When the first volume of Michael Lohman’s Vogelparadiese appeared in 1989, many German observers were still unsure just what a bird-finding guide was—and some of the conservation community took up arms against the “betrayal” of their jealously guarded preserves. Fortunately, a lot has changed in the past quarter century. German birders are growing steadily in number and sophistication, and German conservationists have come more and more to understand the link between an interested public and the public interest.
What hasn’t changed is the fact that Germany is still so utterly neglected as a destination for traveling birders. The occasional British group crosses the North Sea in search of woodpeckers, and Dutch birders pause on their way to the marshes and ancient forests of Poland, but especially for North Americans, Germany is terra incognita ornithologically.
It shouldn’t be. True, the country is widely urbanized and agriculturalized, but the long German tradition of scientific zoology and conservationist zeal means that there are plenty of sites where birds long gone elsewhere can still be sought successfully. Thanks to geology and history, many of those localities are in eastern Germany. The federal state of Brandenburg, which surrounds the nation’s capital, Berlin, still harbors White-tailed Eagles and Black Storks and Barred Warblers, and those and many other specialties can be found using Roger White’s fine new English-language Birdwatching Guide to Brandenburg and Berlin.
White begins with a useful seasonal calendar, alerting the hopeful, for example, to the fact that River Warblers and Red-breasted Flycatchers are late May arrivals or that October is the best month for crane-watching. A systematic section lists all of the region’s regularly occurring birds, with suggestions for the best sites to look for many of them; three of Brandenburg’s most sought-after species, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Common Crane, and Great Bustard, are given longer accounts. A complete species index is also of great use to the “target birder.”
The accounts for each of the sites—75 in Brandenburg, 30 in Berlin—are brief, with most of their length taken up by laudably detailed directions for access by public transit, car, or bicycle, or on foot; maps are small but clearly legible, and color photographs give a good foretaste of the habitats to be visited. The sites in Brandenburg are loosely grouped geographically; each such larger section concludes with recommendations and contact information for hotels, bicycle rental agencies, and other useful infrastructure.
Many birders will find the 50 pages describing sites in the 340 square miles of Berlin the most useful. The 31 localities covered range from such well-known destinations as the Tiergarten (with breeding Northern Goshawk!) to local secrets like the Moorlinsee and its Red-necked Grebes. All of these sites can be reached by public transportation, and many can be fitted around a day of meetings or museum visits in this fantastic city.
All of this birding information is supplemented by a brief but useful introduction to traveling to and around the areas covered; Berlin will be even more easily accessible this coming spring, when the new Willy Brandt Airport, with public transportation available right in the terminals, is scheduled to open. White also offers good advice for maps to serve as necessary supplements to those in the book, and provides a short list of miscellaneous German terms—landscape types, road signs, and so on—that birders will need to know; note that “kein Eintrag” in fact means “no [journal, diary, ledger, account, etc.] entry,” while a sign prohibiting access will read “kein Eintritt.”
For visitors to the city of Berlin, this new guide is indispensable; I know of no other guide that will get you to so many birds so easily in the capital. Most of the Brandenburg sites, on the other hand, are also covered in Christian Wagner and Christoph Moning’s excellent Vögel beobachten in Ostdeutschland (2009), which offers on average more text (in German) and more detailed maps for each described site; the German guide also tends to join into a single loop localities treated by White as discreet sites, an approach that has both advantages and disadvantages. For example, the Spreewald—one of the loveliest and most productive birding landscapes in all of central Europe—is described in 12 pages in Wagner and Moning, with seven maps including a regional overview showing the relative locations of the 10 sub-sites covered. White’s treatment does not have an overview map, and it breaks the area into five sites, separately described over just 7 pages—but it adds very precise directions to two additional sites for Ortolan Bunting and Osprey not mentioned in Wagner and Moning.
The solution? Use both books. But if that’s not practical—if there’s a language barrier, or the several glossy-paper pounds of Wagner and Moning put you over your baggage limit—you’ll find yourself very happy, and seeing lots of birds, with this excellent new guide to an excellent and sadly neglected birding landscape.