Birding Without Borders

Day 175: The Long Way

Noah takes an unexpected detour and meets a friend.

June 24, 2015, Frankfurt, Germany — Gorka dropped me off for what should have been a short flight from Spain to Ghana this morning, but things went anywhere but south. The flight was canceled; I spent eight hours waiting in the airport, then continued with a ridiculous revised itinerary: Spain -> Germany -> Ethiopia -> Ghana, scheduled to arrive in Africa sometime tomorrow! Yikes.

I looked at the new ticket and realized it included a five-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany this afternoon—at least enough time to do a bit of birding there. With only a couple hours’ notice, I contacted several local birders and, fortunately, one of them was able to join me.

Peter Kaestner, a section chief at the U.S. Consulate General, was waiting with his wife Kimberly when I exited arrivals in Frankfurt. Peter had come straight from work and was dressed in a suit and running shoes, ready to roll. The three of us headed to a nearby patch of forest to look for whatever birds we could find.

I’ve known of Peter for a long time, so it was fun to connect with him in Germany. He has worked for the U.S. State Department for the past 34 years with assignments in more than a dozen countries including Brazil, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan, and Namibia—all excellent birding destinations! He’s been a hardcore birder throughout, and picks his posts in strategic places to maximize his life list (his brother, also a serious birder, works in the spice trade with similar travel perks). By the mid-1980s, Peter had seen a representative of every bird family in the world, the first person ever to reach that milestone, and at one point he had the world’s second-highest life list (he’s now hovering around the top ten, having seen approximately 8,500 species of birds). He and Kimberly began a two-year assignment in Frankfurt last September, though Peter admitted that, this time, it was more for the ambience than the birds. “I only had one bird left to see in Europe, the Red-breasted Goose,” he said, “and I tracked one down a couple of months ago.”

I found myself in a parallel situation today. The only conceivable new bird I could add near Frankfurt, even though I’ve never visited Germany before, was the Gray-headed Woodpecker—a tough one. We searched for a couple of hours and saw some nice European forest birds, but couldn’t turn up the woodpecker. With the minutes ticking down, I suddenly realized that there was, in fact, one other species I might add: The Egyptian Goose, just about the trashiest of trash birds in Germany (they are non-native but well established). It was a crazy target as I will certainly see many Egyptian Geese in Africa, but, with this bird standing between me and a zero day, we went for it.

Peter took us to downtown Frankfurt where several Egyptian Geese were loafing in an urban park. Check! I’ve never been so happy to see an introduced species. We admired the Frankfurt Cathedral, rebuilt after it was flattened by allied bombs in World War II; swept past a Monet exhibit; snapped a couple photos in front of the famous Romer building; and returned to the airport with just enough time for me to walk on a plane to Africa. Another overnight flight, and a new continent awaits.

New birds today: 1

Year list: 3062

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