Monday, 29 March 2010

A late afternoon foray...

... resulted in 3 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls (pretty much summer migrants here), 2 migrating Cranes and 250+ Greater Scaup still at the northern tip of Amager. Oh, and a puncture on my bike thanks to a discarded piece of barbed wire (I could hear the hiss as my front tyre deflated in about 10 seconds resulting in a long walk home!).

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Another early bird..

With the influx of Alpine Swifts in the UK I have been keeping my eyes peeled just in case... although I haven't seen any of these very smart swifts yet, today I was rewarded with my earliest ever House Martin, a single flying north just south of Copenhagen city centre at Ørestad.

Friday, 26 March 2010


Another cracking spring day and, while working from home, I was very fortunate to see an Osprey drift slowly north over Copenhagen city centre in the company of a single Common Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk. Bonus! Later in the afternoon I spent 2 hours at Sydhavnstippen and scored with another Osprey (see photo) and a British Pied Wagtail (pretty scarce here and my first in Denmark). It had a jet black nape, back and rump and was consorting with a typical continental White Wagtail. Unfortunately it didn't hang around and about 20 seconds after I saw it, if flew off strongly north with its partner. 21 Little Grebes together in a huddle just off the harbour was the biggest group I have seen together...

Photos: Osprey and a diving Little Grebe

Thursday, 25 March 2010


A dawn start on a beautiful spring day saw me make my first visit to Sydvestpynten for several months (it has been in a state of permafrost for most of the winter!). Birds were on the move with good numbers of migrants overhead - Bramblings, Skylarks, Siskin, Common Redpolls, my first White Wagtails of the year (5), 3 Meadow Pipits (my first for some time) and a trickle of Reed Buntings - and also some good movement on the sea with lots of Eider, Goosander and Goldeneye moving through. Four Chiffchaffs, including 2 singing birds, were my first of the year.

However, the very first bird I saw today proved to be the star. I had just parked my bike and taken out my binoculars from my backpack when I caught a glimpse of a small passerine flitting through a small leafless shrub. I put my binoculars up to me eyes and was very pleased to see a lovely Firecrest - the first time I have seen one on the local patch and a great start! I watched it for about 10 minutes as it fed very low down (often on the ground) and made its way along a small hedgerow, eventually disappearing into the thicket. Spring is definitely here!

At the point itself a 'northern' Long-tailed Tit flew in off the sea in the company of 8 Great Tits and rested briefly before making its way inland..

Photos: Firecrest at Sydvestpynten and a northern Long-tailed Tit fresh in off the sea'

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Cranes..

The last couple of days has seen the beginning of the Crane migration. Thousands of these magnificent birds migrate north to their Swedish breeding grounds in late March and, if the winds have an easterly component, many drift across to Denmark. I arrived backin Copenhagen from a work trip to Brussels this afternoon and, shortly after I arrived home, I caught sight of a flock of 26 Common Cranes flying over Copenhagen town centre.. a real sign of Spring. This photo, taken last March, illustrates just what a spectacle Crane migration can be..

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Nordic Jackdaw

Jackdaws are very common in Denmark and, particularly in winter, it is common to see the 'Nordic' subspecies (Corvus monedula monedula). These birds are distinctive as they have a paler 'cheek', usually paler underparts and, most obviously, a whitish 'collar'. I was prompted by this bird to read up about the 'Nordic' Jackdaw. Apparently they breed in Norway and Sweden, with Denmark a sort of 'in between' zone where both this form and the nominate form - Corvus monedula spermologus occur and breed. Of course, monedula is most common here during winter when many of this form migrate south from their northerly breeding grounds. There is a good article (from Dutch Birding) here on the different subspecies of Jackdaw in Europe.

This individual perched up nicely right in front of me, so I couldn't resist snapping him..

Nearby, this Great Crested Grebe, beginning to moult into summer plumage, was feeding just offshore.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


A short visit to the northern tip of Amager revealed that the flock of Scaup was still present (over 500 in the flock), now with the smart addition of a drake Smew and a few Red-breasted Mergansers. A Hen Harrier made a couple of passes over the small area of rough ground near the wind turbines before being seen off by the local crows..

I am still feeling crock so my forays are limited at the moment.. With the milder weather of the past couple of days (it is even predicted to reach 10 degrees C tomorrow!), I am itching to get out and about....

Photos: Hen Harrier with a Hooded Crow in hot pursuit; female Scaup showing the wing pattern (note how the white band stretches beyond the inner wing - grey in Lesser Scaup - see previous posts); and, finally, the Spring weather caused this drake Scaup to break out into song...!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Greater Scaup

A foray out to the northern tip of Amager today produced a flock of 550+ Greater Scaup, easily the largest flock of these birds I have seen. They were resting just offshore and I spent a good hour going through the flock examining the glorious plumage of the adult males and checking for anything unusual in amongst them. It was odd having to find the odd Tufted Duck in a huge flock of Scaup - in the UK it is usually the other way around!

A couple of times the flock was seemingly spooked by something and took to the air in a whirr of wings and splashes but, after a couple of circuits, always returned to the same area. The majority (at least 350) were females with a mixture of adult and immature males making up the remainder. A joy to see.

Photos: part of the flock of 550+; Scaup taking off; Scaup in flight; Scaup landing; portrait of male and female asleep; and portrait of an adult male.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For most of the last week I have been stricken with a very persistent and annoying throat virus which is seriously restricting my excursions. The furthest I have got is up to the Little Mermaid to look at the water birds.

