Sunday, 31 May 2009


A beautiful day began at 4am with my cycle ride to Sydvestpynten where it was already warm with a light north-easterly breeze. A reeling Grasshopper Warbler was in its usual spot at Vestamager and Swifts were again around in good numbers. I stopped several times near the point to listen for birdsong and there were two Thrush Nightingales singing their hearts out. Then I heard the instantly recognisable 'wolf-whistle' song of a Common Rosefinch - fantastic. It sang several times from a garden by the car park but, despite scanning carefully with my binoculars, I could not see it. I tried moving around to change the angle but, despite knowing the precise shrub from which it was singing, it remained elusive. Then, after only a couple of minutes, I caught sight of it as it flew up and strongly north. Not the most satisfactory of sightings but a definite Common Rosefinch and my first in Denmark (219). A two-hour vigil at the point was rewarded with a few Brent Geese, a Bittern, singing Icterine and Marsh Warblers and a fantastic summer-plumaged Black-throated Diver that circled before heading off east towards the Øresund (the channel between Denmark and Sweden). After about 0800 it quietened down considerably so I spent half an hour photographing an obliging Marsh Warbler before heading home in time for breakfast!

Photos: Marsh Warbler; Black-throated Diver

Friday, 29 May 2009

A good day

It's not often you get to see two new birds in one day. But today was one of those days. An early morning start at Kongelunden produced the expected Thrush Nightingale, Marsh Warbler and Icterine Warbler with the usual chorus of Reed Warblers chattering all around. Big numbers of Swifts were also passing through (at a rate of around 100+ per hour). Then, at about 0630, a trio of small birds caught my eye as they flew down into a grassy dip near the point. I knew that two of them were Linnets but the third looked smaller. I slowly worked my way towards the dip and soon got onto the birds as they fed on grass seeds. To my delight the third bird was a cracking bright yellow male Serin (217 for Denmark). The birds didn't hang around and almost as soon as I clapped eyes on them, all three flew off high north. I have seen many Serins over the years, mostly in southern Europe, but that was my first in Denmark and adult males are quite scarce here so that was a real bonus. Then, after checking the bushes around the point and seeing nothing but a few Willow Warblers, an Icterine Warbler and another Marsh Warbler, I headed back to my bike for the journey back. As I began to cycle a lone Crane flew over heading east towards Sweden and then I had to make the decision - straight back along the main road or slowly through the forest? I opted for the forest and I am very pleased I did. After about 200 metres I saw three birders all looking intently at the treetops. I stopped and they pointed saying "Pirol". Luckily my Danish was good enough to know that was a good bird - "Pirol" is Danish for Golden Oriole. It was quite vocal, singing regularly and also uttering its harsh Jay-like screech as it moved about high in the oaks. It took me a frustrating 30 minutes to see it and, even then, it was a pretty poor view, partially obscured by the foliage (hence the extremely poor photo below). It was a young bird due to its streaked underparts and greenish colour (unfortunately not the vivid yellow and black of an adult male) but, nevertheless, that was my first Golden Oriole in Denmark, too! 218 and counting....

Photos below: One of the Swifts passing through this morning; Arctic Tern; and a bunch of twigs

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Battle of Kruger

A friend told me about this incredible video of a real struggle involving lions, buffalo and crocodiles, taken in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Amazing drama and the best thing of all is that no animal dies....

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Poll results

Thanks to all 5 of you for voting in the poll. I can now exclusively reveal the results... (drumroll)

In last place come 60 per cent of you (sounds better than 3) who thought that the top photo was a Reed Warbler and the lower photo a Marsh Warbler. SHAME ON YOU!!!

The winners (all 2 of you) correctly identified the top photo as a Marsh Warbler and the lower photo as a Reed Warbler. Well done.

