Falsterbo, Sweden - September 2004

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT surfbirds.com)


John Hopper, Bernie Ellis and Bill Simpson

Our visit to this famous migration hotspot was from September 20th to 23rd 2004. On day one we took a Ryan Air flight out of Stansted Airport which took only 1 hour 15 minutes, landing at Malmo Sturups Airport at around 11-00 am. The formalities of the car hire were quickly sorted and we were soon en-route to the Falsterbo peninsular. During the short 45 minute journey we noted 3 Honey Buzzards, 4 Red Kites, 2 Marsh Harriers a single Goshawk and several Sparrowhawks and Kestrels.

Unfortunately the weather was deteriorating quite rapidly and the light rain soon became heavy and persistent No further raptors were seen although a brief look on the sea revealed small numbers of Eider, Wigeon and Teal along with 2 Little Gulls, 5 Arctic Terns and a single Sandwich Tern.

Day 2 September 21st

The weather had improved somewhat although a strong southwesterly wind meant that it was essential to seek out a sheltered position for watching. Dawn sees most observers walking out over the golf course to stand at Nabben, the very tip of the Falsterbo peninsular. Whilst this is undoubtably an excellent spot there is very little shelter and birdwatchers quickly occupy the prime positions on the leeward side of the two or three areas of bushes. Despite arriving at 06-45 am we still found ourselves located in the ‘second class’ accommodation.

As dawn broke one of the most evident species was Sparrowhawk and it was impossible to make a scan of the golf course without counting at least six individuals moving low over the fairways or through the dunes. Accurate assessment of numbers was difficult as some birds appeared to leave land and strike out over the Baltic Sea, whilst others seemed to double back to the cover of the adjacent woodland and commence their run again. Our estimate of 100+ birds may have been rather on the conservative side.

As the morning progressed and conditions warmed up, albeit slightly, Honey Buzzards began to appear over the adjacent woodland before drifting out over the golf course. The birds usually appeared in parties of one to three with seven the most seen at any one time. As often happens a wave would pass through followed by a lull in passage and then more birds. Our total for the day was 80, all immatures. The differences in plumage were diverse and ranged from some very dark birds through to some striking pale-headed individuals. Other passage raptors included a single Marsh Harrier, 7 Merlins, 5 Hobbies and 2 Peregrine Falcons. Although the point at Nabben was good for observing the migrating birds of prey we considered the small hillock at Kolabaken better as the birds afforded very close views (it was possible to observe the colour of the cere on many of the Honey Buzzards!).

Other species noted during the day included 1 Black-throated Diver, 3 Pintails, 15 Common Scoters, 10 Red-breasted Mergansers, 3 Little Stints, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Little Gulls, 1 Wheatear and a single Redstart. Passerine movement was rather slow with just a light passage of Meadow Pipits, White and Flava Wagtails and around 200 Siskin

Day 3 September 22nd

The weather appeared similar to yesterday although the wind had now moved to a more northwesterly direction but it still remained strong. One of the reasons for us coming to Falsterbo was in the hope of witnessing a large scale movement of passerines for which it is famous for but as we made our way out to Nabben just after first light the signs were not looking good. Walking over the golf course there was a distinct dearth of small birds and the skies appeared empty. We stood for only a short time at the point and it soon became obvious that nothing was moving. We returned to the car and decided to drive the short distance to Stenudden as it was suggested that this could be a more productive spot when the wind is coming from the northwest. Within less than half an hour we began to encounter small groups of birds moving through the dunes all heading in the direction of the point. Parties of Chaffinch and Siskin included the occasional Brambling and there were a few MeadowPipits.

We also noted 2 Honey Buzzards an Osprey and at least 3 Merlins. Realising that a significant movement of passerines was apparently underway we decided to return to Falsterbo. Upon arrival at the golf course birds were streaming through and we elected to take the short walk to the lighthouse and position our selves in the shelter of the trees there. In every direction we looked the sky was full of birds and it seemed impossible to believe that only three hours previously there had been nothing. The most numerous was Chaffinch followed next by Siskin and it was these two species which made up probably 95% of the total number of birds moving through. A few Brambling accompanied the flocks of Chaffinch. At it’s peak we estimated 1000 birds per minute were passing us. Counting them accurately was almost impossible but estimates of 60,000 to 70,000 Chaffinch and 20,000 to 30,000 Siskin were probably not unrealistic figures. Several hundred Meadow Pipits moved through along with a small number of Tree Pipits, probably less than 10 birds. The Chaffinch flocks contained fewer than 100 Brambling. Five Woodlarks were a surprise, particularly when they landed, because virtually none of the other birds did. Raptors, as ever, were much in evidence and we recorded 150 Sparrowhawks, 10 Merlins, 4 Hobbies and 2 Peregrine Falcons. The passage of Honey Buzzards was much reduced on the previous day and we noted only 4 individuals.

