Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 1

Renewed contact with relatives in Stuttgart in recent years has been enriching not only on a personal level, but has enabled me to combine family visits with those of natural enclaves. A few sites in particular have stolen my heart. Like a siren, they beckon me to return and like Odysseus, I am unable to resist their call. This past fall I sought them out again, following my first acquaintance the previous year.

Stuttgart’s Schlossgarten (Palace Garden) consists of three contiguous and connected parts. The Upper Schlossgarten nearest the center of the city has at its core the artificial reservoir Eckensee and is fringed by eye-catching edifices and monuments, most notably the New Palace, former residence of the kings of Württemberg. A bridge across the busy Schillerstraße near the Main Train Station leads north to the Middle Schlossgarten which merges with the Lower Schlossgarten. These two occupy a wider footprint and feel more removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. From one end of the Schlossgarten nearest downtown to the opposite end that abuts the Neckar River in Bad Cannstatt, the distance approximates two to three miles, depending on the directness of one’s chosen route. I like to meander, but still covered it in about two hours.

One corner of the Eckensee, with adjacent Königsbau on the right, and victory column on the left

Fountain of Fate (Schicksalsbrunnen) at the Upper Palace Garden

Mute Swan, not bothered by human activity

…nor are these sleeping Mallards near its edge


Black-headed Gull, unfazed by humans

…as is the squirrel













Urban natural oases might not offer the pristineness and solitude of more remote destinations, but they are welcome refuges and serve as reminders of nature’s adaptability and tendency to thrive when afforded the slightest opportunity. Surrounded by human habitations and incessant traffic, occupied by manicured lawns and choreographed trees, bushes, and flowers, the verdant lung of Baden-Württemberg’s capital nonetheless offers a home for many wild critters, though how wild they remain through constant contact with and frequent handouts by humans remains debatable.

Pond in the Middle Palace Garden

Vast meadow in the Lower Palace Garden

Autumn splendor

…with inviting trails

The Common Moorhen was very common

…as was the Eurasian Coot







Egyptian Geese, transplants from North Africa

The handsome Graylag Goose

The even more attractive Gray Heron

Despite a near-constant current of walkers, runners, and bikers, I encountered everywhere my favorite feathered friends whose presence perfected this picturesque panorama. As my visit to Stuttgart happened late in the year, autumn’s brush had dipped deeply into pots of gold and amber and burgundy, and had applied its strokes liberally to the local flora. On a day when the sun succeeded in counteracting the cloud cover that clung to the skies during the remainder of the week, those colors carried summer’s residual heat and warmed my heart and soul.

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


For as long as I can remember, I have seldom needed an alarm clock. I typically awake on my own, without having my dreams disrupted by bothersome beeping. While human sleep and wake cycles result from nature and nurture, in birds these patterns are inborn. I vaguely recollect learning about a ”bird clock” many years back that outlined the sequence in which feathered beings greet the new day. Commencing several hours before and extending well past the emergence of the solar orb, avians don’t need an alarm clock either, but might serve as one instead. In contrast to artificial jingles, these are the wake-up calls I welcome.

I have visited or lived in Colorado Springs off and on for over twenty years, but have resided here permanently for only the last five. Familiarizing myself with our local bird population has been a pleasure and delight. While we are blessed with rare visitors of exquisite color and beauty, especially during spring and fall migrations, the resident denizens, though possibly less spectacular, are nonetheless a joy, and accompany us during many months. Singling out an individual species is a subjective exercise, but I want to sing the praises of a frequent backyard companion.

American Robins (which bear little resemblance to European Robins) are known throughout the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and wide stretches of Canada. Even though, in theory, they don’t depart from Colorado in the winter, they are conspicuously absent from our vicinity. During that season they flock to portions of El Paso County that provide them with one of their favorite foods. Next to earthworms that fill their stomachs during warmer periods, they relish berries, and a paucity of those globular stores of energy compels them to relocate to areas of abundance.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

In affirmation of an old proverb, their absence during our frigid spells makes my heart grow fonder and fills me with longing for their return, and, come February or March, I rejoice when I first behold them. Handsomely attired, their slate-colored head, back, and wings, orange-red belly, and well-placed touches of white are as cheering as their carols.