It really wasn't easy as features such as primary projection, bill structure and length etc were difficult to compare given the angles of the photos. However, one feature is fairly obvious - the eye ring. Marsh tends to have a full pale eye-ring in spring which can clearly be seen on the top photo. Reed, although sometimes appearing to have a pale eye-ring, if you look closely you can see that the pale ring is only really pale under the eye. Marsh also tends to look a creamy colour on the breast and underparts with Reed a more brownish white. Very difficult to see and photos can mislead, depending on light conditions. This spring I have also noticed that the tail of Reed Warbler slightly tapers towards the end with Marsh being more square-ish. Not sure if this is a recognised feature or maybe just individual variation (my sample size is not huge). I will try to study more of them in the next few weeks...

Anyway, thanks for voting!

Friday, 22 May 2009


Not much about today in a blustery two hour jaunt. The first Icterine Warbler of the year at Kongelunden was good to see and hear. The song is similar to Marsh Warbler with lots of mimicry but the Icterine includes a few characteristic whistles that allow identification on song alone. This morning's male was relatively showy, singing from the top of a hawthorn along a hedge. Other highlights included 3 Bitterns (including 2 in flight together) and a migrant Wheatear on the point.

Don't forget to vote in the poll below. Go on, don't be scared. It's completely anonymous so nobody will know if you got it right or wrong! :-)

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A Marsh in the Reeds or a Reed in the Marsh?

After a 4am thunderstorm woke me I got up and set out for a few hours birding before work (don't you just love May!). A reeling Grasshopper Warbler at Vestamager was a nice start and this was soon followed by my first Danish SEDGE WARBLER (216), surprisingly very scarce in the Copenhagen area. A little further on there were 2 Marsh Warblers singing and 2 Thrush Nightingales in the thicket. When I arrived at the point, I was surrounded by a cacophony of Reed Warblers.. really giving it their all this morning...

There wasn't much moving at the point today apart from good numbers of Brent Geese (over 1,000 in an hour and a half) so I took the opportunity to photograph the Reed and Marsh Warblers. These two species look very similar and are notoriously difficult to separate in the field in autumn (especially juveniles). However, in Spring there are several key differences that allow identification. The most obvious difference is the song with Reed performing a rhythmic series of scratchy notes and Marsh displaying an impressive repertoire of other birds calls.. the Marsh Warbler really is a master mimic. Photos below are of a Marsh and a Reed. Cunningly they were both singing from reeds.... But which is which???? Unfortunately you can't hear their song and I haven't given you a lot to go on, so it's tough. However, I am sure there are a number of you out there who will get it right... Vote for your choice using the panel on the right! Answer next week.

Edit: forgot to mention, I saw two Painted Ladies today (that's the butterfly, not a euphemism for the make-up clad women of the night that adorn certain parts of Copenhagen in the early hours...).

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Show me the Honey

A 4am start on Sunday was rewarded with some stunning views of migrant Honey Buzzards at Kongelunden. The morning started well with two Thrush Nightingales singing near the point. The Barnacle Goose migration soon got going and, by the time I left at 1200, over 3,000 had passed through. Othe highlights included a pale phase Arctic Skua, a drake Velvet Scoter, 8 Guillemots, 3 fly-past Temminck's Stints, a female Hen Harrier, yesterday's Osprey, the first Grey Plover on the patch of the year and a Bittern. The stars of the show today, however, were the Honey Buzzards. From about 1000 when the first was spotted coming in low over the sea, the flow increased steadily and, by 1200, I had counted at least 25. Some afforded fantastic views with two flying right over our heads - the best views I have ever had of what is a scarce breeder in the UK.

Honey Buzzard plumage is highly variable but the wing and tail pattern, together with the grey head in the male and typical flight (gliding on flat wings) allow it to be identified with relative ease given good views. The photos below show a typical adult male (first two) and a darkish (immature?) female. Ageing of the female is difficult - it definitely has a pale iris (indicative of adult) although it has vertical streaks on the upper breast (indicative of immature). I would be interested in any opinions on the age of this bird...

