In the end it was better than I'd expected: the weather was kind, Na's family were lovely to stay with, and her friends very pleasant to be with; we ate some grand food, I discovered some of the local beer and we did indeed see some birds, all fears aside. So: to detail. I'll skim the journey over - we took the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland, travelling overnight to arrive in an icing-sugar snow dusting the port. Last time I set foot in Holland was in 1988, and it was just as I remembered it, honest! Flat and wet. We managed to get ourselves stuck in a semi-permanent traffic jam which extended about half-way across the country, although this allowed us some close inspection of decidedly feral-looking Barnacle Geese and indisputably feral Egyptian Geese, along with a scatter of the more expected roadside species like Coot, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Mallard and Tufted Duck. The route became gradually more and more industrial, more and more snowy, and more and more cloudy as we headed into the Ruhr Valley. After arriving a couple of hours after we'd expected, we stretched our legs around the local valley (the Wiehbachtal), seeing a typical selection of birds (Marsh, Blue, Coal, and Great Tits, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Wooodpecker etc. etc.), but with a little bit of exotic fare thrown in for good measure: a singing Short-toed Treecreeper and a (Black-bellied) Dipper on the Wiehbach itself.
We started the next day with a bit of local sight-seeing; the Schöne Aussicht ('good view') our destination. The view from the top was, I'm sure, quite stunning, but we had to content ourselves with a fencepost-hugging Snowy Owl and a couple of Tree Sparrows...
The view... and ...
...the owl. Had you going, did I?
We wandered down to the Rhine after lunch, where I'm afraid I couldn't bring myself to photograph the Bayer factory, which looms down the river like a dirty great looming thing. The day got a bit more colourful with the addition of some more highly dubious birds:
...as well as some dapper Goldeneye on the river and a handful of metal-ringed Mute Swans on the bank. Not a lot else to shout about though, I'm afraid - the fact that throwing a tennis ball between us absorbed us for the hour's walk back to the car should tell you everything about the birding. Oh, and then it started to rain...
Next day (when was this? I've lost track already) we were in luck: the sun shone, the snow was crisp, and we had use of the car for the full day! We scooted off to Schloss Burg, before anyone changed their minds about the weather, and had a cracking walk through some lovely oak-beech forest, teeming with Marsh Tits, Nuthatches and frantically-drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers, with the bonus of a nice pair of Goosander and a point-blank Black Woodpecker just as we got back to the town.
A nice view of Schloss Burg from the distance.
And that's what it looks like inside.
They wouldn't let us paint our roadsigns up like that, I'll bet!
And then, if you try to work out what the sign might mean, as a driver, perhaps that's no bad thing...
The day then got even better when we found that the chairlift was working, so we could get back to the castle with ease, and then make up for all the exercise with fresh waffles with hot cherries and vanilla ice-cream; a local speciality, so I felt honour-bound to try it.
It was great!
To make the most of the weather, we scooted on round to Altenburg, the only (I think) cathedral which is used by and maintained by both Catholics and Protestants. An impressive building, which I completely neglected to photograph. I can offer the restaurant at the carpark in compensation: typical Bergisches land building... Sorry.
The other point was to take a picture of something I always found fascinating about Austria and Germany: the roadsigns up in the event of a military takeover:
We finished off with a meal out with another friend, Martina, who was very entertaining indeed... A proper introduction to Kölsch made it all the more interesting!
Valentine's day found us staunchly birding some of the local gravel-pits, which are surrounded by rather even-aged Scot's Pine and oak woodland, with a smattering of birch thrown in.
Being a weekend, the entire city was outside, and with that and the pools being pretty much frozen, the birds were a bit scarce. It was a tad chilly as well, the temperature only creeping up to zero late on in the afternoon; still, we managed to seive a couple of pairs of Crested Tit out of the mix, along with a nice flock of Redpoll overhead - I'm assuming 'Lesser', rather than 'Common', but don't know of a way of doing them on call. Some disturbing-looking fungus and a nicely anarchic treetrunk rounded the day off nicely, before we chickened out and made for a cafe, to meet up with the final batch of friends...
The disturbing fungus, in all it's colourful glory. There was plenty more of it, smeared down the stem of the tree, but this made the only half-way decent photo.
Treetrunk throwing off the shackles of growing straight and true...
The journey home was a bit of a pig, but here we are, the snow's gone (almost), the Blackbirds are singing and spring is in the air... be nest-recording time soon!