BirdingGermany.de

Finding Woodpeckers in Bavaria

by Christoph Moning


Christoph Moning info@birdinggermany.de 

This text does include some sensible information that should be handled with sense of responsibility. So, one request in advance: Please do not use tapes. Black, Green, Grey-headed, Great and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker are widely distributed. It should be reasonably easy to find these in the right habitat and at the right time of the year. For the other species some additional information is generally needed, although you also might find most of these by searching for them in the right habitat. The following information will nevertheless help you to find even the rarer species. If you are especially interested in White-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker, the most reliable and accessible places might be Eibsee and Tatzelwurm (see description below).

Middle-spotted Woodpecker

Distribution and Population Size: 7.600 to 12.100 breeding pairs are estimated to breed in Germany (Ryslavy 2001). This means that the German population is the worldwide biggest. 

Characteristics: The Middle Spotted Woodpecker prefers old (180 to 240 years old) mature oak (Quercus) forests (Jöbges & König). Middle Spotted Woodpeckers can be found easily only during a short time of the year. Mainly the distinctive call that can be heard between March and the beginning Mai helps to find the birds.

Where to go: In the forests at the Danube near Günzburg, the Middle-spotted Woodpecker is rather common (about 30 breeding pairs in the area). A good spot is the Erdbeersee: 

Target species at the Erdbeersee are Collared Flycatcher, Green, Grey-headed, Lesser-spotted and Middle-spotted Woodpecker. Additionally the Beaver is quiet common. To reach the area, drive on the B 16 north of Günzburg in the direction to Gundelfingen. After passing the Danube-bridge north of Günzburg take the fifth turnoff to the right which is more or less exactly 3 kilometres behind the bridge. After a short drive you will reach a lake on the left hand side. From here, the road is closed for public traffic, so you have to park your car here (marked P in the map below). Walk the track in the shown direction as the tracks around the western Lake are only footpaths. These are difficult to find from the embankment along the Danube. The whole circular route is 3.7 kilometres long.

White-backed Woodpecker

Distribution: In Germany this Woodpecker is restricted to the Bavarian parts of the Alps and the Bohemian Forest.

Characteristics: Observing the shy and rare White-backed Woodpecker in the mountain forests of Bavaria is one of the ornithological highlights in Germany. Even forests that are close to natural conditions are inhabited sparsely (For example 1 breeding pair per 1600 ha in the Bohemian Forest! Scherzinger 1982). The ideal habitat consists of mixed forests, that are rich in structure and dead trees. This woodpecker prefers slopes that are exposed to the south or southwest. There is no area in Germany where there is an absolute certain chance to see this bird, but there are some more or less reliable places.

Some final advices:

1. The White-backed Woodpecker can be found much more easily in spring in the right habitat than in autumn.

2. While feeding, this Woodpecker is hitting the wood loudly and constantly many times. In contrast the Great Spotted Woodpecker is hitting the wood rather unsteady. For example two times loud, three times soft than several times loud again and so on. Even the speed is unsteady.

3. The White-backed Woodpecker begins to "drum" and to call by the end of February. The maximum activity is in March. The bird is most active one to two hours after sunrise. After midday there is nearly no acoustic activity. Otherwise the White-backed Woodpecker is very inconspicuous. For this reason the most sightings are between March and June (Scherzinger 1982).

4. During the breeding season the most sightings in the Bohemian Forest are made between 900 m and 1200 m asl (best chances: between 1000 m and 1100 m asl). Scherzinger 1982

Where to gO:

1. The area around Garmisch-Partenkirchen offers some good places to look for this species:

The Eibsee west of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is for sure one of the better places to search the White-backed Woodpecker and also for the Three-toed Woodpecker. In March/April the Woodpeckers are rather active. But at this time the paths can still be covered with snow. From the station in Garmisch a train is running to the Zugspitze (2962 m: Germany's highest peak). This train does also stop at the Eibsee. The service is run hourly between 07:39 (between 01st of July and 31st of August) respectively 8:00/ 08:15 (rest of the year) and 14:39. Otherwise you may use the Eibsee-buses between the station at Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Eibsee. Further information: http://www.zugspitze.de.

