Falsterbo-Sweden, September 30th – October 3rd 2005 - ‘High Fives’ With The Swedes

Published by John Hopper (john.hopper1 AT ntlworld.com)

Participants: John Hopper, Mike Hodgkin


Following the success of our visit to this famous migration hot spot in autumn 2004 from September 20th -23rd we returned for a similar four day trip. The Ryan Air flight from London Stansted to Malmo Sturups was a short 1 hour 20 minutes. The birding began even before disembarking the aircraft with Red Kite hunting over fields adjacent to the runway.

The formalities of the car hire were quickly sorted and we were soon on our way to the Falsterbo Peninsular. At the tourist office we collected the keys for our accommodation which was a comfortable hostel beside ‘The Canal’, a notable spot for observing the raptor passage. Beside the offices we noted a flock of 200 Brambling along with 10 Tree Sparrows and a single White Wagtail. After unloading our luggage we stood outside and scanned the skies, it was a fine warm day with just a light wind. A couple of Common Buzzards appeared over the nearby woodland and further raptors could be seen in the distance, there was evidently movement taking place and in the following three hours we enjoyed some excellent passage.

During the first hour from 11-30 am 12-30 pm we recorded 162 Common Buzzards, 58 Red Kites, 2 Rough-legged Buzzards, 35 Sparrowhawks, 1 Merlin, 2 Woodlarks, 3 Common Crossbills and a single Grey Wagtail. During this time a Common Tern was noted fishing in the canal. The second hour from 12-30 pm — 1-30 pm was equally as productive and we saw 158 Common Buzzards, 45 Red Kites, 1 Rough-legged Buzzard, 27 Sparrowhawks, 1 Marsh Harrier and a single Common Kestrel. Bonus birds were 11 Woodlarks, a single Hawfinch and two splendid Nutcrackers. Fewer birds were seen in the third hour from 1-30 pm — 2-30 pm although we still noted 62 Common Buzzards, 80 Red Kites, a singleRough-legged Buzzard, 2 Northern Pintail, a Eurasian Curlew and three Song Thrush.

We left ‘The Canal’ and drove the short distance to the famous ‘Heath’. This is an excellent area to watch the migrating raptors although they do tend to pass over at a greater height than at ‘The Canal’. We spent about an hour there and recorded 62 Common Buzzards, 20 Red Kites, 20 Sparrowhawks, 2 Common Kestrel and a Grey Heron.

Mike was keen to go to ‘Nabben’ and although it was now quite late in the afternoon we decided to park at ‘Kolabacken’ and take the short walk across the golf course to the point. The passerine movement had all but ceased although there were still several hundred Chaffinch/Brambling and Siskin in the area. We also saw 10 Common Buzzards, 2 Rough-legged Buzzards, 1 Peregrine Falcon, a single Short-eared Owl, 20 Woodlark and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The sea and adjacent lagoons held 20 Red-breasted Mergansers, 150 Common Eider, 100 Common Goldeneye, a single Northern Pintail, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and 4Greenshank.

At the end of the day our totals for Common Buzzard was 432 and for Red Kite 238. The official counts for ‘Nabben’ were Common Buzzard 1,136 and Red kite 367 which was one of the best ever day totals for that species.

Day 2: October 1st.

Overnight the weather had changed dramatically. The calm conditions had been replaced by a strong wind. There was a heavy cloud cover and it was several degrees colder, however, it wasn’t raining.

We were in position at ‘Nabben’ by 7-30 am and remained until 1-00pm. Passage of Chaffinch/Brambling was quite heavy and parties of birds were streaming past constantly. Counting them was difficult so we decided to book the official count which was an impressive 41,000. Siskins were also very evident and the official count was 7,660. The rigours of migration proved too much for one unfortunate Chaffinch which almost scored a ‘hole in one’ as it fell out of the sky and dropped down dead on the putting green in front of us.

Raptors were virtually absent with 30 Sparrowhawks, 2 Merlins and a single each of Hobby and Peregrine Falcon. Amongst other birds noted were 1 Woodlark, 3 Northern Wheatears, 7 Grey Wagtails, 4 White Wagtails, 100 Meadow Pipits, 320 Common Starling 2 Common Crossbill and 121 Stock Doves. There was an obvious passage of Linnet and the official count for the day was 5,900. The sea and adjacent lagoons were interesting with 4 Black-throated Divers, 9 Northern Pintail, 2 Long-tailed Ducks, 1,000 Common Eider, 9 Greenshank, 1 Spotted Redshank 3 Little Gulls and 3 Arctic Skuas. It was cold and quite uncomfortable standing on the point so we opted to drive inland in search of some eagles.

The first site we visited was Krageholms-sjon Lake, which was less than one hour’s drive from Falsterbo. Here we soon located a magnificent adult White-tailed Eagle soaring over the water and adjacent forest before disappearing from view. A short distance away near Hogestad good views were obtained of two Rough-legged Buzzards quartering fields adjacent to the roadside. The other area we visited was Fyledalen where we immediately located an adult Golden Eagle soaring over the valley. A short while later a second individual was noted perched up in some dead trees. As we made our journey back to Falsterbo the light rain became heavy and persistent and our birding activities were finished for the day.

Day 3; October 2nd.

Yesterday’s weather front had moved through overnight and we awoke to a calm morning with clear skies. We parked the car at ‘Kolabacken’ and walked over the golf course to ‘Nabben’ where we remained from 7-00 am-2-00pm. Today was a good day and many birds were moving through. Raptors were again much in evidence and we recorded totals of 161 Common Buzzards, 16 Rough-legged Buzzards, 3 Honey Buzzards, 102 Red Kites, 4 Peregrine Falcons, a single Merlin and 200+ Sparrowhawks. Suddenly the news came through that we had been waiting for, a Steppe Eagle had crossed ‘The Canal’ a few minutes earlier. All telescopes were focused in the direction of Falsterbo village in the hope of locating the bird. After several minutes one of the Swedish birders announced that he had found it although it was still some distance away. With some difficulty we managed to locate the bird, its large size evident amongst the flocks of buzzards. Unfortunately it never approached too close and eventually turned away and returned inland. From the plumage details noted it was probably a second calendar year bird.