Despite their homecoming before the vernal equinox, before the last snow has yet to make an appearance, and when the cold of winter might linger for months, they promise the advent of spring. The early flocks disperse as the weeks progress, and gather in pairs for the breeding season. I enjoy watching them hop or hurry across the lawn, or sit with wings draped next to their bodies, penguin-like. At our bird feeder they perform aerial acrobatics by hovering next to a suet-filled log, in an attempt to glean tasty morsels from it, and they frequently wait for me in the morning to refill their buffet.

Robins are among the earliest risers, and are the first creatures I hear before daybreak. At the height of summer, their morning concert commences as early as 3:30. An introductory chatter is followed by a series of chirps which transitions into a harmonious phrase repeated many times over. The bellwether is soon joined by another singer, and another… After a while I lose count until all I hear are echoes reverberating from adjoining lots, soon complemented by novel melodies and voices. Interestingly, the robins’ tunes diminish before the emergence of the sun, and their vocalizations during the day are intermittent, only to crescendo again past sunset, as if to remind the listener of their continued presence. Their soli outlast those of other performers, and provide a musical bookend to the day.

Members of the thrush family, reputed to comprise some of the most accomplished vocalists, robins remind me of prevalent songsters of my childhood in Germany, Eurasian Blackbirds, which might account for my favoring robinsong. In the bird world, the choral responsibilities rest mainly on males, and much has been said and written about the significance of their music for outlining territory and attracting females. While scientific explanations make biologic sense and are fascinating to ponder, this human soul is content to be filled with a symphony whose ethereal notes float into the cosmos.

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

The Joys of Birding

Hardly a day goes by without me birding, either by watching avian visitors at our feeders in the yard, or by setting out with binoculars and camera in tow. Non-birders can’t imagine why anybody might spend hours looking for and rejoicing over feathered beings. I sometimes wonder, too, why I don’t get bored spending vast stretches of time looking at animals I have seen countless times, but I never grow tired of them. Common representatives, such as sparrows, finches, and chickadees delight as much as rarer individuals, and observing the widespread varieties over and over provides the opportunity to learn about their daily, monthly, and yearly cycles and behaviors, and affords fascinating insights into their lives.

Many birders keep lists, mental or actual, of the species encountered and I would be lying if I claimed indifference to the thrill of adding a new kind, a so-called life-bird, or “lifer”. While this is not a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the avifauna, it contributes excitement and incentive to its exploration. Months may pass without the surprise of a novelty, then might be followed by unusually high numbers. The end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 represent such an unusually productive period for me – 10 lifers. I owe other observers and birding friends thanks who first found and documented these species on “eBird”, a reporting and monitoring website linked with the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The collaboration and support among fellow bird lovers is impressive.

While I generally attempt to capture these new birds with my camera I don’t always succeed, and frequently the quality of the photos leaves much to be desired. I am not showing the Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra), and White-winged Scoter(Melanitta fusca), but am sharing the remainder of the ten winged wonders who have brightened and enriched this otherwise dark and challenging period in my life. I hope they will bring cheer to you as well.

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)

Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)

Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor)

Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii)

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)


Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)

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

Peacock Island

After stilling my historic hunger with difficult-to-digest fare, Berlin’s greener and more appetizing morsels beckoned. Filled with harrowing thoughts about the infamous Wannsee Conference, I was grateful for the opportunity to push the reset button while walking on wooded paths paralleling the Havel River which shimmered in the late morning sun, until I reached my next destination: Peacock Island.

