Serendipity

     In my writing, as in person, I return to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs time and again. An amusing anecdote about the wonderful name of this wonderful spot recounts how two early local residents and co-founders of Old Colorado City, Melancthon S. Beach and Rufus E. Cable, were surveying the area in the late 1850s. When the former suggested it would be a good location for a beer garden, the latter replied indignantly, “A beer garden. This is a place fit for the gods”. Fact or fiction, the name is fitting. Luckily for us, the park is fit for mortals, too, and this mortal usually makes exciting discoveries there, at times more serendipitous than at others.

     This past week, the “Garden” was the destination for my weekly birding group, since it attracts feathered beings as well. We counted 20 species, among them a pair of mating Prairie Falcons. On the following day, I came back with high hopes for sighting a Northern Saw-whet Owl previously spotted by other observers. Having transitioned to Daylight Savings Time two days prior, I arrived at 7 o’clock in human time, corresponding to 6 o’clock in owl time. Early for me, but apparently too late for the nocturnal creature, which was neither seen nor heard.

      As is often the case when one plan is foiled, its substitution might be as good or better. Not only did I experience a moonset behind Pikes Peak, and a near-simultaneous sunrise which painted mountains, rock formations and vegetation in soft shades of pink and orange, these celestial phenomena were accompanied by a terrestrial symphony. Among the multitude of musicians, American Robins, Spotted Towhees, Scrub Jays, and House Finches sang the leading parts.

American Robin feasting on juniper berries

Spotted Towhee in its beloved leaf litter

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay

Their melodies were complemented by courting behavior and nest-building, as well as aerial acrobatics of White-throated Swift, only recently returned to their summer habitat from the South. The temperature in the high 40s was at least 15 degrees more comfortable than on the previous day, enlivening not only me, but also some of the smaller birds, including chickadees and juncos. I was well entertained for an hour and a half which seemed like the blink of an eye. Content with the morning, and ready to return to the car, my gaze fell on two other visitors, at which point I did a double-take.

     The couple was evidently enjoying the climbing and vocal skills of a hyperactive little Canyon Wren.

Canyon Wren

Binoculars draped around their necks, and the woman’s camera with a long lens (I was admittedly envious) gave them away as fellow birders. I recognized her from a photo I had seen on her blog the day before. It was only my second or third visit to her site, in response to a comment she left on mine. My post “Dippered Out” appealed to her because they, too, had searched for American Dippers at Elevenmile Canyon. From her blog I knew that she and her husband were on a one-week excursion to Colorado from Texas. We had never met in person but when I approached her and asked, “Are you Shannon?”, she nodded, and replied, “You must be Tanja.” Despite their itinerary ranging up and down Colorado, we ran into one another at this singular spot. What are the odds?

The Central Garden

     After shaking our heads in disbelief, we chatted and admired birds and scenery together for nearly an hour. Alas, another get-together was precluded during this trip. Shannon and Scott, it was an immense pleasure to meet you both. I wish you continued Happy Birding wherever you are, and hope our flight paths will cross once again.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/ein-glucklicher-zufall/

An Elevated Place

     If not for visionaries like Wyman E. Mueller and his wife Eleanor, Colorado might have only 41, instead of 42 State Parks. Thanks to their long view and interest in conservation, the 12,103 acres of the Mueller Ranch, an agglomeration of property acquired by the family bit by bit from previous owners, came under the aegis of the Nature Conservancy in the late 1970s. Slightly more than half of the property, 6,982 acres, was sold to the Colorado Division of Wildlife and is operated as the Dome Rock Wildlife Area which allows seasonal hunting. The remaining 5,121 acres opened to the public in 1991 as Mueller State Park.

Mueller State Park Visitor Center

     The Visitor Center, which commenced operation in 1997, houses informative exhibits about the local history, both natural and manmade. After the area’s seasonal use by the Ute Indians throughout centuries, in the 1800s it attracted trappers, homesteaders, ranchers, farmers, and was furthermore mined for gold and timber. In the early 20th century, some of its meadows brought forth Pikes Peak lettuce which was shipped as far east as Chicago and New York City, in boxcars cooled by blocks of ice from local ponds. Twelve historic buildings in various stages of decay still dot the landscape and give fodder to our imagination.

