Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Sea Duck

A day trip to the north Sjaelland coast for sea duck delivered mixed fortunes. When I arrived at dawn it was a beautifully clear dawn with a fantastic low sun behind me as I looked north. However, as soon as I reached the ideal viewing spot and began to scan the flocks of sea duck on the bay, the mist rolled in and visibility was reduced to around 100 metres, meaning I was left staring at what looked like a polar bear in a snowstorm. Added to this, the temperature plummeted from an already cold -3 to about -6! A walk around the woodland at Melby failed to produce any Parrot Crossbills (a party of around 20 have been seen regularly here) so I walked along the north coast path towards Kikhavn, a small harbour town. On the way, at around 1300 and after having seen nothing, the mist cleared and it turned into a beautiful afternoon. So I walked back to the bay and spent the last hour of light scanning the flocks of sea duck. There were 100s of Eider plus small flocks of GOLDENEYE, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and about 50 Scoter. The most numerous scoter was VELVET SCOTER with smaller numbers of COMMON SCOTER. Unfortunately there was no sign of this. A flock of 14 WHOOPER SWANS flew west and then a single LONG-TAILED DUCK flew in and began feeding just offshore. Given the lack of sea duck present on my local patches, both Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck were new species for me here, bringing the total number of species seen in Denmark to an almost respectable 211.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas

A couple of hours walk around Vestamager on Christmas day with the in-laws was rewarded with a PEREGRINE FALCON, at least 4 SMEW, 6 WHOOPER SWANS and a good assortment of ducks including PINTAIL, WIGEON, TEAL, SHOVELER, POCHARD, TUFTED DUCK, SCAUP, MALLARD, GADWALL and SHELDUCK. This morning (26th) we have been shrouded in thick freezing fog. A short cycle ride to the industrial harbour (oh the glamour) produced several argentatus Herring Gulls, a few Cormorants and 3 Waxwings in a roadside rowan. My toes have just about thawed out.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Southern Sweden

Merry Christmas to all. I have just enjoyed a fantastic traditional Danish Christmas meal (roast pork, red cabbage, roast potatoes and veg) and a couple of glasses of vino tinto.. One of my presents (in Denmark we open them on Christmas Eve - top!) was a book I have wanted for a long time - the Dick Forsman Raptors guide to Europe and the Middle East. What a great book. And hopefully I will get to check out its quality quite soon.. because in southern Sweden there is a wintering 2cy+ GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE just east of Malmo. Also in southern Sweden, around Gothenburg, is a BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT, an ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE, at least two HAWK OWLS and PYGMY OWL. So a trip across the border is definitely in order.

It is now cold here.. about freezing during the day and -4/-5 below at night, although this is average for the time of year (last year was incredibly mild). There is a distinct lack of WAXWINGS this winter, compared with last winter, mainly due to the very limited berry crop this year. I guess this is why so many have made it to the UK this winter. The female BLACK-THROATED THRUSH is back at Nivå, just north of Copenhagen, for its third winter - it is quite remarkable that this bird has wintered in the same small area (by a railway and next to a dog-training area) for the third winter in a row.

The TENGMALM'S OWL passage seems to have dried up and NUTCRACKERS seem to have settled down with a handful wintering in local woodlands. Here's hoping for a GYR as a Christmas present!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Let it snow...

It snowed today. Ok, so not much but, nevertheless, it snowed. After last year's pathetic excuse of a Scandinavian winter I am hoping for the real thing this year. The Christmas markets have started and the ice rink is now in full swing on Kongens Nytorv so it is beginning to feel quite festive... Photos soon.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Mexico

I have just returned from a ten day work trip to Mexico. What a place. 24 million people living in its capital city (that's almost 5 times the population of Denmark) and so much history that Britain looks like the new kid on the block. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to explore the country outside the capital but, with visits to some of Mexico's stunning museums and contact with the legislators in Congress, I was left with a very positive impression of the country, its people and its very promising future.

Some facts about Mexico:

- 12th largest economy in the world
- population 109 million (24 million of which live in the capital, Mexico City)
- Mexico City lies at an altitude of 2,250m above sea level
- human activity dates back to at least 21,000 BC
- the Aztec civilisations were invaded by Spain in 1591 and Mexico became the largest and most populous Spanish colony

So, far from being just the land of tequila, sombreros and ponchos, this is a land of culture, history and economic muscle.

My work took me to the Mexican Congress - the Chamber of Deputies - where we held a meeting on climate change for legislators from the Americas - North and South America plus the Caribbean. The result was a consensus declaration calling on industrialised countries to cut their emissions by 60-80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050 and calling on the most advanced developing countries (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) to take on binding commitments by 2020. This is a significant advance ahead of the latest round of UN negotiations that take place in Poznan, Poland from 1-12 December 2008 and demonstrates that there is cross-party support in the parliaments of these countries for more ambitious action.

The people we worked with were some of the warmest I have met and I came away with a genuine warmth for the country and a reassurance that the region sees climate change as the most serious issue facing humanity in the 21st century and, beyond that, is already doing a significant amount to mitigate its effects and adapt to the impacts. From Brazilian ethanol to Argentinian water management expertise and Costa Rican work on rewarding forest conservation through payment for "ecosystem services", there is much that we can all learn from this diverse region.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Bats









































Photos: first two - Brown Bats at Vestamager, including an acrobatic individual doing an impressive 180 degree head twist to catch a mosquito; and a late afternoon scene at Vestamager Nature Reserve

Saturday was a glorious day - still, with a clear blue sky and a late autumnal chill in the air. I decided to look for Tengmalm's Owl in Kongelunden forest, figuring that with the recent irruption of this species in Sweden, there was a chance that one would have made it to this forest close to Copenhagen airport. The species has been seen there before in irruption years and is still recorded most springs. Despite checking almost every pine, spruce and fir tree in the forest, I had no luck. So I wandered towards Vestamager, the nature reserve made up of wetlands and wet birch forest. On my way, a fantastic Rough-legged Buzzard was hunting from a treetop in an open field. Living here has enabled me to get to grips with this species and learn the id characteristics that separate it from Common Buzzard (which can be incredibly variable). The longer wings (to me they almost have a kite-like appearance), pale/white upper tail, dark belly and large dark carpal patches on the underwing separate this species from its much commoner cousin and I was able to study this individual for around 20 minutes before it was flushed by a dog-walker.

Further along the path I was surprised to come across a group of 8 large bats hunting insects over one of the flashes in broad daylight. I was told by a local that these are BROWN BATS and are Scandinavia's largest species of bat. They are day-flying and migratory and are apparently seen in this area most autumns. If anyone out there knows anything about bats and can confirm the species, I would be interested to hear from you.

On Sunday, Libby and I went for a walk around the coastal wood at Sydvestpynten where we vistited the resident Tawny Owl that has returned to roost in the same tree for at least its third winter.

The hunt for Tengmalm's Owl continues..... maybe I should ask the Wise Woman for advice...!

Friday, 7 November 2008

How many rare birds do we miss?

I came across this blog entry from David Sibley and thought I'd share it with you. Food for thought as we are wandering the migration hot spots. I am sure observer coverage in Europe is higher than in the US but, even so, I am sure the same principle applies.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Mandehoved

Another morning at Mandehoved for raptor migration produced 33 Red Kites, 1 adult White-tailed Eagle, 1 Goshawk, 15 Sparrowhawks, 6 Rough-legged Buzzards, 7 Hen Harriers and 15 Common Buzzards. However, overshadowing the raptors were the skeins of geese that seemed to be constantly passing south. Over 2,000 Barnacle Geese and 1500 Brent Geese were counted in four hours with 5 White-fronted Geese, 4 Bean Geese and small numbers of Canada Geese mixed in. The supporting cast was made up of finches - good numbers (in the 100s) of Chaffinches, Bramblings, Redpolls (numbers seem to be well up this autumn) and Siskin. A flock of 60+ Waxwings were my first of the autumn and over the weekend good numbers of these cracking berry-eating birds were seen all across Denmark.

