European Vacation - July 2012
by Henry Detwiler

A fine trip with Suzanne and Gaby visiting relatives, ancestral homes, and of course birds!

125 species seen from 9-29 July.  Click here for bird checklist
Click on thumbnail pictures for full-sized photos.


Our first stop in Germany was Kaufungen, where we spent five days visiting and touring the area with relatives. Rainy, cool weather was our unwelcome companion during much of our visit--I'd planned on getting up early, prior to breakfast, on several occasions, but the weather always changed my mind. We spent several hours at Dankmarshäuser Rhäden Nature Preserve (just east of Obersuhl) one morning on the way to Eisenach and the Wartburg castle.

Mr. Plaid. Duck

kaufunge n

castle parrot

The spot was excellent for water-loving birds--we saw numerous LAPWINGS, a large flock of GREYLAG GEESE, a lone BARNACLE GOOSE, several WHITE STORKS, three GREEN SANDPIPERS, MALLARDS, several TUFTED DUCKS, and FIELDFARE.

black redstart
Young Black Redstart
During our stay in Kaufungen we enjoyed touring castles, medieval cities, and eating like kings. Our next destination was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, with its imposing city wall, narrow alleys, and beautiful half-timber homes. A short detour on the way took us to the Ober-Moos Nature Preserve where we played hide-and-seek with a pretty little ROBIN. Unfortunately, the rains set in before we could scope the area lakes

mute swans
Mute Swans

Finally, a fly-by COMMON TERN and a YELLOW-LEGGED GULL brightened up the walk. Later in the day we skirted the edge of the Bodensee, and found a small flock of GOLDFINCHES.

The next day was a long drive to Langendorf, Switzerland. Along the way we detoured to the Federsee, and walked the long boardwalk through the reeds to the lake. The northern rains and cold weather had been replaced by sunshine and warm temps--so the walk was pretty toasty. Dozens of MUTE SWANS, a few grebes, and some coots were the only visible bird life.

Mute Swan
Mute Swan



On our second morning we drove south to Interlaken, at the foot of the Swiss Alps. We headed up the gorgeous Lauterbrunnen Valley, stopping to marvel at the many waterfalls cascading over the high cliffs. Birding along the forest edges, in the meadows, and along the streams, we spotted BLACK KITE, NUTHATCH, a variety of tits, and WHITE WAGTAIL

The next day we walked around the town of Langenbruck, where some of both Suzanne's and my ancestors hailed from. A GREEN WOODPECKER greeted us in a small garden there. After that we moved on to Ursenbach and Oberburg, also home to Suzanne's forefathers, via a country road that was often barely wide enough for one car and featured 20% grades. Along the Emme River we hiked in a small nature preserve and were rewarded by this sparkling jewel of a bird, the "Eisvogel," or KINGFISHER. Other birds we came upon were the more common CHAFFINCH, FIRECREST, and GREY WAGTAIL.

Juvenile Robin
Eiger Mountain
At Grindelwald we ate a fine lunch of fondue at an outdoor cafe overlooking the valley and the Eiger Mountain. A KESTREL hunted in the field below us as we watched the thick clouds swirling about the majestic peaks. After eating we drove higher up to the end of the road and hiked for a while in the forest. Not many birds, but we did find a juvenile ROBIN and a few WRENS before the rains called an end to our wandering.


gray heron
Grey Heron


In the Alsace-Lorraine we spent a night in the small village of Graufthal, at the edge of the large Vosges du Nord Natural Park. Gaby and I explored the centuries-old troglodyte homes built into the face of a cliff, and then Suzanne and I ventured out to explore the countryside, looking at more of her ancestral home sites. Our gasthaus was situated close to some nice walking paths along a stream and a few fishing ponds. A short hike before the afternoon rains produced GREY HERON, GREAT-SPOTTED WOODPECKER, TREECREEPERS, and NUTHATCHES.

carrion crow
Carrion Crow

The Hotel Au Vieux Moulin had nice rooms in a beautiful location, but its greatest claim to fame (in our eyes) was the best meal we had during our entire trip. The multi-course meal was a culinary and visual treat with appetizer, soup, a pork filet mignon, dessert, and after-dinner treat--all of which melted in our mouths!
Rooster Weathervane

Graufthal Troglodyte Cliff Dwellings

Our next destination was Paris. We didn't do any birding, but we did see a lot of odd ducks there. And in the Louvre were some fine rabbit slippers.

