couple of times in his 2012 Ontario Big Year. By the way, if interested, read more about Josh’s 2012 Big Year and other adventures on his very interesting blog, which can be found at

This is one of three 'gates' of Munich, certainly from a time when the city was not so large.
It was interesting and exciting to see many hundreds of German people in Munich taking
part in the Women's March in protest of recent US political values. 
I flew from Toronto to Munich on the evening of January 20 – an 8 hour flight. It dawned on me on the way to the airport that this was the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, and I realized that just about anything could happen on such a crazy day. I continued on into the new age of 'travel uncertainty'. Nothing was different than usual but I was glad that I chose to fly out of Canada rather than Detroit which would have been closer to home. I want to send thanks again to my good friend Michael Biro for giving me a spot to park my truck and for driving me to and from the airport, saving me a ton of hassle and parking payment.

Common Gulls are basically Europe's version of our Ring-billed Gulls!
The Black-headed Gulls on the Starnberger See know some
pretty cool tricks after being fed so much by people!
Emma had most of that day free so being a total sweetheart she met me at the airport so I wouldn’t get lost in Munich or its airport due to its entirely German signage, busy train stations, etc. We stopped in downtown Munich to take a short bus tour, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of the nice historical buildings and sights in the heart of the beautiful city. We then carried on to Starnberg, the smaller city closest to the institute where Emma is working out of and living at, where we briefly stopped to admire the Black-headed, Common, and Yellow-legged Gulls, Common Pochards and Tufted Ducks, and a number of other waterbirds present on the Starnberger See (Lake Starnberg). We eventually ran out of daylight so we boarded a bus to the institute.

This Coal Tit posed just perfectly for us while we were out walking. Coal Tits are
a lot like our Black-capped Chickadees but are arguably cuter and more compact.
Emma was arguably the cutest bird in the whole forest!
The first full day was a lot of fun too! We walked the nearby trails through beautiful forests and fields, seeing many of the European songbirds that I’m familiar with from England like Blue, Great, Coal, and Marsh Tits, Eurasian Jays, Carrion Crows, Goldcrests, and a number of finch species. Also, Emma showed me my first Yellowhammers and a Crested Tit, both being very pretty species. We eventually arrived at a monastery called Andechs where there is a pub type restaurant and locally brewed beer for sale. After a great meal we called it a day.

Yellowhammer was new to my life list. I did not mind them being so common or so colourful!
We picked up a rental car on January 23 and headed an hour south to the town of Mittenvald at the border of Germany and Austria, where we rode a gondola ski lift to the edge of Austria’s Naturpark Karwendel to search for alpine birds. When we got up the mountain we realized that the excessive snow this winter prevented visitors from walking more than a couple hundred metres on the trails, and we unfortunately did not see a single bird while we were up there. Emma somehow spotted a Chamois, a very nice looking goat-antelope species, at least five hundred metres away!

It was neat to be standing on the peak of a mountain that divided Germany and Austria, and the view was not bad either!
We headed back down the mountain by late afternoon, and as we crossed a small bridge I noticed a small dark object seemingly slip into the water. This quick glimpse of movement on the turbulent stream was a great sign for another potential new species for my life list, so I investigated. Sure enough it was a White-throated Dipper! Emma had seen them before so she waited at the car for fear of parking tickets, but it was too exciting to watch the dipper on my own and I eventually insisted she came along.  We watched this unique songbird (and a second one) repeatedly dive and swim around underwater for at least an hour until it was nearly dark, and then went back to the institute to rest before our trip to Switzerland.

I'm not sure what makes White-throated Dippers want to swim in such cold water
in the winter rather than forage on land, but this one was ready to dive right in!
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my account of the rest of the trip!

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Mini-update mid-February - Big Year 2017

Hi readers! 

It's been a little while since I last posted because I have been travelling nearly non-stop! Since mid January I have been to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland for a week and a half, Thunder Bay and Cochrane Districts, and Algonquin Park for a whole bunch of high quality birding! 

I believe my Ontario year list is at about 115 species as of today, and I've seen nearly all of the expected specialty winter species! I've met some great people in my travels, and shared some great time with good friends. Expect to see a few blog posts soon about my adventures in the last few weeks! 

In the mean time, good birding, and if you'd like to help me out please consider sharing sightings with me of rarities that are not publicized. Like with the many owls species I have seen this year, I will not let people know about birds hidden on private property that home owners prefer to keep private, nor will I publicize the locations of any sensitive species. A successful Big Year is a team effort, and I greatly appreciate the support that my friends and acquaintances have been sending my way! Thanks again, and I'll be posting again soon!