Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Vis mig from the flat...

At about 1200 today out of the flat window I caught sight of some raptors circling over Copenhagen. A quick scan with the bins revealed they were Honey Buzzards. A total of 9 went through between 1200 and 1210. The appalling photo below captures two of them. It's unusual for them to pass over the city - probably drifted across on the east/south-east winds.

Ringing recovery

Way back in January I saw a Common Gull with a red colour ring on its leg with the letters "M84". I reported the ring and, finally, after 7 months, I have received a reply from the ringer. The bird was first ringed as a chick in July 1988 on Elovaja Vostotsnaja Island, Kandalaksha Reserve, Russia (67.05N-032.30E). This is a small island off the Kola Peninsula (just east of the Finnish border). The bird has since been seen several times in the Copenhagen area in winter so it seems this bird likes Danish winters (much better than Russian winters I am sure!) and, presumably, returns to its breeding ground in Russia each spring. For all you mathematically-challenged people out there, this means the bird was in its 21st year when I saw it - not a bad age for a gull.

Monday, 24 August 2009


A brief evening visit to Sydvestpynten in moderate easterlies produced a female Merlin that zipped past me as it hunted over the marsh. Two Green Sandpipers and 4 Snipe were on the pool. A pipit gave me the run around before finally giving itself up as a juvenile Meadow Pipit (not the hoped for Red-throated!) and I called it a night after devouring some of the blackberries along the hedge - mmm..

Sunday, 23 August 2009


With one of Libby's friends over for the weekend I was given a 'pass' to go birding on Sunday. I arrived at the patch at about 7am and, again, the point was crawling with birds. It was a gorgeous morning - not a breath of wind, clear and sunny. A party of 12 Crossbills greeted me at Sydvestpynten and the poplars were full of warblers - mostly Chiffchaffs but also a few Willow Warblers - accompanied by a Pied Flycatcher, a few Tree Pipits and a party of Great Tits. Tree Pipits and Yellow Wagtails were going over in ones and twos as I checked the hedge on the way to the point. Lesser Whitethroats, Common Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers were moving in the brambles and 3 Spotted Flycatchers were like sentinels on protruding branches. Two Common Redstarts were vying for the prime perches and a Thrush Nightingale was basking in the sun. A migrant Great Spotted Woodpecker flew east along the coast and 2 Icterine Warblers were in a large birch at the end of the hedge. As I made my way to the fort a Caspian Tern flew west.. nice. There wasn't a lot else in the bushes at the point - except for a Black Redstart (my first on the patch) - so I decided to go to the lagoons at Klydesøen to check the waders. Two Caspian Terns were the first birds I saw, presumably one of which was the bird I saw at the point earlier. The Great White Egret that has been present for about a week was on view, too. Unfortunately the waders were hugely distant and with a heat haze building, I was just about ready to call it a morning. But then I was joined by Sanne Busk, leader of a group of Danish women birders called "Fuglepigerne". I had heard a lot about Sanne as she is well-known in Danish birding circles. We had a good chat and discussed whether the day would be good for raptor migration. Sanne said that the raptor migration usually started about 1100 at Klydesøen but that her view was that there wasn't enough wind... However, a couple of Honey Buzzards (the first right on cue at 1100!) and a few Marsh Harriers were a good sign. Then the wind picked up quite quickly and soon became a moderate southerly, veering south-east. Honey Buzzards were now being picked up regularly, most coming from the south-east (the direction of Falsterbo). After about 15 Honey Buzzards came through, I got onto a Red Kite. After getting the group onto the bird, one of the others suddenly said "Two Kites!". I got onto the second bird and immediately the difference was striking - this was a darker bird with a shorter, squarer tail - a BLACK KITE! Cool.. The two kites soared together allowing a detailed direct comparison to be made in terms of colour and structure and we watched them both for about 15 minutes before they drifted west and out of sight. Black Kite is a rare bird in Denmark - not mega rare but there are usually only a handful of records each year...

Just as the excitement from the Kite was dying down we heard the call of a Common Sandpiper immediately behind us, followed by a very unusual squeal.. Looking round, a female Sparrowhawk had stealthily slipped along the rocks and caught the unlucky wader in its talons.. After a brief aerial struggle as the Sandpiper tried to wriggle free, the Sparrowhawk wrestled control and flew off low into the meadow to the west. A dramatic few minutes!

More Honey Buzzards floated through before the migration seemed to dry up at around 3pm. Totals for the raptor migration (1100-1515) were: Honey Buzzard (27); Marsh Harrier (5); Osprey (1); Sparrowhawk (7); Red Kite (1); and Black Kite (1).