If you arrive by car: Take the B 23 to the west of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the direction to Zugspitzbahn/ Eibsee. Shortly after you left Garmisch-Partenkirchen, there is a turnoff to the left signposted to "Eibsee". After 5.5 kilometres you will reach a parking area. During the summer season you will have to pay an entrance fee. From here a circular route around the Eibsee starts. Begin anticlockwise. Follow the track marked red in the map below:

map modified and taken from Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie 2000 - Top. Karte 1:50.000 Bayern 

Listen out for any woodpecker-foraging-sounds, drumming etc. and check out carefully as the woodpeckers are quite shy. Best will be to try early in the morning, as during sunny days and on weekends there will be too many people. Other interesting species here are Black Woodpecker, Nutcracker and Hazel Grouse. 

The lower part of the hike to the Dammkarr hut is sometimes even good. The hike to the Dammkarr hut is about 4 kilometres long (one way) and will take you from 960 metres to 1670 metres altitude. It is part of the hike to the Karwendelspitze (2384 m). The track begins at an parking area near Mittenwald (see map below). If you come from North: It is the last parking area before you pass under the cables of the cable railway, that is connecting Mittenwald with the Karwendelspitze. The first part of the track is tarred and later becoming a dirt track. The first tarred part is good for White-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker. Also Hazel Grouse has been seen along the track. For these elusive birds check the clearings along the way thoroughly. After 3.2 kilometres you will eventually reach a ski-run with a ski lift. Here you might already observe Ring Ouzels and Alpine Choughs. Sometimes Citril Finches are passing by. The track is running parallel to the ski run through stands of Pinus mugo to the Dammkarr hut (marked with the red arrow in the map below). Along this part of the hike you might observe Alpine Accentors. At the Dammkarr hut Snow Finches can be observed at times. Check the cliffs along the ski-run for the scarce Wallcreeper.

map modified and taken from Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie 2000 - Top. Karte 1:50.000 Bayern 

2. The Tatzelwurm area is also a rather good area for White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers. To reach the spot take the autobahn Munich- Salzburg (A 8). Take turnoff Inntaldreieck and drive in the direction to Kiefersfelden and Brennerpass (A 93). Leave the highway at the turnoff Brannenburg and drive to the west. At the next big crossing drive straight on the private toll road in the direction to Bayerischzell. Nearly 8 kilometres beyond the crossing you will reach a rather small parking area on the left side (if you get to the T-junction, which is where you meet the road between Kiefersfelden and Bayerischzell, you have gone 300 metres too far): 1. From the parking area a hike is ascending behind a barrier. At the first major fork take the right (upper) track (about 800 metres behind the barrier): 2. Start to check the forest for Black, Grey-headed, White-backed and Three-toed-Woodpecker. Eventually you will reach a trout pond on the right hand side (3). Directly to the right of the pond there is a track into the forest. Walk in here and keep right. Cross the small ridge to the right soon by taking an indistinctive track where the former track bends to the left into a small wooded valley.  Walk the indistinctive track along the slope and check all trees for White-backed Woodpecker (4).

When you return to the pond, follow the track further up. After a short while the dirt road forks again (5). If you walk to the right, you will reach another pond (6). The forest around this pond is also good for the Woodpeckers. If you walk to the left, you will come to a stretch where you have a good view into the valley below (to the left) (7). This valley and the track further up are a traditional site for Capercaillie.

map modified and taken from Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie 2000 - Top. Karte 1:50.000 Bayern 

If you drive in the direction to Bayerischzell you will come to an area of alpine meadows and open spruce forest (8). The whole area is good for alpine species like Ring Ouzel or Citril Finch.

3. A few pairs are breeding in the National Park Berchtesgaden. Some spots where I saw this species (use a map in order to find the spots described below. Maybe best: Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie - Topographische Karte 1:50.000 Special edition National Park Berchtesgaden)

The slope south of the Eckau-Alm on the north-eastern slope of the Hochkalter (2617 m): 1. To reach the Eckau Alm, you have to walk from the village Ramsau in the valley below. The walking distance is 3.3 kilometres one way and the difference in altitude is 390 metres. 

