Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Postcard from Berlin and Prague...Part Two

A view of Prague from the castle area.  Charles Bridge can be seen. 

16th-22nd Aug.  …and so we were up bright and early and at Hauptbahnhof (railway station) well before our train to Prague was due to leave.  Hauptbahnhof is quite a sight, with several floors and a shopping/eating centre giving it more of the appearance of a major airport.  It was opened for use at the 2006 football World Cup.  The train ran on time, but getting onto it was a bit of a rugby scrum and I had to ask folk to move from our seats.  It was a four and a half hour journey to Prague stopping at Dresden and passing some very nice scenery near the border and along the River Elbe.  It wasn’t long out of Berlin when we spotted a Marsh Harrier and later whilst I was dozing Sam found a Common Buzzard.  Sam later reflected that of course we probably travelled on the line that would have taken Czech Jews to what would so often be their final destination!  We arrived at our very nice hotel in the old town and we were soon out taking in the city sites.  Our first major port of call was the famous square in the old town where we looked at amongst many other things the Astronomical Clock.  We were to pass the clock on several occasions.  A Kestrel flew overhead and perched on top of the high buildings.  We eventually counted five Kestrels here.

An early morning view of part of the old town square, here amongst other things the famous astronomical clock attracts the crowds.

The astronomical clock.   I'm still trying to work it all out so may stick to my wrist watch for the time being..

Prague is a compact and beautiful city, but its compactness makes for crowding.  Imagine St Marks Square in Venice and you get the picture of parts of Prague.  Perhaps it was in part the crowded feel that ensured that my expectation that Prague would be the high spot of this trip proved to be wrong.  My feeling is that I would return to Berlin if given the opportunity, as there is so much to see, but as far as Prague is concerned then I feel ‘I’ve been there and done that now’, so would not expect to return.  Certainly Sam and I both felt unless you’re intending making tours outside of the city two, days is enough to ensure you get to see the main areas of the city.  Don’t get me wrong though, it is a beautiful place with lots of history.  I felt that the place had a feel of the Italian about it, but perhaps that is because in the main we dined at Italian restraunts.

Crossing a quiet Charles Bridge and heading for the castle area.  St Vitus Cathedral can be seen in the castle area to the right.

We watched the changing of the guard as we had done earlier this year in Budapest.  My guide book suggests that the guards look 'camp'.  I wasn't going to be the one to tell that to this bloke!

Still no crowds meant that these musicians could be enjoyed.  Not many places you can go to in Prague without street entertainment, but little as classy as this group.

I got some nice images of each musician.

We were up at 6.00am and after a quick breakfast we were out to see the Charles Bridge (which crosses the Vltava River) before any crowds built up.  We reached the Castle area well before numbers of folk began to arrive and believe me they do arrive in numbers!  The Charles Bridge area becomes a crowded mass of people later in the day.  If you visit Prague one simple piece of advice is get up early and miss the crowds and have a break in the afternoon.  This is what we did and it worked out pretty well.  Birds on or over the Vltava River included Mute Swan (thankfully no Swanbusters about:-) ), Cormorant, Mallard, Tufted Duck and hirundines in number.

St Vitus Cathedral.

There's some fine stained glass in the cathedral.
The images reflect the fact that we visited all of the main areas within Prague.  With CNN continually reporting that a volcano was about to erupt in Iceland and possibly going to bring havoc to airline travel I wondered if we would be forced to revisit over the next week!  Thankfully we got home as expected and I have to say I was impressed by Easy Jet service.

More moving moments going around the Jewish section of Prague.  One of the synagogues has the names inscribed on walls of individual Jews lost in the Holocaust and it is the longest epitaph in the world.  There was also a large collection of  drawings and art which had been done by Jewish children in the Terezin Ghetto.  Getting the children involved with the art work had been an attempt to help them psychologically overcome some of the terrors around them.  The ages of the children were shown, as was the age at which they died usually at the hands of the Nazis.  Few lived past their very early teens and many didn't even reach that age!  Looking at the densely crowded gave-stones in the Jewish cemetery helps one far better understand the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. I've read a lot recently about the evil behaviour from fanatical Islamists.  It seems to me that all religions/communities have in their number, those capable of evil and we best not forget that! 

Castle area from the funicular railway.  Having taken the funicular railway up to the park area we found several Pied Flycatchers, Willow Warblers and tits including Willow TitsGreat Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch were heard and we think we heard another Goshawk.