Day 4 September 23rd

Immediately on arrival at Kolabacken it was obvious that a large scale movement of passerines was taking place. The sky was again full of birds but there were more than yesterday, many more. As we walked out towards the lighthouse birds were streaming past.

The number of birds was phenomenal and counting them was impossible .At one point a scan with binoculars taking in the reed beds to the north of us at Flommen,then over the woodland of Falsterbo and across the golfcourse to the point at Nabben we estimated a total of 4000 birds. Once again Chaffinch was easily the most numerous species followed by Siskin. But just how many birds were involved? We believe that a total of 500,000 to 750,000 birds were on the move, a ridiculous figure? I don’t think so. We estimated 500,000 Chaffinch/Brambling and 50,000 to 100,000 Siskin. Compare these counts to those of the observatory counter/s positioned at the point who recorded 42,280 Chaffinch/Brambling and 3,980 Siskin and there would seem to be a large anomaly in the numbers. However it is assumed that the observatory only record those birds which actually pass by the point at Nabben and not those departing further along the coast line. On this day birds were leaving land and striking out over the Baltic Sea as far as the eye could see.

Other birds included 70 to 100 Tree Pipit but fewer Meadow Pipits, possibly about 50. A total of 14 Woodlarks were noted along with 10 Flava Wagtails, 10 Grey Wagtails and 4 Common Crossbills. Also on the move were 100 Stock Doves, 50 Woodpigeons and 400 Starlings, species which had been absent the previous day.The movement of Sparrowhawks was particularly impressive. At its peak up to 25 birds could be seen in the air at any one time, and we considered an estimate of 500 to 750 birds to perhaps be on the conservative side. We were probably right as it was later discovered the counter/s on the point at Nabben had logged 1746.

Later in the morning we moved to Skanor’s Ljung "The Heath" another notable spot for raptor migration. We also spent a short time immediately outside our hostel beside the Falsterbo Canal. At these two locations we recorded over 40 Common Buzzards (our first of the trip), 10 Honey Buzzards, 2 Peregrine Falcons, 6 Merlins, a single Hobby and several more Sparrowhawks.
After vacating our hostel we loaded the luggage into the car and departed Falsterbo. Our destination was Dalby Forest, a National Park about an hour’s drive to the north. This is known as an excellent site for Black Woodpecker but unfortunately we failed to connect with them although late afternoon is hardly the best time to search for the species. The woodland was quiet but we did see a single Redstart and Firecrest along with Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

The weather was now deteriorating somewhat but before driving to the airport we visited Borringe Lake. Unfortunately we never got to the actual lake as every track which we drove along ended with a no entry sign for vehicles and there was not enough time to access the site on foot. The area proved excellent for Red Kites and before the heavens opened and any more birding was impossible we recorded around 12 birds.

So why visit Falsterbo? This was never going to be a trip for new birds, that’s not why we went. Of course rarities occur, with Eastern Imperial Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle and several Pallid Harriers recorded earlier in the autumn prior to our visit. Conditions were never perfect for raptor migration. There was no problem with the direction of the wind, which varied between southwest and northwest, but it remained strong at all times. If conditions had been calmer I feel sure we would have seen more raptors. The height at which the majority of birds were moving surprised all of us this was eye level migration. Perhaps the most frustrating factor was the ability to count the birds accurately.

The number of birds was at times quite staggering. This was a chance to see thousands of birds migrating, we did and we were not disappointed.

A trip to Falsterbo can be done quite cheaply. The flights with Ryan Air were a very reasonable £44-00 each. Airport parking was £28-00. Car hire was rather expensive and we paid £192-00 for a VW Golf for 4 days. Our accommodation in a comfortable hostel worked out at around £12-00 per person per night. The close proximity of the airport to Falsterbo and the short distances between the sites meant that very little driving was involved and the petrol costs were only £7-00 per person. Add to this the cost of insurance and a share of the petrel from Nottingham to Stansted and back and the cost was approximately £180-00 per person plus food.