Northern slopes of the Hochkalter (2617 m); map modified and taken from Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie 2000 - Top. Karte 1:50.000 Bayern 

The Forstbegangssteig (2) is a rather exhausting and sometimes difficult to find hike on the western side of the Hochkalter. The track is marked red in the map above. Sometimes avalanches crossed the path, which makes it difficult to walk here in spring. The walking distance of the stretch marked red in the map above is approximately 8 kilometres (including ascend and descend marked with the broken line). The difference in altitude between lowest and highest point of the track is 635 metres. The entrance to the track is easily missed! You will need a map to do the hike (see above). Park at the parking area near Hintersee (marked with P in the map above).

Another spot is the track between the end of the Almbachklamm and the village of Ettenberg on the south-eastern side of the Untersberg (1972 m). Especially the first part is good (marked with X in the map below) for White-backed Woodpecker, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Bonelli's Warbler. In the open areas look out for Honey Buzzard.

track between Almbachklamm and the village of Ettenberg; map modified and taken from Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie 2000 - Top. Karte 1:50.000 Bayern 

Park at the parking area marked with P in the map above. The spot is can be reached via the B 160 (Berchtesgaden - Salzburg) which is next to the parking area (orange road in the map above). The whole circular route, marked red in the map is approximately 3.7 kilometres long. The difference in altitude between lowest and highest point of the track is 340 metres.

The beginning of the Wachterlsteig is not reliable for White-backed Woodpecker but worth a try. Park at the parking area Brunnhaus/ Wachterl/ Schwarzbachwacht at the B 305 which is situated between Bad Reichenhall and Ramsau. If you walk the track (called "Wachtersteig": marked red in the map below) to the west up to the Reiteralm, you have also a good chance for Hazel Grouse at the right time of the year and during the week (too many people at nice-weather-weekends). Especially the forest where the track starts to climb steeply is good for Hazel Grouse (marked with X in the map below). Also White-backed Woodpecker has been seen here. Pygmy Owl has been reported from the parking area.

Wachterlsteig; map modified and taken from Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie 2000 - Top. Karte 1:50.000 Bayern 

4. Some good spots can be found at the National Parks Bayerischer Wald (Bohemian Forest) and Sumava (the latter is part of the Czech Republic). At least a dozen pairs are breeding in the National Park Bayerischer Wald. Accessible sites are the Lärchenberg south of the Rachel: 1 (1453 m); the Rachelseewand: 2 (the track between Rachelsee and top of the Rachel circles the area); Mühlbuchet: 3 (the circular route "Specht" (Woodpecker) leads through this area); the Hirschkopf north of the line Guglöd-Waldhäuser: 4 (100 ha of old forest); the Felswandergebiet: 5 (circular route in the southeast of the National Park at the Steinberg (1002 m)). To find the spots in the field, I suggest to use a detailed map.

map modified and taken from Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie 2000 - Top. Karte 1:50.000 Bayern 

In the National Park Sumava the mountain Boubín (1362 m) is a rather good spot for Black, Grey-headed, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker. Other key species are Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie, Tengmalm's Owl and Ring Ouzel (at the clearings in the upper part of the area). The Boubín is one of the oldest protected areas of the Czech Republic. To reach the site cross the border at Philippsreuth. Soon you will spot Whinchat, Stonechat and Red-backed Shrike along the road. Head in the direction of Volary and Vimperk. 10 kilometres beyond the border you have to turn right in the direction to Volary. After a further 2.5 kilometres when you enter the village of Lenora, there is a turnoff to the left. Take this turnoff and drive a further 2 kilometres until a small road leads to the right. Take this road and after another 2.6 kilometres you will reach a parking area on the right hand side. Park here (P).

 

From the parking area walk up the road. After passing under a railway bridge, you will reach a hut of the National Park Service where you should find a map with the tracks. Walk up the valley until you reach a T-junction. Take the left track and at the next T-junction the right track (very soon after the first junction; always up the slope). After about 1 kilometre you will reach a pond. Now you are at the lower part of the Nature Reserve. The natural forest is surrounded by a wooden fence and therefore not accessible. A circular road leads along the fence. I suggest to start the hike anticlockwise, because the structure of the forest is very good here, even outside the fence. The total length of the hike is 7.5 kilometres long (marked red in the map below).

