Monday, 29 June 2009

ID Challenge

With Libby's parents here for the week, birding has taken a back seat for a while.. However, on a trip to the local old fishing town of Dragør, we were mobbed several times by this unidentified bird. It hung in the air like a Kestrel and then proceeded to drop suddenly before rising again and hanging in the wind.. any ideas?

Friday, 26 June 2009

Midsummer nights

This photo was taken from our flat window at 1230am on Wednesday night. It doesn't really get completely dark here in midsummer with a sort of half twilight between 1200 and 1500. Wednesday saw a particularly beautiful cloud formation that was brought to life by the soft light. Almost enough to turn me all spiritual and arty... or something.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Sankt Hans

On Tuesday evening Libby and I joined our Danish friends to celebrate Sankt Hans (midsummer). I was intrigued by this ritual and looked into its history. In Denmark, the solstitial (great word) celebration is called "Sankt Hans aften" (literally "St. John's Eve"). 24 June was an official holiday until 1770, and in accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day, it takes place on the evening of 23 June. It is the day when the medieval wise men and women (the doctors of that time) would go out into the forests to gather special herbs that they needed for the rest of the year to cure people of their ills.

Since the times of the Vikings it has been celebrated by visiting healing water wells and making a large bonfire to ward away evil spirits. Today the water well tradition is gone. Bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and songs are now the tradition. In the 1920s a tradition of putting a witch made of straw and cloth on the bonfire emerged as a remembrance of the church's witch burnings from 1540 to 1693. This burning sends the "witch" away to Bloksbjerg, the mountain 'Brocken' in the Harz region of Germany where the great witch gathering was thought to be held on this day.

Of course most people don't even know why they celebrate and it's a good excuse for a get together, a few drinks and a BBQ. This year the weather was stunning - 25 degs during the day (it still gets a little chilly once the sun goes down) and clear blue skies. We celebrated Sankt Hans just north of Copenhagen at Charlottenlund where we had an evening picnic before the ceremonial fire-lighting at 10pm. Needless to say, a good time was had by all....

Photos: the bonfire; Kat (our best Danish friend); and Kamilla and Mike (just about to burst into traditional Danish song)

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

River Warbler

The gorgeous weather tempted me to catch the early train to Hillerød to seek out the River Warbler that had been reported for the last couple of days. I heard what I thought was a snatch of River Warbler song when Libby and I were on Bornholm in May but unfortunately we didn't have time to investigate it properly, so it would be a new bird for me in Denmark. It was a beautiful still morning when I arrived at the forest area and immediately I could hear the bird, even though I was probably about half a kilometre away at that point. It was singing constantly (it sounds like a cicada) and luckily, when I arrived at the right place, it was singing from a birch tree right beside the path. It showed pretty well for a species known to be secretive and elusive and sang almost constantly for the hour and a half I was there. Amazingly, I didn't see another birder - bliss!

The habitat in the surrounding area was very impressive - lots of wet, boggy birch forest with open meadows. It looked great for Corncrake, too, but despite my efforts I couldn't hear one. A bit further along, there were two pairs of Red-backed Shrikes obviously feeding young in the nest. They were hunting from the tops of bushes, mostly catching wasps. It is great to see these birds - once common across England - doing well in open heath areas, not dissimilar habitat to the Brecks.

Photos below: River Warbler; adult male Red-backed Shrike

Monday, 22 June 2009

Autumn migration

My first trip out for two weeks due to a combination of work commitments and being struck down by shingles (very painful) was notable for the number of waders passing through. These birds will be on their autumn migration south, presumably failed breeders, together with immature birds. Good numbers of Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Greenshank and Dunlin were noted. An immature black-throated diver offshore was also worthy of mention. Still no sign of any local Greenish Warblers - this species is a very scarce breeder in Denmark, mostly on the island of Bornholm, but there are usually a few singing males each spring on the main islands of Sjaelland and Jylland. There has been one reported at Møns Klint but that is at least 2 hours by train and over 5 hours by cycle, so I think I'll give it a miss...