Former Cheesman Ranch

     From Colorado Springs, the park in Teller County lies about an hour’s drive west, between the towns of Divide and Cripple Creek, just off Colorado Highway 67. Nestled on the back side of Pikes Peak at an elevation of 9,600 feet, it affords fabulous vistas of Colorado’s western Sangre de Cristo and Sawatch Mountain ranges.

View of the western mountains from Grouse Mountain Overlook

We have explored its extensive and varied terrain during successive day trips, either by hiking or snowshoeing on the trails which amount to roughly 50 miles. A few years ago, we spent two chilly fall nights in one of two tent-only campground loops with walk-in sites. The park is extremely popular among RV users and offers 132 electrical sites. A third type of accommodation is also available, but until this month, we had only cast curious glances at the three cabins of Mueller. Since we enjoy practical presents, I gifted my husband two nights at the smallest, Pine Cabin, knowing full well that it wasn’t entirely altruistic.

Pine Cabin

When I called for the reservation in late November, I was given a code to the door. Months later, we were relieved when it yielded to our punched-in numbers and we inspected the well-appointed log structure with delight. The kitchen/dining room came with all necessary appliances and utensils, the small living room with a gas fireplace, the bathroom with towels, and the two bedrooms with beds fully made. High use notwithstanding, everything was refreshingly spic and span.

Kitchen and dining room

     In planning our trip for early March, I was hoping for enough white cover to snowshoe, but because this winter has been mild and dry, we tramped around in hiking boots, rather than snowshoes. The weather was sunny and clear, albeit windy, with the temperature ranging from the mid 30s to the mid 50s.

Elk Meadow, with view of back side of Pikes Peak

The park is famous for its wildlife, including bugling elk in the autumn, but, maybe not surprisingly for this transitional period, we only encountered a small group of Mule Deer, a number of Common Ravens and American Crows, a lone Clark’s Nutcracker, numerous chipper Mountain Chickadees, a few soaring Red-tailed Hawks, and two hungry Gray Jays (aren’t they always?).

Mule Deer resting

Gray Jay, aka Whisky Jack, aka Camp Robber

Content to walk for a few hours each day, we spent the remainder of our waking hours with reading, writing, and lounging in front of the cozy fireplace.

     We are grateful to the Mueller family for preserving a substantial parcel of land with a relatively intact ecosystem. It provides respite from the hustle and bustle of the ever-expanding Front Range population, and we look forward to returning to this elevated topography in different seasons of its and our lives.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/ein-erhabener-ort/

Dippered Out

On this late December day, I enjoy the wintry brilliance of Elevenmile Canyon for the first time. Knowing it hitherto only in its summer apparel, today I participate in a birding and photography field trip offered by the Colorado Springs Aiken Audubon Society. Only three people signed up, but we benefit from having our leader to ourselves and are even chauffeured in her new car, aptly named Mountain Bluebird. It flies across the 40 miles on Highway 24 in under an hour. In Woodland Park, which lives up to its moniker, City Above the Clouds, we emerge from a veil of mist enveloping Colorado’s Front Range. Farther west in Lake George, we turn south onto Park County Road 96 and reach the entrance booth to the canyon at 9 AM where we pay the $6 fee. Administered by the USDA Forest Service, this site is popular among fisher(wo)men year-round, and on many summer days, the three campgrounds are filled to the hilt.

The gravel road parallels the course of the South Platte River and ends after roughly 11 miles at the foot of the 1932 dam which created Elevenmile Reservoir. The route occupies the former bed of the Colorado Midland Railroad, the first standard gauge railway in the state which primarily targeted the silver wealth of Leadville. Two narrow gauge lines already connected to this boom town, including General Palmer’s Denver and Rio Grande, but only by circuitous paths. The main engine behind the Midland, industrialist John J. Hagerman, came to the West for its vaunted healthful climate, like many tuberculosis sufferers. His railroad originated in Colorado Springs in 1886, groaned up steep Ute Pass, and by the following year traversed what was then known as Granite Canyon.