Crossing the Vltava with Charles Bridge in the distance.

Yours truly in Wenceslas  Square.  Not a square at all but so much history here occurring even during my lifetime.  You could almost feel those Soviet tanks approaching.

There will be those who remember very well these two guys who set themselves alight in Wenceslas Square and died in protest to Soviet occupation of their country.  This is the spot where it occurred.

Another memorial in the square dedicated to those who suffered and died under soviet occupation.

Our last evening was spent down at the Vltava enjoying the scene.  I can't quite remember if this image was taken before or after a drunken gent collapsed onto the pavement and puked up a couple of feet away from me!  Heavy drinkers in the Czech Republic I believe but you see little of it on the streets.  From the locals anyway!  You do see lots of begging.

Another evening image of the castle area, this time with the Charles Bridge in the foreground.

.............and so our trip was almost over.  It had been a great, interesting and informative week.  We flew back to Edinburgh the next day and enjoyed the landing as we flew over the Firth of Forth and had good sightings of the Forth Bridges.


Monday, 25 August 2014

Postcard from Berlin and Prague...Part One

16th-22nd Aug.  I stress that there is a few decent bird sighting reports in amongst the cultural and touristy bits.  Although not a birding trip you can’t fail to have a few good sightings if you keep your eyes open.  In fact I would suggest that Berlin in particular would make a good focus for urban birding.

An unusual view of the Reichstag

The Reichstag poignantly reflected in the pool at the memorial for Romany persecuted by the Nazis.  The triangle represents the badge that the Romany were forced to wear in the concentration camps.  The flower is changed daily.  This memorial only opened in recent years.
First sighting of note was as we left Edinburgh Airport and saw what we are sure was a Gyr Falcon.  Are they used here to keep bird species clear of the runway or was it an escaped bird we wondered?  After a very relaxed flight with Easy Jet, Sam and I were soon encamped in our hotel, two minutes walk from Checkpoint Charlie.  We had decided on which sites to focus attention on so had a definite plan of action and were especially interested in the areas most associated with the Second World War and the Cold War.  We had numerous sightings of Hooded Crow throughout our visit with one particular bird being of interest, photographed by Sam on the site of Adolf Hitler’s Bunker.  I couldn’t help wonder if Adolf was still in some way present!  One early morning we had Goshawk calling near the hotel and clearly after the Feral Pigeons.  Not so surprising as Berlin has the forested area of the Grunewald on the edge of the city and I knew that Goshawks also frequent the parks.  We didn’t have time to focus primarily on birds, as this was not the purpose of the trip.  If we had visited more of the parks and woodland then I’m sure a decent list would have accumulated.

The Holocaust Memorial.   I was very taken by the lighting effect.  The memorial as a whole is puzzling.  Perhaps that's the idea.  It's built in a maze style.  It's less puzzling when you learn that the architect based his ideas on the cramped and over filled Jewish cemetery in Prague (which we later visited).  I have mixed feelings about such a memorial being used for child's play and people sitting o the blocks to eat their lunch, but again, maybe that is the point.  The underground museum is certainly top class and very moving indeed.  We were moved at lunchtime too, but this time by wasps!
Berlin is a city still under reconstruction (it focused the mind to remember that some of the really stunning architecture that we saw was partly still in ruins up until the 1980s and that much has changed since the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War) following the Second World War and collapse of the Berlin Wall and the large number of cranes on the skyline will testify to this.    We visited a number of well known sites and a few lesser known ones making good use of the U and S Bahn system.  I’ll let the images and captions speak for themselves.

A highlight of our visit to Berlin was the evening spent at the Soviet Memorial at Treptower Park.  No one does memorials like the Soviets!  During the battle of Berlin 305,000 Soviet troops became casualties and 5,000 of them are buried in mass graves at this memorial.  The gigantic Soviet soldier carries a child and sword and stands on a crushed Nazi swastika.  This was made from marble from Hitlers Chancellery building which had survived the bombing, but which was torn down by victorious Soviet troops.  What ever one thinks of war and war memorials this one is stunning!

One of several Black Redstarts seen at the memorial.

