Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Another yellow-legged Herring Gull

A short visit to the lake at Christianshavn produced a good number of gulls - mostly Herring and Black-headed but also some Common and Great Black-backed Gulls. A few were colour-ringed: one Herring had a blue ring "V457"; another Herring was carrying a yellow ring "VN47"; a Common Gull sported a red ring "C03" and four Black-headed Gulls had white rings "UHX", "291", "ULL" and "VYW". I believe that all of these have been ringed in the Copenhagen area but I will report them and see what comes back.. they may have been to some interesting places in between...

In the middle of the lake was another yellow-legged Herring Gull (see photo below). I am not sure where these yellow-legged Herrings come from but after seeing none for two years, I have now seen two in two days! This is definitely a different bird to yesterday's - note lack of dark mark on the upper mandible.

Photo: yellow-legged Herring Gull with the usual pink-legged argentatus Herring Gulls.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Yellow-legged Herring Gull

After the exploits of yesterday I stayed closer to home today with a short walk up to Langelinie to look for gulls. Quite a few larger gulls around now (I guess more have come in due to the recent cold snap), mostly argentatus Herring Gulls. The highlight was this adult/near-adult yellow-legged Herring Gull. Quite a striking bird but definitely NOT a Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) or Caspian Gull (cachinanns) given the structure and pattern of the wing tip (see third photo). Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) should show a flatter head shape, peaking behind the eye, more attenuated rear, darker mantle and a 'mirror' on P10 (primary 10). Caspian (cachinnans) would show a smaller, darker eye, longer, thinner legs and a different pattern to the wing-tips (usually with an unbroken dark mark on P5).

So the only conclusion is that this is one of the small percentage of argentatus Herring Gulls that show yellow legs. A potential pitfall for the unwary!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Swedish Eagles

With the promise of eagles I headed deep into Sweden today to meet up with Phil at Båstad. We started at Rönnen at dawn to look for the Gyrfalcon that is marauding the area for its 5th winter in a row. En route we were treated to a Goshawk that flew across the road in front of us and then sat in a tree in the half-light. Although seeing any markings was a challenge at this hour, we could make out a strikingly flared supercilium, rounded tail and 'necky' silhouette which, combined with its flight action, meant we could be confident with the id. Arriving at the Gyr site in a steady drizzle and with visibility like looking through a dirty window with a ten quid pair of binoculars, we struggled to find much of note barring a Peregrine and 3 White-tailed Eagles perched on rocks. Amazingly (for Sweden), we were joined by another birder - Mikael Olofsson.

After a couple of hours, and as the weather steadily improved, we checked out Farhult where we saw possibly the same, or another, Goshawk that came in from the north being mobbed by Hooded Crows before settling on a post overlooking a large reedbed. After scanning the sea and spying a few Slavonian Grebes, a few Scaup in amongst the Tufted Ducks, a couple of Smew and some Velvet Scoter, we headed inland to look for Golden Eagles with Mikael providing us with some very helpful local knowledge of the tracks and minor roads in the area plus some very good company. A Rough-legged Buzzard was a good start and it wasn't long before we saw our first of 3 more White-tailed Eagles.. then, just as we stopped to check out another possible White-tailed Eagle, an immature Golden Eagle came low from the east and settled in a small copse. Wow! Yet another White-tailed Eagle flew low overhead and a Red Kite drifted lazily past - what a site! By now the weather was sunny and mostly clear but the temperature had dropped and an icy wind was blowing in from the west.

We moved on to Sandön where we saw another Slavonian Grebe and more Smew, then another check of Rönnen produced the same Peregrine Falcon. Leaving Mikael to collect his bike, Phil and I moved up to Torekov, a great site and renowned for Shag (pretty rare in Scandinavia) and Purple Sandpiper. We bagged two of the former and 9 of the latter - not a bad end to a very rewarding day... thanks to Phil for the hospitality and for driving the tank, I mean Volvo, all day and to Mikael for sharing his knowledge and humour.

Photos: immature White-tailed Eagle

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Owls and Harriers

The first sunny day for some time lured me out to the area near the airport to look for Short-eared Owls and Hen Harriers. The regular Rough-legged Buzzard was hunting around the runway, seemingly unbothered by the planes regularly taking off and landing.. On arrival at the area of rough ground near the DSB (Danish train operator) maintenance terminal, I immediately saw two 'ringtail' Hen Harriers and, shortly afterwards, at least 5 Short-eared Owls were flushed by one of the harriers as it made a low pass over a patch of long grass - brilliant! I spent an hour in the area and counted another Hen Harrier, this time a young male, and 2 more Short-eared Owls (which could easily have been part of the original group of 5).