I owed my knowledge of this famous gem to a reference in the same vintage visitor guide to Berlin introduced in a previous post. Its mention of exotic plants and birds caught my eye, and although the season was too advanced for floral lushness, I was still hoping to catch a few glimpses of the avifauna. In 1924, a nature preserve was established on the 67 hectare island, and in 1990, the designation UNESCO World Heritage site was added under the rubric Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin. It is accessible only by ferry. The 4 Euro ride was over almost as soon as it started, and I expectantly set foot on terra firma again.

As luck would have it, I benefitted from the mildest and sunniest weather of my entire journey. The slanting, late autumn light bathed all insular vegetation, edifices and denizens in its warm glow. Even though most of the grounds and plants have been man-made, are heavily man-aged, and provide a home to domestic animals, among them sheep and horses (and even Asian water buffaloes, but solely during the summer months), wild life forms, be they be-petaled or be-winged, quickly found and filled their niches, and the area is known to harbor rare wildflowers, bats, several threatened beetles, and over 100 species of birds.

Schloss Pfaueninsel (Castle Peacock Island), built by Prussian King Frederick William II 1795-97 for his mistress

The number of avians present on this early December day was lower, but I admired diverse waterfowl, sparrows, tits, nuthatches, blackbirds, jays, egrets and even a couple of Eurasian Bullfinches.

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)







And, of course, those feathered beings responsible for the island’s name whose presence was foretold by a lone blue feather luxuriating on a pillow of moss.

From the top of their nearby aviary, the feather’s former owner was also luxuriating in the late season sun. Peacocks, technically known as Indian peafowl, thanks to their origins on the Indian subcontinent, have been bred on islands like this since Roman times to protect them from theft and to prevent their escape.

It comes as no surprise that, out of my two-and-a-half days in Germany’s capital, the hours spent on this isle, away from the hustle and bustle of crowds, away from controversy, were the most pleasant. My sense of retreat was heightened by the ferry ride, the scarcity of visitors and gardeners at this advanced time of year, the sporadic ship traffic on the stream. I relished the near-illusion of an untamed swath of land where I drank deeply of the fresh air and lolled lazily in the residual warmth of the solar rays. Feeling momentarily light-hearted I was reminded of my ever-growing need to wander under the open sky – especially when it resounds with the cheerful chatter of birds.

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

Gone to the Ducks

Birders regularly recall the trigger bird that stopped them in their tracks and awakened their curiosity about the avifauna. While I can’t name one particular trigger species, I owe my fascination for feathered friends to the manifold ducks that migrate to Alaska during the summer. When my husband and I called this northernmost state home in the early 2000s, my interest was aroused whenever we chanced upon colorful waterfowl on the myriad bodies of water that pepper the state. I went so far as to invest in a guide book to Alaskan birds, and even owned a CD with recordings of regional birdsong, but being rather consumed by professional life then, I birded only incidentally.

Ducks, geese and assorted additional water-associated avians are rewarding for beginning birders because their size makes them visible on the water’s surface, and they commonly stay in one place for extended periods, facilitating their proper identification. Now that we no longer live in “The Last Frontier” with its legendary biodiversity, I regret not having dedicated more time to ornithological pursuits there.

My fondness of ducks, nonetheless, abides. It so happens that within walking distance of our current residence in Colorado Springs, two lakes provide habitat for assorted waterfowl.

Quail Lake with view of Pikes Peak

Doubletree Pond with view of Cheyenne Mountain

 I did not acquire a digital camera until we were in the process of closing our Alaska chapter, and consequently don’t own electronic photos of the beautiful winged creatures encountered there. Instead, I would like to share pictures of some of the visitors of these urban oases in Colorado Springs who, likewise, have stolen my heart. Unlike other birds, they stay (or arrive) here in winter and help brighten the darker days.

Mallards are our most common ducks…

…and Canada Geese our most common geese

Northern Shovelers have spatulas for bills

Hooded Mergansers are spectacular in…

…and out of the water

Common Goldeneye, I wonder why

American Wigeon, aka “bald pate”

Doubletree Pond in winter

This, of course, does not qualify as waterfowl, but when I saw this white dove at the Doubletree Pond on January 1, it embodied all my hopes: Peace on Earth for this new year.

Klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version/click here for the German version:

The Year in Pictures/Das Jahr in Bildern

 As I did for my 2016 review, I am again reminding myself of the motto expressed on a historic clock in downtown Colorado Springs: Dum Vivimus Vivamus. While we live, let us live.

     The greater my disenchantment with political, religious, and familial strife, the more I seek refuge in nature, camera in tow. Next to books, it is the only place where I can live in the moment, and be utterly happy. The more time I spend outside, the more photos I take of birds and plants. I am sharing some that have not found a home in my previous posts. Unless otherwise noted, all originated in Colorado. 

     I hope 2017 was a good year for you – and that 2018 will be even better.


     Wie auch im Jahresrückblick 2016, erinnere ich mich wiederum an das Motto einer historischen Uhr im Zentrum von Colorado Springs: Dum Vivimus Vivamus. Während wir leben, laßt uns leben.

     Je größer meine Verdrossenheit über Politik, Religion, und Familienangelegenheiten, desto mehr suche ich Zuflucht in der Natur, mit meiner Kamera als Begleiterin. Neben Büchern ist sie der einzige Ort, wo ich im Hier und Jetzt leben, und mich völlig glücklich fühlen kann. Je mehr Zeit ich draußen verbringe, desto mehr Bilder mache ich von Vögeln und Pflanzen. Hier teile ich einige, die in meinen vorherigen Blogbeiträge noch kein Zuhause gefunden haben. Wenn nicht anders erwähnt, stammen alle aus Colorado. 

     Ich hoffe, 2017 war ein gutes Jahr für Dich, und 2018 wird noch besser.


American Kestrel/Buntfalke (Falco sparverius)

Russian Olive/Schmalblättrige Ölweide (Eleagnus angustifolia), invasive species, but the berries are much beloved by the birds/invasive Art, deren Beeren allerdings von den Vögeln geliebt werden


House finch/Hausgimpel (Carpodacus mexicanus)

Last year’s sunflowers, with Pikes Peak in the background/Sonnenblumen des letzten Sommers, mit Pikes Peak im Hintergrund


Spotted Towhee/Fleckengrundammer (Pipilo maculatus)

Cottonwood tree in the light of the setting sun/Pappel im Licht des Sonnenuntergangs


American Avocet/Amerikanischer Säbelschnäbler (Recurvirostra americana)

Pasqueflower/Echte Küchenschelle (Pulsatilla patens), one of Colorado’s earliest spring flowers/eine der ersten Frühlingsblumen Colorados


Osprey/Fischadler (Pandion haliaetus)

Crabapple/Holzapfel (Malus sp.)


Great-tailed Grackle/Dohlengrackel (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Prairie Spiderwort/Dreimasterblume (Tradescantia occidentalis)


Flammulated Owl/Ponderosa-Zwergohreule (Otus flammeolus), handled by Colorado College Professor Brian Linkhart who has been studying this species for decades/wird von Professor Brian Linkhart des Colorado College gehalten, der diese Art seit Jahrzehnten studiert

Green Gentian (Monument Plant, Elkweed)/Grüner Enzian (Frasera speciosa)


Northern Red-shafted Flicker/Kupferspecht (Colaptes auratus cafer), male in the back, female in the front/Männchen hinten, Weibchen vorne

Colorado’s State Flower, Colorado Blue Columbine/Kleinblütige Akelei (Aquilegia caerulea)


Great Blue Heron/Amerikanischer Graureiher (Ardea herodias)

Sunflower/Sonnenblume (Helianthus sp.)