We beat the crowds and got to the 1936 Olympic Stadium and had it almost to ourselves for a time.  I couldn't help ponder upon what it would have felt like in 1936!  We spent a great morning at what is now home to Hertha Berlin.  Nazi architecture of course and there are many marks from gun shot still to be seen.  As we left we had a short sighting of a male Pied Flycatcher.  Both Black Redstarts and White Wagtails had been seen earlier.

Sam beside a piece of the Berlin Wall at an exhibition near Check Point Charlie

The Dome of the Berliner Dom, both inside and out. The Fernsehturm tower can be seen behind.  A great afternoon was spent exploring the city.

The Brandenburg Gate is undoubtedly best seen at night and it was a great place to spend our last evening.  A Tawny Owl flyover topped things off very well.

So our Berlin visit was almost over and we had a train for Prague to catch in the morning.  More to come.

Sunday, 10 August 2014


I read the news today, oh boy

Lennon/McCartney lyrics

Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

Barry Maguire lyrics

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

Sting Lyrics

Friday, 8 August 2014

After a Deluge

One thing almost guaranteed after a heavy downpour/storm is good clear lighting conditions.  This week’s heavy showers have often been followed by sunshine and bright light.  I took advantage of this to watch the butterflies on the Buddleia.  The quickly growing Buddleia in both front and back gardens, if not entirely giving ‘nature a home’, does encourages visits from a wide variety of insects.  This week alone I’ve noted the following butterfly species often in numbers on the Buddleia, or at least passing through the garden……….Small White, Large White, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma, Speckled Wood and Holly Blue.

After one downpour I took the chance to photograph one of the pristine Peacock Butterflies.  I remember that Rob de Jong, expert lepidopterist who we stayed with in Hungary said that his favourite butterfly was the Peacock, and it is easy to see why this should be the case.

Peacock Butterfly
There was plenty of insect life in action after the rain and I watched a spider building a web.  Unfortunately such was its speed of movement it was nearby impossible to photograph in action, although I did try, with very mixed results.  I’m happy though that I can still get excited and enjoy the wildlife in my pocket sized garden despite the attention paid to it by the neighbour’s devil cats.  We all quite rightly get very angry and active when it comes to the destruction of our raptors and /or migrant birds (well, perhaps not active in many cases, but you know what I mean), but it seems to me that the slaughter across the country of our wildlife by domestic cats is often just accepted as one of those things.  Whilst I know some owners take action to try and control this, I would suggest that the vast majority don’t.  Just a thought. 

Whilst not my best side, my reflection can be seen quite clearly in the rain droplets

A spider begins work on a new web.

And the pace soon quickened.

   Happily the Blackcaps that nested in or very near to the garden his year, appear to have survived and now moved on.  Blackcap song and garden visits have been quite regular this spring and summer.

Seeing eye to eye.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

A Lifer in the Day of...and Nice Legs!

Lee and I decided that any visit to the Druridge area may as well take in a look for the Stilt Sandpiper and so we set off.

A stop at Castle Island gave us sighting that included a small flock of Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwings, Dunlin, Redshank, Little Grebe, Mute Swans, Shelduck, Mallards, Teal and quite a number of Great-black Backed Gulls. 

We soon moved further north and decided to make straight for Druridge Pools where we failed to find the Stilt Sandpiper.  We bumped into Martin Kitching who advised us that the Stilt Sandpiper was showing well at Cresswell Pond and also that a pod of Bottle Nosed Dolphins where showing well on the sea.  Decisions decisions!  What to go for first?  We headed off to Cresswell Pond, as after all this sandpiper would be a lifer.  I’m pleased to say that when we arrived the Stilt Sandpiper was showing well and in good light.  It was good to see numbers of casual observers in the hide taking an interest in the bird.

This evening at Cresswell Pond was never going to match the last visit we had made, lifer or no lifer, but there were still some decent birds to be seen which included large numbers of Common Snipe, Avocet, Lapwing, partially summer plumaged Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Common Sandpiper (2), Ruff and Little Egret.  Goldeneye was seen again on the pond.

We decided to return to Druridge Pools and before checking that particular area out, take a look on the sea.  There was no sign of the Bottled-nosed Dolphins by now.  We did hear Stonechats.

By the pools we found that the pair of Great Crested Grebe remain and we found a number of Yellow Wagtails.  A Dunlin fed in front of the hide and from the other hide we found a rather more distant Ruff feeding.

We hadn’t had quite the sighting of the Stilt Sandpiper that had been had this morning at Druridge, but a good sighting none the less.