A brief look on the sea revealed a few Goldeneye, 2 Wigeon, 8 Whooper Swans and a few Cormorants. By this time my feet felt like blocks of ice so I cycled home via the grass fields at Kastrup to check the gulls. Nothing unusual there so back home with a cup of tea by 1500..

Note how the wing-shape of the Hen Harrier changes in the series of photos below - from a slender, long-looking wing in the top photo to a broad, bulging shape (almost Honey Buzzard-like) on the photo below - all in the space of a few seconds. This goes to show how brief glances or short views can lead to different assessments of wing shape and breadth, important criteria in some harrier species.

Photo: one of the Hen Harriers that was hunting by the DSB maintenance terminal near Copenhagen airport; and a Short-eared Owl shortly after being flushed by the Harrier

Thursday, 24 December 2009


A walk out today to Dyrehaven (the old royal hunting ground north of Copenhagen) with the in-laws produced the largest flock of Brambling I have ever seen.. there were at least 1,000 present by the entrance to the wood at Skodsborg and there were probably more as I did not see the whole flock. The scene reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds with the ground crawling with birds and the air filled with a calling mass.. great stuff. Supporting cast was a bunch of calling and very active Nuthatches, a few Common Buzzards and the odd Jay. Still no Waxwings.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


For the next week and a half I will be at the "COP15" UN negotiations on climate change here in Copenhagen, working with legislators from the major economies. You can follow progress on my COP15 blog. I am hoping to steal a few hours to take a few foreign friends birding in the Copenhagen area - if I can, I will report what we see here. Otherwise, normal service will be resumed after 18 December...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

A Guide to the Birds of Copenhagen

Over the last few weeks I have been working with the Copenhagen group of DOF (Dansk Ornitologisk Forening) to put together a Guide to the Birds of Copenhagen. The focus is on those species that are likely to be of most interest, particularly to birders from the UK. The guide includes information about Black Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper, Thrush Nightingale and Icterine Warbler to name a few. It includes maps, directions (by public transport and by car) and any other relevant information. If you find yourself in Copenhagen with a few hours or days to spare and want to do a bit of birding, check it out....

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Ringing report

The super-speedy Copenhagen Museum has already responded about the Herring Gull with the metal ring (see last post). It was ringed as a first-winter bird (second calendar year) on 2 January 2007. This means it was born in 2006 and so is in its fourth winter. Where was it ringed...? Copenhagen city centre. According to a quick calculation on Google Maps, I saw the bird approximately 1 mile from its original ringing location!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Gulling (again)

Much colder today (around 3 degs) with a northerly wind. Needed that extra layer.. The gulls were hungry and, tempted by a few bits of stale bread out of the fridge, quite a few Black-headed and Herring Gulls came in to feed. I counted 9 different colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls (see last photo) and one Herring Gull with a metal ring came close enough to read the number. All were ringed in Denmark but, hopefully, there will be some interesting data when I hear back from the ringers. Here are a few photos... Any ideas for a caption for the first?

Photos: Herring Gull and Hooded Crow; same Herring Gull in a victorious cry after seeing off said Crow; sad-looking Herring Gull; Herring Gull with metal ring; and one of the colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

We want winter!

A cycle around Vestamager/Birkedam to look for winter duck started in beautiful sunshine and ended in drizzly rain. A flock of c250 Barnacle Geese were feeding in a field on the way and a roving tit flock produced a few Goldcrests and Treecreepers. A look on the sea revealed that, as with many winter birds, the winter duck simply haven't arrived yet. I saw only one 'red-head' Smew and c25 Goosander with a few Wigeon and Goldeneye mixed in. Last year up to 180 Smew were in this area - I guess they will arrive when we have the first real cold snap. A couple of pale Common Buzzards and 2 Ravens provided the interest on the way home. Still no Waxwings..

Photos: Barnacle Geese and a Eurasian Treecreeper.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Even more Gulls..

Yesterday (Friday) saw the exciting discovery, in Århus, Jylland (Jutland) of Denmark's first Glaucous-winged Gull, a very rare visitor from North America and the Pacific. Photos can be seen here and here.

Unfortunately for the assembled crowd, it was not seen today - it was last seen flying west over Århus city centre yesterday afternoon - but if it hangs around, I will be tempted to go for it. It looks a real beast!

