Spotting Rare Wild Animals in Germany

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The observer can hide in a small wooden shed with viewing cutouts, and with a bit of luck watch beavers at work. In the Spessart mountain range in southwestern Germany, groups run beaver excursions to inspect signs of activity such as gnawed trees and dams. An impressive beaver colony can be seen on Lake Chiemsee in Bavaria. "The lodge is five meters long and three meters high," says Heinz-Jürgen Pohl, the local beaver expert. Up to six beavers live together here. "You can see into the lodge, especially in the winter when there are no reeds or leaves on the trees. There's a 50-50 chance of spotting a beaver," says Pohl, who offers guided tours.

Bats in Northern Germany The northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein is home to 15 different types of bats. They spend the winter under bridge arches or in the caves of Kalkberg mountain near the town of Bad Segeberg. The Kalkberg is the largest known winter habitat for bats in central Europe. Even the very rare Bechstein's bat and Brandt's bat can be found here, along with the Greater mouse-eared bat, Germany's biggest species of bat, which is threatened with extinction in Schleswig-Holstein.

It is possible to inspect the Kalkberg Cave up until Sept. 30, before the winter season starts. During that time only a few bats are there, mostly young ones checking out their winter quarters before they move in during October. But to preserve their habitat the cave is closed to visitors during the winter months. There are also bat-spotting excursions elsewhere in the region until the end of September.

Things get really spectacular again in the spring, when the bats awake from their hibernation and leave the cave. In the dusk, thousands can be seen fluttering out into the night sky.

Cute Seals in the North Sea

Everyones has seen photos of impossibly cute seal pups with their thick white fur and big, black eyes. The two indigenous species of seal, the grey seal and harbor seal, were once almost extinct in Germany. Fishing deprived them of food and many seals were killed because they were seen as a threat to the industry. There was even a time when premiums were paid for dead seals.

But the grey seal and harbor seal are now protected species and and their numbers are growing again in the North Sea. The grey seal, weighing up to 300 kilos and twice as big as the harbor seal, is Germany's largest predator. The island of Helgoland in the North Sea is a favored place for seal-watching. The animals lie on the nearby island of Düne, close to restaurants and beaches.

The Jordsand conservation group organizes regular trips to see the seals. "Up to 200 seals lie on Düne during the breeding season," says Ulrich Kieschnick, a local guide. The highlights of the year are in May and June when the harbor seal cubs are born, and in December and January, when the grey seal cubs are born. The little white cubs spend four weeks on the beach and are suckled by their mothers before they learn to swim in the sea.

"The harbour seals are pretty quiet but the grey seals are always noisy," says Kieschnick. Grey seals communicate through grunts in various pitches. "If you keep quiet and avoid hectic movements you can get as close as 30 meters to the seals."

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