Western Bluebird/Blaukehl-Hüttensänger (Sialia mexicana)

Fall landscape with signature aspen trees/Herbstlandschaft mit unverkennbaren Zitterpappeln


Cedar Waxwing/Zedernseidenschwanz (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Cottonwood tree in late fall foliage/Pappel in späten Herbstfarben


Hooded Crow/Nebelkrähe (Corvus corone cornix), Berlin, Germany

Christmas Rose/Christrose (Helleborus niger), Germany

A Silver Ring

To observe birds in their natural setting is one of my favorite pastimes. Binoculars are generally indispensable to properly identify a species from a distance, because most will not tolerate being encroached upon. Seeing wild birds from close-up is a rare privilege. Banding stations offer such views. One I am familiar with and have visited repeatedly is located not too far from Colorado Springs at Chico Basin Ranch, in the eastern reaches of El Paso County.

In addition to being an environmentally-conscious, conservation-oriented, active cattle ranch, Chico Basin is the number one birding hotspot in El Paso County as its terrain lies along a migratory route. For that reason, the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, under the auspices of the US Department of the Interior, organizes a four-week banding event staffed by master banders each spring and fall. Nets are erected in densely vegetated areas, and avians that get entangled in the fine mesh are carefully extracted. To keep them calm and protected until their evaluation, they are enclosed in hand-sewn cotton bags corresponding to their various sizes, and hung on a numbered rack according to the nets where they were found.

Chico Basin Ranch Banding Station, with seating for school classes and other interested observers

When it is the bird’s turn, it is pored over painstakingly. Its feathers are examined, fat stores assessed, wingspan and tail length measured. Age and sex is determined with the help of additional parameters, such as state of plumage, degree of skull ossification, and stage of molting. When a captive’s identity is still uncertain, beak and other, more arcane measurements are in order. Banding stations are repositories of the tools of the trade, and of relevant ornithological literature. A copy of the Bible of banders, Peter Pyle’s Identification of North American Birds is mandatory, as is the tabular version which enumerates numerous pertinent details about distinguishing features of each species. Nobody knows everything, but every bander knows where to look up information. And fast, to limit the amount of handling time and stress.

A light, numbered aluminum band, that does not interfere with flight, is then selected from a neatly organized tackle box, and fastened to one leg, based on that extremity’s thickness. Experienced banders know which diameter to choose, but a nifty gauge, or one of many lists can assist in the selection. Its unique serial number allows tracking of avian movements over vast distances. Recapture at the site of original banding to which individuals may return during future migrations occurs not infrequently. I was surprised to learn that the likelihood is only 1 in 10,000 in a different location. Very recently, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology published an online article about a Yellow Warbler being banded in northern Colombia, before it was re-captured in New York State 2 months and 2300 miles later, no small sensation.

The final step consists of establishing the bird’s weight by placing it head first in a tube large enough to hold it, while immobilizing it sufficiently to prevent injuries. That accomplished, it either wriggles out on its own once the cylinder is held horizontally, or, more typically, the bander extricates it, cups it between two hands, then slowly lifts the uppermost. After this ordeal, the feathered creatures fly off into the adjacent trees, a few immediately, others following a moment of reorientation.

The Yellow-breasted Chat from the photo above is being weighed

While all this measuring is going on, the information needs to be recorded as well.

The differing reactions to their capture are equally fascinating. Some individuals seem silent and subdued, others anxious and agitated. A few appear utterly indignant at their confinement and express their displeasure vocally and voluminously.

White-eyed Vireo, a rare visitor in El Paso County

Spotted Towhees occur more frequently

Blue Jays are among the most vocal captives…

…as are Brown Thrashers…

Raptors, like this Cooper’s Hawk, are feisty and fierce (and seldom founds in the nets)

Banders in action are reminiscent of dancers in an artfully choreographed performance. Birds, the beguiling ballerinas, are gently but assuredly lifted, repeatedly rotated, and finally released. As I watch these winged wonders vanish into the foliage, I wish them smooth sailing. May they gain enough weight during their layover to carry them securely to their wintering grounds, find sufficient habitat and nourishment there, and bless us with their presence again come spring.

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