At lunchtime, after the migration was beginning to tail off, we visited the lighthouse at Stevns Fyr to look for Tengmalm's Owl (one was heard there the night before). The first tree we looked in produced a roosting Long-eared Owl but unfortunately, despite looking in every tree in the lighthouse garden, there was no sign of any Tengmalm's. We wondered whether the presence of a Long-eared would have made it move on (I think I have read somewhere that Long-eared Owls eat Tengmalm's Owls which would be good enough reason to find somewhere else to roost!). There have now been an incredible 252 Tengmalm's Owls ringed this autumn at Falsterbo in Sweden (just across the water from Stevns in Denmark) - the highest total ever. So it is only a matter of time before one of these fantastic owls gets pinned down in Denmark. You can see a photo of one at Falsterbo last week here. They are usually very confiding during the day (once the roost site has been found - which is by no means easy), so I am hopeful of seeing one or two this winter. Remarkably, a Great Grey Owl was also seen at Falsterbo this week - only the second ever in southern Sweden. This could mean that these huge owls are also on the move. Having never been recorded in Denmark, Great Grey Owl would cause much excitement if one was to make the crossing from Falsterbo....

With Nutcrackers, Tengmalm's Owls and possibly Great Grey Owls on the move this winter, hopes are high for some of the other scarcer visitors including Pygmy Owl, Hawk Owl and Pine Grosbeak - I will be checking my local woods very carefully!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Scilly '08









































Photos: Wryneck (by Peter Ransome); Sociable Lapwing (from Kazakhstan); Lapland Bunting (from guess where).

I have just returned from my annual pilgrimage to the Isles of Scilly, where the bird watching is unrivalled at this time of year. Vagrants from east and west seem to congregate on the 'magical isles' in October and it was evident this year with the star birds being a SOCIABLE LAPWING from Kazakhstan and GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH from the US being seen at the same time. There is nowhere else in the world where such an occurence could happen.

It was far from a 'classic' Scilly week, compared with the legendary years of 1985, 1987 and 1999 that brought enigmatic birds such as Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Philadelphia Vireo and Common Nighthawk but, nevertheless, Scilly offered unrivalled birding all week. There was always an opportunity to see Lapland Bunting, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-browed Warbler or Wryneck and this year the weather was like summer for most of the week. Watching a Snow Bunting on Peninnis wearing just a t-shirt was quite surreal - normally it's freezing and with a biting wind when one gets to grips with this Arctic breeder.

The usual crack squad of Andrew Harriss, John Harris, Peter Ransome and Tim Hemmings accompanied me all week and find of the week must go to Tim who found the Red-backed Shrike on Tresco. Whilst not a mega-rarity, this Shrike is still a much sought-after bird and, having disappeared as a regular British breeding bird, it is always pleasing to see one on Scilly. Hot on the heels of Andrew's Pallas's Warbler last year, Tim's find made sure we kept up our contribution to the week's birding highlights.

We all felt that there was a possible increase in the numbers of birders on Scilly this year - a good sign. Over the last 10 years the numbers seem to have dropped dramatically from around 1,200 to around 250 with most big "listers" choosing to stay on the mainland in case the autumn's hot rarity turns up on the mainland or on the northern isles of Shetland or Orkney. This is obviously good and bad - good because you can walk around without being in a crowd and bad because there are fewer pairs of eyes to find the rare birds. Also evident this year was the number of women birders. I have to say that usually (and I can't think why...) the population of birders on Scilly in October is about 98 per cent men (ok, possibly 97 per cent). But this year there were women everywhere, and not just accompanying birding spouses but groups of women, too..! I won't speculate as to the reason (because I have no idea) but, nevertheless, it's a very welcome development.

It wasn't just birds that entertained us all week - there were numerous sightings of Common Dolphins around the islands and we also managed to catch up with the St Martin's Ant (a very rare species of red ant found only on St Martin's and, bizarrely, Surrey) and Smooth Stick Insects (imported with rare plants brought in to the Tresco Abbey Gardens from far-flung locations).

All in all a top trip, as usual and we are already booked up for Scilly 2009... top!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Nutcracker














I have reported in a previous post about the large movement of Nutcrackers in Scandinavia with several hundred being seen in southern Sweden and tens being reported across Denmark at coastal migration spots. However, unless you have been in the right place at the right time it has been very difficult to catch up with one. Until now! Over the last few days one has been frequenting some hazel bushes near the green of the second hole on Dragør golf course, near Kongelunden. It is an area I know well as Kongelunden is one of my two local patches, so I headed off down there early this morning to see if I would be lucky. Sure enough, within about 15 minutes of arriving, a Nutcracker flopped out of the wood and into the small stand of hazel. After collecting a nut it flew back into the wood, probably to hide it somewhere, and then reappeared a few minutes later. It did this at least 8 times in the two hours I was there, so it looks as if it is pretty settled, as long as the nuts last... It got spooked a few times by golfers but, as soon as they moved on to hole 3, it was back.. A cracking bird and one I have wanted to catch up with for a long time. Given the numbers on the move this autumn, maybe there's a chance one will make it across the North Sea to the UK... now that would cause some excitement!

Details of the Kongelunden bird can be found at: www.dofkbh.dk.

The visible migration today at Kongelunden was exceptional with the sky full of Chaffinches, Bramblings, Siskins and the occasional wagtail. Three Hawfinches were a highlight. Incredibly, at Falsterbo today they logged nearly half a million Chaffinches! Now that's what I call vis-mig!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Predictions

At this time of year birders like to predict what will turn up, mostly based on a combination of the weather forecast and a large dose of guesswork. This blog entry from the Leicester Llamas sums it up nicely...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Let's hear it for EA!




East Anglia... greatest place in the world.

Red-breasted Flycatcher



























It was a stunningly beautiful autumnal morning today with light easterly winds and a clear blue sky. With several days of easterlies I felt positive about finding something good at Nordhavn. There was a good passage of visible migration with the first notable movement of Bramblings (mostly north!), Chaffinches, Siskins, Meadow Pipits, the odd Tree Pipit and 2 Grey Wagtails. I began to check the scrub with the thought of Yellow-browed Warbler in my mind. There were good numbers of Goldcrests and the odd Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Then, as I turned a corner into a very sunny and shaded area, I caught sight of a flycatcher that flitted up and over the top of the shrub. I didn't get much on it at all except that it looked rather plain and small. It's a little late for Spotted or Pied here in Denmark but, of course, both were more likely than anything rarer. For the next 10-15 minutes I saw nothing, despite searching the surrounding vegetation carefully. So I wandered off thinking that I'd cover the rest of the scrub before returning later to see if the bird had returned to the original spot. After half-heartedly searching the rest of the area with my mind on what might have been, I began to convince myself that the bird was a probable Red-breasted Flycatcher. So I returned and, almost immediately, there it was - a first-winter Red-breasted Flycatcher (Danish name - Lille Fluesnapper) feeding very actively. My first half-decent find in Denmark, at last! I watched it for about 15 minutes and managed to take a few decent photographs before putting out the news. After a further 30 minutes people began to arrive, most of them in suits or office attire skipping off for an hour or so to catch up with this scarce Danish bird. Just as I thought the excitement was over a ringtail harrier appeared from nowhere and flew almost tern-like over the scrub before disappearing behind some ships in the dock. It had to be a Montagu's or Pallid but unfortunately I didn't get enough on it... Then, as I turned back towards the flycatcher, a monochrome bird caught my eye. I managed to get my bins on it and there was another decent bird - Great Grey Shrike!

Carlsberg don't do birding but if they did, every day would be like today!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Tengmalm's Owls


















Photo: a Tengmalm's Owl ringed at Falsterbo (south-western Sweden) at the weekend, courtesy of Falsterbo Bird Observatory

As well as Nutcrackers there seems to be an irruption of Tengmalm's Owls this autumn. Falsterbo has just ringed its first Tengmalm's Owl since 1986 and there were several other birds in the garden of the observatory that didn't make it into the nets. At Ottenby in south-eastern Sweden they ringed 20 and 40 Tengmalm's Owls on Saturday and Sunday respectively. This is the first major invasion for some time and hopes are high that we could see a repeat of the 1967 invasion when over 200 were ringed at Falsterbo. There are surely several in Denmark right now and what price a bird on Fair Isle or the east coast of the UK this autumn??

