MIGRATION AT FALSTERBO, SOUTHERN SWEDEN September 27th – October 4th 2019 John Hopper and Chris Mills

This was John’s fourth visit and Chris’s second visit to this migration hot spot and as on the previous occasions the birding was superb. Most birdwatchers make their way down to the point at Nabben which is where the official daily count is undertaken from. There are other excellent vantage points close by, most notably The Heath and The Canal.

September 27th: After a short flight from Birmingham to Copenhagen we were soon driving over the impressive Oresund Bridge, a spectacular sight and an engineering marvel which connects Demark with Sweden The accommodation was sorted which left us with just a couple of hours late afternoon birding. We headed for The Heath where a party of 11 White-fronted Geese flew over. There were few other birds of note apart from a flock of 40 Hooded Crows.

September 28th: Our first full day. As we made our way past the lighthouse towards Nabben, flocks of finches were already flying over. We took up position and for the next three to four hours were treated to a marvel of migration. The sky was full of birds in every direction. Flock after flock of Chaffinch/Brambling (the two species are lumped together for counting purposes) poured past us. At their peak birds were passing at a rate of 8,000 every five minutes. It was an unbelievable sight and by the end of the counting period the total had reached an incredible 283,700 birds.  Other finch species were also getting in on the act with 16,800 Linnet and 1,450 Siskin. Woodlark is a fairly common migrant so a total of 165 birds was nothing out of the ordinary. It wasn’t a day for raptors and a total of 329 Sparrowhawks was a relatively meagre one.  Action out to sea included 2450 Eider and four Black-throated Divers.

A fair blizzard of Chaffinch and Linnets passing in every direction we looked!

Great to catch many of these Woodlarks passing overhead
Common Eider passing by along the shoreline – a daily occurrence

A Honey-buzzard sets off out to sea on a minimum 30 mile crossing

These amazing little falcons, a Merlin also sets off on it’s seaward journey to Denmark

At the other end of the spectrum White-tailed Eagles prefer to be high as they head out

September 29th: The weather was poor today with heavy rain at times. The Chaffinch/Brambling count was way down with a mere 15,600 birds, although that would probably be looked upon as a fantastic day at any UK site. Once again raptors were not moving and the pick of the bunch were a single White-tailed Eagle and Honey Buzzard along with three Merlins.

September 30th: A very wet morning with persistent heavy rain. Despite the conditions a few raptors were on the move. Another White-tailed Eagle appeared along with two Honey Buzzards, six Hen Harriers, an Osprey, five Merlins and 243 Sparrowhawks. Moving over the sea were 20 Great White Egrets, 1550 Barnacle Geese and over 500 Brent Geese. It was another good day for finches with a total of 147,000 Chaffinch/Brambling, although this seemed nothing unusual compared to the events on the 28th. Other counts included 1260 Meadow Pipits, 11 Tree Pipits and 150 Woodlarks.

October 1st: Little did we know what was in store for us today, it was awesome. Walking to the point is was evident that a big movement of finches was happening. Arriving at the point something incredible was taking place. To say that flocks of Chaffinch/Brambling filled the sky was an understatement. We asked one of the counters if there were more birds than on the 28th, his reply was “oh yes”. At the peak of the movement birds were moving at a rate of 14,000 every five minutes. By the end of the counting period the total had reached an amazing 419,000. Woodlarks reached a massive 529 birds and there were 2850 Linnets and 3170 Siskin. Raptors also had a better day with 156 Red Kites, six Hen Harriers, 18 Merlins and 1244 Sparrowhawks.