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On the morning of our excursion, our drive through three surviving railroad tunnels reminds us of this earlier chapter in the history of what is now Elevenmile Canyon. The temperature climbs from 10 to 43 degrees Fahrenheit, and with warmth increasing, so does our time outside the car. Our leader, having faced conditions as low as minus 19 degrees in years past, thinks us a mollycoddled bunch, but even she lingers in sun-flooded patches which feel downright balmy by the end of the morning. Sun and blue skies are a congenial combination, rendered more so by the presence of snow. Frozen crystals glitter on granite and ground, icy art sparkles on stream and shrubbery.

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Among this inanimate splendor, the fluorescent feathers of winged beings flash flamboyantly, drawing our attention to their presence. This area is known to harbor Bald and Golden Eagles and we are fortunate to see both. A young, male Baldy allows us glimpses from nearby, but Goldy is circling high in the sky, close enough for identification, but too far for satisfactory photography.

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Where the river remains free of ice, it provides paddling room for Canada Geese, Mallards, Common Goldeneyes. Unexpectedly, we happen across an active American Pipit. Corvids caw in the calm, and the contented chatter of chickadees and nuthatches permeates the air.

Our most popular motifs, however, are American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus), also called water ouzels. They are usually found here in winter, but we are surprised to see one after nearly every bend in the river and count at least 20 individuals. What they lack in conspicuous colors, they make up with curious behavior. This includes the ability to dive, swim, and even walk under water, with the goal of capturing aquatic insects. When not submerged, they bob nearly constantly.

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They are solitary and territorial birds and defend their watery realm from neighboring rivals. For the first time in my life I hear their lovely vocalizations, not unlike the tinkling cadence of the element in which they conduct their lives. We have ample opportunity to take pictures, and each of us captures dozens, if not hundreds. But even birders with a long attention span tire. After 3 wonderful hours we nonetheless declare ourselves “dippered out” and leave Elevenmile Canyon in its gorgeous winter raiments behind us, for the time being.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/ausgeamselt/

A Natural Enclave

     In a recent post, I commented on the ubiquity of castles in Germany. Besides these rather massive medieval monuments, more delicate and recent palaces abound, a reflection of the country’s division into myriad principalities until not-so-long-ago, each of which flaunted its status with its own stately domicile. One such palace graces Herrnsheim, an incorporated suburb of the city of Worms.

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The edifice’s current incarnation rose out of the ruins of late Middle Age and Baroque precursors. In the early 19th century, it was erected in the eminent Empire style, named after Emperor Napoleon. The surrounding estate, designed as an English landscape garden in the 18th century, has been maintained in the same style up to the present.

     As Herrnsheim was the hometown of my best friend, and near our mutual high school, I frequented the location throughout the years. It took on added significance when my now husband and I strolled around its grounds, newly in love, in an attempt to walk off nervous energy, before he met my parents for the first time. All these sentimental reasons combine and I find myself irresistibly attracted each time I am in its vicinity. Last year was no different and I returned to it on more than one occasion, finding its timeless beauty augmented by its autumnal attire.

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     The principal building can be toured once a month, or by special request, and the adjacent orangery now houses a café, but I did not make use of either, since the destination’s main appeal lay in its outdoor scenery.

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A gravel path led me past stretches of lawn complemented by groves of deciduous trees, to a lake with a central island, covered by canopy of fall foliage. Even though a gazebo, bridge, and diverse statuary were clearly fashioned and placed by human hands, the harmony between manmade and seemingly natural structures was very appealing.

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I don’t recall the first time a striking statue of what appears to be an African woman materialized at the edge of the isle in the middle of the pond, but I have sat opposite her many a time and pondered her meaning.