Raptor migration


View Larger Map














Map: Falsterbo, the famous raptor migration point at the southern tip of Sweden with Stevns (Denmark) on the left.
Photo: one of the Red Kites (first winter) that cruised past Stevns on Saturday afternoon.


On Saturday I was offered a lift to Stevns Klint, one of the few parts of the Danish coastline that consists of cliffs, by a Danish birding friend. This is one of the best places in Europe to see raptor migration. Of course, the most famous place of all is Falsterbo in Sweden but for birds leaving Falsterbo, Stevns is the closest land and so most (around 70 per cent) of raptors that leave Falsterbo make landfall at Stevns. And Stevns has the advantage that birders in Falsterbo can tip off birders in Stevns as to what is coming their way! It takes about 40 minutes for the average raptor to make the journey from Falsterbo to Stevns and , usually, the birds are lower at Stevns having lost height over the water (most rely on 'thermals' over land to gain height). This particular Saturday was forecast to be perfect conditions for raptor migration - light to moderate south-westerlies with clear skies. On such days in September one can expect thousands of birds of prey ranging from Honey Buzzards, Ospreys, Red Kites and Marsh Harriers to eagles, including, if you are lucky, the rare Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Imperial Eagle, Short-toed Eagle etc... Unfortunately the weather didn't do as it was told and it was cold with cloud cover, so the migration was somewhat muted. However, I did see 8 Red Kites, 3 Peregrines, 22 Common Buzzards, a Merlin and a Marsh Harrier. Not bad, but completely eclipsed by Sunday when the birders present saw one Lesser Spotted Eagle, 284 Red Kites, 271 Common Buzzards, 12 Rough-legged Buzzards, 2 Honey Buzzards, 80 Sparrowhawks, 4 Hen Harriers, 3 Marsh Harriers and a Merlin. Whilst the bird of prey migration can be spectacular, it is a mystery as to why passerine (small, perching birds) migration is so poor. Falsterbo sees spectacular migration of both birds of prey and passerines and yet Stevns really only gets bird of prey migration (it is estimated that Stevns sees 70 per cent of the raptors that leave Falsterbo and only 10 per cent of the passerines). One of the mysteries of migration!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Easterly winds



























A spell of easterly winds at this time of year always increases the expectations that something unusual will turn up. I visited the local patch this afternoon in hope and wasn't disappointed when this little gem popped out in front of me. It was with a couple of Goldcrests and was the highlight of a day that also included a juvenile Red-backed Shrike, 5 juvenile Little Stints, 6 Black Redstarts, a cracking male Common Redstart, a Pied Flycatcher and several Wheatears. Not a bad haul. The winds are expected to stay easterly for several days, so who knows what will arrive next! There has been an influx of Nutcrackers in Denmark and Sweden in the last 10 days or so, so hopefully I'll get to see one of these delightful birds... will keep you posted!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

US election fever















View from 555 California Street, San Francisco, where we held a 2-day meeting with McKinsey and Co and experts on climate change.


Back safe in Copenhagen after the intensive 4-day trip to Mexico City and San Francisco (my body has no idea what time it is). Mexico City is one huge city... with an amazing historic centre sporting intricate architecture. Unfortunately Montezuma got his revenge in early, meaning I was quarantined to my hotel room for 18 hours as I experienced a bout of food poisoning (thanks Aero Mexicana!), so my experience of the city was limited.. However, I did get to see the Congress and meet with the heads of the three main political parties plus the Speaker and Chairs of eight Congressional Committees. There is immense interest in climate change in the Mexican Congress and they have an impressive national action plan to reduce their own emissions and deal with the impacts. It bodes well for our Americas forum in November, to take place in Mexico City.

After seemingly only just arriving we were off again to San Francisco. With the US election looming it was interesting to see the media coverage and talk to Americans about their political preferences. Our visit coincided with the Republican Convention and the speeches of VP candidate Sarah Palin and Republican nominee, Senator John McCain. Palin is an intriguing characater - she is young, relatively unknown on the political scene (as Governor of Alaska) and has some 'interesting' views. She wants Creationism to be taught alongside evolution theory in schools, she is against abortion under any circumstances (even rape or incest), is a gun-toting Moose hunter and does not believe in man-made climate change. In short she appeals to the Republican base, many of whom have doubts about McCain's tendency towards that dirty word - "liberalism" - so in many ways she is the ideal choice to shore up the Republican vote. To me she is scary and I find it very difficult to believe that a European country would put someone who doesn't believe in evolution into a position of such power, and it reinforces my view that, as a Brit, I share many more values and cultural ties with Europe than with the US.

The bounce in the polls from the Republican Convention puts the two candidates - Senators John McCain and Barack Obama - almost neck and neck. It really is going to be a close race between now and November. I can't help thinking that someone is going to make a decisive gaff between now and then and, given Joe Biden's (Obama's VP choice) history of inserting his foot in his mouth, it could be him..!

San Francisco is a very liberal city so there was strong support for Obama with merchandise being sold seemingly on every street corner. But the US is a diverse country and, although the educated liberals on the east and west coasts will almost certainly vote heavily in favour of Obama, the large swathes of the population in places like Texas will almost certainly vote Republican, even more so now that they are energised by the feisty Palin.

Given the global impact the policies of the US president have, I almost feel as if the rest of the world should get a share of the vote!

In the meantime, check out this great animation from those cads at JibJab - a summary of the US election in 3 minutes. Class.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!



PS In answer to my question in the last post, we flew around Hurricane Gustav- avoiding the centre and the eye and crossing over the outer 'tails'. It was still a bit bumpy!

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Hurricanes and Kyoto

I am writing this from the lounge in Miami airport. I am on my way to Mexico City and then San Francisco for meetings on climate change. The current hurricane activity - with Gustav approaching New Orleans, poignantly exactly 3 years on from devastating hurricane Katrina, and Hanna developing into a strong hurricane north-east of Cuba - brings my work into sharp focus. Gustav is currently directly in our flight path from Miami to Mexico City and I am intrigued as to whether we will fly directly over it or, more likely, around it. (You can track the hurricanes' progress here)

It is commonly known that the number of hurricanes fluctuates on a natural cycle. This year is predicted to produce an above average number - 15 versus the long-term average of 12.4. The intensity of these hurricanes is determined by the sea surface temperature - hurricanes gain their energy from warmth. The warmer the surface temperature, the more intense the hurricane. So global warming, with its resulting higher sea surface temperatures, is predicted to increase the INTENSITY of hurricanes. It is less clear that it will cause MORE hurricanes.

My destination today - Mexico - is particularly concerned. It is in the flight path of many of the hurricanes that originate in the north atlantic. It is vulnerable to sea level rise and hurricane-related sea surges. So it wants to fight global warming.

Mexico is also in a unique position in the international negotiations on a post-2012 agreement. Under the Kyoto Protocol it was classified as a developing country and so, under the terms of the agreement, was not mandated to take on binding emissions reduction targets. However, it has since joined the OECD (an organisation of 'developed' countries) and will be expected to take on a binding target for the post-2012 period along with the rest of the developed world. At the same time, Mexico is a member of the so-called "+5" group of major emerging economies, along with Brazil, China, India and South Africa. This places Mexico in a unique position as a bridge between developed and developing countries.

My meetings over the next 2 days are centred on the preparations for a forum of legislators from the Americas, to take place in Mexico City in November. We very much hope to forge a ground-breaking compact between legislators from the developed (US, Canada and Mexico) and developing economies (Brazil, Argentina and the rest of Latin America) that calls for a long-term goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent from 1990 levels (the baseline under Kyoto) by 2050. To get there, the agreement should urge developed economies to take on an aggregate binding emission reduction targets of between 25 and 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. In return, the major developing economies should take steps to peak their emissions by 2020 with a view to taking on binding commitments thereafter, subject to industrialised countries meeting their target.