The mountain Bobík (1263 m) is situated directly south of the Boubín. It is also covered with mixed primeval forest. Similar species can be found here (plus Black Stork and Red-breasted Flycatcher). It should not be too difficult to hike in the area with the aid of a map. Nearly all roads are closed for public traffic. 

Another very nice area is the valley of the river Moldau south of Volary. It is good for Hen Harrier, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Honey Buzzard, Corncrake, Great Grey Shrike and Scarlet Rosefinch. Enquire for details.

Three-toed Woodpecker

Distribution and Population Size: The Three-toed Woodpecker can be found in the whole northern hemisphere but in Germany it is restricted to the alps, to the highlands of the southern and the northern Black Forest (since 1982; in 1994: 15 to 20 pairs) and to the Bohemian Forest in eastern Bavaria.

Characteristics: The Three-toed Woodpecker hammers on resounding branches rapidly, mainly between March and May and also in October (but less intensive then). Clear sunny and calm days offer best conditions to find the Three-toed Woodpecker. The woodpeckers are most active during the early morning. The ideal habitat consists of mountainous spruce forest interrupted by sunny clearings and with a large proportion of dead trees (Scherzinger 1982). Three-toed Woodpeckers can also be found in mixed forests that are close to natural conditions (e.g. at the mount Boubin/ National Park Sumava). You have best chances in the zone between 1100 and 1400 m altitude. Generally this Woodpecker is not shy but very secretive. I have seen people passing a Three-toed Woodpecker as close as 5 metres without noticing the bird! 

Where to go

Following spots mentioned above are also good for Three-toed Woodpecker: Eibsee, lower part of the hike to the Dammkarr hut (both near Garmisch-Partenkirchen), Mount Boubín (National Park Sumava) and Tatzelwurm.

Additional sites are in the Berchtesgaden area:

Kitzkartauern and the surrounding spruce forests of the Eckau Alm (1). To reach the spot, you have to walk from the village Ramsau in the valley below. The walking distance is approximately 4.3 kilometres and the difference in altitude between Ramsau and Kitzkartauern is 715 metres. When you reach the ridge of the Kitzkartauern, the track does not follow the ridge but the slope. When you come to an open area with dead spruces at the ridge, walk around here and listen out for the Woodpecker (Pygmy Owl also in the area). Walk along the ridge and check the open area and the nearby forest. Also the forests around the Eckau Alm in the valley west of the Kitzkartauern are good for the Three-toed Woodpecker.

map modified and taken from Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie 2000 - Top. Karte 1:50.000 Bayern

Try the area between Kühroint Alm (2) and the Archkanzel (3) on the northern slopes of the Watzmann (2713 metres). The Archkanzel is a viewpoint, that offers a beautiful view over the Königssee. On the way between Kühroint Alm and Archkanzel you will pass some stands of dead spruce trees. Wait here and listen out for the Woodpecker. To reach the Kühroint Alm you have to walk from the valley below. The parking area in the valley at the beginning of the hike is situated near the village of Ramsau. The walking distance is approximately 7.5 kilometres (one way). The altitudinal distance is 780 metres. The trail is marked red in the map. Other good species in the area are Black and Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Three-toed and Black Woodpecker, Nutcracker, Ring Ouzel, Alpine Accentor and Alpine Chough. Enquire for details.

If you walk through the forest between Kühroint Alm and Watzmann Haus (4), you have also a fair chance to see the Three-toed Woodpecker. Another more or less reliable spot is the forest on the slope above the Stuben Alm (5). Three-toed Woodpecker is also reported from the top of the Toter Mann (1391 m), a mountain north of Ramsau.

In the National Park Bayerischer Wald at least 70 pairs are breeding. Generally the ridges are populated most densely. You have the best chances in the zone between 1100 and 1400 metres altitude (marked red in the map below):

map modified and taken from Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt, Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie 2000 - Top. Karte 1:50.000 Bayern


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