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In the footsteps of the cranes

  1. Location and arrival
  2. Photographic opportunities
  3. Lake Günzer
  4. The hide
  5. Away from the cranes
  6. The equipment
  7. Conclusion
  8. Download map of the Zingst and Darß

Location and arrival

The Rügen-Bock region is located on the Baltic Sea coast of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The open Baltic Sea is separated from the coast by the Fischland-Darß-Zingst peninsula. This creates a unique lagoon landscape between the mainland and the peninsula, which is used as a sleeping place by the cranes among others.

overview of Rügen-Bock region
For better orientation, I have attached an overview map on the left (for more details, please click on the map on the left). The cranes, also called birds of luck, can be found throughout the Darß-Zingst region and also on Rügen. In the fall, during the main migration period between October and November, up to 60,000 cranes can be found in the region. However, the best chances for observing and photographing cranes are near the feeding stations. The feeding stations are set up so that the cranes do not eat all of the winter crops from the farmers' fields. One of these feeding stations is located at Lake Günz, so it is recommended to look for accommodation near Günz. There are plenty of rooms and vacation rentals in the region, but I would still recommend booking in advance.
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Photographic opportunities

The cranes are spread throughout the entire region. Typically, they leave their sleeping places in the lagoon landscape with the dawn and fly to the harvested cornfields, where they search for corn kernels left behind by the harvesting machines. Here, I have attached a small map of the region that can give you a rough idea of the area. Additionally, I can recommend a visit to the Crane Information Center in Groß Mohrdorf, where you can purchase a very good map of the area. The information center is located in the middle of the small town of Groß Mohrdorf.
There are various observation points from which you can observe the departure from or the return to the sleeping places. Unfortunately, we cannot provide a general recommendation as the flight routes depend on many factors. For example, the exact location where the cranes in the lagoon choose their sleeping places depends on the strength of the wind or the water level. Good opportunities to photograph the morning arrival, for example, can be found in Bresewitz. There, you can either stand on the Meiningen bridges or position yourself at the end of the peninsula at the viewing point. With a bit of luck, you can photograph crane chains starting from the island of Oie in the morning with the backdrop of the rising sun.
click for larger view
To witness the arrival of cranes to their sleeping places at sunset, one option would be the lookout point in Bisdorf. You can drive up to the parking lot in Bisdorf and then follow the forest path to the observation hut. A little further west is a lookout point in Kinnbackenhagen, which also offers another opportunity to observe the evening arrival. In the far north of the mainland, there is the Zarrenzin lookout point, which is also suitable for watching the arrival in the evening. Here, you have a view towards the islands "Kleine Werder" and "Bock". However, as mentioned at the beginning, there is no guarantee of a sunset or the passing of cranes.
Furthermore, I can recommend the Utkiek in Hohendorf. This is a converted barn where you can look directly onto a cornfield. This location is less suitable for photography as you have a high overhead view of the field, although aerial shots may be possible. During my visit, the cornfield had not yet been harvested, so there were no cranes present at the time.
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Lake Günzer

click for larger view
The Günzer See is with out a doubt one of the hotspots among nature photographers. This is due to the fact that during migration times, a feeding area is set up on the meadow in front of the lake. I have marked on this map the conditions on site. There is a small parking lot from which you have a view of the meadow. The parking lot is the only parking option near the feeding area and on some days it can be difficult to find a parking spot there. The photographic opportunities at Günzer See are very good, as the cranes here have a slightly lower flight distance. However, from the parking lot, you will need at least a 500-600mm focal length lens and will mostly only be able to capture a small group of cranes in full frame. Aerial shots are better, as the cranes occasionally fly directly overhead, but they usually turn away when they see people in the parking lot. The best time for aerial shots at Günzer See is in the morning, as the photographer will face more backlighting later in the day. To the left of the parking lot is an observation platform that provides a good overview of the lake and the cranes. During the main migration period, from October to November, there are often 500 to 1000 cranes to be observed on the meadow.
Overall, the Lake Günzer offers a very good opportunity for crane photography, but I don't want to ignore the fact that the location has little to do with tranquility and contemplation, as one might expect from nature photography. The place attracts too many crowds. For exchanging experiences and conversations among nature photographers, it is certainly very enriching, but fortunately, there are still plenty of photographic alternatives in the area ;-)
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The hide