If we are successful, this would represent the first time that politicians from across the political spectrum, from both developed and developing countries, will have agreed 'in principle' on a long-term goal and an equitable way of achieving it.

Let's hope the hurricanes in the Gulf focus the minds...!

Friday, 22 August 2008

22 August

Another beautiful morning with hardly any wind and lovely morning sun. Made an early morning visit to Nordhavn where there had been a small 'fall' of birds. Two juvenile Red-backed Shrikes, a Wood Warbler, single Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Tree Pipits, 6 Yellow Wagtails plus tens of Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats and Willow Warblers. Nine Arctic Terns migrating west was a bonus.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Shrike

An early morning birding session at Nordhavn produced the first juvenile Red-backed Shrike of the autumn. Also present was a single Tree Pipit, a Whinchat and several newly-arrived Chiffchaffs. Still lots of Lesser Whitethroats (the most common warbler at this site) and a few Common Whitethroats and Garden Warblers. Sadly no sign of the hoped-for Barred Warbler, Greenish Warbler or Citrine Wagtail. As I visit this site quite a lot (it is only 20 mins cycle ride from our flat) I thought you might like to see what it looks like.. I will take some photos of my own in due course but you can see some pictures of the habitat here. It is essentially a large area of wasteland on the edge of the industrial Copenhagen harbour with a couple of small freshwater pools, some scrub, an enclosed seawater basin, a small plantation and an area of grassland. Not the most picturesque site but, lying on a promontary on the east coast of Sjaelland, it does attract quite a few migrants. Black Redstarts and Wheatears breed, as do Little Grebe, Coot, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Whitehroat and Lesser Whitethroat. Officially its a private site and it is fenced off but there is usually at least one hole in the fence, through which to gain access. It is used by fishermen, a few dog-walkers and a handful of birders on a regular basis so, if the fence is ever repaired, it's usually cut down within a day or so by the fishermen...!

This morning I stumbled on a group of three young Danes sleeping in the open air with just sleeping bags and a small fire for warmth.. not the most attractive place to camp out in the wild but each to their own.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Just a normal evening in Nyhavn...




















.... you know the scene.. sitting in your living room watching a DVD when all of a sudden the mast of an old sailing ship slowly passes the window. This one is called the "Bona Gratia" and was apparently built in 1903. For those of a sailing disposition it's length is 17.24 metres, its beam 4.95 metres and its callsign is "OWJZ" (whatever that means). In summer Nyhavn is visited by many traditional sailing boats. In fact, to maintain the traditional ambience of Nyhavn, vessels must be a certain age, wooden and with sails to be allowed entry. All the posh yachts with helipads and jetskis must moor further up the sea front with the cruise ships and other riff-raff... Quite right, too.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Northern Sjaelland

To celebrate my birthday Libby and I planned a walk along part of the northern coast path around the traditional Danish village of Tisvildeleje. See map here. It wasn't a particularly nice day with cloud and drizzle on and off but, for a walk, it was ideal weather. The area is reminiscent of east Norfolk with a sandy beach, coastal dunes and woodland of birch and pine. We walked about 10 miles during which time I saw two new species for Denmark - a juvenile BLACK GUILLEMOT (201) just offshore and a flock of 46 COMMON CROSSBILLS (202).

We stopped for a late lunch in a local cafe before catching the train back to Copenhagen to snuggle up for the latest episode of West Wing (we are hooked). Rock and roll...

Thanks to everyone who has sent birthday messages!!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

29 July and 8 August

29 July

Heavy wader passage today with 100+ Wood Sandpipers at Vestamager with a few Spotted Redshank, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Dunlin and a couple of Curlew Sandpipers. At one point a flock of 37 Wood Sandpipers flew in from the north-east, circled and landed on the scrape to feed.. I don't think I have ever seen more than 3 together in Britain so the sight was something to behold..

8 August

A cycle ride to Vestamager in between very heavy thundery showers didn't turn up much in terms of waders - a few Wood Sandpipers, a handful of Common Sandpiper, a Black-tailed Godwit, a few Grey Plovers and some Dunlin. Wader passage has definitely tailed off. Around the fort there were the first returning Whinchat (4) plus several Sylvia warblers including good numbers of Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, a few Garden Warblers and a couple of Blackcaps. A swimming Grass Snake was a bonus. Unfortunately a scan of the local pine trees failed to turn up any Two-barred Crossbills (there is something of an 'invasion' of these normally very scarce birds into Western Europe at the moment with up to 8 on Fair Isle at present).

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

200

















Many thanks to those who voted (all four of you!). Whoever voted "Other" was right. My 200th species in Denmark was a CASPIAN TERN that turned up at the fantastic wader site of Ølsemagle Revle (about 20km south of Copenhagen). These monster terns (gull-sized) are regular, albeit scarce, visitors to Denmark, usually in July/August. There have been up to three at this site over the last few days. A welcome reward for the cycle ride. Other birds seen during my visit included 30+ Dunlin, 5 Curlew Sandpipers, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 6 "Blue-headed" Yellow Wagtails, a juvenile Black Tern, 5 Little Terns, 12 Redshank and 4 Spotted Redshank. Autumn migration is now in full swing.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Knoydart


















Photo: Inverie "high street". This was taken from the internet and will be replaced by some photos of our own once processed.

Most years I spend a few days hiking and camping in Scotland with my friend Richard, usually to the more remote parts, inaccessible by car. This year we settled on Knoydart for our trip (see here for details). It is one of the remotest peninsulas in Britain, accessible only by boat from Mallaig or by "walking in" from Loch Arkaig in the south or from Kinloch Hourn in the north. We decided to start at Loch Arkaig and take in a mountain or two on the way to the main village, Inverie (home to the remotest pub in mainland Britain, The Old Forge). Our first night was spent in a B&B at Fort William. We needed to leave the car somewhere and it was either at the end of Loch Arkaig (which would mean we would need a taxi there at the end of our walk) or in Fort William, which would mean a taxi to the start of the walk. When we enquired about fares, it would have cost us 80 pounds for a taxi from Fort William to the start of the walk. Luckily, our mad B&B landlady offered to take us and undercut the taxi by 30 quid, so we managed to get a lift there for 50 quid with the added bonus that she would let us keep the car at her B&B for the 3 days we were away. After a hair-raising drive along the remote lanes to the western tip of Loch Arkaig (her driving wouldn't have looked out of place on the Paris-Dakar) we arrived with white-knuckles at the start of the walk with only a few sheep for company.

With backpacks, including food, clothes and a tent, we set off on the 20-mile hike with the aim of camping half-way on the beach at Loch Nevis after day one and continuing over the pass at Gleann Meadail for the long gradual descent into Inverie on day two. Shortly after we started, Rich had the bright idea of veering from the main path to climb the first "Munro" (a hill of at least 3,000 feet in height above sea level) called Sgurr nan Coireachan. This was one hell of a climb with no real path, an almost vertical ascent and, to top it all, the terrain was pretty much bog all the way. With packs on it was hellish and it took us almost 3 hours to reach the summit. At this point the weather turned and all of a sudden we were in cloud with visibility down to a few feet. It was also freezing, going from t-shirt weather to needing four layers and gloves - a real illustration of just how dangerous the mountains can be. We put on our extra layers and began the descent, which was just as hard as the climb. Almost straight away I sprained my ankle, luckily only lightly but still enough to mean that I had to really concentrate on every step. The whole climb and descent took us 5 and a half hours. The weather improved by the time we reached the bottom and again we were in t-shirts and shorts. We then made our way along the difficult path along the glen towards Loch Nevis. At around 7.30pm we started looking for suitable camping spots but the whole area was a mixture of bog and rock. A good tip is to look for ruins of buildings as these are usually built on fairly firm ground. But there were none and we were both too shattered to walk on to the beach (probably two hours further). We eventually found a great spot of relatively dry moss (always makes a great bed!) between two lochs and set up camp, just off the path. The weather was still showery and it was unseasonably chilly but after cooking our fantastic meal of savoury rice with chopped haloumi and salami, washed down with a cup of hot chocolate, we felt very relaxed in a well-exercised way.. even the midges left us alone.

