Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Inselaffe am See - part II


The weather continued to suggest that we'd be best off sticking to well-wooded and sheltered areas - so that's exactly what we did. We collected Bina from her morning activity (making a jamjar aquarium) and sped off to Blankenfoerde, where we had a picnic lunch in a carpark sheltered by tall trees and watched the clouds race by overhead. As the clouds broke up and the sun warmed us, insects responded by appearing apparently from nowhere. Large and Small Skippers bounced jazzily across the glistening grass heads, competing for the best spots near the tastiest bramble blossom. A sparklingly-fresh Comma played grandmothers' footseps with the girls, allowing approach to oh-so-close before abruptly moving on another couple of metres. More exotic, a Pearly Heath or two skittered past like Gatekeepers with go-faster stripes, whilst a Mazarine Blue slurped liquid from some bare soil on the path.

Our short round walk took us through another re-wetted area. This time the intent has been to restore the natural floodplain of the river Havel, as far as possible, so a series of small lakes amidst extensive conifer plantation are becoming increasingly large and increasingly less dominated by the conifers. The largest of the lakes that we came to was indeed quite spectacular: dead stumps liberally scattered through a mouth-wateringly diverse wetland plastered with sedges, rushes and interesting herbs, none of which was really quite accessible to explore. Never mind: there was plenty to see, including a fine couple of male Red-backed Shrikes hawking for dragonflies when the sun gathered enough strength.

Re-wet my floodplain. Death by drowning for the conifers, life through light and water for the rest.

A wonderful wet mix of marsh and swamp vegetation

A small, but rather beautiful, micro-moth in the margins of the re-wetted areas near Blankenfoerde

By the next day, 10th July, the rain had settled out and we were left with a fresh breeze and some lengthy spells of sunshine. A good day to give the girls a break from all the wildlife and let them play. I took Lissa for a walk around the nearest fields out of Boek so that she could have a proper afternoon sleep, I could get some exercise and the other two could spend some time doing more exciting things for small children, like a carriage ride and playing in the playground.
Setting off, Lissa snuggled down and went to sleep within about two minutes - result! I set myself into a gentle amble and did some mobile birding, botanising and general wildlife-watching on the hoof.

The walk took me out of Boek to the northeast, along the edge of the national park and round to Amalienhof before returning to Boek along the road. As soon as I left the houses, a large dark eagle flew over. Heart leaping at the prospect of finally seeing Lesser Spotted Eagle in Europe, I raised my bins to see it flying off steadily, trailing falconers' jesses. It didn't even have the decency to be a LSE, looking more like a Steppe Eagle. Perhaps I was fortunate though - it would have been a terrible view with a sleeping baby strapped to my chest! Another White-tailed Eagle drifted over to compensate me slightly. The rest of the walk was rather uneventful after that. More Red-backed Shrikes, a Glanville Fritillary and piles more Heath Fritillary. A single Middle-spotted Woodpecker was nice, but hardly exceptional. Back to Boek, where a very flavoursome icecream was just the job to refresh us all.

Thrift +

Beetle of obvious striking appearance on Thrift flower.
Another day, another trip! We hired bicycles again for the day, strapped the children into their seats and headed off for the high point of the park. This is the tree-topping Kaeflingsbergturm, an observation tower which is definitely not for the faint-hearted. The journey there took us through Boek, then into the pinewoods and along the eastern side of the Priesterbaekersee before joining the closed road which runs between Amalienhof and Speck. The tower is reached via a half-kilometre walk from the road. The ride there was uneventful, the walk up from the road pleasantly enlivened by finding Pine Marten scats along the way, as well as the sound of a distant Gruffalo (unmistakeable once you know it).

The tower is a solid steel beast which reaches an impressive 30m into the sky - some 171 steps if you include the four concrete ones at the base. The view from the top is undeniably big, and more impressively for a Brit, the landscape is one of forest, punctuated by a scatter of lakes and the very occasional open patch. The most prominent of these is where the Russian troops stationed in the area used to do a lot of training, denuding that patch of land of vegetation. This is now apparently a quite superb patch of open heath and acid grassland, in a completely closed zone (another distinction from the UK - a wildlife-rich area which no-one is allowed into! Imagine the outrage!) and being left to its own devices to do as it will.

A White-tailed Eagle drifted by.

We returned to the outskirts of Boek, where we found a nice sunny meadow to eat our lunch and generally allow the girls to wander, botanise and harrass grasshoppers. The spaces between grass stems were liberally filled with small orb-spiders patiently awaiting a flying meal. The air was filled with Black-tailed Skimmers and Ruddy Darters. Grasshoppers sizzled in the grass. A Grass Snake slithered up, saw us and rapidly departed, much to everyones dismay. An hour or so when life feels just fine, thankyou so much...

A fine orb-web spider

Grass Snake basking in a rotting treestump

One of many blue damelflies which almost without exception turned out to be Azure Damselfly, Coenagrion puella

A young Speckled Bush-cricket on White Campion

That Blue Featherlegs again

Willow Emerald damselfly

White Melilot, which grows along with Ribbed Melilot, all over the place

Botanising on Tansy in the Acker-ecke

Look what we found, Papa! A chilly beetle has no option but to be childhandled, unfortunately.

We rounded off the trip with two more nice woodland walks. The first, from the Gruenower See to Goldenbaum and back, took us out through more high-quality Beech forest in the eastern park of the National Park. The path wound along the edge of some marshily overgrown lakes lying between the Gruenower See and the Muehlenteich, redolent with the song of both Reed and Marsh Warblers still, before diverting into a small shallow valley which felt rather like a proper rural idyll. Flowery verges, patient cattle, sheltered-looking and pastoral. No traffic... We consoled ourselves with the view that it was probably bleak as anything in the depths of winter and walked back to the car. The second was a short wander around the Sehsee, lost in the middle of the forest near Zwenzow. One of those walks where you amble along, enjoying the sunshine and feeling yourself relax. We were treated to the sight of a large female Sand Lizard sunning herself in a powerline wayleave, where the children also found themselves running in circles chasing grasshoppers. The walk back through the woods was enlivened by regular encounters with the most enormous slugs - and a brief meeting with a Large Chequered Skipper butterfly.

Large Chequered Skipper - a final surprise butterfly on a very quiet walk around te Sehsee
The whole National Park is rather fine. The premise that the park be left to return itself to a more-or-less natural state is a bold one, especially when viewed from this side of the water, but undeniably worthwhile. The area remains hugely popular with visitors, yet feels rather unhampered by infrastructure and relatively quiet (though our being there the week before the locals schools broke for summer may have contributed). The birdlife is good: although we were there at a very quiet time of year, we still managed to see/hear a number of species which would be well-received by most (e.g. Red-necked Grebe, Bittern, Black and Middle-spotted Woodpecker, White-tailed Eagle, White Stork, Marsh Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Golden Oriole) and ended up with a trip list of somewhere just over 100 species. There was rarely a day we didn't see or hear Cranes - they are everywhere - and Ospreys are abundant, even nesting on poles in the middle of arable fields.

The plant-life is also very diverse - certainly more so than we could appreciate with two small children to entertain, yet even so we managed to record just over 300 species of plants. A more determined effort would have added significantly more! Perhaps my only disappointment was that despite the vast variety of dragonflies and damselflies on offer (some 51 species recorded in all) we only managed to see about 16 species. A combination of the weather and family constraints was the main reason, plus perhaps being just a couple of weeks to late for the best of it, but it's not much to grumble about!

I think we'll return, perhaps at a more bird-rich time of year, and see what else we can find... So, just maybe - 'to be continued'.

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