Feeling inspired I paid a visit to the small fishing port at the north of Copenhagen to check out the local gulls. Needless to say there was no Glaucous-winged Gull or even a Glaucous Gull of the more common variety (still rare!). But there were good numbers of Herring, Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls with the occasional Common Gull mixed in.

One of the Herrings sported a colour ring - blue with white lettering (V507) - which, on initial investigation, originates from a Danish ringing scheme. I have reported the sighting, so hopefully I will find out soon the history of this bird.

Photos: Herring Gull (ssp argentatus, note the white tip to the outer wing feather - "primary 10" - an indicator of Argentatus); a first winter Great Black-backed Gull; and a yawning Herring Gull (must have been watching Norwich City this afternoon)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

More Gulls

A brisk walk to take advantage of the "sunny interval" that was forecast this morning produced more gulls along the harbour front at Copenhagen. No sign of the Caspian today but lots of Black-headed and argentatus Herring Gulls. I took my new (well, new to me) Canon body with me to have a play (I just bought a second hand 1d MkII body at the local store) and I love it already - super fast and great focusing on birds in flight. Much better than my trusty 400D.. (sorry 400D but this older model is classy). I can tell I am going to have a lot of fun... Only problem is the sensor seems to be a bit dirty (not that you can tell on the photos below, thanks to iPhoto) but with a bit of cleaning fluid, should be as good as new...

Four of the Black-headed Gulls today were colour-ringed. White ring with black lettering on the right leg with a metal ring on the left leg. These birds are part of a ringing scheme run by Copenhagen University, so they haven't come far.. Still, it's always worth reporting them to track movements and confirm they are still alive.. you never know, one of these may have travelled 100s of miles and returned, so all reports are valuable.

The bottom bird is the regular one-legged bird that seems to be coping fine... (just takes a bit longer to steady itself when it lands and wobbles a bit if its windy...)

Photos: Black-headed Gulls.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Winter? What winter??

It was a very mild and beautifully sunny day today. Not much new around and, in fact, a real lack of winter thrushes, not a sniff of a waxwing and no sign of any Smew. We haven't had a cold snap to speak of yet, in fact we have hardly had a frost. So it's no wonder that many of the northern birds that would normally be in Denmark by now have not yet arrived. A total of 8 Fieldfare at Vestamager today was a pitiful total for this time of year. I did see 4 Hen Harriers, though, including a sub-adult male, an adult female and two first winters, plus a few Goldcrests (still scarce) and a Short-toed Treecreeper. The forecast is for more of the same over the next week or so, so maybe it will be December before we see any real influx of winter visitors..

Photo: a rather lonely Goldcrest (I only counted 6 today)


A short walk out today along the harbour at Copenhagen produced a lot of gulls.. Mostly Black-headed and Herring Gulls but amongst the group gathered around the Little Mermaid was this 1st winter gull. I had my suspicions and, after posting the photos on BirdForum, the consensus seems to be that it is a 1st winter Caspian Gull. This is my first Caspian in Denmark and, given the lack of good gull roosts in the Copenhagen area (most seem to roost on the difficult to access Saltholm), it is a good bird to pick up. I also took the opportunity to photograph a few Black-headed Gulls and an inquisitive Hooded Crow in the fantastic winter sun.

Edit: the 1st winter gull can be identified as a Caspian due to: longish, spindly, bubblegum pink legs (compared with Herring); light underwing; dark, parallel-sided bill; "four-toned" colouring, consisting of greyish/brown mantle, brown tertials and coverts and blackish primaries contrasting with whitish head and underparts; and solid tail band with lightly marked uppertail coverts.

Photos: 1st winter Caspian Gull; Black-headed Gull; and Hooded Crow

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Jackdaws over Nyhavn

In the winter, every afternoon about half an hour before dusk, a flock of Jackdaws passes my flat window on their way to their roost site on Amager. These birds obviously range quite widely during the day to feed and then, miraculously, they all gather in one large group for the journey 'home'. Numbers are difficult to estimate but I reckon there are several hundred, maybe over a thousand. Most days they pass my window at about head height. I have been thinking for some time to try to photograph them in an arty way as Nyhavn, with its colourful facades, makes an unusual backdrop.

These are my first attempts - experimenting with a very slow shutter speed of about a tenth of a second. I will try a faster shutter speed in the next few days to see what looks best..