Apart from the raptors there was plenty of action to keep us occupied. Blue Tit is not a species which makes it into your note book too often but today it most certainly did. Flocks of birds numbering 200+ were making their way across the golf course. They would fly from bush to bush until they arrived at the last group of bushes where we were standing. From here they would fly up, gain height, and strike out over the Baltic Sea. Almost impossible to count the official total for the day was a staggering 9,850 birds.

A strong passage of Woodlarks was taking place with small flocks flying over at regular intervals. Our count was 161 birds, the official count was a remarkable 367. New birds were now appearing quickly and within the space of a few minutes we recorded single Richards Pipit, Penduline Tit and Great Grey Shrike all passing the point. Other species of note included 4 Short-eared Owls, 800+ Common Starling, 3 Grey Wagtails, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 15, Tree Sparrows and 12 Common Crossbills. A total of seven Nutcrackers were seen, none of which actually migrated. The birds would fly out as far as the lighthouse before returning back to the adjacent woodland. The official count for Brambling/Chaffinch was 5,350 and for Siskin 850.

On the sea we saw 2 Black-throated Divers, 1 Slavonian Grebe, 1 Red-necked Grebe, 19 Common Scoter, 500 Common Eider, 1 Razorbill and a single Common Guillemot.

We left the point and spent a short time at ‘Kolabacken’ Raptors were still moving through and we noted 50 Common Buzzards, 6 Rough-legged Buzzards, 50 Red Kites, 1 Osprey and a single Hen Harrier. We drove the short distance to ‘The Heath’ where a large number of birders were gathered. A quick scan of the skies revealed many raptors. Best of all were two White-tailed Eagles which were in view for several minutes as they moved slowly towards the point at Nabben. We also counted 150 Common Buzzards, 6 Rough-legged Buzzards, 70 Red Kites and 200+ Sparrowhawks. A single Greater White-fronted Goose flew past and three Nutcrackers flew over the nearby woodland. At the end of the day we visited Foteviken where there were large numbers of geese, approximately 1,000 each of Barnacle and Grey Lag.

Day 4: October 3rd

As we walked out to the point at ‘Nabben’ the mist nets around the lighthouse garden were already full of birds, mainly Robins, but also a single Common Redstart. We arrived on the point at 7-10 am and remained until 9-30 am. There was a steady passage of birds which included 10 Common Buzzards, 5 Red Kites, 23 Sparrowhawks, 1 Merlin, 1 Peregrine Falcon, 17 Woodlark and 6 Grey Wagtails. Two Short-eared Owls hunted over the dunes and a group of 10 Red-throated Divers flew by off shore. We walked back to the car park and spent the time from 10-00 am- 11-30 am standing at ‘Kolabacken’. As usual raptors were moving through and the conditions for migration seemed ideal, it was warm and sunny with just a light wind. At ‘Kolabacken’ we counted 125 Common Buzzards, 2 Rough-legged Buzzards, 22 Red Kites, 6 Nutcrackers, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 15 Woodlarks, 2 Chiffchaffs and 2 Common Crossbills. On the sea was a rather distant Red-necked Grebe.

Soon it was time to make our way back to the hostel as we had to vacate our room by mid-day. At the hostel raptors were still moving through in good numbers and so cleaning the room was completed in record time! In no time at all we were sat by ‘The Canal’, in the sunshine, eating chocolate and watching a selection of raptors passing low overhead, life is good.

Despite ‘The Canal’ being noted as an excellent spot to watch the migration it does seem to be overlooked by birders in favour of ‘The Heath’ or ‘Nabben’. Only two other Swedish birdwatchers were with us and we all agreed to inform each other if anything good appeared. It was not long before Mike and I located an eagle soaring amongst a spiralling flock of buzzards. We shouted to the Swedes who were having some trouble in finding it. Soon the bird peeled off from the flock and began to fly directly towards us. It passed over head and the identification was confirmed as a Steppe Eagle, probably a second calendar year and almost certainly the bird we had seen the previous day. As it reached the ‘Heath’ it began to soar and gain height until lost from view. We were delighted, as were the two Swedes.

Following the excitement we composed our selves and settled back down clearly having missed several more raptors. Less than an hour later Mike and I picked up a lone bird approaching low over the wooded area on the opposite side of the canal. It was a large individual and as it came closer it was clearly an aquila eagle, a dark bird. Once again we alerted the two Swedish birders who ran over to us. The bird began to soar and everyone agreed on the identification as a Greater Spotted Eagle, possibly a first calendar year. The two Swedes were to say the least ecstatic and it was ‘High Fives’ all round as we celebrated with them. The raptor passage continued (with no more eagles!) and we finished our spell at ‘The Canal’ with counts of 412 Common Buzzards, 14 Rough-legged Buzzards, 131 Red Kites, 2 Honey Buzzards, 1 Marsh Harrier, 6 Nutcrackers, a single Black-throated Diver, 11 Woodlarks and two Common Crossbills.

Before departing for the airport we made one last visit to ‘The Heath’ where a male and two ringtail Hen Harriers were hunting and a Great Grey Shrike was perched up in the bushes.

We had enjoyed an excellent four days birding and had seen a total of 113 species. The weather had been good and we had lost only a couple of hours birding on the second day. Are we planning a return visit next year? Probably!