Sunday, 20 August 2017

Postcard from Sweden. Part One...Not Just Owls.

Having been to Finland and Norway in 2016, Sweden was soon to appear on the growing list of places to visit. What follows is the first instalment of highlights of the trip which took place at the end of May 2017.

Our journey began with a car journey to Edinburgh, a flight to Stanstead, an excellent dinner followed by a warm summer evening birding in Essex (I can recommend the woods near the Stanstead hotels if you’re willing to initially tackle the unpaved roads to get there), followed by an overnight stopover and then our flight to Vasteras, Sweden where the birding began in earnest.  We were led by Tom Mabbet and Swede, Daniel Green.  We were soon into the Svartadalen/Black River Valley area north of Vasteras and Stockholm.  White Wagtail was my first sighting of the trip and as we drove away from the airport we were soon counting Nordic Jackdaws, Fieldfare and Redwing on the grass verges.  The wide open fields were a very different habitat than our UK enclosed and over populated system.  We made a stop for a cup of tea and watched a feeding station.  Woodland/garden birds seen included Great Spotted Woodpecker and Tree Sparrow but our attention was taken mainly with three Hawfinches which at times showed well together.   It wasn’t long before the call of Wryneck was heard and we eventually had a good sighting of it.  I was already beginning to think that this was to be a good trip.

After settling in and having dinner we were soon off to the forest on the lookout for Great Grey Owl which we saw quite quickly, but only briefly and at distance as it flew over the forest glade. We had a walk in this area hoping for a closer sighting but it never came although we did have three Woodcock and a Green Sandpiper fly over, and a singing Garden Warbler, Cuckoo calling, Pied Flycatchers and Tree Pipits.  A family of Wild Boar were seen in the distance and the adults were certainly the largest Wild Boar that I have ever seen, not that I have seen that many.  We moved on to a lesser known site for Great Grey Owl and immediately on arrival we spotted one hunting over the glade only a few metres from us.  The next forty-five minutes were taken up watching and photographing this bird.   It’s surprising how this species tolerates humans so easily.  After last year’s sighting of a Great Grey Owl on the nest, it was my hope we would find at least one of this species in flight but I hadn’t expected one on our first evening.  I do have to say though, whilst an excellent sighting it didn’t quite match the magic of the bird on the nest in the Finnish Forest which had involved a rather difficult but atmospheric walk last year.   As the light began to fade we left for our hotel and a sound sleep ready for an early start the following morning.

Great Grey Owl

Great Grey Owl

Our second day in Sweden and again in the area of the Black River Valley was to again focus on owls, but not just owls.  I believe the intention today was to initially look for Pygmy Owl but we were rather diverted when Daniel saw movement in a dead tree.  It turned out that it held three young Ural Owls.  On occasions all three could be seen from various parts of the dead tree stump.  If there was a fourth bird we didn’t see it.  The adult bird watched us from a more distant tree.  Ural Owls are of course notorious for being protective of their young and we didn’t get to close to this nesting site and later today we will see why that was a wise decision!  A Red Backed Shrike was also seen in the area.

Ural Owl

Ural Owl Chicks.  Two can be seen here, the second only just.

We eventually did get around to finding our Pygmy Owl and what a sighting that was.  We had a sighting of this bird in flight, calling and perched.  Its small size was best noted whilst in flight.  It was mobbed by fourteen species of woodland bird including, tits, warblers, Spotted Flycatcer and Pied Flycatcher and it was today that we also saw Crested Tit.  We weren’t so lucky when some local birders/ringers took us to the Tengmalm’s Owl nest site.  The birds had nested in a box and when examined the ringers found only two dead chicks.  It wasn’t impossible that another chick had survived, but it seemed unlikely.  We had better luck in another area of forest where we found Three Toed Woodpecker and also had a sighting of Black Woodpecker which seemed to do a fly past to check us out.  Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker were also seen today.

Ural Owl

Ural Owl Chick

Later in the day we were met by another two ringers who escorted us to a Ural Owl’s nest where they intended to ring the chicks.  We met the two guys with their ladders, metal helmet with visor and what one of them described as ‘hi tec’ equipment.  This equipment was a long pole with a large cushion on the end which was to be used to protect the ringer from possible Ural Owl attack whilst he climbed the ladder, removed the chicks and ringed them.  Once we had walked a little way into the forest we were at the nest site and we had good views of an adult Ural Owl.  The ringer climbed the ladder and removed the chicks for ringing and whilst the adult bird called in a rather agitated manner and kept a close eye on him all seemed to be going well.  I seemed to remember that I ought to keep my eye on the adult bird and should it swoop I was to turn my back and stoop down towards the ground.  Well, when it did swoop I did as I had been told (although we were a safe distance away from the action) and heard scuffling and the rattle of the metal helmet.  When I did turn around again I saw that the ringer had had his helmet knocked off by the Ural Owl, had been slightly hurt and was clearly shaken.  As we all know ‘hi tec’ equipment often doesn’t work!  However, all’s well that ends well and having ringed the chicks, allowed time for photographs and placed the chicks back into the box all was calm again.  It had all been quite an experience.  Daniel informed us that several ringers had been seriously injured by Ural Owls in the past and now will no longer get involved in ringing them.  I understand why.  Anyone who underestimates the danger from these owls ought to have been present that day.  In total we had seen eight Ural Owls today and it’s a species now challenging Great Grey Owl as my favourite bird.

Wood White Butterflies mating

During the day we had sightings of increasing numbers of Whooper Swan and Common Crane and a very good sighting of Osprey.  Other significant birds seen included Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Kestrel, Hobby, Crossbill, Lesser Whitethroat and numerous other species.  Our mammal list was growing too and the following had now been seen Red Deer, Roe Deer, Red Fox. Brown Hare and Red Squirrel along with the Wild Boar.  Butterflies were commonly seen and included Orange Tip, Brimstone, Holly Blue, Dingy Skipper (seen by Sam), and numerous Wood White and Green Hairstreak.

A Room with a View

We began our drive further North later in the day and arrived at Tallberg in the evening.  Once we were in our rooms and I took in the vista from the veranda I was a little disappointed that we were staying here only one night before moving further north.  The view was magnificent and it was hard to believe we had left the main road behind and now seemed to be in a wilderness area so quickly.  We were able to look across Lake Siljan, the sixth largest lake in Sweden, and onwards to the mountains.  I learned later that the lake occupies part of the Siljan Ring, the largest meteorite impact crater in Europe, created 377 million years ago.

Parts two and three to come

1 comment:

  1. Love the number of Owl species. The Siljan Ring sounds fascinating, it's hard to imagine being around anything that old!