Photo: Jackdaws over Nyhavn

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A late Chiff

Today I made it out for a few hours in the relatively still and bright (ish) weather. As usual I started at Sydvestpynten and a root around the bushes there produced a late Chiffchaff. We are used to these warblers wintering in the UK but they are much scarcer in Denmark in the winter months so I thought it could be a 'tristis' or the closely related 'abietinus' eastern subspecies. The bird called several times and the call was just right for 'tristis' - a plaintive single note call, similar to a Bullfinch. However, after watching the bird for at least half an hour I realised that it wasn't a true 'tristis'. It lacks the all-black bill and the chestnut coloration on the cheeks. So, although it looks quite pale and lacking in yellowish/greenish tones, it is obviously some other eastern race or maybe a hybrid.

Also seen today were 3 Hen Harriers (including a male, a female and a 1st winter), a Rough-legged Buzzard, a mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits (including 'northern' caudatus and 'europeaus' subspecies), a 1st winter Goshawk, 15 Woodlark, 22 Twite and a single Curlew.

Photos below: the 'eastern' Chiffchaff; Long-tailed Tit; and Hen Harrier

Thursday, 12 November 2009

More Goldcrest Action

I never tire of these little balls of feathers - they are real characters! When they look at you face on, they look quite sad but that belies their perky nature - they always zip around looking as if they are having a great time!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

350 - the magic number

With only 3 and a half weeks to the UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen the pressure is building for a deal. Yet the latest commitments and pledges show that we are a long long way from where we need to be. We are currently at 390 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere and rising at 2-2.5 parts per million per year. As CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for over 100 years, the bulk of the problem has been caused by the industrialised countries.

Science is telling us that 350 parts per million is a safe level. With the policies and measures pledged so far, we are on track for 650-700 parts per million (with a best estimate of an average of 4 degs C warming this century).

So can we get to 350? Yes we can. We have the technologies available today and the policies needed are known. There are transitional costs but these costs are manageable, even in a time of economic downturn. In fact, if we don't take action, the costs of runaway climate change will be significantly higher and, importantly, the costs won't just be economic, they will be in human lives.

In case you are lacking in motivation to contact your politicians about this, watch this. If you want to see 350, you know what you have to do!

Saturday, 7 November 2009


It was a lovely day today - lots of sun with a fresh south-easterly breeze - so I decided to put my bike on the train to Store Heddinge and explore the coastal path around Stevns. This is the closest land south-west of Falsterbo, so in early autumn can be great for raptors (and views can be better than Falsterbo as the birds have lost height over the sea). Today there wasn't much chance of many raptors - it's a bit late in the season and the visibility wasn't great (I couldn't see Falsterbo due to a little mist). However, the area is also first landfall for many of the passerines migrating out of Sweden, so there is always the chance of something interesting.

I started at the lighthouse and then walked south to Højerup and back before cycling north to Mandehoved. The trees around the lighthouse have been thinned quite a bit, so there is not so much cover for the hoped for Pallas's Warbler or late Yellow-browed. The whole area was pretty quiet with the exception of a few Redpolls and Siskins that made their way along the clifftop, shortly followed by two Peregrines patrolling the coastline. A group of 5 Yellowhammers was feeding in the stubble and the odd Fieldfare and Blackbird were feeding on the berries (no sign of any Waxwings yet).

The walk south produced a flock of 25 Twite, always nice to see. Their softer, wheezier calls helping to differentiate them from their close relative, the Linnet. I watched this feeding group for around 15 minutes as they fed on the weeds. The group included several frosty adult males sporting nice pink rumps but the majority were females or first-winters. The trees at Højerup produced 5 Goldcrests (they seem to be in much lower numbers this year), a Marsh Tit, 5 Brambling and a Treecreeper in amongst the roving blue and great tit flocks.

Mandehoved produced a new bird for Denmark for me - a 1st winter Kittiwake - ok, a bit of a 'tart's tick' but, nevertheless, very welcome. I guess the fact that it has taken me this long to see a Kittiwake is a function of two things: first, the quality of sea-watching in the Copenhagen area is pretty rubbish; and second the fact that I have hardly put in any hours sea-watching at all in Denmark...

My cycle back to the train station produced 5 Grey Partridges in a stubble field just outside Mandehoved - only the second time I have seen this species here (which is declining fast in Denmark, just like the UK) - and a very dark Red Kite (and yes, it was definitely a Red Kite with a deeply forked tail and five 'fingers').

