Schloss Nymphenburg

We ventured into Munich today for the third time since arriving in Germany, and this time we brought our cameras. The subway was packed with people in lederhosen and dirndls for Oktoberfest, but we headed a little further west to visit Schloss Nymphenburg. This baroque palace was built in 1675 for the rulers of Bavaria. Nowadays, the palace and the extensive grounds are open to the public.

The palace's eastern facade.
The palace’s eastern facade.

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Spring migration in the Netherlands

Earlier this month, I spent two weeks in the Netherlands for an astronomy conference and some family matters. May is an excellent month for bird watching because of spring migration, where birds of many species leave their wintering grounds in Africa or southern Europe and head towards their breeding territories in northern Europe. This was my first trip back home during spring migration since I took up birding as a hobby, so I was very excited about the possibilities of finding a lot of new birds.

The first bird I saw upon entering the Netherlands was a Eurasian jackdaw (kauw in Dutch) at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Two weeks later, the 82nd and last species was a Eurasian marsh harrier (bruine kiekendief) at the Waverhoek Nature Area near the village of Waverveen. That harrier was one of 26 birds spotted for the first time in my life, boosting my worldwide life list from 318 to 344 species.

The full list of 82 species included two birds that are considered rare in the Netherlands: black-winged stilt (steltkluut) and glossy ibis (zwarte ibis). Both normally live around the Mediterranean, but a few stray to more northern latitudes each year. My brother and I found two individuals of each species on a rainy and windy afternoon at the new Ruygeborg Nature Area in the town of Nieuwkoop.

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The hunt for the red-necked grebe

North America is home to seven species of grebe (futen in Dutch), of which two are common in Michigan: the pied-billed grebe (dikbekfuut) breeds here and the horned grebe (kuifduiker) is a regular visitor during spring migration. I’ve seen and photographed both in Ann Arbor.

A red-necked grebe in breeding plumage (from public-domain-image.com).
A red-necked grebe in breeding plumage (from public-domain-image.com).
A few weeks ago, reports came in through eBird and a local mailing list about a red-necked grebe (roodhalsfuut) near Nichols Arboretum. This grebe is only a rare visitor to southern Michigan and I had never seen it anywhere, let alone in Ann Arbor. On my way home from work that day, I took a detour through the Arb, but the grebe was nowhere to be found. I tried again the next day, and the next, but to no avail. Such is life: sometimes a rare bird is easy to find, often it’s not.

A few days later, another red-necked grebe (or perhaps the same one; who knows?) was spotted a few miles donwstream from the first location. This required a somewhat longer detour on my way home from work, but I figured it would be worth it if I could find the bird. Alas, this time I arrived about 15 minutes after the grebe had flown off to an unknown destination.

Yesterday afternoon, a report came in of yet another red-necked grebe in Ann Arbor. Melissa and I had been working from home to allow a plumber to install a new water heater. When the plumber left, the grebe offered a convenient excuse to take a quick break from circumstellar disks and embedded protostars and go for a walk in Gallup Park. There were at least thirty different species of bird, but again, no sign of the much-coveted red-necked grebe. As a consolation prize, we did find two other uncommon birds: a common loon (ijsduiker) and two green-winged teal (Amerikaanse wintertalingen).

I still wasn’t about to give up, so this morning I left home a little early and biked through Gallup Park on my way to work. My perseverance paid off, because I finally found what I was looking for! I actually found two red-necked grebes together, one still in winter plumage, the other molting into breeding plumage. They were too far away for pictures with my small camera, but close enough for good looks through my binoculars. As an added bonus, Gallup Park turned out to be full of uncommon waterfowl today: I also spotted yesterday’s common loon, two blue-winged teal (blauwvleugeltaling), an American wigeon (Amerikaanse smient), and no less than ten northern shovelers (slobeenden). Sometimes birding is all about being at just the right place at just the right time!

Birding in Dallas

One of the good things about business trips is that I can usually find some time to go bird watching in a part of the world that I don’t normally visit. This can be as simple as carrying my binoculars on my way from the hotel to the meeting location, perhaps leaving the hotel a little early, to see what flies across my path.

When I was in Dallas, Texas last week for the 2014 Spring Meeting of the American Chemical Society, I did just that. The walk from my hotel to the convention center led through the only substantial green area in downtown Dallas: Pioneer Park Cemetery. Over the course of five days, I got a total of eighteen different birds. Hardly spectacular, but not too shabby for a fairly small park in an urban area. The highlight was my first ever Bewick’s wren. Other nice finds were five species seen for the first time this year: great-tailed grackle, white-winged dove, eastern phoebe, ruby-crowned kinglet, and field sparrow.

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