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The forest and water have always attracted a variety of creatures, among them waterfowl and raptors. All enhanced the impression of a wild place, with a slight reminder that even wilderness needs to be organized.

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Only in Germany: Birdhouses with numbers :=)

     In typical fall fashion, the weather was changeable and alternated between sunshine, overcast skies, and gentle showers. I opened and closed my umbrella repeatedly, which happened to share the color of the leaves.

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One memorable moment, I stood agape, admiring a golden “leaffall”, brought on by a hefty gust of wind. Not many people were out and about, and despite the relative smallness of the park and a nearby busy road with its muffled engine noise, I had the sense of being far away from the crowds. I regularly seek solitude wherever I go, and even small enclaves of nature have the power to restore in me a sense of well-being and belonging. This colorful gem in the old country, though exceptional, is no exception.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/eine-naturliche-oase/

Another Amazing Einstein

My current hometown, Colorado Springs, once was home to a third degree cousin of Albert Einstein. Dr. Otto Einstein was born in Hechingen, Germany in 1876, graduated from high school in Ulm in 1895, and from medical school in Tübingen in 1900. He practiced pediatrics in Stuttgart for thirty-five years, before he escaped Hitler’s anti-Semitic genocide at the last minute, in April 1939. Most of his children left Germany in the early 1930s, but Dr. Einstein opted to stay, caring for his Jewish patients as long as possible. Like other Jewish physicians, he had volunteered during WWI, and as late as 1935 was awarded a Medal of Honor, which likely conferred a degree of protection, even though he was demoted to Krankenpfleger (male nurse) and expelled from the German Society of Pediatricians in 1938.

After fleeing from the dinner table with his wife Jenny and their youngest son, the Einsteins’ first refuge was Nicaragua. He worked at a missionary hospital of the Moravian church for nine months, while awaiting a visa to enter the United States. Albert Einstein pleaded with the authorities in a handwritten note for permission for his cousin to enter the country. Once granted, the Einsteins arrived in New Orleans by steamship in 1940. They lived in Denver for two years, where Dr. Einstein’s eldest son was a doctor. Otto found employment as a resident physician at National Jewish Hospital, a center for the treatment of tuberculosis. Colorado was among the premiere destinations for consumptives, on account of its purported beneficial climate, and Dr. Einstein started a new career as a tuberculosis specialist at sixty-four – an age when most individuals at least ponder retirement.

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Memorial Plaque at the site of the former Modern Woodmen of America Sanatorium

In 1942, Dr. Einstein moved to Colorado Springs and was hired by the Modern Woodmen of America Sanatorium, the city’s largest. After 1947, he dedicated the remaining years of his life to the care of patients at Cragmor Sanatorium. This establishment for well-heeled patients opened in 1905/06. In 1952, it was leased by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs as a treatment center for Navajo (Diné) women from Arizona, with the goal to cure their disease with newly discovered antibiotics. Patients and staff described him as a caring, gentle individual who tried to ease his charges’ physical and emotional pain. Despite communication barriers created by his heavily accented English, he and his American Indian patients were able to comprehend one another.

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The former Cragmor Sanatorium, now Main Hall of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS)

A principled man, Dr. Einstein insisted on paying for medications taken from the pharmacy for personal use, and on tearing up uncanceled stamps. A lifelong scholar, he studied subjects as diverse as medicine and comparative religion. He worshiped at Temple Beth El, the Reform Jewish congregation in Colorado Springs. It was there that he eulogized Albert’s life after the Nobel Laureate’s death in 1955. Five years earlier, the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph had printed an interview in which he reminisced about their childhood friendship in Germany and several stays at Princeton with the famous physicist and his wife Elsa, who also happened to be a cousin of Jenny. After Dr. Einstein’s death of myocardial infarction in 1959, a few days shy of his 83rd birthday, he was buried at the Sons of Israel Cemetery, adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery.