The night improved and by morning (I got up at about 6am) the sun was shining and it was noticeably warmer by the loch. As I poked my head out of the tent, I startled 4 Red Deer that had been grazing by our front porch! I fetched some water from the nearby burn and after a breakfast of porridge and a cup of coffee, we set off again, taking in the magnificent surroundings in splendid isolation.

The path gradually improved and I was soon feeling confident again after my ankle sprain the day before - as long as the terrain was not too rocky, I felt I would be ok. After a couple of hours we made it to the beach Sourlies, at the eastern end of Loch Nevis. Our only company was a White-tailed Eagle that flew majestically along the glen and a few black-faced sheep. After a short chocolate stop we carried on past the ruins at Carnach and began the ascent to the mountain pass that would mark the beginning of the long, gradual descent into Inverie. Given how much we ached after the first day's climb, this was tough, too, although the climb itself was relatively easy and not so high as the Munro we climbed on day one. It was hot and slow going. As we climbed the cloud gradually set in and, just as we reached the top of the pass after an agonising climb, it started to rain. Again, in the space of a couple of minutes we went from sweating in just a t-shirt and shorts on the sheltered side of the pass to needing four layers and gloves as we reached the highest point of the pass and were exposed to the elements. After a celebratory lunch of cheese roll and salami we set off for Inverie, about 8 miles away, which we could see in the distance. Luckily the rain never really got going and the cloud offered us some respite from the blazing sun that had made our climb so difficult in the morning. The path just got better and easier as we descended into Inverie and our thoughts turned to a hot shower in our B&B and a pint of the local real ale in The Old Forge.

We arrived in Inverie but, not knowing where our B&B was, we headed straight for the pub to ask. At the bar I asked about the location of Knoydart Lodge and was immediately directed to the guy standing next to me at the bar - Bob. Bob runs Knoydart Lodge with his partner Morag and so he swiftly finished off his glass of red wine and gave us a lift to the B&B. Marvellous. A hot shower and change of clothes later we walked the short distance (which felt like floating after taking off our packs) to the pub for a well-earned pint and some home-cooked food.

The Old Forge is a magnet for locals and visitors alike and offers good food made with local produce. We started with mussels followed by roast lamb, washed down with a pint of the local ale. Top. It's quite a musical pub with a variety of instruments dotted around for the use of customers.. one guy played the recorder almost all night.

The next day Richard's brother, Charlie, arrived via boat from Mallaig for a flying visit on his way from London to his parents in Pitlochry. We spent the next two days exploring the local area with walks north to Inverguseran and Doune Bay before catching the ferry to Mallaig via Tarbet (on the banks of Loch Nevis). From there we caught the train to Fort William, which offered fantastic evening views of Skye, Rhum, Eigg and the delightfully named Muck, to pick up the car and begin the journey back to Edinburgh for the flight to Copenhagen.

A top few days and some of the hardest exercise I have done for years! But there was a real sense of achievement when we arrived at Inverie and the village with its surrounding views, did not disappoint.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

199

I visited Vestamager on Sunday for my first Danish birding for some time. I was immediately rewarded with 3 LITTLE EGRETS flying in from the east, species 199 for Denmark. Autumn migration was already in evidence with 100+ Wood Sandpipers, 30+ Ruff, 20+ Dunlin, 15 Avocets, 10+ Spotted Redshanks, 5 Temminck's Stints and 2 Common Sandpipers. What will be my 200th species? According to Netfugl.dk my "biggest misses" are Osprey, White Stork, Black-necked Grebe, Kittiwake, Red-throated Diver, White-fronted Goose and Common Crossbill. You can use the voting buttons to guess which will be my 200th.

Japan

A work trip meant I was in Japan for the end of June. Luckily, Libby was able to fly out to join me and we took a week off to explore Tokyo and then the northern island of Hokkaido. Tokyo was an incredible experience with neon lights and sound everywhere. The food was amazing, especially the seafood, although I have to say that raw fish for breakfast is something I will struggle to adapt to! What struck me most was just how respectful the Japanese are and it's not just to foreigners, it's to their fellow Japanese too. Many businesses in Europe could learn a thing of two from their Japanese counterparts about customer service. With all the bowing, I imagine you would have a tough time living in Japan if you had a bad back!

We visited the sacred temple at Asakusa, where the air was filled with incense and the myriad stalls were selling all manner of typically Japanese wares, including pottery, plastic food (yes, really) and lots of cute toys. After wandering the streets for several hours we met up with a friend who has been living in Tokyo for the last 10 months. He took us to a fantastic traditional Japanese restaurant where you must exchange your shoes for slippers and sit on cushions on the floor.. We were served several rice and noodle dishes, including fish, chicken and tofu, all washed down with some Asahi beer. Fantastic.

We then travelled north to Hokkaido for a week, hiring a car at Kushiro Airport. We drove north to the Akan National Park where volcanic activity is still commonplace and we treated ourselves to a fantastic hot spa. The traditional Japanese spa was a little unnerving for me at first but I soon overcame my apprehensions and thoroughly enjoyed it. The spas are usually split into male and female baths and one must wash thoroughly before entering the water. This involves sitting on a stool, completely naked, next to fellow bathers while showering with soap and water before immersing oneself into the hot water. The idea is that this keeps the hot water clean and pure. For the self-conscious, a small towel (actually more like a flanel) is provided to cover your private bits while walking around. Of course in the pool itself you must be naked and the flanel must not enter the water - the usual practice is to place it on your head. Once fully soaked in the bath you are provided with a gown and slippers which many people wear to dinner. I have to say the first time felt quite odd to go to dinner in what felt like my jim-jams and slippers...!

After our volcanic experience in Akan we drove north to the Shiretoko National Park. This is a pristine wilderness consisting of a heavily forested peninsula that juts out into the Sea of Okhotsk, just south of Russia's Sakhalin Island. It is said to home the largest concentration of brown bears in the world and is also famous for Sea Eagles and Japanese Cranes. We saw several of the latter by the roadside during the drive north and, of course, one of our aims was to see Brown Bear.

On our first morning we stopped at a small cafe for a coffee and sitting on the next table was a Japanese wildlife photographer who specialised in brown bears. I asked him what our chances were of seeing brown bear and he said "50/50" as we were there for several days. He drew us a map and pinpointed the best spots to see Brown Bears, saying that early evening or early morning were the best times. At our first attempt we were delighted to be treated to a ten minute encounter with a very young bear, probably only 1-2 years old as it made its way along the roadside, turning over stones to look for ants. We were captivated as it walked slowly past our car, only two to three metres away. A really awesome experience. As I did not have my camera with me you will have to make do with the poor quality video (shot sideways with my mobile phone). Can you tell what it is??

Spectacularly, on the morning we decided to hike up Mount Rausu (complete with hip-bell to warn bears of our presence), we came across a second bear, this one much bigger, complete with a radio collar and ear-tags. This one was in the middle of the road before climbing a tree to reach the berries in the upper branches. It seemed precariously balanced as it stretched to reach the outer branches and, at one point, I felt certain it would fall. But, of course, it didn't and expertly climbed down, back first, and wandered off into the forest. It was slightly unnerving to be walking along trails as we ascended Mount Rausu shortly afterwards, especially as we saw several trees with claw-marks on their trunks, but bear encounters are uncommon - generally bears are very shy creatures and will move out of sight if they sense humans approaching. The walk treated us to stunning views of the peninsula and the surrounding waters. A truly magical place.

At one of our guest houses as we were waiting on the balcony before dinner, a local fisherman stopped his van and threw out a load of by-catch onto the beach right below our balcony. Normally, I wouldn't have appreciated that very much but the smell immediately attracted a host of Slaty-backed Gulls that fought over the bits of fish. And it got better when, just as I was getting bored with the Slaty-backs, not one but two White-tailed Eagles swooped down to take the leftovers, literally feet away from our balcony... dwarfing the not to be sniffed at Slaty-backs. They made several passes before settling on nearby rocks to gorge themselves. A stunning backdrop of the setting sun over the Sea of Okhotsk made the perfect pre-dinner entertainment!