A stunning male Hen Harrier passes south right over our heads
Literally thousands of Sparrowhawks could be seen daily migrating out over the sea

Migrating Barnacle Geese increased daily, with over 200,000 passing by on the Friday
Red-breasted mergansers heading South along the shoreline

October 2nd: A nice bright day with fewer passerines but more raptors, Red Kites in particular making a big push.  Standing at the point many raptors could be seen approaching in the distance. Red Kites were the dominant species and a total of 552 birds was an excellent one. Careful observation revealed the presence of seven Black Kites. One species which we were looking forward to seeing was Rough-legged Buzzard and today didn’t disappoint with 22 birds migrating. Sparrowhawks were having a good day and 1,438 birds were logged. Chaffinch/Brambling numbered 72,000 along with 2,330 Stock Doves and 2,330 Starlings. Having spent the majority of the morning at Nabben we decided to relocate to The Heath.  Raptors were passing over almost continuously and in just a couple of hours we observed 300 Red Kites, 3 Hen Harriers, 70 Common Buzzards, 10 Rough-legged Buzzards 2 Marsh Harriers and a single Black Kite. Three Common Cranes circled over, two adults and a juvenile, and it was sad to see that the young bird had an obvious broken leg. Later in the afternoon we moved to The Canal and in the relatively short time we were there it was much of the same with 50 Red Kites, 4 Rough-legged Buzzards, 3 Hen Harriers, 25 Common Buzzards and single Osprey, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier and Peregrine Falcon.

October 3rd: Much colder today. Great birding with a big push of Common Cranes and an eagle fest. No flocks of finches today with a mere 800 Chaffinch/Brambling noted. Not too much happening out to sea either although 5,300 Barnacle Geese were logged. Almost as soon as we arrived at the point flocks of Common Cranes were evident. The majority of birds were not passing particularly close as they all followed the same line out from land and over the Baltic Sea. The official count at the end of the day was 2,999 but I am certain I saw 3,000! Red Kites were again prominent with 518 birds, a similar number to the previous day. Common Buzzards were also on the move with a count of 944. Twelve White-tailed Eagles were impressive along with six Black Kites. Coming to Falsterbo is about witnessing the migration of what can be a staggering number of birds. It is not really about seeing rare birds but they do turn up and today we were fortunate to connect with a Greater Spotted Eagle which chose to turn back inland rather than make the crossing. Walking back to the car after a fantastic morning we were treated to a very obliging Great Grey Shrike sat on the top of a small bush. Rather than look at The Heath we decided to go straight to The Canal which proved to be a good move. Raptors were still passing with 70 Red Kites, 50 Common Buzzards along with a single Rough-legged Buzzard and Hen Harrier. Several other birders were also there and a shout of eagle went out. We soon located the bird in amongst a kettle of other raptors and it proved to be a Short-toed Eagle, an extremely rare bird for Sweden. More eagle action followed with a Golden Eagle and two White-tailed Eagles moving through. A White Stork circled overhead and a Black Redstart was feeding on the opposite bank.

October 4th: Our last day we managed to get a few hours birding time before our flight back to the UK. We decided not to walk out to Nabben, choosing instead to stand at the Kolobacken watch point. Flocks of Common Cranes were again on the move and it was clear that another large count was in the making. We were not wrong as a total of 2,790 birds were recorded. Looking up high in to the sky there were huge flocks of migrating Woodpigeon, thousands of birds. Unfortunately the weather worsened and heavy rain set in. However, the total for the day was still a very impressive 105,600. Before leaving Chris and I remarked that there did seem to be more Barnacle Geese this morning, and this proved true. Checking the count at the end of the day saw an amazing 216,000 birds logged.

This Great Grey Shrike, was the first of two we saw during the trip, coinciding with colder weather

Lovely to see and hear a small flock of Tree Sparrows near the Observation point at Nabben

Waders were well represented during the week, this Greenshank proving obliging

A Curlew heading South on its migration to its wintering quarters, maybe the UK!?

Hundreds of Red Kites passed by on the 2nd and 3rd October

Stock Doves passed in their hundreds but were well outnumbered by Woodpigeons!

On the Friday the Woodpigeon flocks were massive, over 100,000 passed South!

So that was the end of our Falsterbo adventure. Watching migration birds in such numbers is a truly unforgettable experience. The spectacle of 283,700 Chaffinch/Brambling  on the September 28th was amazing but to then be present on October 1st and be witness to an astonishing 419,000 birds is perhaps a once in a life time occurrence. 

Text by John Hopper and pictures by Chris Mills