Dr. Einstein was survived by his wife Jenny, their two sons, Robert and Georg, two daughters, Lisa and Eva, and a son, Hans, from Jenny’s first marriage. While all have passed in the interim, numerous grandchildren and their offspring are alive today.

I first learned about Dr. Einstein in a book about Cragmor Sanatorium, Asylum of the Gilded Pill, by retired UCCS Professor Douglas R. McKay. During an exploration of our local cemeteries, I stumbled across Dr. Einstein’s distinctive gravestone which heightened my curiosity. When I found the eulogy given by his rabbi, I called several synagogues to find more information about him. One obliging secretary put me in touch with Dr. Perry Bach who is working on the completion of a series of books, Jewish Colorado Springs. He was most gracious, shared his knowledge, and put me in touch with a family member of Dr. Einstein, architect Alan Gass of Denver, the designer of the tombstone, who filled in additional gaps. While visiting Stuttgart last fall, I discovered more archival sources about Dr. Einstein’s life in Germany.

This short biographical sketch is my attempt to shed a little more light on a remarkable person whose full life is too little known.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/noch-ein-besonderer-einstein/

A Castle in Colorado

Castles in Germany are not infrequent. For many sightseers they epitomize Europe’s charm and myth, and any American who has taken a cruise on the Rhine will have dozens of photos to share with relatives back home. Even during my last trip to Germany I happened across several castle ruins during everyday activities. But castles in Colorado? Even if the Rocky Mountains form their own towers, turrets, and battlements, drawbridges are not among the natural features. Nonetheless, Colorado boasts a fully-formed castle, complete with drawbridge (even if there is no moat – yet) and it is a well-known area landmark, as the ever-present column of cars lining the roadside attests.

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I speak of Bishop Castle, located along State Highway 165, in Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest, about 73 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. The embodiment of one man’s vision, Mr. Jim Bishop has worked on his magnum opus for nearly 60 years, according to the official website, and since his marriage in 1967, has had the support of his wife Phoebe. It is still a work in progress, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that moat were to show up after all, water shortage in the West be damned. This seems to encapsulate the attitude of the builder who has no qualms about voicing his controversial social and political opinions and who has fought tooth and nail with local and national entities about the legality of his project. Nevertheless, he has withstood any and all attempts at derailing him from the fulfillment of his design.

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Even though my husband and I have heard about the castle, have even seen photos of it, when we finally stand before it, we are not prepared for the gargantuan edifice fashioned of local rock, glass and what must amount to miles and miles of ironworks.

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The tallest tower tops out at 160 feet, and the tallest chimney terminates in a dragon. On the sunny autumn day of our attendance, we are deprived of the smoke-spewing spectacle which greets guests on rare occasions. Entry through the lowered drawbridge is free, but donations are welcome, as most construction costs have been financed by Mr. Bishop himself, besides those willing to fund his quest.

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Many of the rooms spread out over three stories remain unfinished, some are drafty for lack of glass in the windows, but each is endowed with its own character.

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We marvel at a succession of elegant arches, before entering a generous hall on the third floor. Its pointed ceiling, bisected by ornate welding, and lofty windows invoke the nave of a Gothic cathedral and its solemn atmosphere invites reflection and pause.

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Narrow staircases lead us higher and higher, until stone gives way to metal porches and walkways hugging the exterior walls.

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The castle, at an elevation of 9,000 feet, is surrounded by mountains and trees and affords glimpses of Colorado’s Great Plains in the East.

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The 360 degree view from the birdcage-like globe and bridges which grace the building like a filigreed crown makes up for the slight queasiness resulting from the structure’s gentle swaying in Colorado’s fall breeze, but to those afraid of heights, my advice is not to climb beyond the third story.

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Opinions about Bishop Castle and the person behind it range from approval to severe condemnation. Yet none of the visitors on site seems able to resist a sense of awe and admiration. I can’t help but reflect on the quest of another misunderstood knight, having recently re-read and re-considered the meaning of Don Quixote. I know I am a hopeless romantic, but I am impressed with and inspired by Jim Bishop who dared to follow his dream and left us a dreamlike legacy.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/eine-burg-in-colorados-bergen/

Where Do Babies Come From?

