2014 in birds

As the calendar turned to 2015, I figured it might be fun to take a look back at some birding highlights from last year — for my own amusement, if nothing else. On the right side of the page, do you see that widget called “Birds seen in 2015”? I also kept a list like that in 2014, marking all the birds I saw at home, on field trips, on vacation, and on work-related travel. The final tally was 355 species, spread across four countries on two continents. Here’s a look back at how the year unfolded.

January (50 new species)

Male hooded merganser in Gallup Park, Ann Arbor, MI.
Male hooded merganser in Gallup Park, Ann Arbor, MI.
The first bird of note in 2014 was a snowy owl (23rd species for the year) on January 4 at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, just east of our hometown of Ann Arbor, MI. Snowies usually stay further north in winter, but every few year they migrate south in large numbers. 2014 was one of those years, with sightings reported from as far south as Florida. January 4 also brought horned lark, Lapland longspur, and snow bunting — three typical winter visitors to farm fields across the US.

The bitter cold from the polar vortex led to more ice than usual and forced waterfowl to crowd together in the remaining open water on rivers and lakes. Within the Ann Arbor city limits, a fast-flowing stretch of the Huron River was teeming with all kinds of ducks for much of the winter: in January, I saw mallards, common goldeneyes, and American black ducks; canvasbacks, redheads, and gadwall; and common, hooded, and red-breasted mergansers. Also present were many Canada geese, mute swans, and trumpeter swans. The 50th and last new bird for the month was a bald eagle at that same stretch of river, perhaps drawn there by the abundance of waterfowl.

Continue reading…

Germany: the first month

Today it’s four weeks ago since we arrived in Garching for our new jobs at ESO, so I figured it’s time to let the world know how we’re doing. Short version: very well. We’re still dealing with some of the administrative aspects of moving to a new country (important stuff like… I dunno… finding a place to live, opening a bank account, and sampling all the flavors at the nearby ice cream parlor), but we’ve pretty much settled into a daily routine that isn’t all that different from what it was in Ann Arbor.

ESO takes excellent care of new employees, including a temporary apartment for people coming in from abroad. Our first official day at work started with a stack of paperwork at Human Resources, followed by a whirlwind round of introductions to the other postdocs and students, our first “science coffee”, and a few mildly hilarious failures to find our way around the building.

Outside of work, we’ve taken a few walks in Garching and we’ve begun to explore Munich. Our second visit into the city included a stop at a pet store to buy some bird food, which has been drawing quite a crowd to our back porch: house sparrows, three species of tits, and a few nuthatches. A great spotted woodpecker briefly clung to a net of peanuts half its size (the net, not the peanuts), but there was no way it could get at the food. We tossed some on the ground instead.

The Munich area isn’t quite as birdy as Ann Arbor, but I’ve found plenty to keep me happy. The highlight so far is the tawny owl at Schloss Nymphenburg, because it was my first ever tawny, and owls in general are not often seen. Other nice Vogel encounters were a little grebe in the English Gardens and a green woodpecker right on the ESO grounds. I hope to have some pictures in a future post.

I’ve had several opportunities to exercise my high-school German, mainly in dealing with real estate agents to find an apartment. I can read German without too much effort, and can understand most of what people say if they speak clearly and slowly. Writing emails is fine as well, because I can take as much time as I need to translate from Dutch or English. Speaking is obviously much harder, especially over the phone, but even that seems to work out okay. Never underestimate how far you can get by simply pronouncing Dutch or English words as if they’re German!

Oh, and then there’s the bread: cheap, fresh, flavorful, and crusty — all the qualities that bread should have, but often lacks in the US. Add some young Gouda, raspberry jelly, or chocolate sprinkles, and I’m all set for breakfast and lunch. (Lars, stop laughing!) I was also excited to discover redcurrants at the grocery store, which are uncommon on the other side of the Atlantic.

So, there you have it: a nice new workplace, plenty of birds, and good food. We’re off to a happy start in Germany!