Photos: Honey Buzzard (adult male); Honey Buzzard (immature? female) and a Bittern pretending to be a reed.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

A tale of two raptors

The forecast for saturday morning was for a front to pass through from the south-west with rain beginning around 9am. The weather chart showed that the airflow was coming from the east/south-east. I thought it potentially looked good for migrant birds which would be flying in a north-easterly direction before being grounded by the oncoming rain front. In the event, there were hardly any passerines (small birds) at all but the 3 hours spent at Kongelunden were not without their reward. First, an Osprey patrolled the coast, passing me several times and catching at least 2 pipefish (I believe they are pipefish but someone may know better). Shortly after the Osprey caught its first fish and perched inland to devour it, Steffen picked up a 'ringtail' harrier going east over the sea towards Sweden. We both got our 'scopes on it right away and began to piece together the evidence... A 'ringtail' harrier (the term for a female or young harrier) could be one of three species. The most common is the Hen Harrier (a fairly common bird, especially in winter). The more exciting are the Montagu's Harrier and the Pallid Harrier. 'Our' bird was at a fair distance but the most striking feature was the broad dark patch on the secondaries (inner wing) on both the upper and under wing that looked as if it included the secondary coverts. The wings were relatively narrow compared with Hen Harrier and its overall 'jizz' ruled out this species. I don't have a lot of experience of the other two possible Harrier species (I have only seen a handful of adult Montagu's Harriers and one adult male and one juvenile Pallid Harrier) so I wasn't sure which it was. Steffen thought it was a Pallid, so we tried to ascertain other features. We could not make out the 'boa' that is typical of Pallid Harrier and relative arm and hand breadth was difficult to see, so we didn't have all the evidence that we would have liked. On looking at some photos on the web on my return I think this Montagu's is a reasonable match of the underwing pattern but then so is this Pallid. It did look darkish on the belly unlike the Montagu's pictured here and the 'boa' is not always obvious from distance apparently. Steffen was pretty sure it was a Pallid and was confident enough to put the news out (he has seen around 6 Pallids in Denmark previously). I think I have to plump for a 'probable Pallid'. Unfortunately I didn't even think to try for a record photo as we were too busy grilling it to try to nail the id while the bird was in view. It was heading towards Falsterbo, so hopefully it has been picked up there (probably would have reached there around 8am..). Will check the Swedish sightings later today to see.

In the meantime, here are a few photos of the Osprey with a wriggly pipefish.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Birding with Benstead in Båstad

Today I got up at the unearthly hour of 3am. The fact that I didn't get to sleep until 11pm the night before caused my body to complain a little but it was worth it. The reason for the early start was to meet up with fellow Norfolker and birder, Phil Benstead, now based in Båstad, Sweden. Phil had kindly offered to show me around his local patch and I couldn't turn down a good opportunity for some top quality spring birding during peak migration time. And so it was that I caught the 0345 Metro from central Copenhagen to the airport followed by the 0407 express train from Copenhagen airport towards Gothenburg. Watching the dawn from the train at around 0430 was pretty cool with an amazing pink sky in the east heralding the start of a fine day. Birding highlights were many including a couple of fantastic Tawny Pipits (one a singing male), Firecrest, Little Gull (at least 8), Osprey (2, including one carrying away a wriggling pipe fish that we initially misidentified as a twig for a nest!), a confiding Grasshopper Warbler (you can hear one singing here), lots of Pied Flycatchers and Wood Warblers and some cracking waders including 3 summer plumages Little Stints (one of which was a stunner), at least 15 Temminck's Stints (easily my biggest flock ever), a crop of Wood Sandpipers and three Curlew Sandpipers (including 2 in fantastic summer plumage). Some of the sites were just terrific with top quality habitat in abundance - we moved from dunes to sandy beaches to coastal lagoons ending up at a fantastic beech wood which held good numbers of phyllosc warblers and pied flycatchers and, a little later in the season, will hold breeding Red-breasted Flycatcher. I was in awe of both the size and quality of the habitat.

