Photo Quiz

Well, it wasn’t meant to be a quiz photograph, but this bird in Berlin‘s Tiergarten last week was just a little bit too fast for me.

What is it, and how do you know?

great spotted woodpecker


La Dombes

La Dombes route des étangs

The best strategy for birding some areas is just to go out and get lost. La Dombes is a vast, diffuse tract of pasture, woodland, and wetlands just off the main road from Lyon to Burgundy — and one of the best places I know to just wander, letting the quiet roads and the abundant birds lead from one placid lake to the next.

La Dombes

In truth, it isn’t as confusing as it used to be: nowadays there’s even a telephone “app” that promises to take you from one pond to the next. Even so, there are more than a thousand lakes dotting the quiet countryside (take that, Minnesota!), and because many are still used by commercial fisheries, the amount of water, fish, and of course birds in each varies from year to year.

La Dombes

It’s a quiet, sparsely populated landscape, though, and nobody minds if you simply wander from one to the next, stopping at a wide spot to listen and scan. On my latest visit, I found the ponds of the Dombes as lively as ever, and their wooded edges as noisy.


Blackcaps and nightingales were shouting from every thicket, as if in competition (the winner? blackcaps, hands down). Golden orioles were back in force, singing their gulping whistles in the poplar canopy and flashing back and forth across the roads; once again I was reminded of how much that species looks and sounds like an oropendola.

And everywhere, everywhere, the exuberant trills of the Eurasian wren.

Eurasian wren song
Click to listen

Out on the water, often feeding just a few feet from the road, were all the expected herons, including somber black-crowned night herons and snaky purple herons, and a few shorebirds haunted the muddy edges. Common greenshanks and wood sandpipers were the most abundant, but there were also ruffsgreen sandpipers, a surprising whimbrel, spotted redshanks, and a few brash and beautiful common redshanks.

common redshank

Ducks were scarcer, many of the hens probably already on eggs, the drakes with better things to do than be gawked at; but still there were good numbers of red-crested pochards and garganeys. 

Garganey, la Dombes

As the morning warmed, the aerial insectivores came out to play: plenty of barn swallows, house martins, and sand martins, with a few arriving common swifts. Bee-eaters, also most likely just coming in, announced themselves with their uncouth buzzes, and whiskered terns, a true Dombes specialty, we had with us always.

As always, it was hard to tear myself away. But Burgundy awaited, land of stone curlews and ancient monasteries, medieval palaces and woodchat shrikes. Onward!

La Dombes

Want to bird La Dombes next spring? Have a look!


Kite Tails

One of the great things about eastern Germany has always been the red kites, huge, floppy, swallow-tailed raptors seen in just about any open area of the countryside.

red kite

These carrion-eaters don’t need to be quite as nimble as some of their smaller, more ambitious relatives, but they are still impressively maneuverable in the air, twisting and turning as they pass by at often remarkably close range.

red kite

As this bird revealed the other day, it’s all in how they use that long, deep-forked tail.

red kite

No promises, no guarantees, but I don’t see how we could miss this species next fall. Join me in Brandenburg and Berlin


The Birds of Il Poderino

The fields and orchards of our inn at Manciano were gratifyingly birdy, and by the time our week there had drawn to a close, we’d recorded the following species (the superscripts, which I’ll complete at some point, are page numbers in the field guide):

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

Gray Heron Ardea cinereus

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis

Feral Pigeon Columba livia

Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus

Tawny Owl Strix aluco

European Scops Owl Otus scops

Common Swift Apus apus

Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops

European Green Woodpecker Picus viridis

Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Common House Martin Delichon urbicum

Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos

Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus

Common Blackbird Turdus merula

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala

Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta

Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes

Great Tit Parus major

European Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio

Woodchat Shrike 382 Lanius senator

Common Magpie 360 Pica pica

Eurasian Jay 362 Garrulus glandarius

Western Jackdaw 364 Corvus monedula

Hooded Crow 366 Corvus cornix

Common Starling 370 Sturnus vulgaris

Eurasian Golden Oriole 370 Oriolus oriolus

Italian Sparrow 372 Passer italiae

Eurasian Tree Sparrow 372 Passer montanus

Common Chaffinch 376 Fringilla coelebs

European Goldfinch 380 Carduelis carduelis

European Serin 382 Serinus serinus

Join Marco and me in 2017!