Sunday, September 30, 2012

Witnessing the great Migration @ Falsterbo - Sweden

Imagine yourself sitting on a sea coast with a cup of hot coffee, looking up the sky. Every minute you see waves after waves of birds, in huge numbers, crossing over your head. By huge, we mean not tens not hundreds, not even thousands - it is tens of thousands on a single day! Would it not be a delight for a bird watcher to do this kind of birding? Well, it is not a fantasy; it’s about a place called Falsterbo where this happens almost every day in autumn. Birds leaving Scandinavia before winter, cross this place in numbers as big as a few millions. To be in Scandinavia and not to visit Falsterbo, especially in autumn would be a great sin for a birder! We knew this is the place to go in autumn. 

Black Headed Gulls, heading South West
About Falsterbo: 
Falsterbo is an anvil shaped peninsula on the South westernmost part on Sweden. It is said to have formed about 10000 years ago during the end of the last Ice age when the glaciers retreated and left behind a series of moraine hummocks. Over thousands of years, shifting sands emerged in between and eventually the small anvil-shaped peninsula formed as we see it today.

A flock of Barnacle Geese
It is estimated that about 500 million birds leave the Nordic countries every autumn, migrating to the south, some diurnal and some nocturnal and some both. Out of these, in Falsaterbo alone, 1-3 million diurnal migrant birds have been counted. On a clear day it would be a delight to watch flocks after flocks of various species of birds, flying in various sized flocks, or some even loners, and at various altitudes. Autumn migration here starts in July itself, when it is still Summer and goes on till almost November. And throughout the season, there are different species migrating, some early and some late. With Scandinavian weather being highly varied and hardly predictable, the migration on a particular day largely depends on the weather conditions suitable to that bird. 

A huge flock of Wigeons

Why Falsterbo?
For migratory birds, it is a matter of compulsion to migrate to a better place mainly for availability of food supply. Since they will be faced with many threats on their way like lack of food, resting place, becoming preys, large expanses of sea, bad climatic conditions and many more, they often choose a safe path as far as possible.  

A flock of Canada Geese
Land based birds on autumn migration fly as far as possible along the coast, heading south west and they reach the Swedish west coast and since they try to avoid huge expanses of sea, they eventually get channeled to Falsterbo peninsula. From here, the birds have no choice but to venture out over the sea to reach the next land mass.

More facts about bird migration:

Green Finches resting after a meal of fruits

 - We learnt that passerines mostly migrate by the night for various reasons which includes being safe from raptors. And they typically take shelter in Falsterbo lighthouse garden at day break before continuing on their journey forward. 

Blue Tit - a partial migrant
 - Raptors usually migrate in the middle of the day, when the sun is high up in the horizon, using thermals to soar up in the sky. It is said that in right thermal conditions, buzzards can soar and cover a distance of up to 12 km without a single wing beat; and for eagles it is up to 20km! Birders at Falsterbo call the time between 12 to 1pm as ‘Eagle hour’ because if at all raptors are to be spotted, they will be during that hour.

A Marsh Harrier soaring high up in the sky

 - Since we chose early-autumn (early September), we got a mix of passerines, water birds, a few waders and raptors.  

A Green Shank

A Bar tailed Godwit

European Honey Buzzards - A Juvenile and an adult
 - There was a continuous flight of Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers, not in huge flocks, but in singles, pairs and groups of threes and fours.

Another Honey Buzzard

- It was raining Sparrow Hawks! Everywhere we saw, there surely was a Sparrow Hawk or two; some migrating, some residents. It was as if they were following us everywhere we went, right from the moment we landed in Falsterbo!

 - Some of the raptors like Merlin, Hobby and Osprey were lifers for us! 

Eurasian Hobby in a high speed flight!

An Osprey

Merlin  Female Marsh Harrier ( distinguishing marks: long tail and a creamy head )
 - Geese were arriving and departing in flocks after flocks, making loud calls in their typical V-formation

Geese in classic V-formation
 - We didn’t spot any Owls in the woods, though we longed to see them. We were told that they were in huge numbers the previous year, and as a result rodent population had reduced drastically. However the reduced rodent population meant that there was no food supply for Owls now and they too have almost vanished from the place.

