Daytrip to Germany: Cranes in Diepholz

Written by Wouter Teunissen & Menno van Duijn

It’s Sunday the 13th of November and we are heading for Landkreis Diepholz, in Germany to witness one of the most marvellous scenes of bird migration: the Crane (Grus grus) migration. In the area of Diepholz there are several locations where Cranes roost. The birds use this area as a stop over on their way from the breeding grounds in northern Europe to their wintering grounds in France and Spain. Up to 83,000 birds visit the area for fattening up on leftovers of corn agriculture, arable weeds, acorns and small rodents to get enough energy to fly to Lac du Der or the cork oak woodlands in Spain.

It takes 3.5 hours to get from The Hague (departure at 6.30 a.m.) to reach the first site. We start near Vechta. From Vechta, we plan to move south to end up in the Rhedener Moor, a famous and easy accessible roost. As soon as we leave the German highway (junction 64 of highway 1) we see a female Hen Harrier hunting over a field. She flushes a flock of at least 30 Tree Sparrows, that do not want to end up in the harrier’s stomach.

We continue our way to the Drebbersches Moor. The Moor itself appears hard to access, but the area around it, is a fantastic birding spot. It doesn’t take long before we find the first Cranes. In small family groups, they forage on the harvested cornfields. On a stopover at the Langer Damm to scan the area, a mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff moves along the bushes on the roadside. We crosse the area using the smaller roads, while scanning the fields for Cranes. In the area we encounter three Hen Harriers (all female types), one Great Grey Shrike, one Red Kite, one Raven, two Whooper Swans, three Green Woodpeckers (two birds fighting), several flocks of Yellowhammers, mixed groups of Rooks and Jackdaws, a Sparrowhawk and some Kestrels and Buzzards.

Since none of us had been to the Rhedener Moor before, we decide, we should spend the afternoon in that area. Cranes coming in to roost at the Moor, is our main target of the day, so we have to be prepared before the birds arrive. Along the route towards the Rhedener Moor, west of Wagenfeld we see Cranes everywhere (all small groups). We also find two splendid Male Hen Harriers, of which one, flies right over our car, leaving us flabbergasted! Seeing the bright yellow eyes, in the bluegrey head, with our bare eyes is truly amazing!

When we reach the area, everything is quite easy. Right in the middle of the Moor is a paved road from where the incoming birds can be seen. There is a hide (a wooden tower) in which we spent some time. We have coffee and soup to warm ourselves and enjoy the scenery.

Now we know where we want to settle ourselves at sunset (when the Cranes arrive), we have time left to scan the surroundings of the Moor. Two Dutch birdwatchers show us a beautiful picture of a male Merlin, that they took a few minutes before along the paved road in the Moor. We drive along this road a couple of times, but no Merlin. We do however see a juvenile White-tailed Eagle, this is a bonus. We know the bird had been seen in the area, but we did not expect to see one ourselves. When driving around, we see larger groups of Cranes (maybe groups up to a hundred birds) and another Red Kite is passing over our head.

At about 15:00h it’s time to head back to the Moor. We park our car at the parking lot near the wooden watch tower, and walk over the road into the Moor. Here we wait for the Cranes. Last week the large numbers of Cranes (around 10,000) came in at 16:00h. So now we wait….

And wait…

But no birds arrive…


A couple of days before our visit, the area was covered with snow. Snow cover, triggers Cranes to move further south. Have they all left? We still have good hope, since the birds that we have seen on the fields near the Moor did not yet arrive. Then, when the moon rises (a rare supermoon!) and the light fades quickly, birds start flying in. First small groups of 10 - 50 birds, then larger groups (50 - 200 birds) come in. The sound of their calls carries far into the entire area. It’s a hard decision: photographing birds passing the moon, or photograph them in the golden skies of the setting sun?

We estimate that this night, around 3000 birds sleep at the Rhedener Moor. Describing the scenery and our feelings would do harm to the true emotions of the moment, the only way to understand it, is to undergo it yourselves. Visit the area and you know what we mean!


When it is really dark and it’s getting quiet, it’s time for us to go home! What a splendid day!

Vernacular name

Scientific name

Great Cormorant

Phalacrocorax carbo

Western Great Egret

Ardea alba

Grey Heron

Ardea cinerea

Whooper Swan

Cygnus cygnus

Tundra Bean Goose

Anser serrirostris

Greater White-fronted Goose

Anser albifrons

Egyptian Goose

Alopochen aegyptiaca

Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos

Red Kite

Milvus milvus

White-tailed Eagle

Haliaeetus albicilla

Hen Harrier

Circus cyaneus

Eurasian Sparrowhawk

Accipiter nisus

Common Buzzard

Buteo buteo

Common Kestrel

Falco tinnunculus

Common Pheasant

Phasianus colchicus

Common Crane

Grus grus

Northern Lapwing

Vanellus vanellus

Common Snipe

Gallinago gallinago

Eurasian Woodcock

Scolopax rusticola

Black-headed Gull

Chroicocephalus ridibundus

Stock Dove

Columba oenas

Common Wood Pigeon

Columba palumbus

Eurasian Collared Dove

Streptopelia decaocto

European Green Woodpecker

Picus viridis

Meadow Pipit

Anthus pratensis

Water Pipit

Anthus spinoletta

Eurasian Wren

Troglodytes troglodytes

Dunnock

Prunella modularis

European Robin

Erithacus rubecula

Common Blackbird

Turdus merula

Fieldfare

Turdus pilaris

Redwing

Turdus iliacus

Mistle Thrush

Turdus viscivorus

Common Chiffchaff

Phylloscopus collybita

Long-tailed Tit

Aegithalos caudatus

Blue Tit

Cyanistes caeruleus

Great Tit

Parus major

Short-toed Treecreeper

Certhia brachydactyla

Great Grey Shrike

Lanius excubitor

Eurasian Jay

Garrulus glandarius

Eurasian Magpie

Pica pica

Western Jackdaw

Coloeus monedula

Rook

Corvus frugilegus

Carrion Crow

Corvus corone

Common Starling

Sturnus vulgaris

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Passer montanus

Common Chaffinch

Fringilla coelebs

European Greenfinch

Chloris chloris

European Goldfinch

Carduelis carduelis

Yellowhammer

Emberiza citrinella

Common Reed Bunting

Emberiza schoeniclu