Monday, 8 June 2009


I read this story today and thought I'd share it with you.. these are dedicated guys!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Rosefinch: the invasion

Today I spent late afternoon/evening at Stevns Fyr (Stevns Lighthouse), about an hour south-west of Copenhagen. A few days ago a couple of Rosefinches were reported and I thought I'd try to see if they were still around. Rosefinches are a bit of an enigma. They are pretty rare in the UK and most of the records are young birds which are very drab brown looking things.. Rarely is the UK graced with a spectacular red adult male. In Denmark, Rosefinches are officially "scarce" ie more common than rare but not widespread. Even though the majority of records in Denmark are young birds, they do breed here in small numbers.

I arrived at about 4pm, a pretty quiet time in birding terms (birds are usually most active first thing in the morning and in the evening). There was no sign of any rosefinches but I did manage to see a Grey Partridge (only my second in Denmark), 6 Icterine Warblers and some House Martins nesting on cliffs (that's what they used to do before houses were built!). I walked up the coast admiring the Danish cliffs (they are not very high but in Danish terms they are mountainous) and, on my return, I immediately heard a Rosefinch singing. It was a young bird (2k as they call it here - a second calendar year bird, born last year), so very drab and brown. As I was watching it sing I heard a second bird singing only a few metres away. I moved towards the second bird and I was stunned to see a cracking red male singing on top of a bush.. wow! Then, just a few seconds later, a female popped up next to the male with the young male still singing.. that's 3 birds in the space of about 50 metres! All 3 continued to entertain for a couple of hours on and off.. when they weren't singing they were surprisingly elusive. It is the first time I have seen a red male so I was very pleased indeed.. I wasn't sure whether it was an adult - the red on the breast was limited so maybe a 3rd year bird? Views welcome. Hopefully they will breed.

Photos: the 'red' male; the pair; and the young male

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A lonely woody

An early start to look for GREENISH WARBLER - a rare breeder and passage migrant - proved fruitless (my 'patch' at Kongelunden is a traditional spot for Spring migrants to turn up in early June). Also no sign of any FIRECRESTs but, after a couple of hours, I was enchanted by this Wood Warbler, singing low down in a clump of beech trees. He was singing his heart out and, as I sat and watched for over an hour, there was no female or indeed no other Wood Warblers at all in the vicinity. I felt for him. If only I could tell him that about 500 metres to the south, across the road, there are lots of his friends...

It was amazing how close birds came to me as I was sitting still.. first a Hawfinch came down to drink just a few feet from me, then a Honey Buzzard flew down from the canopy and briefly alighted on the forest floor before clocking me and scarpering, and then a Jay poked around just a couple of metres away and succeeded in finding an acorn (maybe one he had stashed away in the winter?).

Photos: a lonely Wood Warbler

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Another 'red' day...

Two more new birds today - a smart drake Red-crested Pochard (220) and two Red-necked Phalaropes (221). Both species too distant to photograph but pretty damn good nonetheless... Much colder today with a brisk cold northerly wind and the occasional shower. I almost needed gloves - in June! The temperature, although predicted, came as quite a shock after the positively hot last few days when temperatures soared to 26 degs - it doesn't get any better than that in July and August! A short stint in the new hide at Vestamager (unfortunately badly positioned for viewing the waders) produced a few Redshank and a pair of Lapwing with chick. Plus this White Wagtail that performed very well just outside the hide.

Photos: White Wagtail

Monday, 1 June 2009


With the weather forecast to turn distinctly cold mid-week (down to 13 degs from 27 today), I thought I'd make the most of the warm and still morning to get out again before work. The Grasshopper Warbler was reeling in the usual place on Vestamager and I was surprised to see an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (not common in Denmark) in a boggy field, noticeably smaller than the argentatus Herring Gulls with which it was feeding.. The usual Marsh and Icterine Warblers were on territory and the Thrush Nightingales were making a right racket from the thicket (they really are loud). A short stop in the forest to listen for Golden Oriole proved fruitless as did a brief search of the "rosefinch" garden. At the Point the viewing conditions were excellent - a flat calm sea and crystal clear. It allowed a count of grebes offshore and I counted 16 Red-necked and 8 Great Crested. Two second calendar year Black-throated Divers flew west along the shore and this Bittern (see below) was doing its daily exercise routine, patrolling the reed beds. A squawk revealed that a Grey Heron had taken a fairly mature Coot chick and I could see the poor youngster's legs kicking violently as the heron flew off to feed with the parents in a futile hot pursuit. Not much else doing so back by 9 for breakfast...

Photos: Bittern