Phil was a fantastic guide and it is clear from the birds we saw that he has done his homework in the area - everywhere he took me we saw good birds. Phil explained how the quality of the habitat in Sweden was generally superior to the UK, with better air and water quality, combined with a landscape that suffered much less development pressure. The density of species that I would consider scarce in the UK, such as Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, was like nothing I have experienced before.

We did dip on White-winged Black Tern, two of which were present at one of our sites the day before and, apparently, one was present just 30 minutes before we arrived.. Still, you can't win them all and I boarded the train back to Copenhagen having had an excellent days birding.

Big thanks to Phil for doing the driving and for devising an itinerary that gave me a real taste of birding in south-western Sweden. Now I have seen the potential, I am sure I will be back...

I daren't tell my Danish birding friends just how good it is across the border (most Danes are still bitter that they used to rule most of Sweden so if I tell them the birding is better it may just force them over the edge!).

A top day with top birds and top company - cheers Phil!

Photos: Grasshopper Warbler singing (first and second); and Tawny Pipit

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

What a Waste of Money!!

Some of you will know that our flat overlooks the old harbour (oddly called Nyhavn - "New Harbour" in Danish). Once the sun emerges in Spring, the canal tours start. There are two operators - the fancy DFDS tours on gleaming boats with comfy seats and guides that sound as if they have just graduated from the school of Danish history, and the cheap Netto tours on faded boats with wooden seats and guides that look like they have just been dragged out of re-hab. Needless to say the Netto tours are around half the price for exactly the same tour. Today a gang of youngish people sat on the harbour drinking beer. Nothing unusual in that. Except that, whenever a DFDS boat passed by, they began a chorus "What a waste of money!"... At first it was mildly amusing. But after about boat number 23 it got a little tiresome... credit to them for sticking at it even after a crate of beer was consumed. I can't begin to fathom the reason for their aggression towards DFDS. As presumed locals it is unlikely they had been on the tour but maybe they had shares in Netto?

Anyhoo... back to the serious stuff.. the influx of White-winged Black Terns in Denmark in the last couple of days prompted me to spend a couple of hours at Kongelunden this evening. No sign of any marsh terns but I did see my first Spotted Flycatchers (3) and Whinchats (8) of the year. Also new in were a pair of Common Redstarts and a Pied Flycatcher at the old fort and a big flock of Swifts feeding high over the flashes. A Bittern in flight was also my first this year and, together with a Honey Buzzard in off the sea, made a nice end to the evening. The bus back was cheap and had comfy seats.

Monday, 11 May 2009


As a surprise for her birthday I booked Libby and I a trip to one of Denmark's most beautiful islands, Bornholm. The island is closer to Sweden, Poland and Germany than it is to Denmark and is one of the last remaining legacies of the days when Denmark ruled most of Scandinavia, including Norway and most of Sweden. You can see its location here. It covers an area of 227 square miles and has a population of around 47,000. It is a popular tourist destination in the summer, visited by many Danes, Germans and Swedes and is known for its natural beauty, miles of rural cycling tracks and excellent walking.

We travelled by train to Ystad in Sweden and then caught the catamaran from Ystad to Rønne, the major town on the island. From there we caught a bus to Allinge in the north, our base for the three days.

The weather started off cold and windy but, fortunately, it just got better and better and by sunday evening when we were making our way home, we enjoyed a flat calm sea crossing and a stunning sunset. Most of our time was spent walking the coastal path around the north or cycling - on the last day we pedalled our way to Gudhjem on the east coast.

Birdwise, Bornholm is noted for its breeding Tengmalm's Owls. I didn't try to see any (they are very elusive this time of year) but during the weekend I did see Wood Warbler, Hobby (my first of the year), Goosander, hundreds of Red-breasted Merganser, several Yellow-legged Gulls, a late Waxwing and a probable RIVER WARBLER that sang briefly in a wet gully (and unfortunately didn't show itself in a brief search). However, the highlight had to be the two Nutcrackers that flew over our heads heading north along the coast. Almost certainly part of the autumn 2008 invasion moving back north for the summer. A great sight! Flowers were in full bloom (if only I knew what any of them were!) and a Slow Worm was a surprise basking in the short grass on the coastal path.

