Sunday, 28 September 2008


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!