Soon after my escape to Skagen, I visited Bornholm. A Danish island located south of Sweden, it is home to a variety of sceneries quite different from what I’m used to around Copenhagen, including cliffs, sand dunes and dense forests. I was with my friend Alex, who invited me to spend a few days there at his family’s place (during the nights) and on the roads (during the days). Here is a map of our peregrinations.
These were mad days, as you can expect from two like-minded people fond of nature and discovery. We were lent a car by his family, but since Alex doesn’t have a driving license, I was the entitled driver all day long. Given that I hadn’t driven since January, I was really nervous at this idea, even though I knew I would do it. My nervosity increased when I saw that our coach was an old gasoline Opel sedan, quite the opposite of the small diesel Renault Clio I’m used to when I’m at home. But no worries, after short-lived hesitations for the first steps (ok, wheel turns maybe), I got quite used to it, and discovered a car very comfortable and easy to drive. At that moment, I was pretty sure we would survive this ride… (spoiler alert: we did!).
So here we were, driving east from Rønne en route to Ekkodalen. A Northern hawk owl (Surnia ulula) had elected to stay on the island for weeks, probably the young bird that was found injured and healed at the local “raptor show center”. It was sighted the day before our arrival right in front of the house in Ekkodalen, so we set sail with high spirits; alas, the bird was nowhere to be found that day. Anyway, we took a walk in the forest, enjoying the warm weather and the numerous birds swarming around: Common ravens (Corvus corax), my first European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus) in Denmark, Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) in the pine forest, Common whitethroats (Sylvia communis) and other passerines… we tried the echo place (Ekkodalen means “the echo valley” in Danish), but weren’t convinced.
After a nap in the ruins of an old castle, we drove to the eastern coast of the island, bought some food in Nexø and walked along the sea. We saw some birds there, among those many ducklings, but soon time forced us to go back to Rønne. After a delicious dinner, we headed north. Our plan was to see the sunset from Hammeren, a rocky peninsula guarded by the castle of Hammershus. We arrived there just as the sun started to hide behind a thick layer of clouds (but the light while we drove was gorgeous!), and started to walk along the cliff. Soon, we could witness black and white shapes flying from the open water to a place hidden from view, down there. Razorbills (Alca torda) nesting in the cliff! From where we stood, it was impossible to see the eggs or the chicks, but I felt elated. I knew there would be more coming on the day after, though. Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) nested on top of the cliffs, in the grass, and a group of sheep we scared received an aggressive welcome when they arrived a bit too close to the eggs.
We stopped a bit further to work on some photography. Alex was kind enough to strike the pose while I experimentated with the flash, and some long exposure shots ended our time there, as the cold of the night started to creep up and seize our limbs. On the way back, we were surprised by a squad of two Eurasian woodcocks (Scolopax rusticola) darting along the path and overtaking us. I formally identified them later, at home, when I compared what I remembered of their calls to what I found on xeno-canto. A Thrush nightingale (Luscinia luscinia) sang a few meters from us, hidden in the dark. Again, I didn’t identify it formally before I heard this species again on a guided tour in Copenhagen, a week later. The descent to the parking was made perilous by the dark, especially with all the photo equipment I had with me, but we beat this challenge with grace and talent.
The second day in Wonderland saw us drive to Gudhjem in order to catch a ship headed to Christiansø. This small archipelago, administered by the Danish Ministry of Defence, is essentially made of three islands: Christiansø, Frederiksø and Græsholm. The last one isn’t accessible to humans, but it hosts thousands of pairs of Razorbills, Common guillemots (Uria aalge) and Herring gulls. Luckily, we have a good view on the birds from Frederiksø, and that’s what we started with when we arrived. It is quite striking to see these birds on such a low island.
The previous times I had seen them, it was in cliffs in Brittany or Iceland, where they lay their egg on a precarious perch high above the surface of the sea. Nothing of that here: the highest point on Græsholm is 11 m above sea level. As always, there was something magical seeing these pelagic animals that go to shore only for raising their chick. They were everywhere: I saw the first ones from the boat, with numbers rising as we approached the archipelago (as you can imagine, each encounter generated a peak of adrenaline in me), but they surrounded the islands, so whenever you looked to the open sea, you were sure to spot some, and sometimes some hundreds.
In addition to the seabirds, we were gifted by the sight of several Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) on the rocks right by the water: there was one funny guy, lying on its belly, head and tail up, who jumped up when it wanted to turn and look in another direction… hilarious!
After this great moment, we toured the main island and had a picnic surrounded by Common blackbirds (Turdus merula), White wagtails (Motacilla alba), Common linnets (Linaria cannabina) and gulls. For some reason, the boat chose another path to get out of the harbour, which is situated between Christiansø and Frederiksø: while we had arrived directly from the south, we departed to the north and sailed between Frederiksø and Græsholm. I’m not going to complain: we had the best sights of the day there, even though they didn’t last long enough.
Once we were back to Bornholm, we drove to Døndalen, to see Denmark’s largest waterfall. The walk in this woody rift valley was incredibly relaxing, especially after spending so much time under the sun, on the boat or in Christiansø. Surrounded by the songs of Song thrushes (Turdus philomelos), we enjoyed the moment and had some fun working on pictures.
On our way to the car, I briefly spotted a Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), a conspicuous but incredibly discreet bird.
Our last stop was in Østerlars Kirke, one of Bornholm’s four “castle-churches”. These round, white churches have thick walls with hidden staircases, and rooms in the upper floors to store food and offer shelter to the inhabitants of the surroundings.
It was a nice addition to our nature trips, and a good argument to ease our conscience: we could now say that we had done something cultural on these holidays!
Alex thought we were done for the day, but when I saw the golden light reflecting in the clouds after dinner, I strongly insisted to go out again to see the sunset. “You’re killing me”, he said, but he agreed and obviously didn’t regret. While we missed the golden light (the horizon was obscured by the clouds, like in Hammeren the day before), we got the pink and the purple. Gorgeous, isn’t it?
In my opinion, this trip highlights nicely the value of shared journeys 🙂
There will be another article about my last day on the island before we move on to new adventures, so stay tuned!