Just to the north-east of Bornholm lies an even smaller island - Christiansø - that is famous in Danish birding circles. Being the most easterly point of Denmark and an island in the Baltic means that it has claimed many firsts for Denmark and many mega rarities, particularly in Autumn. Highlights include species such as Siberian Rubythroat, Egyptian Nightjar, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Lanceolated Warbler, White's Thrush, Siberian Accentor etc etc

As expected the accommodation, food and locals were all wonderful and I can't wait to go back, maybe for a sneaky visit in September....!

Photos: the north of Bornholm; Libby in Gudhjem; some yellow irises (anyone know what they are?); and the famous (at least in Danish birding circles) quay for the ferry to Christiansø.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

You win some, you lose some...

Today I learned a lesson. Never leave your visible migration post while your fellow birders are still there..

It was a gorgeous day (again), so I was up and out by dawn and on site at Sydvestpynten by 0600 ready for the morning's migration. The usual suspects were there - Ole and Stefan, this time with another Dane, Morten Christensen. The main highlight early on was the Barnacle Goose migration with steady flocks working their way east.. we had seen about 1,500 by 0800am. Other than that it was slow going and, given there is some potentially 'rare' looking scrub nearby, I decided at 0900 to have a mooch around and see whether there were any migrants in the bushes. After about 5 minutes I heard the familiar call of a Common Redstart and, after a couple of minutes of carefully scrutinising the bushes, I got my binoculars onto it.. a stunning male in resplendent summer plumage. It proceeded to sing and I was enjoying watching this Spring migrant in the morning sunshine. After about 10 minutes I carried on my tour of the scrub and meandered back to the watchpoint.. arriving there around 0930. Morten asked "anything much?".. to which I replied, "Not really.. a nice singing male Redstart but not a lot else..". I could see the smile on his face and I could tell that they had seen something good while I was away.. "Go on then, I said.. what have you seen..?" He casually let out the words "White-billed Diver at 0906am".. WHITE-BILLED DIVER??? "Oh my God.." were my first words (or something very similar). I have never seen a White-billed Diver (they are pretty rare all across Europe) and only a handful are seen in any given year in Denmark. To see one near Copenhagen is almost unheard of... Ole and Morten proceeded to describe it to me in great detail - the large size, long body with a pot belly and a gleaming white bill... Unfortunately it just flew past west to east and headed off in the direction of Sweden so there was no chance of me seeing it. I thought back - what time did I leave the point? About 0900.. just 6 minutes before the bird flew past.. in fact the diver flew past at about the time I was enjoying the male redstart.. Am I gutted? Well, if I am honest, a little. But not a lot. There will be another White-billed Diver, I am sure.. and that male redstart was a stunner... On another day they would have seen nothing and I might have found a Spring Barred Warbler... (unlikely I know, but I have to comfort myself somehow!).

Friday, 1 May 2009

Wood Warblers

Photos: a newly arrived Wood Warbler; a Wood Warbler doing the 'quiver'.. groovy

An evening at Kongelunden revealed that the local Wood Warblers were back. I counted 5 singing males in a very small area of mixed woodland surrounding a lake. They are one of my favourite birds with their very distinctive song - an accelerating trill - and an amazing quivering action as they sing and call.. a bit like John Travolta strutting his stuff at the local disco. These birds have just arrived from their wintering grounds in Africa and are very vocal, singing almost constantly while I was there. I tried to capture the quiver on camera but unfortunately the photo above simply looks like a typically out of focus shot! Also present was an Egyptian Goose on the flash - a new bird for Denmark for me, bringing my Danish list up to 214.