A Collared Dove
 - Weather in Scandinavia predictably highly unpredictable! The days we chose were not the best of the days in terms of number of birds, it was a great experience nevertheless.

A few more Canada Geese
 - The ornithologists at ‘Falsterbo Fagel Station’ are doing a wonderful job, studying the bird migration here and ringing the birds. Two people stand at the prime point Nabben, from dawn to dusk, despite the harsh weather, meticulously noting down the bird species and counting each species. Note that on days with great weather, this count can be a few hundred thousand too!

 - And seasoned birders, who have been studying the migration from decades, stand in front of the lighthouse, another good point for witnessing migration, from morning till late afternoon, just guiding amateur birders like us, helping with Ids and sharing fascinating bird facts. That was something greatly appreciated.

A White Wagtail in the Golf Course adjoining the Light house garden
 - Coming to bird ringing, trapping, ringing and releasing birds requires handling them with utmost care and it was amazing to see the dedication with which it was done. The birds were handled as soon as they were trapped, and the ringing done right at the same spot, and released, all in a matter of a few minutes, making sure the bird is not held for longer than necessary.

A Robin, after ringing
 - We could rent bicycles there and cover most of the birding areas in Falsterbo and Skanor. A sign we spotted while riding… feels good to see that little creatures are regarded too :). There were other signs of Avocets crossing roads, as well!

{Information Source - The book 'Wings Over Falsterbo' and knowledge gained through talks with the experts there. 
Some of the pics were shot in low light conditions and have been over exposed, so as to show the colors of the plumage, rather than being right photographically :) }

Bird List:
Swan, Mute
Heron, Grey
Geese, Barnacle
Geese, Canada
Geese, Graylag
Wigeon, Eurasian
Teal, Eurasian
Duck, Tufted
Shelduck, Common
Cormorant, Great
Eider, Common
Buzzard, Common
Honey Buzzard, European
Marsh Harrier, Eurasian
Sparrowhawk, Eurasian
Kestrel, Common
Hobby, European
Coot, Common
Oyster Catcher, Eurasian
Lapwing, Northern
Godwit, Bar tailed
Redshank, Spotted
Greenshank, Common
Gull, Herrings
Gull, Black Headed
Gull, Common
Gull, Black Backed
Pigeon, Stock
Pigeon, Wood
Dove, Eurasian Collared
Swift, Common
Martin, House
Barn Swallow
Woodpecker, Spotted
Lark, Sky
Robin, European
Wagtail, White
Wagtail, Yellow
Pipit, Tree
Redstart, Common
Warbler, Willow
Warblers, Un-Id’ed
Flycatcher, Spotted
Tit, Great
Tit, Blue
Tit, Coal
Raven / Rook ?
Jackdaw, Eurasian
Crow, Hooded
Starlings, European
Magpie, Eurasian
Sparrow, House
Sparrow, Eurasian Tree
Finch, Rose
Finch, Green
Linnet, Common
Siskin, European

Finally a Metal Bird!
We must say few words about the people at Falsterbo who have been studying bird migration over many years now. They are doing really a wonderful job out there which was an eye opener for us. They have been maintaining everyday reports of all birds sighted and their respective counts from ages. It can be found here.

Some serious Birders at Falsterbo

‘Wings Over Falsterbo’ is a book which is about bird migration at Falsterbo but also contains many interesting facts about bird migration in general! This book is co authored by many reputed ornithologists and greatly benefited us!

We are grateful to people at Falsterbo Fagelstation who made this possible for us!!! A BIG THANK YOU FOLKS!!


  1. Really enjoyed reading, a very good post.

  2. Cycling, birds , natuer at the best and doing nothing but watching birds and counting- I can't ask for better combo!


  3. Cycling, birding and leisure counting at nature's lap! Super stuff. I wish i visit the place!

  4. Thanks @Poornima @Chandu.. Yes it was a perfect recipe!

  5. guys are really going places!

  6. Very interesting account of bird migration! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Very interesting account! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Excellent note, very interesting information. Thanks

  9. Very Interesting documentation. :)


Any more interesting stuff on these birds? Any corrections in Ids? Please do drop in your valuable inputs...