Photos: first winter Kittiwake at Mandehoved

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Northern Long-tailed Tits

After the appalling weather of the last few days (wet, windy and cold), today dawned dry and very still so I decided to go out for a couple of hours. A walk around Sydvestpynten produced a few Mealy Redpolls, several Brambling, a handful of Siskin and a few Goldcrests with a notable number of Blackbirds new in since my last visit. A flyover Black-throated Diver was nice, as was a flock of 30+ Crossbills that made at least 3 attempts to migrate south before getting scared and noisily making their way back inland. Given it was so still, I decided to walk to Vestamager to look for passerines in Pinseskov. On the way I heard some Bearded Tits high above me and, eventually, I found them in my bins very high up indeed (almost into the low cloud!) - it must have taken them ages to get to that height with those tiny wings..

In the wood I stumbled across the odd group of Goldcrests before, a few hundred metres further on, a very large mixed flock of tits and crests suddenly appeared. About 15 Long-tailed Tits included some of the northern caudatus subspecies, some of the familiar europaeus ssp and a few intermediate. They gave a great show, as they always do, calling and feeding acrobatically in the branches. They were accompanied by a few Great and Blue Tits, around 20 Goldcrests and a single Treecreeper. They hung around for at least 20 minutes allowing me to get some reasonable photos before they disappeared into the wood as fast as they appeared.

Photos: 'intermediate' Long-tailed Tit; 'caudatus' Long-tailed Tits; Goldcrest; and Common Treecreeper (note white flanks, relatively long hind-claw, buff tips to the wings and 'wedge' on wing-bar)

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The State of the UK's Birds 2008

The State of the UK's Birds is a report published by the RSPB for a coalition of conservation organisations, including the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, The Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The most recent chapter, the tenth anniversary of this annual report, shows the mixed fortunes of Britain's birds, with over 60 per cent of the UK's rare breeders increasing due to targeted conservation efforts but 4 out of 10 common species declining.

Some of the key bird conservation stories coming from 10 years of the report include:

- A continued decline of farmland birds
- The dramatic rise of Bitterns from 19 to 82 males
- An increase in the numbers of Dartford Warblers, Nightjars and Woodlarks in line with the positive management of heathland
- An increase in the number of Corncrake, Stone Curlew and Cirl Bunting, thanks to positive habitat management
- A dramatic recovery in the fortunes of the White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite, thanks to reintroduction programmes
- An increase in the number of Little Egrets, which only bred for the first time in the UK in 1996
- A decrease in the numbers of Kittiwake and Guillemot, two species of seabird having their most important EU populations in the UK

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's Conservation Director, said: "Over the last decade we've enjoyed some cracking conservation successes, including removing some threatened species from the Red List and increasing the populations of Red Kite, Bittern, Avocet, Osprey, Stone Curlew and Cirl Bunting. However, these triumphs are countered by continued declines of some widespread species, like the Skylark, Kestrel, Willow Warbler and Grey Partridge."

I think every birder can relate to these findings. I can remember the thrill of seeing my first Red Kite, many years after I started birding, during a visit to the last toehold of mid-Wales to see these majestic birds. Many years later they are a common sight in many parts of the UK. At the same time the Grey Partridge is now a very scarce visitor to my former local patch in Norfolk and Willow Tit hasn't been recorded in the area for many years. Let's hope this report stimulates new efforts to protect not just the rare birds of Britain but the many once widespread species that are in serious decline.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Black-throated Accentor

I enjoyed this video from our Swedish cousins about the 2nd ever Black-throated Accentor in that country (with NO records at all in the UK). The crowds on day two on a cold, wet and miserable day are testament to its rarity! Spot local birder Nils Kjellen with a glint in his smile.. I have yet to find out if this is the same Nils Kjellen who spends every morning at Falsterbo counting migrating birds.. (Edit: it is the same Nils Kjellen - thanks to Andreas for confirmation)


Never mind David Beckham's beard, check out the facial hair on the handsome chappies below.. These guys showed very well in a reedbed on an extremely still morning today, my first trip out for 2 weeks given work commitments. Autumn has notably progressed with many trees now devoid of leaves and a distinct nip in the early morning air. Migrants were still moving, albeit in much lower numbers than early October. Notable passage of Woodpigeons with sprinklings of Starling, Brambling, Chaffinch and Greenfinch. A group of 5 Woodlark was nice to see on the deck in a weedy field and Goldcrests 'tinkled' their way through the shrubs. All of the 'phylloscs' seem to have moved on and there has been a notable arrival of winter birds on the patch, including Blackbirds and Robins.

Hopefully I can get out a bit more in the next couple of weeks - must be Waxwing time any day now and there is a good chance of Great Grey Shrike and Rough-legged Buzzard on the patch.