Louvre slippers
Napoleon's Rabbit Slippers


On the ferry from Calais to Dover we picked up a few more COMMON GULLS and COMMON TERNS, and lots of HERRING GULLS. Alas, no pelagics on either leg, but we did have fine views of the White Cliffs of Dover and the Dover Castle.
Little Egret
Little Egret


Close to Canterbury we stopped at a preserve next to Grove Ferry along the Great Stour River. The acres of marshes and damp fields yielded a flock of GREYLAG GEESE, a singing SEDGE WARBLER, and a pair of MARSH HARRIERS. Suzanne found a LITTLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER!

reed warbler
Reed Warbler

Canterbury Cathedral

In the beautiful old city of Canterbury the magnificent cathedral from the middle ages was a must-see. Close to our motel in Ramsgate we visited the Pegwell Bay Nature Reserve both days we were in England. The birding was good there, and we probably saw more species at Pegwell than in any other single spot on our trip.Some of the finds here were COMMON SHELDUCK, AVOCET, GREY PLOVER, CURLEW, LITTLE EGRET, REED WARBLER, WHITETHROAT, SONG THRUSH, and LINNET.

Swift over our Ramsgate Hotel

pink-footed goose
Greylag Goose

Driving on the left side of the road was a bit unnerving, especially around curves and on turns--but I managed well enough until I had to back out of a narrow country lane for an on-coming student driver. She probably wondered where I had learned to drive.

Canterbury Cathedral


song thrush
Song Thrush

Common Shelduck


A stop close to Calais at the Platier d'Oye Reserve turned up our first SPOONBILL, a family of LITTLE GREBES, MOORHEN, COMMON PHEASANT, dozens of SANDWICH TERNS, and in the distance we heard a CUCKOO.



great crested grebe
Great Crested Grebe

little grebe
Little Grebe


In Belgium we were enchanted by the canal-laced town of Brugge, and took a guided boat trip through the waterways. The beer and the chocolates were fine, as was my rabbit dinner. We stayed in a fancy little room in the old part of town, in "Guesthouse 17," with a view of the main canal. The lawns around town had the customary city birds: WOOD PIGEON, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, and BLACKBIRD.




Black-headed Gull
Black-headed Gull


We also had great views of BLACK-HEADED GULL and JACKDAW during our wanderings about the city.

wood pigeon


Blue Tit
Blue Tit

On our last day in Germany we hiked up a forested hill trail at the edge of Idstein, where we added one additional bird for the trip: CRESTED TIT. Plenty of other tits and forest birds were there, too--it was a nice way to end our birding in continental Europe.



Our return to the states was broken by another layover in Iceland, but this one for only a day and a half. We stayed at the Guesthouse Gardur, on the southwestern-most spit of land in the country. Even though it was rainy on this visit, it was still great for birding, and we added some good finds in the cliffs around Gardur: SANDERLING, MANX SHEARWATER, and good numbers of GANNETS, a bird that so far I'd only seen from the plane on our first stop here.

Herring Gull
Herring Gull


A trip to the center of Reykjavik revealed a thriving, modern city. Next to the central lake were woods with COMMON REDPOLLS. Our final stop in Iceland was a small stand of trees close to Vogar, where we visually verified GOLDCREST, which we had only heard up to now. Too soon after that we had to board our plane back to the states--our wonderful journey to Europe was over.


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