A very good day...

Photos: Great Egret; Honey Buzzard

Saturday, 22 August 2009

First major 'fall' of the autumn

The weather forecast looked good on Thursday night - lovely clear evening with light easterlies with a front moving through from the west early morning. I decided to be out the following dawn to see whether the front had downed any migrants. On site at 0615 it was immediately apparent that, for once, my prediction was right. A couple of Pied Flycatchers in the poplars was a good start and this was soon followed by the first flock of Crossbills that flew noisily overhead. Several Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers later I spotted a Wood Warbler in the tree tops - not easy to see after July. The brambles were full of Common Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats with a good scattering of Blackcaps and Garden Warblers, too. Along the hedge to the point a Spotted Flycatcher used an overhanging branch as a hunting lookout and overhead flew what seemed like a constant stream of Yellow Wagtails. I flushed a Tree Pipit at the point and began to work my way through the bushes which were full of birds - several times I could see 3 or 4 different species in the same field of view. More Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats and Spotted Flycatchers were accompanied by a Whinchat. More Crossbills 'chipped' overhead and a Spotted Redshank called as it whizzed past the coast. Two Caspian Terns were a welcome sight overhead and they were soon followed by an Osprey that made a token effort to hover over the lagoon before heading south out to sea. A second walk along the hedge produced an Icterine Warbler and a Reed Warbler and a third flock of Crossbills. It was all pretty intense and one of those days that makes all those early mornings worthwhile..! I sat on a hillock savouring the morning - birds everywhere. Two Sparrowhawks then ripped through the bushes and that seemed to cause many of the warblers to disperse.. a second walk through the bushes a little later produced far fewer birds and the Whinchat and Tree Pipits were nowhere to be seen.

The 'fall' seemed to be concentrated in an area around the coastal bushes - only about 100m inland there were hardly any birds at all..

I thought my Crossbills were a good record but, just across the Øresund at Falsterbo, an incredible 2,800 Crossbills passed through! Autumn migration is in full swing...

Photo: one of the Spotted Flycatchers at Sydvestpynten yesterday morning

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A Swift Farewell

Today was the first day of the autumn where I saw not a single swift over Nyhavn. Numbers have dwindled over the last week or so pretty rapidly. Yesterday there were still 6 feeding and generally having a good time zipping around over the rooftops but these last remaining residents seem to have seen today's fantastic clear day with light southerly winds as the perfect conditions to begin their long trek to sub-saharan Africa. Good luck, my friends...

Frustratingly I have been tied to the office all day today. Especially as, looking at the migration totals recorded today (eg 349 Honey Buzzards, 2 Black Kites, 403 Sparrowhawks, 92 Marsh Harriers and 35 Ospreys), Falsterbo was on fire. Most of these raptors were also seen at Stevns, Denmark (the shortest route from Falsterbo to land). A classic raptor day. But it wasn't just raptors passing through - an incredible 14,910 Tree Pipits were recorded today! Wow...

Saturday, 15 August 2009


After the day's rain we were treated to a fantastic late summer evening - the wind dropped, the sun came out and the temperature increased about 5 degs. At Sydvestpynten there weren't many birds about so I decided to have a go at photographing insects (it's fashionable for birders to get into dragonflies in the summer while the birding is quiet, don't you know..). I started with this European Garden Spider (I know, it's not a dragonfly but it looked cool) that seemed to be doing rather well with its web placed between two stinging nettles.. then moved on to the dragonflies. I don't know what two species I photographed - I think the first is a 'darter', probably a Common or Ruddy Darter and the second is, I think, some sort of 'skimmer' - I am going to stick my neck out here and say it might be a female Black-tailed Skimmer. I am sure there are some helpful souls out there that can tell me what they are.

Kite-surfing is all the rage at my local patch which can sometimes be irritating if they flush the shorebirds but, today, I couldn't help but admire the sight of the multi-coloured kites in the evening light. Some of these guys and girls are very skilled - doing somersaults, back-flips and all sorts of triple-salcos and double axels (or is that a different sport?)..

Photos: European Garden Spider (female); Ruddy(?) Darter; Black-tailed Skimmer?; and Kite-surfers

Thursday, 13 August 2009


Migration is now in full swing with many warblers and other passerines on the move. I visited Sydvestpynten this evening for a couple of hours. It was pretty windy with a moderate to strong westerly wind but clear and sunny. As expected, many small birds were sheltering in east-facing hedgerows. An adult female Red-backed Shrike was a good start, soon followed by 2 flyover Yellow Wagtails. On the shore were 8 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Common Sandpipers and a stunning summer-plumaged Grey Plover. On the lagoon there were 3 Wood Sandpipers and a Green Sandpiper.

