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A day to catch up - Richards Diary part 11

Sunday 25th April

A quiet day at the mill to catch up on the diary, label photos, read and relax. Damon and Roland are on their way out to Angermunde by train and are due in later this evening, so plenty of time. I manage to tune the radio to BBC World Service and listen in to UK election build up.

There are lots of birds calling as I write. A pair of cranes call from the forest beyond the lake – possibly the pair Roland and I saw on Monday. There’s a distant drumming black woodpecker (probably our friend who lives along the forest track), yellowhammers, blackcaps, chiffchaffs and a couple crossbills from a larch beside the main building. A male serin calls from the edge of the beech forest – the first we’ve heard at the mill during our stay.

I have fallen in love with the cranes here, especially after watching their antics at the roost the other night. However, our local black woodpecker pushes them a close second. I was watching him closely this afternoon after it landed on old oak behind the mill. A red cap, the colour of a guardsman’s tunic, showed that it was a male. He shuffled along a horizontal branch like a man with his hands and feet tied together, and as he came to the trunk he flipped himself 120 degrees onto the underside of an overhanging branch, grabbing onto the rough bark with just his claws. He continued without breaking pace into a tight spiral, appearing the right way up on top of the branch. All the while he made little grunty noises. Reaching the end of the branch, he started hammering at the bark, large chunks of which span off, dropping to the woodland floor. After ten minutes or so, he was suddenly gone – a shallow dive off the branch and over the carp pond with barely an undulation. From the trees along the forest track there came a loud abrasive ‘tyooooor!’ as, I imagined, he chased off a rival.

Damon rang at about 6pm. He and Roland have arrived in Hamburg by plane and are hoping to get to Angermunde about 10.30pm. I have time for an evening walk around the lake and watch a pair of kingfishers as they fly between perches. Still no sign of otters or the beavers which regularly visit the lake. There are lots of beaver signs however, including telltale mudslides at the edge of the path into the lake. At the far end of the lake where it passes under the road to Wolletz there are several well chewed tree trunks and evidence of a former dam. All of us would dearly like to see a beaver on this visit.

I arrive in Angermunde for the 23.30 train from Berlin but it’s fifty minutes late, so I sit in the truck listening to the iPod. A grey furry thing the size of a cat whips across the pavement and under the parked car in front. Is it a racoon or a racoon dog? I open the door quietly but it hears me, then whips back across the pavement and down a dark alley. I never find out and all I’m left with the impression of a long, fat grey tail. Both species have naturalised in east Germany and seem to be doing well. Damon and Roland arrive at 11.30 and it’s good to see them. We drive back to mill and have a beer, then it’s bedtime for the weary travellers.

This is the diary of Richard Archer, RSPB Conservation Officer for Somerset. In mid April, Richard spent three weeks as part of the RSPB/WWT/Pensthorpe crane team collecting crane eggs in Eastern Germany. These are his personal reflections on the successful German visit. You can read all of Richards Diary here.

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Richard Archer is RSPB’s Conservation Officer for Somerset, and took his sabbatical in the of Spring 2010 to help with the collection, incubation and transport of the first year’s eggs.