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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Sweden: Fall Migration at Falsterbo

2022 Narrative

IN BRIEF: Following a hiatus of several years, the Falsterbo in Fall tour was back on. Basing ourselves in the picturesque town of Skanör, on the Falsterbo Peninsula – Sweden’s most southwesterly point – we were able to branch out and explore the best that the area has to offer. That meant heading inland in search of species such as White Stork, Bearded Tit and Crested Tit, and staying closer to the hotel to enjoy the migrating birds moving south through Falsterbo – including Pallid Harrier, Nutcracker and a host of other raptors and finches. We were also treated to close-up views of some birds as they were banded by the staff at Falsterbo Bird Observatory, including species seldom seen in the field, such as Jack Snipe and Water Rail. All in all, it was another successful trip.

IN FULL: After gathering at Copenhagen Airport in the afternoon of the first day of the tour, we crossed the famous Öresund Bridge and made the short drive to Skanör on the Falsterbo peninsula, where we’d be spending the week. After a traditional Swedish welcome – a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee – we took a brief walk from our accommodation to the old fort ruin at Skanör. Before our walk had even started, we were treated to views of a flock of Eurasian Siskins high in the trees, along with other birds that would become familiar over the next week, such as Woodpigeon and Jackdaw. From here, we wandered the short distance to the fort ruin, where we had a panoramic view across the wetlands at the north end of the Falsterbo peninsula. A young Hen Harrier drifted by, while a flock of 20 Woodlarks passed over and five Whinchats showed themselves along the fence-line in the company of some Meadow Pipits. In some nearby horse paddocks, a Hobby – a late migrant – passed by at typically swift speed, but the European Robins were more cooperative, with at least five hopping around on the edge of the bushes.

The first full day of the tour started with a short stop at Falsterbo Canal, where a group of 30 White Wagtails had gathered. From here, we drove north, stopping just south of Malmö at Klagshamn. Here, we found several Eurasian Wigeon, Common Eider, Great Cormorants, Grey Heron, a Goldcrest and our first of many Common Chiffchaffs. There was a trickle of migration overhead, with flocks of Siskins and the occasional pipit passing by. From here, we moved on to the old limestone quarry nearby, which is now a deep lake, where we added Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe and Moorhen to the list.

Circumnavigating Malmö’s ring road, we arrived at the coastal town of Lomma – famed for its beaches, which in summer are full of holiday makers but in fall are home to hundreds of shore birds. We enjoyed close views of Common Redshank accompanied by a smart juvenile Ruff, as well as Eurasian Curlews, with their extraordinary down-curved bills. We were also able to get good views of three species of geese: Greylag, Barnacle and (perhaps not as exciting as the first two) Canada Geese. Nearby gardens held Blue Tits, Great Tits and Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

From here, we headed for lunch at the Swedish Agricultural Museum’s Alnarp campus. After a filling chili con (or sin) carne, we took a wander around the grounds and its varied selection of (in some cases ancient) trees. We saw several Red Squirrels and enjoyed excellent views of Sweden’s two trunk-climbing birds: the Eurasian Treecreeper and the Eurasian Nuthatch. Several Goldcrests were seen well as they foraged kinglet-style in the branches above us, and we enjoyed our first look at Chaffinches, four birds on the track ahead of us.

We finished our second day at Skanör’s Heath, where we caught up with one of the local White-tailed Eagles as well as seeing the first evidence of raptor migration – a Red Kite, ten Eurasian Sparrowhawks and five Common Buzzards – plus the ever-present flocks of Siskins. A fly-by group of 275 Common Cranes a nice addition to the list, although we were to be treated to much closer and more prolonged views later in the tour.

Our third day in Sweden was spent exploring the Falsterbo peninsula: first, at one of Falsterbo Bird Observatory’s banding sites, the Flommen reed bed. Here, we got to view several species close up as they were being banded, with the definite highlight been a beautiful male Penduline Tit. This species typically spends its time deep in the reedbed and is not seen by the group every year. We were also shown a Eurasian Reed Warbler, a Common Reed Bunting, a Dunnock and a tiny Eurasian Wren. While was observed the banded birds, flocks of finches were passing overhead: mostly Siskins, but also some Chaffinches, Bramblings and Common Linnets, along with several dozen Meadow Pipits and a few Tree Pipits. In the distance, we could see several groups of raptors thermalling above the village, including a European Honey-buzzard, picked out by its long tail, protruding head and flat wings. From Flommen, we headed to Falsterbo Park and, although many of the birds were high in the sky, we were able to witness the spectacle of hundreds of migrating Common Buzzards, Red Kites and Eurasian Sparrowhawks plus close views of an immature White-tailed Eagle. A Willow Warbler entertained us in the trees and, while we were watching, a lady came and told us she had just found a roosting Tawny Owl in the nearby woods. A short walk later and there is was – point blank views of Sweden’s most widespread (but seldom seen) owl.

After another filling lunch, we explored the area around Skanör Harbour, enjoying close views of two Greenshanks plus another Whinchat and our first Wheatear of the week. Most impressively, the area north of the harbour road was full of Common Snipe – a conservative estimate put the number at over 300. Two Western Yellow Wagtails gave fly-by views – the first rather brief and badly lit, but the second bird flew right in front of us, perfectly lit and shining yellow against the dark storm clouds that were gathering behind it. Finally, just as we were preparing to head back to the hotel, a flock of 180 Cranes flew overhead, calling loudly as they did so – a considerable improvement on yesterday’s sighting.

