Sunday, 20 May 2007


Back on my local patch in Denmark after a couple of weeks, the increase in the number of migrants was evident straight away with three Grasshopper Warblers singing along the track to Kongelunden, good numbers of Swifts motoring north overhead and displaying Whitethroats seemingly on every bush. On arrival at the point (at 0530am!) it was a stunning morning with virtually no wind and a beautiful clear blue sky.. A couple of Black-throated Divers flew east and a Garganey (see photo above) croaked its way around the lagoon. By the way, if there are any Garganey experts out there (you know who you are..!), I would be interested to know if the bird in the photo is a first summer male or an adult already starting to moult. It is clearly not a male in full summer plumage with a rather dull head pattern and lack of plumes on the flanks. But exactly what plumage it is, I am not sure. The wind started to pick up just a little from the east around 9am and it was then that I saw the first of 6 Honey Buzzards coming in off the sea. I like Honey Buzzards. Mostly for the fact that they are quite scarce in the UK so, when one sees one, it is rather special but also because they are one of the few things on this planet that eats wasps.. (or more accurately the grubs of wasps). A small group of Sanderling with a couple of Dunlin in tow meant I left Kongelunden with a new total of 134 species in Denmark. No Bullfinch yet.

Friday, 18 May 2007


A work trip meant I visited China for the first time this week. For four days I marvelled at the hustle and bustle, the incredible history and the tremendous buzz that exists in China's capital city. The sheer scale of China's growth is staggering. Here are a few statistics: there are over 1,000 new cars on the streets of Beijing EVERY DAY; China's energy use has grown by 60 per cent in the last 5 years; and in 1988 there were no motorways in China - today they are second only to the US in terms of miles of motorway. Economic growth is booming at an impressive 10 per cent per annum and the Chinese themselves are seemingly struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of change. One of my Chinese contacts described China as "like an elephant riding a bike - if it slows down, it will likely fall off". But, despite China's new found prosperity, it is still the case that nearly 500 million Chinese still live on less than two dollars per day.

Whilst the major hotels are full of western businessmen doing deals and American toursists, there are still remarkably few foreigners around. I was lucky enough to be able to change my return flight so that I could enjoy an extra day to see a few of the sights. Tiananman Square is hugely impressive and the sight of rows upon rows of enormous red flags blowing in the wind is breathtaking. I was able to spend a little time at the Forbidden City, a massive complex of 9,999 rooms forming the largest palace in the world. Wow. And I spent a half day in the amazing Panjiayuan Weekend Market (known as the "dirty market" - more like dirt cheap!). The expected behaviour here is haggling and I have to say I really got into it. After successfully securing a meagre 10 per cent off the price of a piece of hanging Chinese art (with Pandas on), I got into my stride and confidently made an offer of only 100 Yuan (about 2 pounds) to an old-looking lady for a vase that was being offered at 7,000 Yuan. To my amazement, we settled on a price of 200 Yuan. I felt bad. But then I comoforted myself in the knowledge that she was never going to sell me that vase at a loss. I am sure there are a lot of fakes there but the sheer volume and originality of the Chinese art on offer is like nothing you will see in the west. From large Buddhas to pottery that looks as if it's just been dug up to silks, beads and miniature boxes.. Anyone who likes a shop should visit. Of course that is just one of the markets in Beijing and there are many many more - I could barely scratch the surface of this incredible city. Already I am missing it and I know that I will be back.

On the bird front, saw only Magpie (boring ones the same as our European version), Swifts, Barn Swallows and Tree Sparrows (oh yes, and a Mynah and a Great Tit in cages). But I guess one needs to get out of Beijing for much more..

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Ark Royal

The Royal Navy's fleet flagship, the Ark Royal, docked in Copenhagen on Sunday after exercises nearby. This caused much excitement in Denmark and the news item was carried by the main TV station, DR (Dansk Radio as it was originally called) on its evening bulletin.

Its arrival prompted me to do a little research about the ship, probably the most well-known in the Royal Navy. This is what I discovered...

The first Ark Royal was built as Ark Raleigh at Deptford on the River Thames in 1587, to the order of Sir Walter Raleigh. She was bought by Queen Elizabeth's navy for £5,000 ("money well given", according to her new commander, Lord Howard of Effingham) and, as Ark Royal, was the flagship of the English fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada during the campaign of 1588.

The second Ark Royal, after a gap of almost 300 years, was a merchant ship converted on the building stocks to be a seaplane carrier and was Britain's second aircraft carrier. (HMS Hermes was apparently converted to a seaplane carrier in 1913 and reconverted to a merchant in the same year.) HMS Ark Royal was arguably the first modern aircraft carrier. She was originally laid down as a merchant ship, but was converted on the building stocks to be a hybrid airplane/seaplane carrier. Built in Blyth, Northumberland, she was launched in 1914, and served in the Dardanelles Campaign and throughout World War I. She was renamed HMS Pegasus in 1934, to free the name Ark Royal for a new ship, and was broken up in 1950.

The third Ark Royal was launched in 1938, saw action in World War II, participating in the search to find and sink the Bismarck. She was sunk by the German U-boat U-81 in 1941. She was the first British purpose built aircraft carrier, and was built by Cammel Laird and Company, Ltd at Birkenhead, England.

The fourth Ark Royal was an Audacious-class (whatever that is!) fleet aircraft carrier. After starring in the 1970s BBC series "Sailor", she eventually went to the breaker's yard in 1980.

The fifth (and current) Ark Royal is an Invincible-class aircraft carrier. She served in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and is due to stay in service until 2015. The aircraft on board include Harrier Jets, Westland Sea King and Merlin Helicopters.

I cycled along to Nordhavn (the north harbour) in Copenhagen to have a look and I have to say that it does look impressive when compared with the cruise ships and ferries moored nearby. But I did think it would be much bigger... I guess with Harriers, which can take off and land vertically, and helicopters, you don't need a long runway...!

Anyway, no doubt there will be an increase in profits at Carlsberg over the next few days as the crew enjoys its few days in town...

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Wood Warblers

Summer migrants are now starting to stream into Denmark and it is interesting to compare relative abundance in Denmark with Britain. Lesser Whitethroats seem to be everywhere, Whinchats are pretty common, too. But I have seen only one Wheatear to date and no Swifts or Sand Martins yet. One pleasing difference here is the number of Wood Warblers. In Kongelunden (the woodland on the south-east tip of Amager), they are common. The pictures here are of one that I watched singing and displaying (a sort of slow, floppy twisting flight) on the early morning of 3 May. It is telling that, on my last visit to Winterton in Norfolk 10 days or so ago, the discovery of a Wood Warbler singing caused much excitement (they are very scarce in east Norfolk).

Also a feature at the moment are the flocks of Barnacle Geese that are crossing the country. With the easterly winds they are crossing in quite large numbers (some observers have seen over 5,000 in the last couple of days), often very close to the shore at Kongelunden.

With sunrise now around 4.45am, it is getting ever more challenging for me to get out first thing... But the light mornings mean that it is possible to do the occasional few hours birding before work... (something I could never do in London!).

With migrants arriving steadily and today's addition of Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Whinchat and Garganey, my total now stands at 119.