PS I can't believe how posh Libby sounds on this video...!!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Barn door and a crake

This weekend I hooked up with a couple of Danish birders to go to see (or, more accurately, to hear) the LITTLE CRAKE that has been present for a few days in Langeland, one of Denmark's "southern isles". It's a gorgeous island with some great beaches, fantastic rolling green countryside, beautiful meadows and traditional farms (we bought some local strawberries to munch on the way and I have to say they were gorgeous). It's not surprising that so many Danes have "summer houses" there. On the way to Langeland, we stopped off at a small wetland on the west of Sjaelland, called Lejsø, where we found two BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPERS. It was at Lejsø that I also saw my first Danish ICTERINE WARBLER (they are reasonably common here in the right habitat). The LITTLE CRAKE gave itself up pretty easily by calling within 30 second of us arriving (amazingly there were no other birders on site when we arrived!). Unfortunately seeing it was never going to happen - there are no hides, the site is private and the vegetation is very high. So we contented ourselves with several more bursts of its "song" before heading home.

To cap a good weekend, I saw my first WHITE-TAILED EAGLE (also known as a flying barn door due to its huge size and broad wings) at my local patch - Kongelunden. Brucey bonus on the way home was a female RED-BACKED SHRIKE hunting from bushes near Sydvestpynten. Danish total now on 197 (and still no Grey Partridge).

Friday, 23 May 2008

Sock Puppets...



...don't you just love them?? Check out this video of a classic Nirvana tune...

Monday, 5 May 2008

Gilbjerg Hoved

A trip to Gilbjerg Hoved, the most northerly point of Sjaelland (see here for a map), for visible migration produced two new birds for me in Denmark - a SHORT-EARED OWL (finally!) and a BLACK KITE. An elusive WRYNECK led the supporting cast along with 3 RING OUZELS, a male COMMON REDSTART, over 100 TREE PIPITS, 35 SPARROWHAWKS, 3 MARSH HARRIERS, 100s of CHAFFINCHES, BRAMBLINGS and SISKINS, and a handful of LESSER WHITETHROATS.

I was told by local birders that the day was "slow" and that I shouldn't judge the site on that day's performance.. !?!

Black Lark (Ode to Sean Offord)

During our trip to Morocco we visited a site called Merja Zerga (see previous post) to look for Marsh Owls. It was at this time that I received a text message from a friend saying that a BLACK LARK had been found at my old local patch of Winterton-on-Sea in Norfolk! Now Black Lark is a VERY rare bird in Britain with only two previous records. It was found by local birder, Sean Offord (who apparently had to pick himself up off the dunes after realising what he had found) at about 1600 on Saturday, allowing many local Norfolk birders to see it before dusk. It apparently gave very good views and even song-flighted on two brief occasions during the evening. The bird was an adult male in full spring finery, with all-black body plumage contrasting with the heavy, ivory-coloured bill and the neat white flecking on its mantle and upper scapulars (you can see pictures here - look at the entry for 20 April). There was quite a crowd present at dawn on Sunday morning (much to the surprise of the beach car park attendant!). However, the bird didn't stay long and at around 0700 on Sunday morning it waddled behind a tuft of marram grass on the dunes and, despite not being seen to fly, was never seen again much to the disappointment of the hordes of birders who decided to prioritise breakfast over getting on site at dawn!

To illustrate the excitement caused by this bird, there were apparently birders from Belgium and Spain present on the Sunday morning, who had travelled overnight especially to see this bird! Madness....

Sean's Black Lark represents the third record for Britain, following a male at Spurn Point (East Yorks) on 27th April 1984 and a well twitched male at South Stack RSPB (Anglesey) from 1st-8th June 2003. Black Lark is a largely resident species of the grassy steppes of Central Asia from the Lower Volga region of SE Russia to NE Kazakhstan. Outside the breeding season, nomadic flocks wander widely, occasionally roaming west to the Ukraine.

Sean will now have to complete a description of the bird for the British Birds Rarities Committee and, no doubt, write various articles and conduct interviews about its discovery. Fame at last...

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Morocco


































































Photos (top to bottom): The sand dunes at Erg Chebbi; Yellow Wagtail (of the subspecies Iberiae or Cinereocapilla); Thick-billed Lark; Desert Sparrow; and White-crowned Black Wheatear

Mid-April saw me, with a couple of birding friends from England, travel to Morocco for a few days to catch up with some species that are very difficult to see in Europe. The trip started with a flight to Marrakech and took in the Atlas Mountains to see species such as Crimson-winged Finch, Alpine Chough and Moussier's Redstart, then east to the desert of Merzouga (via the famous Tagdilt Track) and then west to the Atlantic coast of Agadir (for Bald Ibis, gulls and waders) and then north to Merja Zerga for Marsh Owl. My impressions of north Africa had always been tainted by a brief holiday to Tunisia about 10 years ago where we stayed in a soul-less hotel, were constantly hassled by locals and then got food poisoning. So I was a little apprehensive about going back to the region. But I have to say that this trip has completely changed my opinion of north Africa. What a country. The people were, with the exception of the EMP (Evil Marsh People) at Merja Zerga, extremely friendly and hospitable, the food was excellent (tagines, I love 'em) and the scenery dramatic (from the beautiful Atlas mountains to the orange sand dunes of Erg Chebbi, the coastal cliffs of Tamri and the semi-desert plateaus around the centre. Simply stunning. And of course, extremely cheap (one of the places we stayed in cost us GBP 4 each for the night!).

Overall we saw 214 species of bird including some very sought-after species such as Thick-billed Lark (what a character!), Desert Sparrow, Hoopoe Lark, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Desert Warbler, Fulvous Babbler, Tristram's Warbler, Black-crowned Tchagra plus Lanner, Barbary Falcon and "Pharaoh" Eagle Owl. Top class birding.

The poverty is difficult to handle with many people clearly living on next to nothing. No matter where we stopped along the way, in the middle of the desert, in the mountains or on the plains, inevitably within about 2-3 minutes we would be approached by someone who seemed to appear out of thin air. One guy we spoke to lived in a cave and caught birds with home-made traps for food. Many of these people were simply lonely and very keen to chat rather than looking for any handouts but this was different at Merja Zerga. This marsh is the site where, until recently, the last known Slender-billed Curlews wintered (now presumed extinct). Now it is still very popular with birdwatchers due to its obliging Marsh Owls. So the locals are used to lots of birdwatchers turning up in the area. This shows as, as soon as you arrive on site, masses of children and adolescents turn up claiming to be able to show you the owls (for a fee, of course). We lost count of how many "official wardens" we bumped into, most wearing nothing on their feet and claiming to be the authority who must be paid before we were allowed to look for birds. We had to give one guy the last of our digestive biscuits to go away, taking his yappy dogs with him!

The traffic police were also a constant presence - seemingly two guys on every junction. We were stopped once for speeding and told to pay a fine of 400 Dirhams (about GBP 23) which could be reduced to 200 Dirhams if we didn't want any "paperwork". What a scam.

I couldn't complete this entry without a note on the famous Tagdilt Track. This is, as it says on the tin, a track (definitely not a road) that takes you to Tagdilt from Boumalne du Dades (in the mid-east of the country). It is a high plateau of semi-desert between the High Atlas mountains and a slightly lower range of mountains to the south. It is one of THE best places known to man to see all manner of LARKS. It also doubles up as the local refuse tip (with plastic bags galore) and a loitering area for the local stray dogs, all of which makes for a unique birding experience. But what a place - we saw Thick-billed, Desert, Bar-tailed, Temminck's, Hoope and Short-toed Larks plus Red-rumped Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Lanner, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Cream-coloured Courser not to mention numerous Black Kites, Montagu's Harriers and Booted Eagles. The one lark we missed, which is very scarce at Tagdilt, is the Dupont's Lark. This bird is one of the trickiest species to see in Europe and North Africa - it sings at night and, according to the bird log at the Auberge Soleil Bleu (the closest accommodation to the Tagdilt Track) they "run faster than Linford Christie and hide better than Lord Lucan". Hmm...

