For the twelfth time, NABU called for the counting of winter birds, and like every year we have been busy.

Not from the very first hour, we haven't known each other that long to know like we do today that this friendship not only withstands wind and weather, but also forgotten notes or hiking maps, missed owl hikes, trains that we just barely caught or any other mishaps survives.

We can laugh about a mishap - with tears in our eyes - if not always immediately, and with the distance of a few hours, weeks, years, the little dramas turn into wonderful adventures.

The Garden Creeper is to be distinguished from the Eurasian Treecreeper

Sonya Kastilan

Editor in the "Science" department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper.

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Incidentally, it wasn't my idea to watch birds, but it has now become a tradition to spend an hour on a winter Sunday in Frankfurt's Ostpark moving as little as possible, no matter how wet or cold it is, in order to see as many specimens of a species as possible to catch in a small area. Any ornithologist would despair listening to us, we're getting better at it, really! Unfortunately, the snow that had fallen the day before had melted again, and so the two of us, each with binoculars in hand, trudged carefully over grass and muddy paths to also see 2022 tits, treecreepers, nuthatches, goldfinches and starlings. Compared to 2021, the number of wood pigeons had shrunk from dozens to a few and a few blue tits made a comeback, back in trend with a 20 per cent increase.The middle woodpecker, our most beautiful sighting and a premiere, ranks 65th in the NABU list of sightings that could be reported up to January 17; when I last looked, 170,079 bird lovers had already done so. Last year we missed the deadline: I couldn't tell the treecreeper from the treecreeper for sure, forgot to look and wasn't reminded either, so our own flock of pigeons went unmentioned. Now the binoculars helped, even a book was packed, so no reason to ask the smartphone, and still an error crept into our report, which obviously failed the "plausibility check" and will certainly not happen to us in 2023, word of honor ! I pulled it out anyway for a photo: a witch hazel in full bloom, wonderfully bizarre.

From medicinal plant to ornamental shrub

Its yellow fringes in January tell an expert that this specimen can hardly be a

Hamamelis virginiana

.

The species native to eastern North America, called "witch hazel", from the order Saxifrage flowers earlier, in autumn or at the beginning of winter.

A trait that has made the medicinal plant of the Cherokee, Chippewa, Iroquois, Mohegan and other tribes a popular ornamental shrub for European gardens and parks since its introduction in the 18th century, and leaf and bark extracts enhance cosmetics.

It has not yet been clarified which species or variety is blooming in the Ostpark, but records at the University of Gießen on "Jelena", a

Hamamelis

x

intermedia

, would match. For this hybrid of the two Asian species

H. japonica

and

H. mollis

the beginning of flowering was noted from 2004 to 2016. The dates are stored in the database for the Linden Phenological Garden and cover a large period from January 7th (2013) to February 24th (2010). "The fluctuation in the entry days in the documented years has not shown any trend so far," explains the plant ecologist Gerald Moser. The timing of flowering is triggered by previous cold phases and subsequent warming, so it is very dependent on the weather in the individual years.

The flower discovered in Ostpark falls within Jelena's time frame, but

witch hazel

thrives much better here: the specimens in the linden trees died in 2016, the soil is not ideal, and the hot summers then affected the fresh, replanted clones from the "mother garden".

Otherwise they would take part in the "Global Phenological Monitoring" program, which is coordinated by the Humboldt University in Berlin - and would be under observation elsewhere all year round, like the genetically identical clones.

We only do it once a year, but every winter, otherwise we don't stand still and count, we prefer to hike.

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