Na allowed me to tag along with her on the more exotic end of her scholarship trip to the Odertal National Park in northeast Germany and the tongue-twisting Biebrza National Park in northeast Poland. So, without further ado...
We flew in to Berlin from Heathrow, then took a bus to the Hauptbahnhof and a train to Angermuende, where we were collected. We stayed at a very pleasant bed & breakfast in the village of Criewen (Pension Storchennest), where we had a clean, cosy and reasonably-priced double room. All well and good... in fact, the owners not only picked us up from the station, but they also produced a couple of bottles of beer to help us settle in for the first night - which were drunk in the back garden, with accompaniment from a variety of green frogs and a hedgehog floor-show.
For the next week I was kept busy exploring the various paths and tracks around the floodplain and forest fringe, whilst Na dropped by when she wasn't working with the park staff. The weather wasn't anything to write home about, but the wildlife was pretty good. A particularly poor summer in this part of Europe meant that there were spring/summer floods, which wiped out most of the birds' nests in the park - a similar story in Biebrza as well - so that many of the larger wetland birds had already moved on south: ducks, terns and waders all in very short supply. The flora was also pretty late, which meant we saw more than we might have, and the invertebrates were also perhaps not quite as expected - though the dragonfly populations didn't seem to be doing so badly! Some gain, some lose, I guess.
So, some of the highlights were...:
Odertal - a typical view across the floodplain meadows. The plants were rather late growing, due to the flooding, so it's all a bit uniform and relatively uninteresting. A sea of knee-high grasses, there were patches where you were suddenly into shallow-flooded marsh which was alive with frogs, dragonflies and flowers.
Odertal - evening light over the meadows
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. Honest. A daily bird, with half a dozen pairs present in the park - the most we saw in a day was some 6-7 birds, and their yelping calls were a good indicator of the adults, which were often loafing in trees.
Red Kite Milvus milvus checking us out for movement, or in case we're voles. These, the White-tailed Eagles and Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus) were the commonest birds of prey.
Common Cranes Grus grus passing over - we saw at least a few every day, though never hit peak numbers - there can be a few thousand present later in the year.
Common Toadflax Linum catharticum. A common flower along the tracks and banks.
Common Bluetail Ischnura elegans
More of the Odertal... this is near Schwedt, towards the northern end of the German section of the park.
Small White Pieris rapae. on Viper's-bugloss Echium vulgare. As with Ruddy Darters (below), the combined totals of Small, Large (P. brassicae) and Green-veined White (P. napi) butterflies must have been in the thousands each day - everywhere you looked there was a dancing cloud of white, like confetti continually dipping and twisting over the grasses.
Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum. This was the most impressive sight of the German part of the trip: thousands upon thousands of Ruddy Darters swarming across the floodplains. They were perhaps at their peak abundance before the weather turned...
Touch-me-not Balsam Impatiens noli-tangere.
The countryside looks much the same towards Poland (the hills in the distance) too.
Male Blue Featherleg Platycnemis pennipes. A species coming to the end of it's season really. Several seen around the oxbow lakes, but not after the weather turned cold and manky.
Female Yellow-winged Darter Sympetrum flaveolum. I saw a fair few of this species, but this was the only one obliging enough to pose for me in any way. Sorry it's not a better picture...
Male Black Darter Sympetrum danae. Only a few of these around, but indicates that the system is on the acid side, at least in places.
More Odertal view - looking from Criewen to Schwedt. The banks along the canal are very flower-rich and attracted large numbers of white butterflies, bees and flies; which in turn attracted plenty of birds.
Campanula of some kind, growing in the woods. They reach about a metre tall.
Thrift Armeria maritima ssp. longifolia. Something of a surprise to me to find Thrift abundant at such an inland site, but what do I know? All seemed to bear a strong resemblance to longifolia.
Male Small Redeye Erythromma viridulum. Before the weather turned, there were plenty of these lurking along the edges of the oxbow lakes, perching on waterlilies, pondweeds and emergent vegetation. Sometimes you've got to get down to their level to get a nice picture.
Female Small Redeye. Not as pretty or as dramatic as the male, but a beautiful blue and dusty grey nonetheless.
And another view of a male Small Redeye... just to show how smart they are.
Male Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum
The banks of the Oder - pretty much species-rich neutral/acid grassland. Much richer than the floodplain grazing marsh and associated neutral grassland we have here in Devon, but that's not so surprising!
Indeed. Translates as: 'use at your own risk', effectively. I think they mainly mean that the boardwalk is slippery when wet, but obviously the risk of a tree falling on you is worth considering...
Part II to follow.