Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sweden part 3 - wildlife

During my week in Sweden I had some wildlife other than birds. As with birds, no unexpected levels of excitement were reached, but overall it was enjoyable. I really wanted to show my family moose but this was the closest we got:

Our short stop at Ålsjön was rather productive. A young 20 cm-long Grass Snake climbed up the walls of an underpassage:

This very pregnant Sand Lizard posed on the boardwalk:

Mush Beetles are impressive beasts!

Heath Spotted Orchids were common around Luleå 

Typical Swedish scenery

The view from the top of Bälingeberget is quite awesome. retreating glaciers created these boulder fields at the end of the last ice age.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Sweden part 2 - Hökugla!

Without sharing my dark ideas with my wife, I had two bird targets for the trip to northern Sweden. One was Hawk Owl, the second was Pine Grosbeak. I birded Scandinavia as an advanced teenager in the early 1990's, so I didn't 'need' other classic Scandinavian species. Both targets are not easy in the relatively southerly and coastal region of Luleå - 'only' 66° N. I got some pre-trip intel from a local birder, but news from my friends Nanette and Thomas who were birding the area and found a family of Hawk Owls about 1.5 hrs north of Luleå, near Boden, enticed me to lose one night of sleep. I headed out of Luleå on July 1st shortly after midnight. I checked some other small roads where Hawk Owl was possible, and tried for other owls too, but only had quite many roding Woodcock. At 02:30 I got to the spot provided by Nanette, and as I drove in I heard many thrushes mobbing aggressively - it had to be an owl. A quick scan in the big tree and - Ural Owl! It quickly flew off and out of view, leaving me astonished. Unexpected and awesome, but not quite the owl I wanted... A short drive further, and as I got out of the car I immediately heard begging Hawk Owls - boom!

Quickly I spotted an adult, presumably daddy owl sitting on top of a spruce - my heart skipped a beat. What a bird! I have been dreaming to see this boreal owl for many years. I quickly secured some record shots in the low sunlight:

Then, in a more relaxed mode, I just enjoyed the family action. The adult did a few fly-byes, displaying its remarkable hawk-like silhouette. So cool! 

I did not see any actual feeding but at first the chicks were hidden so I might have missed it. Then they moved out to the open, but stopped begging and the adult disappeared.

Can you spot all three?

Here they are:

The habitat was very nice, some proper boreal forest but like everywhere in Sweden, logging created open patches. Dawn chorus was nice but nothing more exotic than Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Common Redstart etc.

Very happy with this encounter, I left the owl family in peace. I had a spot for Pine Grosbeak near Luleå airport, but when I got there I was disappointed to find degraded forest by a landfill - not very attractive and very few birds. At 06:00 I snuck back into bed for a snooze before the family woke up for another day of activities...

Thanks again to Andreas, Nanette and Thomas for the info.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Sweden road trip part 1 - birds

Got back last night from a week-long family trip to Sweden. Sweden is a wonderful country. We landed at Västerås and drove from there up north. First night we stayed near Sandvik, second near Bispgården and then we reached our destination - Luleå in the far north of Sweden. Lots of driving...
From a family point of view it was a great holiday - weather was perfect, we did lots of outdoor stuff and got to know special people. From a wildlife point of view I could have achieved more. At this time of year, best hours for birding are between 22:00 and 04:00. Because of all the driving I did, and long days of family stuff, I could afford only one night of proper birding. Other times when I was outdoors during hours when normal people are awake were rather quiet, and light conditions were horrible.
However, all in all, I saw some stuff and enjoyed the common birds Sweden has to offer.
I enjoyed seeing in good numbers migrants that are doing pretty bad in England. Red-backed Shrikes, Pied Flycatcher and Willow Warbler were present at almost every stop in the south and centre. Pied Flycatchers were breeding in almost every nestbox I saw.

Pied Flycatcher

Heading up north, a short stop at the lovely nature reserve Ålsjön was productive with breeding Whooper Swans and Slavonian Grebes.

Luleå is a special town, with lots of wildlife in it. Urban birding with Arctic Terns and Whimbrel can't be bad. 
Arctic Tern

Whimbrel - taken at 00:45 without flash...

On my final morning, before flying out, the kids had an hour at a play area in Västerås. I had time for a quick walk around Mälarpark which was rather nice with Icterine and Wood Warblers. The Icterine was singing from high up in the trees. 

Icterine Warbler

Up in the north I did have a couple of target species. I succeeded with one - more on my next blog.