Monday, 21 July 2014

Trip Report: Around Lake Kochel, Bavaria, Germany

Common  Rosefinch

Limosa Holidays – Travelling Naturalist

Germany - The Bavarian Alps

14th – 21st of June 2014

Murnauer Moos Nature Reserve

Tour Summary

The Wetterstein mountain chain extends through Tyrol in Austria, past Germany’s highest peak the Zugspitze and on to the boundary of the Ammergauer Alps in the north and to our base at the Karwendel mountain chain in the east.  These majestic peaks are some of Europe’s special jewels, with the perfect platform to look across huge swathes of central Europe and contain wonderfully diverse wildlife with many special birds, plants and butterflies.

Red-backed Shrike, male
Alpine Chough
Bonelli's Warbler
 Our tour is based on one of the lower lakeside towns on the outskirts of Kochel-am-See, where the stunning backdrop of the craggy limestone mountains rise dramatically behind our hotel. To the front the wide expanse of Lake Kochel stretches to the low wet meadows where Corncrakes, Marsh Harriers, Bluethroats, Curlews and Fieldfares breed.  The two rivers of the Loisach and the Isar pass close to one another travelling in opposite directions which adds such diversity and change over the year. Some lakes are quite shallow and warm and others are some of the deepest and coldest in the Alps making each an attraction for many different life forms of the natural world.


Panorama from the Zugspitze
Dunnock, a true Alpine bird in central Europe

During our mainly warm and sunny week in Germany we explored the nearby nature reserve at the Murnauer Moos which covers an area of over twenty-three square kilometers and is an important nationally funded reserve that in the early 20th century was a source of cut peat from the bog. This low-lying wetland is where Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Red-backed Shrikes, Common Rosefinches, Tree Pipits, Marsh, Sedge, Bonelli’s, Icterine and Reed Warblers were found and there are a few good examples of orchids and other plants there as well as many butterflies and dragonflies. To be honest Murnauer Moos has a superb plant list and it’s evident with spashes of blue and yellow Iris peppered with cottongrass and dancing Copper and Beautiful Demoiselle Damselflies flitting along the adjoining stream and into the verdant meadows.


Lake Kochel (Kochel-am-See), our base for the eight day long tour
As one would expect in Germany, the pathways and information at all the nature reserves we visited were first class and a joy to walk through and there always seems to be a small gasthoff where one can take a light meal and glass of the local beer.

Male Goldeneye

Female Goosander with young

Female Goosander in flight
High on our list of day outings was Germany’s highest Peak, the Zugspitze at almost 10,000 ft. Driving the short distance from our base we took the cog-railway called the Zugspitzbahn from the centre of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We were soon passing the Eibesee with it’s stunning blue mountain lake and close to the point where the long tunnel to the top goes through the mountain. At the railway terminal close to the summit, we watched Alpine Choughs come and go and enjoyed the views as they came and went in the clouds including into neighbouring Austria. The last leg to the peak is by a large cable-car that stops at the newly fashioned higher viewing-platforms. Here we managed to see Ravens and more Alpine Choughs which landed on the guard-rails right beside the group. On the lower slopes, we absorbed the warmer temperatures along the river Isar at the famous Pupplinger-Au although it was a holiday and there were many rafts with large groups singing and enjoying the great weather. The canal was originally built for logging transportation and the steep, protective flood banks have a host of insect life amongst the many varieties of flowering plants.

Green Woodpecker
Grey-headed Woodpecker

Dawn comes up over Kochel's wet meadows
Our evening meals were taken within the hotels excellent restaurant and what a delight it is to relax, dine and watch the sun setting with Goosanders paddling past and Spotted Flycatchers chasing insects at breakfast. Our pre-breakfast walks are a lovely way to start the day with Black-bellied Dippers on the lakeside shore and boat huts. Garden Warblers and Blackcaps were very vocal each morning as were Alpine Tits. Goldeneye ducks flew and displayed in the early light across the lake and Great Egrets stared patiently into the water for passing fish or amphibians.

Red Kite
Spotted Flycatcher
Further excursions along the large lakes to the north at Ammersee and Stranberger See led us to watch Common Terns, Reed Buntings and Icterine Warblers amongst a host of other splendid wildlife and gave us another chance at wetland butterflies and wild flowers.

Spotted Nutcracker
Spotted Nutcracker
The sun shone as we explored Lake Zell with its sizable populations of Red-crested Pochards and Marsh Warblers. Yellowhammers sang from the car park and Red backed Shrikes, Common Stonechats, Cuckoos, Wrynecks, Grey-headed Woodpecker and Nightingale were heard or seen.  Here we also saw Hawfinches, Hen Harriers and Red Kites. Lake Zell is close to the Peterzell ancient Yew forest and we walked through the dark forest and came across Crested Tit, Mistle and Song Thrush, and a very obliging Firecrest. Lake Zell is also a good site for Damselflies and Dragonflies especially Green-eyed Hawker and Lesser Emperor.

A view to the Zugspitze and Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Water Pipit
One day was spent on top of the Wankberg where we took the light cable car to the summit. Here we searched for Nutcracker, not an easy bird to find but we did have fleeting views and later on in the week on the lower woodland we saw three Nutcrackers flying overhead. Again Crossbills were seen and Water Pipits, Ring Ouzels and Dunnocks flew around the low pines and Alpine bushes. The Alpine plants are quite beautiful and we took time to explore some of the meadowed track on the middle station to find more Alpine butterflies and moths that included Alpine Blue, Mountain Clouded Yellow, Clouded Apollo and Large Chequered Skipper. Speckled Yellow Moths were fairly common and we also found Blood-Vein.

Male Yellowhammer
The quality of the hotel and the food we had at various small gasthoffs or hotels were simply excellent whether it was a plate of lentil soup with smoked sausage and bread or fresh fish from the local lakes. The local beer, wines and fruit juices were a perfect complement to the home-made dishes and the friendliness of the people from 'Bayern' was most appreciated– in fact everywhere we went, were helpful, courteous and wanted to tell us about the area and what it offered to tourists. I think we were all most impressed by the welcome and general hospitality we received, not to mention the delicious food, wines and Bayerisches beer.

Kochel Meadows
Some surprises on the trip were a fabulous close flypast from a Purple Heron at Murnauer Moos. There had been a report of a Short-toed Eagle at Murnauer during our visit but unfortunately we didn’t catch up with it. Alpine Swifts over Lake Kochel were wonderful and a lovely Hen Harrier hunting at Lake Zell added to our delights as did two Little Gulls from the tower hide near Diesen on the Ammersee.

This was a very relaxed trip where all the day tours went well and I’d like to thank all who participated for their enthusiasm, good cheer, banter and happy disposition throughout.
We hope that we may see some of you again on another tour, sometime in the future and wish you all health, happiness and fond memories of our great time together in the stunning Bavarian Alps.

Stephen Daly, July 2014

There'll be a systematic species list posted on Limosa Holidays sometime soon...

Next year's tour to Bavaria is running from the 6th - 13th June 2015. Hope to see you there!