Definitely a place to revisit!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Rouzels and Crests



























This week has seen an increasing trickle of migrants with many Long-eared Owls being seen at coastal sites plus several Firecrests, White Storks and a good movement of Buzzards, including a few Rough-leggeds. Bird of the week in Denmark must go to the 3rd calendar year Bonelli's Eagle seen on 11th at the mega Spring migration site of Skagen in northern Jutland. Photos can be seen here. A visit to one of my local patches - Nordhavn - on 10th provided me with my first Danish Ring Ouzel (a cracking male which you can just about make out in the flight shot above if you squint and use lots of imagination). There were also good numbers of Goldcrests present, probably on their way to Sweden or Finland.. These tiny and hardy birds always thrill me and I am constantly amazed that such a small bundle of feathers can travel so far and survives the harsh winters... I liked the photo above looking straight at me - I wonder what he was thinking?

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Spring














1 April was a fantastic Spring day here in Copenhagen - a clear blue sky, light south-easterly winds and the warmest temperatures of the year so far. Needless to say the birds thought so, too, and Cranes were again sighted in their hundreds migrating north to breeding grounds in Sweden. Any easterly element in the wind direction at this time of year pushes these flocks west over Copenhagen on the island of Sjaelland - a magnificent sight. The summer's first Wheatears were spotted today on southerly and westerly headlands and several FIRECRESTs were found, including the individual in the photo above at one of my local patches, Nordhavn/Stubben. I managed to sneak away for a couple of hours this afternoon to get a look at this fantastic tiny bird and, with the gorgeous afternoon light I was able to take my best ever photograph of a Firecrest. The supporting cast was made up of 2 Long-eared Owls and a probable tristis Chiffchaff. This bird was very obviously pale with black legs and a black bill. It was very vocal, its call very similar to a Bullfinch with a slight downward inflection. Unfortunately it was too mobile and skittish for me to get a photograph. I have only ever seen one before, at a sewage works in Warwickshire many winters ago. Hopefully this is the start of a bumper Spring! Firecrest is species 185 for me in Denmark.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

A Purple Easter








































The earliest Easter for over 100 years was also one of the coldest I can remember, including heavy snowfall. I spent a few days in Yorkshire with Libby's parents before migrating south to spend Easter with my parents in Winterton, Norfolk. Saturday was one of the most inhospitable days I have ever experienced in Winterton with a bitter and strong north-easterly wind battering the coast, coinciding with a high tide. I was determined to do some birding and I was rewarded early with a genuine HOODED CROW in the horse paddocks - a scarce bird in east Norfolk (we do have at least two hybrids regularly wintering between Winterton and Horsey but a "real" Hoodie is rare). As I ventured north the sea was pounding against the sea-wall between the village and Horsey and, for some reason, I thought it might produce some good sea-watching. A few Gannets, Fulmars and Red-throated Divers didn't do enough to keep me there for long, though, and after I received an exfoliating sand-blasting that you'd pay good money for in a spa..(!), I soon retired to the relative shelter of the west side of the dunes to scour the area in the vain hope of an early migrant or two. It wasn't long before I gave up and wandered back, wind-assisted, to a cup of tea and a piece of homemade cake! Sunday was much better, at least initially, and the sunny early morning produced a FIRECREST along Low Road and, shortly afterwards, the highlight for me - a SLAVONIAN GREBE - on the sea off the cafe at the beach car park. Tim showed up about half an hour later but by then the grebe had drifted south.. There was some compensation in the form of a first-winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL feeding in the surf. After a break during several hours of heavy snowfall, the day later produced SHORT-EARED OWL (thanks Peter!) and the first real summer migrant of the year in the form of a NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Peter again, unfortunately not seen by me). Tim then found a cracking male BLACK REDSTART in the allotments - always a very welcome sight. I finished the weekend on 86 species for my Winterton year-list so far, not including the PURPLE SANDPIPER that frustratingly inhabited the reefs just north of the parish. Nevertheless, it did pose well for photographs with the accompanying Grey Seals... Poor old Sean was due to spend Easter on the Isles of Scilly but, as of Sunday, hadn't made it due to the cancellation of the RMV Scillonian crossing due to high winds - I certainly wouldn't want to do that journey in bad weather - it's bad enough on a flat calm sea! It was good to see Ted out and about, too, and he had a tantalising glimpse of what was almost certainly another rarity for Winterton in the form of a WATER RAIL on the duckpond.. Nice one Ted!

As usual, a thoroughly enjoyable trip back!

Madeira














































Libby and I spent a week walking in Madeira just before Easter. We booked through a company called Inntravel which specialises in independent walking holidays. They provide maps, directions and arrange for your luggage to be taken from and to each overnight stop. The scenery was stunning - it is a relatively young volcanic island with very steep cliffs in places and hardly any beaches (and those that exist are of the black, volcanic sand variety). Weather was mixed with a couple of days of mist and low cloud but we did manage a few gorgeous days of warm temperatures - around 17/18 degs - and sun. We were walking in the north which often has a different climate to the south - the cloud tends to descend over the peaks around lunchtime and then engulfs the north, often with the south remaining clear. Of course, being an island in the Atlantic, the air is very damp and mist is often a problem. The photos above are: the view from the balcony of our first hotel room (top); the view from the highest point, Pico Ruivo (middle); and one of the incredible heather "trees" on the slopes of the highest peak (bottom). There are some interesting birds on Madeira. Unfortunately it was the wrong time of year for the most well-known of Madeira's breeding birds, the Zino's Petrel, but we did see the other major endemic, Trocaz Pigeon, and the Madeiran races of Chaffinch, Firecrest, Buzzard, Grey Wagtail and Berthelot's Pipit as well as Spectacled Warbler, Blackcap, Whimbrel, Cory's Shearwater, the Atlantis race of Yellow-legged Gull and Plain Swift. We soon got used to the daily 10-15km walks and enjoyed the contrast of the very scenic coastal paths and the internal walks through traditional Madeiran agricultural settlements and the native laurel and heather forests. Food was so-so (often a choice of fried fish or beef) but we were introduced to a great fruit with the English name "Custard Apple" - definitely recommended if you come across it...!

Friday, 29 February 2008

And the winner is......














.....nobody!

Thanks to everyone who voted in the first Birding Copenhagen blog poll... Short-eared Owl and White-tailed Eagle seemed to be the favourites but I can exclusively reveal that none of the options was right - my next species was actually, unexpectedly, a CRESTED LARK which decided to take up residence in Copenhagen town centre for 3 days. Crested Lark is a rare bird in Denmark - there is one breeding site in north-west Jutland but on Sjaelland (the island on which Copenhagen is located) they are less than annual.

Despite visiting the favoured wintering site of Short-eared Owl no fewer than five times, I have yet to see one... (even though up to three are regularly reported from there!). I have also just missed out on White-tailed Eagle (the all too familiar "you should have been here 10 minutes ago..." story). So you were close...

Danish Cartoons - freedom of speech or freedom to insult?

The last two weeks have seen an unwelcome return of the controversy surrounding the publication in the Danish media of cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed. This story began in 2005 when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons, including one of the prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb as a turban. Danish Muslim organizations, who objected to the depictions, responded by holding public protests attempting to raise awareness of Jyllands-Posten's publication. The controversy deepened when further examples of the cartoons were reprinted in newspapers in more than fifty other countries. This led to protests across the Muslim world, some of which escalated into violence with police firing on the crowds (resulting in more than 100 deaths), including setting fire to the Danish Embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, and desecrating the Danish, Norwegian and German flags in Gaza City. While a number of Muslim leaders called for protesters to remain peaceful, other Muslim leaders across the globe, including Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas, issued death threats. Many Islamic organisations and nations implemented boycotts of Danish products in protest.

The Danish press defended the cartoons as an expression of freedom of speech, stating that many other religions had been depicted in a critical or humourous way and that this was part of a free society.