As I checked the most sheltered hedgerow of brambles and hawthorn (with the faint hope of a Barred Warbler at the back of my mind) I was rewarded with 3 Whitethroats - two Common and a Lesser - a family party of Linnets, a Robin and 2 flyover Hawfinches. Then, something caught my eye and as I looked up there was a Long-eared Owl looking straight back at me... shuffling along its branch. As soon as it had clocked me clocking it, the owl flew out of the shrub and settled just 15 or 20 metres away, enabling me to grab this photo. It still looked very twitchy and just a few seconds later it flew again, this time over the other side of the hedge and out of sight. I am pretty sure this is a young bird - very pale overall with particularly pale facial discs. Long-eared Owls are pretty common in the Copenhagen area (they breed very close to the city centre and one winter roost site alone regularly holds 20-30 birds) but it is the first time I have seen one at Sydvestpynten, so I was pretty pleased.

Photo: Long-eared Owl, Sydvestpynten

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Salted Honey Buzzards, anyone?

At the moment, in anticipation of the autumn raptor migration, I am reading an excellent book called "Wings over Falsterbo" by Lennart Karlsson. As the title suggests, the book is about migration at Falsterbo over the years and is a great read (a must for anyone who has been or is planning a trip). The extract below captured my imagination:

"In Linnaeus's day and for many years afterwards, birds were a source of food for the peninsula's inhabitants and offered a welcome variation on the local diet. This is confirmed by a passage in Irish author Patrick O'Brien's 1981 novel The Surgeon's Mate, set on an English sea vessel during the Napoleonic era. Visiting Gothenburg, British Royal Navy officer, Stephen Maturin, receives a gift from the harbour master - smoked reindeer tongues and a barrel of salted Honey Buzzards. The harbour master assures Stephen that they actaully are Honey Buzzards and not Common or Rough-legged Buzzards:

"Did you shoot them sir?" Stephen asked.
"Oh no", said the Commandant, quite shocked. "You must never shoot a Honey Buzzard: it ruins the flavour. No, we strangle them."
"Do they not resent this?"
"I think not", said the Commandant. "It happens at night. I have a small house at Falsterbo, a peninsula at the far end of the Sound with a few trees upon it; here the birds come in the autumn, myriads of birds flying south, and great numbers roost in the wood, so many you may scarcely see the trees. We choose the best, pluck them down, and so strangle them. It has been done for ever; all the best salted Buzzards come from Falsterbo".

O'Brien is known for his rigorous fact checking and we can therefore take it as read that there was an intensive Buzzard migration at Falsterbo in the early 19th century."

Better than a battery chicken from Tescos...

Monday, 10 August 2009


A birthday visit to the Swedish island of Ven (lying in the Øresund between Helsingor on the Danish side and Landskrone on the Swedish side) was a very pleasant day out. The day began with a 90-minute boat ride from Copenhagen at 9am which allowed 5 hours on the island before the return. A very unspoilt island with traditional farming and rolling countryside, it lends itself to walking or cycling. We opted for the former and enjoyed a visit to the museum of Tyco Brahe, the famous 16th century astronomer who was based on the island. Although an undoubted genius in terms of designing astronomical measuring instruments, he will have to be marked down for rejecting Copernicus's theory that the earth revolved around the sun - schoolboy error. Apparently, having just turned 20 years old in 1566, Brahe is said to have lost the bridge of his nose in a duel with a fellow Danish nobleman after a few drinks (makes the odd fight on the streets of provincial British towns after a few lagers on a Saturday night seem a bit tame!) and spent the rest of his life with various false noses made out of copper, silver and gold... the original nose-job.. After the museum we returned to the pier via a circuitous route along the coastal path. Good numbers of butterflies were around with Peacock, Painted Lady, Large White, Small Tortoiseshell and Small Copper all being seen. Also good numbers of Silver Y moths. As has been experienced over most of western Europe, there were signs of an invasion of ladybirds, in particular the 7-spot variety. We saw huge numbers on the Danish north coast last week with thousands present (including many dead on the coastal path) but there were more moderate numbers on Ven. The highlight, though, was this young hedgehog that we found along a narrow path. It was trying to make its way west into a large garden but was thwarted by a concrete wall. Eventually, with a bit of assistance, it made it into a nice shady bed of nettles and scuttled away. This animal had a high "cute factor" as Libby would say...