The dark point circling in the sky assumes shape, size, and color with diminishing distance, and soon I recognize a large white bird with long red legs and beak. Its head points straight forward, its white wings and black trailing feathers beat measuredly up and down. I am not the only one who anticipates its return. Before me, inside a stick nest on top of a tall pole, two nestlings flap their wings impatiently. Once the adult alights and regurgitates food, the offspring commence to devour it hungrily, while the regal elder surveys the surroundings. Luckily, at a distance of 100 yards I pose no threat, for all three ignore me.

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After five minutes, the adult takes off again and leaves the young ones to their own devices. Until the next visitation by mother or father, who are not easily distinguished at first glance (the males tend to have thicker and longer bills), the youths fill their time inside their nursery by sitting, pacing or pumping their wings in preparation for the day in the not too distant future when they will fledge. They observe their environs and a cock crowing nearby captures their attention. Their heads turn in synchrony toward that sound, rendering their black beaks obvious, a contrast to the adults’ bright red ones.

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I know of this White Stork nest in the southern portion of Hessen in West-Central Germany from a previous visit. In June 2015 I reach it by first ferrying across the Rhine River from my childhood home in Rheinhessen, and by riding 5 miles on my bike. I am thrilled to find it occupied again, and elated to observe clusters of storks in the sky overhead. Ten individuals suddenly descend, land behind a tractor, and follow its wake, where they pierce whatever scuttles underneath their beaks.

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Culinarily not choosy, their menu includes earthworms, insects, fish, frogs, snakes and small rodents. Nearby, in the town of Biebesheim, I find the explanation for their abundance when I happen across an animal refuge which is home to a stork colony. The air is filled with the sounds and sights of storks. They are coming and going, feeding, and clattering their elegant bills. This latter activity translates as klappern and is responsible for one of many common German names of this beloved creature, Klapperstorch.

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White Storks typically lay three to four eggs, and in times of abundance as many as seven, but only two to three hatchlings survive into adulthood. After 33 days they emerge from the eggs and the nestlings mature for two months before they take flight. Called European White Storks, their distribution is not limited to that continent. Breeding also occurs in Asia Minor and the various flocks migrate to their wintering grounds in Africa. This happens in two distinct patterns. From Western Europe they fly across the Straits of Gibraltar to West Africa, whereas eastern groups follow a route across Turkey, the Bosporus Strait, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gulf of Suez to reach East and South Africa. The flight path across the Mediterranean Sea, albeit much shorter, is not feasible because it lacks the required thermal uplifts which are only generated where soil is heated by sun.

Growing up in Germany forty years ago I never encountered wild storks. This did not prevent me from following a folk custom related to me by my grandparents. To encourage the birds to bring me a sibling, I placed many a sugar cube on the windowsill. Sadly, it didn’t work. In school in the 1980s, I learned that these magnificent avians were threatened by extinction and their future appeared dire. All the more welcome the news that their numbers have not only stabilized, but have grown in the last decades, in Western even more than in Eastern Europe.

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This recovery of their ranks is at least partially attributable to changing migratory patterns (many of the storks overwinter on the Iberian peninsula where they find enough food, instead of undertaking the treacherous trip south), but human preservation efforts also play a role in the storks’ success story. Provision and caretaking of breeding spaces on tall poles or rooftops, restoration of wetlands and meandering streams, decreased use of pesticides, and insulation of high-power utility lines to lessen the risk of electrocution contribute to attracting breeding pairs, and to promoting the survival of their offspring.

In this day and age when we are overwhelmed by sad tidings about the demise of so many species, the example of the White Stork reminds and admonishes us that we humans are, indeed, able to protect and share habitat through concerted efforts. I am happy that the legendary storks which populate German nursery rhymes, songs and myths once again populate the German landscape.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/er-hat-ein-schwarz-weis-rockchen-an