Wednesday was another day off the peninsula, starting in around Vomb, central Skåne. A stop in a patch of mixed woodland delivered our target species for that area: Crested Tit. Two birds gave great views as they foraged in the trees above out heads, along with several Coal Tits. Moving on to the area by Lake Vomb, we found a flock of 120 Common Cranes resting on the ground. Unfortunately, by the time we got to them, they had already left – but we did enjoy close views of a Wheatear as well as a Spotted Flycatcher and several European Greenfinches on the walk. Ten Great Egrets was an impressive total for a species that only started to breed in Sweden in the last decade, while a Marsh Harrier quartering the fields nearby was an expected addition to the list.

After crossing the Vomb meadows (which were sadly dry and overgrown this year following the hot summer), we arrived at Lake Kranke, one of southern Sweden’s premier birdwatching sites. While Leo set up our picnic lunch, the group enjoyed point-blank views of four Bearded Tits (with a fifth bird calling behind us). Another target bird successfully seen! On the lake, there were large groups of Gadwall, several Common Pochards, and another 17 Great White Egrets. After lunch, we climbed the observation tower, enjoying views across the whole lake and watching two Ospreys fly in for a spot of afternoon fishing. We finished the day at Flyinge Kungsgård, one of the old residencies for when the Swedish king was travelling, but now an equestrian breeding centre. The site is also the centre of Sweden’s White Stork population – and we saw several stork nests, although sadly it appeared that all of the storks had migrated. Nonetheless, a small flock of Chiffchaffs showing well in a bush in a sunny corner, several Tree Sparrows foraging along the path and close views of a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves kept us entertained. Driving back to Falsterbo, on the highway as we approached Malmö, we discovered that not all of the White Storks had migrated – a bunch of them were hanging out in a ploughed field next to the E22 expressway! At 70 mph, views from the leading car were not the best, and we vowed to return to the area later in the tour.

Day five was back on the peninsula again, starting pre-breakfast (well, pre-second breakfast, at least; a spread of cinnamon rolls and coffee kept us going for first breakfast!) at Falsterbo lighthouse. The hoped-for finch migration was a lot lighter than expected but we nonetheless managed to see some good – and less expected – birds, including Razorbill, Common Murre (Common Guillemot) and a migrating (or ‘attempting to migrate’, at least) Great Spotted Woodpecker. The highlights, though, were a smart, young male Pallid Harrier, which even perched on a fence post out from the lighthouse, and a high-in-the-sky Nutcracker. A perched Pallid Harrier is a rare treat, and a day with both a Pallid Harrier and a Nutcracker is a red-letter day indeed!

After second breakfast back at the hotel, we took a walk around Falsterbo Park, where we caught up with two Green Woodpeckers – one of which obligingly gave great views through the scope – as well as views of a perched Tree Pipit and a brief glimpse of a Common Redstart.

We finished the day at Nabben – the lagoon at the south end of the peninsula. Here, we found 27 Shelduck – a nemesis bird for one of the group! There were plenty of shorebirds, with half a dozen Pied Avocets, three Black-bellied (Grey) Plovers, a Ruff and, best of all, two Wood Sandpipers and a flock of no less than 14 Spotted Redshank.

Friday morning started again at Flommen, where we were again able to enjoy close views of several species as they were being banded, including a masterclass in ageing Common Snipe. A Great Grey Shrike flew by but disappeared after diving into a bush, never to emerge again. Afterwards, we drove around Knösen, the northernmost area of the Falsterbo peninsula. A fly-by Marsh Harrier flushed several Skylarks, which gave good views in the air and back on the ground. Several Curlews showed well from the car, while a brief stop gave us good views of a vararity of species of wildfowl.

Leaving the peninsular after lunch, we headed east, taking the back roads to look for Golden Plovers – there were no plovers, but we did catch up with several Linnets feeding amongst a flock of hundreds of Meadow Pipits as well as a couple of showy cock Pheasants. Our destination for this afternoon was Smygehuk, Sweden’s most southerly point (beating Falsterbo by just a few miles). Here, we spent some time seawatching, a 34 Dark-bellied Brants and 7 Velvet Scoters being the highlights. Returning to Falsterbo, we stopped at Trelleborg’s fort – the site of a Harold Bluetooth-age Viking battlement, which has been partly restored.

We started our final day of birding in Falsterbo Park again, adding a late Lesser Whitethroat to the trip list. From here, we got news that the banders at Flommen had caught a good bird – a Jack Snipe! Alongside the snipe, we were also able to examine a Tree Pipit, including getting a look at its relatively chunky bill and its short hind claw. Our final birding stop at Falsterbo was back at the lighthouse, where we were able to visit the observatory’s shop as well as see one of the local Carrion x Hooded Crow hybrids – a rather dark individual but with shades of grey on the upper- and underparts giving away its true parentage.

There were just two species left that we needed to catch up with – European Golden Plover, which was still missing from the trip list, and White Stork, which some of the group had missed during our drive-by sighting; so, our last afternoon was spent tracking them down! In fields outside Höllviken we found a flock of 24 plovers. Perfect! Then, it was back up to the area where we had seen the storks, taking the slower roads this time. The field where they had been was empty, but we spotted the flock in another field close to the historic church at Stora Uppåkra. Here, we finished our tour on a definite high with amazing views of 44 White Storks following a tractor just a matter of yards away.

After checking in at our hotel in Malmö, we gathered for the final evening log of the tour and to determine which, of all of the great species we’d seen, would be crowned ‘bird of the trip’. There was one clear and worthy winner: the Pallid Harrier at Falsterbo lighthouse. Just one of the many amazing memories from another successful trip to Falsterbo and the surrounding area.

-Stephen Menzie

Created: 29 October 2022