Photo: young hedgehog on Ven

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Broad-billed Sandpiper

With Libby's sister, Sally, over for a few days a beach day was on the cards. And so we chose to visit Staunings Ø, just south of Copenhagen. This is a great site for birders who have non-birding partners/families as there is a great beach on the seaward side and, just over the narrow dunes, there is a shallow lagoon that is excellent for waders, particularly in July and August.

While Libby and Sally enjoyed a revitalising dip in the sea, I scanned the waders. There were good numbers of Dunlin, many still in splendid summer plumage. There were also 3 juvenile Spotted Redshank, a few Common Snipe, a Wood Sandpiper, a Common Sandpiper and a few Oystercatcher. However, bird of the day came in the form of a Broad-billed Sandpiper - the first that I have self-found. At first it was roosting among Dunlin but got a bit spooked by a marauding Hooded Crow that patrolled the shoreline. After a short 'token effort' attempt at feeding as if trying to look cool and not bothered by the crow, it flew a few metres and began feeding in earnest. Unfortunately the flock got spooked again shortly afterwards by a Herring Gull and flew out of sight. It's always nice to see unusual birds and, although Broad-billed Sandpiper is more common in Denmark than in the UK, it was a nice find.

You can see the face pattern clearly on the second photo - reminds me a little of drake Garganey.

Other news is that one each of juvenile Aquatic and Barred Warblers were caught and ringed today at Gedser, southern Sjaelland, so start checking those east coast hedges and reedbeds in the UK!

Photos: Broad-billed Sandpiper roosting with Dunlin; Broad-billed Sandpiper with Hooded Crow; and Broad-billed Sandpiper wingstretching

Friday, 7 August 2009

Heron baiting fish

Check this out - a heron using bait to catch fish... May be better with the sound turned off to avoid the annoying commentary!

Neck Head

After our washout camping trip in Bohuslan, Sweden (where, incredibly, it rained constantly for 36 hours) we decided to return home early and spend the last few days camping in Denmark. The forecast was much better here and so we identified a couple of good potential sites on the north Sjaelland coast and pitched up in the glorious sun.. Our last day was spent walking the coast path from Rågeleje to Nakkehoved (literally "neck head"), about 12km. The coast is beautiful with rolling hills producing occasional cliffs, interspersed with low heathland and both pine and deciduous woodland. This area is traditionally a great migration spot in Spring as birds are funnelled to the most northerly point - Gilbjerg Hoved - as they journey north. A short stop at this headland en route produced some migration, even in early August, with a few Tree Pipits moving accompanied by good numbers of Sand Martin. A little further east stands the historic lighthouse at Nakkehoved. This point marks the narrowest point between northern Sjaelland and the Swedish coast (hence the name 'Neck Head" - I love that name!) and has housed a lighthouse since 1772.. Originally it consisted of a coal fire on top of a wooden structure but was later converted to oil and then, subsequently, to electricity. It still operates today, even with the development of GPS.

I do like a good lighthouse, especially as they are often associated with spectacular geography and, of course, generally have a rich bird history if on a migration route. This one is no exception and you can see the view from the tower in the photos below. Over the years the woodland around the lighthouse has been a magnet to migrants and is a good spot to see Yellow-browed Warblers in autumn. Last September it also played host to a Tengmalm's Owl and several Nutcrackers.

The lighthouse itself must be a stunning place from which to monitor visible migration but, unfortunately, according to the 'keeper' they don't open the tower to birders. It would be perfect; a great view along the coast, just above the tree tops; an open 'observation deck' all around the tower, with the lamp in the centre providing shelter from the wind; and a lighthouse keeper to make cups of tea :-). Maybe I'll write to the Admiralty!

Photos: Nakkehoved Lighthouse; the lens with reflections of sky; view west from Nakkehoved (towards Gilleleje); the view north; and the view east (with Sweden in the distance)

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Summer evening

Photo: Sydvestpynten looking west

Apologies for the lack of updates - Libby and I have been on holiday in New York and then camping on Sweden's west coast. Needless to say, not much birding done but we did have the good fortune to share our camp site by a rocky inlet at Smogen with a juvenile Black Guillemot and enjoyed a family party of Marsh Tits close to the tent.

We still had the hire car this evening so I popped down to Sydvestpynten to look for waders. Not much around, possibly due to the (surprisingly) low water levels. A few Common Sandpipers, 6 Green Sandpipers, 35 Dunlin, 4 Ringed Plovers and 3 juvenile Wheatears were all that was on offer. Still, it was a lovely evening and good to get back on the patch. Should get out a bit more now that August is here and looking forward to treating myself to a few days at Falsterbo in late August/early September for the raptor migration.