click for larger view
At Günzer See, it is possible to rent one of three photography hides. The rental fee is considered a donation to crane conservation and is 85 euros per day for one person (as of fall 2020). Those who wish to rent one of the hides should do so several months in advance, as they are in high demand. The hides can be booked through the website of "Crane Protection Germany". Those who rent a photography hide must strictly adhere to the rules of conduct that they accept upon booking. The most important rule to be aware of is that you must enter the hide before sunrise and may not leave until after sunset. Therefore, it is important to have some experience with sitting in a hide or tent in order to estimate whether you can withstand the long hours in the photography hide. There is a bucket provided in the hide for emergencies.
click for larger view
The photo huts are designed for two people each, but I would advise everyone to rent the huts individually as the space is quite cramped (dimensions approximately height: 1.6m, width: 2m and depth: 1.3m). You can take a look inside the photo hut here: Click here. . You should definitely bring a seating option. There are windows on each side of the hut that must be opened one at a time so as not to disturb the cranes with the translucent light. Additionally, the lens should not protrude from the window as the cranes are extremely sensitive to any movements.
In principle, I consider renting the hide worthwhile, but it should also be noted that there is no guarantee of cranes placing themselves directly in front of the hide. Additionally, after the morning, you will have to deal with more and more backlight, which can be very appealing in the evening.
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Away from the cranes

click for larger view
n addition to crane photography, the region offers plenty of other activities. It takes about an hour's drive to reach Jasmund National Park on Rügen. There, it is worth taking pictures of the chalk cliffs, but the beech forests are also a worthwhile destination. The chalk coast stretches for about fifteen kilometers between Sassnitz and Lohme. To explore the chalk cliffs, there is the Hochuferweg, which leads along the slopes through the beech forests, or you can explore the coast along the beach path. However, the coastal path consists of a pebble beach and requires some effort for the walk. However, you don't need to walk that far, as there are plenty of photo opportunities in the first hundred meters. Since the chalk cliffs are located on the east coast, I recommend visiting the coast in the early morning hours when the light is the most beautiful.
If you would like more information about nature photography on Rügen, I refer you to my travel report about Rügen.
click for larger view
Another recommendation from me for landscape photography would be the west coast of Darß. There is a sandy beach on the coast, and behind the beach belt, there is a forested area. The location of the forest ensures that the evening sun illuminates the forest very nicely. Shortly before sunset, the forest glows red as a result. At the beach itself, you can find plenty of deadwood, which can be incorporated nicely into the composition of your photos. However, before reaching the forest from the parking lot, you need to hike up the beach towards the north for about 45 minutes. The west beach can also be reached from the northern tip, but I have not yet explored the area there and cannot write anything about it.
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The equipment

Cranes are very shy birds in Germany, and flight distances of several hundred meters are not uncommon. Even if the cranes at Lake Günzer are somewhat more accustomed to humans, it is still advisable to bring as much focal length as possible. Focal lengths of 500-600mm are recommended to capture the birds in a reasonably filling format. For flight shots or shots from the hide, telephoto lenses with less focal length are also suitable. In addition to a tripod and warm clothing, a seating option should also be brought for the hide. For those who enjoy landscape photography, it is advisable to pack wide-angle lenses and small telephoto lenses.
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I can really recommend the region around Zingst, Darß, Fischland, and Rügen. Especially during the migration periods of the cranes in spring and autumn. Besides the unforgettable wildlife experience with the cranes, the area is also very scenic. For me personally, it was certainly not my last visit.
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Download map of the Zingst and Darß

Here you can download maps for the Rügen-Bock region. To view and print them, you will need an Acrobat Reader. I hope the maps will help you get to know and navigate the area.

 map of the Rügen-Bock Region

written: November 2010, (author: Olaf Juergens)
updated: October 2011

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