While the bright, melodious songs of blackbirds herald spring, the squawking crows signal that autumn is on its way. The chill in the air and the lingering scent of dry leaves hints the same. Summer has faded away, once again, too soon.
It seems like one moment you’re swimming in the lake and the next, you have to wear a jacket in the mornings. The storks abandon their nests and head south for the winter, and other birds start to follow.
Linum is a village in Brandenburg that is well-known for its bird life. Every autumn, tens of thousands of cranes congregate in a field in Linum before starting their migration. In the evening and the morning you can see the cranes flying to and from their resting place, and during the day you can see them in the fields. Apparently cranes are quite shy and like to keep a distance of 300m away from humans, so it’s best to take some binoculars.
We arrived in the evening in Linum after spending the day canoeing nearby. Apart from its well known bird watching potential, Linum also has farmstalls selling local produce, fish smokeries, restaurants and boat rentals. We found a farm stall (Rixmanns Hof) selling a huge variety of pumpkins and squash and I was excited to find that they even sell gem squashes, a South African variety that is generally hard to find in Europe.
There are trails with bird hides and lookout towers that start near the small harbour in Linum. We took a walk around a lake, and saw swans, ducks and geese, while the cranes flew overhead. We could hear the cranes gathered somewhere nearby as they made quite a racket, but we couldn’t see them. Nevertheless the golden light of the evening and the cacophony of bird sounds made the walk worthwhile. Change is in the air, and we could hear it.
After doing our lap around the lake, we ended up back in the harbour area, where there is a restaurant/cafe facing the water. The air was filled with the sounds of thousands of twittering birds, which were perched all over some trees in the distance. Every now and then whole flocks of them flew over the lake like huge swarms of bees, and then back to the tree. Apparently this is part of pre-migration gathering. Watching so many birds flying around at once was one of the most amazing things I have seen.
This bird behaviour is apparently triggered by the shortening days, which causes the release of hormones into their systems that makes them gather together and start behaving restlessly. The birds also start eating more, to build some energy reserves for the long journey ahead. It used to be thought that swallows didn’t need to fatten up as they feed on insects along the way, but now it’s thought that they do fatten up to some extent to make it across seas and other areas where food is scarce. But swallows, which fly during the day, mustn’t get too fat, because a heavy, slow bird is more likely to be eaten by birds of prey.
The birds choose a spell of good weather with clear skies to start their long journey. Many migrating birds fly all the way from Europe down to South Africa, and the journey takes about 6 weeks – so I may meet them there again when I travel home in November!
Until then, over the next weeks, Berlin will grow more autumnal. I look forward to all that autumn brings!