The Crane Capital of Germany

Yesterday, some friends and I went to a tiny town called Linum about an hour outside of Berlin to watch an autumn spectacle: tens of thousands of cranes making a stop over in their migration from Northern Europe to Africa.

Every fall, these cranes leave their nesting grounds in Scandanavia, the Baltic countries and Poland to start making their way to southern France, Spain, Portugal and North Africa where they winter. Linum has become a favorite stop-over spot for the cranes in the last twenty years. The birds gather there in huge numbers, eating leftover grain in the harvested fields and resting up for the second-leg of their journey south.

While the numbers are constantly fluctuating, it is estimated that there are up to 80,000 cranes in Linum on the busiest days in October. There are also migrating geese as well as swan, herons and ducks -and you can’t believe the racket that this avian population makes. We arrived in Linum around midday and wandered around the fish ponds that have been created by damning the swampy land. This landscape is one of the attractions for the cranes who like to stand in shallow water while they sleep, safe from predators such as foxes and raccoons.

Several large, elevated bird blinds enabled us to get a better perspective of the surrounding ponds. Masses of birds were swimming and flying around, but none of them were cranes. They only sleep at the ponds overnight, leaving in the early morning to fly to the fields where they eat all day. We killed some time orienting ourselves and picnicking in the warm fall weather. But the sun already sets at around six o’clock these days, so we got ourselves in position by 4:30 to see the cranes returning from the fields.

At first, we all felt a little disappointed by what we expected to be the sky darkening with 80,000 cranes. Dennis had even wondered if we should have brought umbrellas to keep from getting hit by the storm of bird shit from the cranes flying overhead. Instead, very gradually we began to see V formations flying on the horizon. At first, they were made up of ten to twenty birds. Slowly, they grew to be long lines of hundreds of birds. We got good at telling he differences between the flying geese and cranes -the geese tuck their feet in close to their bodies and make sharp, fast strokes with their wings; the cranes let their long legs dangle behind them and flap their wings in an undulating, softer motion.

By the time it was getting to dark to see, there were groups of thousands of cranes in the sky and we were duly impressed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture with my camera the mass effect of seeing these swarms in the sky and hearing the constant drone of a hundred thousand bird cries. But here are a few images from the day.

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