To the south!

I celebrated the arrival of spring by taking a week-end off to Gedser. The southernmost point of Denmark is at the tip of a peninsula pointing down to Germany, on the island of Falster, and it’s a place I visited back in December. I had slept in the bird station there, and seen plenty of water birds, including scoters, Smews (Mergellus albellus), Long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis) and the lifer Greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons).

I didn’t have much time to focus on photography this week-end, hence the low quality of most pictures. I hope you can forgive me that 😉
Here is a map of my week-end.

On Saturday morning, I woke up at 5, took an early train and reached Nykøbing F (F for Falster, because there are several Nykøbing in Denmark) at 9. There, I met Hans, my guide for the day. He had had the brilliant idea to wear his binoculars around the neck in the station, therefore I spotted him immediatly!

He took me by car to the south, along the coast facing the neighbouring island of Lolland. We hoped to see the flock of Lesser white-fronted geese (Anser erythropus) that were grazing in the meadows of Roden Fed, but we were way too far. Still, the strait produced scores of Eurasian wigeons (Anas penelope), and a few Brant geese (Branta bernicla), the first ones of the year for me. I also enjoyed a familiar sight: the ondulating, noisy flight of the White wagtail (Motacilla alba). They had been in Falster for three weeks, but I hadn’t seen any in Copenhagen before today, actually, so those were also my first wagtails of the year. I saw many more in Gedser.

White wagtail (Motacilla alba)

White wagtail (Motacilla alba)

We then visited the bird reserve of Bøtø. There, the sea used to come far inland, but the 15km-long lagoon was closed and drained, and there remain only 3 hectares of water. This quiet area allowed me to complete the surface duck list, including an early Garganey resting among fellow Eurasian teals (Anas crecca). Northern pintails (Anas acuta) wandered in the area, accompanied by Gadwalls (Anas strepera) and Northern shovelers (Anas clypeata).

Hans left me at the station, where I met two ringers, Andreas from Denmark and László from Hungary. They are both biologists, and they are spending several weeks in Gedser to ring birds. But more on that later…

In the afternoon, Hans picked up the three of us and took us to Lolland, in quest for these infamous geese. It was worth a shot, since it would be a lifer for him, Andreas and I! To reach the coastal meadows, we had to cross the forest of Roden Skov, a long walk that left us exhausted, but we saw them! We counted 26 of them, making up for a fourth of the European breeding population.

It was funny to be with biologists on the field: in addition to an impressive knowledge of the birds, including their voice, they were all the time discussing age and numbers. It was very interesting to hear them, and humbling too. They always had answers to my questions, so I learnt a lot that day.

In the forest, we met deers and many wood birds, including tits, nuthatch, woodpecker and treecreeper.

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I spent the whole Sunday at the tip, dividing my time between the eider migration and the wood birds around the station. Based on different counts throughout the day, we estimated that 6000-7000 eiders migrated that day. Between 12 and 12.30, I counted 530 of them, flying in formation along the coast. During my watch, I also spotted  a pair of Common ringed plovers (Charadrius hiaticula) and a flight of Common cranes (Grus grus) headed north.

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Common eider (Somateria mollissima)

That’s not how my day started, though. My companions woke up around 5.15, to have time for breakfast before setting up the nets, which needed to be ready for the sunrise an hour later. I had put my alarm clock in between, but like last time in December, it felt so good that I couldn’t get out of bed. Instead I fell asleep again, to be awoken by Andreas: “Come out, there’s a Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)!”.

So I got out and saw the cute little bird. The garden was stirred by Redwings (Turdus iliacus) and Common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Out on the sea, I saw a pair of Long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis) and some Common scoters (Melanitta nigra). Later, I came back to the garden, to learn a bit more about ringing.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Ringing occurs from sunrise to the end of the morning (10-12, depending on the bird activity in the garden). Every 30 minutes, Andreas and László toured the garden, collecting trapped birds in small fabric bags. This time cannot be exceeded, because otherwise the most fragile birds, in this case Goldcrests (Regulus regulus), would lose too much fat and eventually die. After the collection, the birds are taken to the Lab, a cabin with two ringing desks, including holes in the wall to release the birds easily. There, they are weighed, their wings are measured, their amount of fat on the belly is studied, and the sex and age are determined. All these parameters are recorded and sent to a Danish database. The rings indicate that the birds were ringed in Denmark, so if those birds are recaptured somewhere, the ringers know whom they should contact for information.

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A net

gedser-12 gedser-9 gedser-10

Andreas explained me something interesting regarding the aging of Blackbirds (Turdus merula). Adults moult all their feathers every summer, while young birds only moult some of them. On a bird he showed me, we saw a contrast between some warm-brown feathers and some olive-brown feathers, indicating that some were more recent than others. Thus it was a young bird (in its second calendar year, or 2cy). Then I held it in my hands, and it felt really weird.

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Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

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The weighing

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European robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Outside, the calls of a trapped Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) had attracted two friends which kept chirping around.

European blue tit (Cyanystes caeruleus)

Eurasian blue tit

When I came back from the tip, I saw a European stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) on top of a bush, in the field right down the station. Andreas was quite excited about that early migrator, so we set out in quest for the bird. While we were scanning the area, I noticed another bird: it turned out to be a Great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor), one of my dream birds in Denmark. Remember, I looked for it in Flyvestation Værløse, some weeks ago! I was thrilled, if slightly disappointed by the size of a bird I had imagined bigger.

Great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor) | © Smudge 9000 on Flickr, under Creative Commons license, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor) | © Smudge 9000 on Flickr, under Creative Commons license, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Later, I saw a Eurasian woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), the third and last lifer of a very prolific week-end. If you have more questions, especially regarding ringing, don’t hesitate!

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

Common eider

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It felt really good to leave the daily routine behind me for a few days, far from the internet. Now my urge to travel has reawoken.

Bird inventory

ANSALB BRABER ANAPEN MOTALBANACLYSOMMOLGRUGRUTURILISTUVULREGREGTURMERERIRUBCYACAE

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11 thoughts on “To the south!

  1. Pingback: My Denmark: one year in a flat country | Eiwawar

  2. Pingback: Advanced course in eiderology | Eiwawar

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