There has been a thaw of late and, although most freshwater lakes are still frozen, Nyhavn is now pretty much ice-free for the first time since late December and all of the sea water canals are now open again.

Spring passage is already underway with nearly 800 Common Buzzards migrating north reported from one site in northern Sjaelland yesterday.

I nicknamed this trio The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Photos: 'northern' Long-tailed Tit, Hooded Crow and an aberrant-billed first winter Herring Gull

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

There are few more prominent signs of spring than drumming woodpeckers. In Denmark we have a mixed variety of woodpeckers - we have the very common Great Spotted Woodpecker, the scarce Lesser Spotted Woodpecker plus the monster Black Woodpecker. Some parts of Denmark also have the Green Woodpecker but this is a very scarce bird in the Copenhagen area. Vaserne is a place to the north of Copenhagen that consists of some damp woodland (with lots of alder carr), a lake and some scrubby open areas. It is one of the most reliable places to see and hear Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the area.

A short visit on Monday, feeling distinctly under the weather, was my first trip to this site and I was impressed. The first few hundred metres walk revealed good numbers of Brambling, a pair of Hawfinches, 4 singing Nuthatches, 3 singing Treecreepers and 4 Red Squirrels. I met local birder, Frank Desting, who was also looking for LSW. After walking along the most suitable area, we heard some light tapping that we thought immediately could be a LSW. After a couple of minutes of checking the nearby trees, Frank spotted a fine female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker feeding close to the path at head height. It fed actively for several minutes, flitting between the trees, before being lost to view as it made its way deeper into the wood. I later heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming and it is likely that it was the same bird. It used to be thought that only the males drummed but it has since been proved, at least with Lesser Spotted, that females also drum regularly in spring.

The walk back also produced a Great Grey Shrike that was sitting sentinel-like atop a tall birch tree.

Photos: female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (males have red on the head)

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

More Lesser Scaup photos

Some more photos of the Lesser Scaup... although appearing to have a purple sheen on the head in overcast conditions, it often looked green in the sun. A good reminder that the purple sheen, said to be typical of Lesser Scaup, is not a reliable characteristic.

Libby commented on the puffed out cheeks of this bird (visible in the 4th photo below) and, in fact, the prominent cheeks are characteristic of both Lesser Scaup and its fellow North American cousin, the Ring-necked Duck. So much so that some Danish birders liken these birds to 'Dizzy' Gillespie, the famous jazz musician. You can see why by clicking here... Quite a good likeness!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

More Gull Heads

The local gulls are now attaining their summer plumage - in the adult Herring Gulls this means a clean gleaming white bonce and, with the Black-headed, it means a nice chocolate brown hood (incidentally, the Danes have got it right - they call the Mediterranean Gull "Black-headed Gull" as it actually has a black head - our "Black-headed Gull" has a brown head).

The first Herring shot below was shaking its head - I like the water droplets captured (as it was a sunny day, the shutter speed was very high, freezing the motion).

Photos: Herring Gull (first two); and Black-headed Gull moulting into breeding plumage


I visited the local gulls this lunchtime and, although the sea is now free of ice, the harbour is still largely frozen. A cormorant was feeding close by, along the edge of the ice, and it was fascinating to watch it dive and follow it underwater in the very clear and relatively shallow water. My field guides always told me that one of the behavioural differences between Shags and Cormorants was that Shags jumped clear of the water before diving, whereas Cormorants were more 'lazy', with a shallower movement. In the sequence of photos below, you can see the legs clearing the water in the third photo, something that I thought was more akin to Shags. Maybe the sinensis subspecies of Cormorant (the slightly smaller version of the UK's nominate carbo) is a sort of 'in between' version..!

Photos: Cormorant dive sequence

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Lesser Scaup

The lure of a second year male Lesser Scaup just 20 minutes from Copenhagen at Roskilde was too much today so, during a long (very long) lunch hour I caught the train to have a peek. The forecast was for the 'odd light shower' around lunchtime and then clear skies in the afternoon. For those of you familiar with the prowess of the Danish Meteorological Institute it will not surprise you to hear that I arrived in Roskilde in the midst of a blizzard with heavy snow and strong winds. The 'light shower' lasted about 45 minutes and, by the time it had moved on, the place was transformed with a layer of snow a couple of centimetres thick.

Arriving on site at Roskilde Fjord, the Lesser Scaup was on show immediately and at very close range in a reasonably sized ice-free area close to shore. However, it then proceeded to swim away with some Tufted Ducks and spent most of the next hour at the edge of the ice, around 20-30 metres away. It fed actively and at one point took flight, circled the area a couple of times and then, realising that this was the only ice-free area in sight, returned.

The bird was about the size of a Tufted Duck (ie smaller than Greater Scaup) and with a more 'peaked' head (not as round as Tufted Duck). It's head had a purple sheen to it in some lights and the black 'nail' on the tip of the bill was much thinner than on the surrounding Tufteds. A couple of times it conveniently wing-stretched, allowing the diagnostic wing-pattern to be seen (with a white bar on the inner 'arm' and a greyish bar on the outer 'hand').

This bird is only the 7th record for Denmark of this American duck (if accepted as a wild bird) and has attracted a stream of admirers since its discovery at the weekend.

Photos: Lesser Scaup