The controversy gradually died down but then, a couple of weeks ago on 12 February 2008, Danish police arrested three men (two Tunisians and a Danish national originally from Morocco) in connection with an alleged plot to kill the cartoonist responsible for the "bomb in the turban" cartoon, Kurt Westergaard. This prompted a very strong reaction among the Danish media and the following day nearly all of the main Danish newspapers reprinted the cartoon as a show of support for Westergaard, citing freedom of speech.

Now, to me, freedom of speech comes with some responsibility. Clearly the original publication of the cartoons was an innocent representation of free speech that sat comfortably alongside cartoonists satirical depiction of many other religions, individuals and organisations and there was no way they could have predicted the backlash that would follow. The fact that a few individuals chose to break the law and plot to kill the cartoonist represents a criminal offence and, rightly, these individuals were detained and deported. But is the right response to a tiny minority to republish the cartoons, knowing they are insulting to a wide section of the Muslim community, in the name of free speech? To me this is a blatant and intentional insult and is an abuse of the principle of free speech. Free speech should not be used as an excuse to go round deliberately insulting people just because you can... it is rude and wrong. I wouldn't dream of insulting my work colleagues, just because I can.. I might make fun of them, knowing that a joke would be taken in the right spirit, but if I KNEW they would take the joke as an insult, then it would be rude and wrong of me to make that joke.

The republication of the cartoons, to me, is a deliberate attempt by the Danish media to insult Muslims and is not a proportionate or fair response to the fact that three individuals were plotting to kill the cartoonist.

The Danes are struggling with immigration and the integration of Muslims into their communities. With the attitude of their media I think they have a lot to learn about respect and tolerance before they can hope to move towards a truly multicultural society.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Brazil























































Photos:

i) Pantanal gang:
Back row (left to right): Governor of Mato Grosso's personal assistant, Ian Johnson (former Vice President of the World Bank), me, Michael Kauch (German MP), Jose (Senator Serys Slhessarenko's office), Anders Wijkman (Swedish MEP) and Malcolm Bruce (UK MP).
Front row (left to right): Ethna Johnson (Ian Johnson's wife), Maria (interpreter), Caroline (Governor's office) and Grazia Francescati (Italian MP).
ii) A Capybara (the world's largest rodent)
iii) A Caracara (a bird of prey)
iv) A macaque


A work commitment meant I spent ten days in Brazil in mid-February, arranging the policy content of a climate change forum for legislators from the G8 countries and the major emerging economies of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. It was a very successful event, if exhausting, with President Lula, the Japanese Prime Minister and over 80 legislators in attendance. We managed to secure consensus statements on biofuels, forestry and made a lot of progress on developing a post-2012 framework for climate change. Afterwards, courtesy of the Governor of Mato Grosso, Blairo Maggi, we spent two days in the Pantanal, a huge wetland area (about the size of France) in the west of Brazil. The sheer scale of Brazil is staggering. We met with the Governor in the city of Ciuaba after he had travelled 2,000km to meet us, from his home in the same state! After that meeting, where he assured us that his USD150m fortune from soya was not impacting on the rainforest or other highly biodiverse land (ehum), he invited us to visit the Pantanal as his personal guests. After travelling 3 and a half hours along what can best be described as a dirt track, we arrived at the Sesc Pantanal Lodge set in the stunning Pantanal wetlands. The period Dec-Jun is the wet season so the water level was very high. Most of the forested area was flooded and we had to get around by boat. Having arrived at around 8pm we were given 20 minutes to change before heading out on a night safari. This involved taking a boat on the river with a huge spotlight, hoping to see some of the local wildlife. Literally ten metres from the pier we spotted a Caiman, a sort of mini crocodile, the first of several we were to see that night.. Later on we saw bats the size of hawks, some nocturnal birds that resembled giant nightjars, several brightly coloured frogs, an anhinga (a sort of large cormorant) and a few Capybaras (the world's largest rodent). The following day was spent walking some of the trails where we saw monkeys, lots of birds (most of which I had no idea from which family they were, let alone species!), lots of stunning butterflies and more Capybaras. An amazing place and a real dream come true to visit. The pre-trip talk of huge mosquitos carrying malaria, denge and yellow fever, cockroaches the size of rats and leeches that lie in ambush as you walk past was soon forgotten when the locals told us there was no malaria in the area, no yellow fever and no cases of denge fever for years. Phew... Apparently if we had visited the area 200 miles to the north, all three are present.

All in all an amazing trip and I will definitely be back..

Monday, 11 February 2008

Chitty runner














I made a flying visit back to Norfolk at the weekend following a couple of days working in London. The weather was Spring-like with a warm sun, clear blue sky and a light westerly breeze. With a packed lunch and a flask of coffee I took off for the day, exploring my favourite haunt of Winterton north dunes, hoping to pick up a scarce bird or two. Seawatching was slow going, with a few Red-throated Divers, a small flock of Common Scoter, a single Gannet and the odd Brent Goose or Sanderling, so I pottered off down the Holmes Road to look for the elusive Treecreepers (the only semi-reliable site in Winterton). No sign, but I did manage Bullfinch and a Coal Tit (both not easy in Winterton). A bit further north I stumbled across 3 Cranes loafing in a field and, after a scan of the area north of the concrete blocks, I picked up a Peregrine sitting on a clump of grass in the middle of a marshy field. It wasn't long before it was terrorising the local pigeons and I twice watched it make (unsuccessful) attempts to catch lunch before settling back to the same clump of grass. It was only my fourth Peregrine in Winterton (and the third in the last two years), so a delight to watch. During the afternoon I went back to the beach to try to photograph the Sanderling that was running up and down. A local name for Sanderling is Chitty Runner and, apparently, local people from Winterton are known as Chitty Runners, too.. so it is an appropriate bird to find there.. It wasn't particularly obliging (they are buggers for keeping still) but I did manage the photo above. The foray to the beach also resulted in my most gruesome find of the weekend - a wooden box on the tideline that clearly used to hold the ashes of a poor lady called Helen, cremated at Mortlake Crematorium in June 2007. Nice..

As dusk approached I was hoping for an owl or two and that is exactly what I saw - two Barn Owls hunting over the dunes. Sadly no Short-eared Owl (a long shot) but a sub-adult male Hen Harrier was a bonus before the light finally disappeared on what was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

69 species over the two days puts me in the lead in the Winterton Bird Spotting Collective's annual year-listing competition. See www.birdwatch.plus.com But I am sure the lead will be short-lived - last year's winner saw a whopping 173 species!

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Dipper



























Sunday 27th January started out mild, wet and windy but gradually brightened up into a glorious winter's day with clear skies and a gentle cold northerly breeze. I had planned to go to Dyrhavn to look for woodpeckers and try my luck along the stream at the northern end for the Black-bellied Dippers that have been reported recently. Given the poor weather in the morning I struggled to see much at all. Two drumming Great-spotted Woodpeckers, a few Nuthatches and a Mistle Thrush (not very common here at all in winter) were the highlights of the morning. But the afternoon picked up when I immediately saw one of the Dippers as soon as I reached the stream. For about 15 minutes it fed in the slow moving water, consistently finding light-coloured grubs that seemed to be hiding in leaves at the bottom of the water. Several times,after a short dive, it came to the surface with a rotting leaf which it shook violently to reveal a small grub. It was eventually spooked by a dog which ran to the edge of the stream and flew upstream calling. The Dipper sub-species in Scandinavia is the "Black-bellied" variety, occasionally seen in the east of England, particularly in hard winters. In Denmark, given the lack of uplands and fast-moving streams (the Dipper's favoured breeding habitat), it is almost exclusively a winter visitor, presumably from Norway or Sweden. The UK's version of the Dipper is more reddish-brown below rather than dark brown.

After the Dipper zoomed upstream I wandered to the coast at Charlottenlund to look for gulls. Only a few Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls loafed on the water but a few hundred yards south a Common Seal was hauled out on a wooden jetty at the local sailing club. It caused quite a lot of interest among the locals and posed very accommodatingly for photographs. Common Seal is, as its name suggests, the most common seal in these parts and it is not unusual for them to be found in small harbours, particularly in winter.