A modern city with many di­verse habi­tats makes for a great bird­ing des­ti­na­tion

Bird Watching (UK) - - Bird The World - WORDS: DAVID LINDO

MANY VIS­I­TORS TO Swe­den comment on how quiet the coun­try is and how quiet Swedes as a peo­ple are com­pared to the more vo­cal folks who live fur­ther south in the Mediter­ranean. The Stran­glers more derog­a­tively de­scribed Swe­den in their punk song Swe­den (All Quiet On The Eastern Front) as the ‘only coun­try where the clouds are in­ter­est­ing’. But Swe­den, cer­tainly for bird­ers, is a mil­lion miles away from be­ing bor­ing. In­deed, along with fel­low Scan­di­na­vian neigh­bours Nor­way and Fin­land, Swe­den is world-renowned as a venue for in­cred­i­ble bird­ing and specif­i­cally for see­ing Arc­tic owl and taiga for­est spe­cial­ists, such as Nutcracker and Pine Gros­beak. It’s a de­cep­tively large coun­try, be­ing the third big­gest in the Euro­pean Union. Sit­u­ated on the south­ern coast fac­ing Copen­hagen in Den­mark is Malmö, ar­guably the best city in the coun­try for birds. It has a very re­spectable list of more than 320 species, which is an ex­cel­lent tally when you con­sider that there have only been about 500 species recorded in the whole coun­try. This modern city has a big di­ver­sity of habi­tats and its city coun­cil must take some credit for de­lib­er­ately green­ing its ur­ban cen­tre with plen­ti­ful parks and other open spa­ces. Given Malmö’s south­ern geo­graphic po­si­tion, vir­tu­ally be­ing the last port of call be­fore main­land Europe, all of these green ar­eas are great for at­tract­ing mi­grants. Dur­ing the spring, birds head up through Europe into Copen­hagen and then across the sea and into Malmö. Mean­while, dur­ing the au­tumn, many pass fur­ther south-west through that fa­mous mi­gra­tion hotspot called Fal­sterbo, be­fore drift­ing south and even­tu­ally into Africa. How­ever, in bad weather con­di­tions, the mi­grants pitch down ex­hausted in any con­ceiv­able cover in Malmö.

City tour

Be­ing a coastal city, the beach ar­eas are well worth a scan. A stretch of beach of about two miles near the heart of the city is pop­u­lar with bathers dur­ing the sum­mer, but, for the rest of the year, is a pop­u­lar spot for birds. Look up dur­ing the mi­gra­tion pe­ri­ods for drift­ing rap­tors and masses of mov­ing Tree Pipit and Yel­low Wag­tail. Dur­ing bad storms, it is one of the best places for dis­ori­en­tated pelagic birds like Gan­net, Sooty Shear­wa­ter, skuas and sea­d­uck, that rarely ven­ture that far south in Swe­den. How­ever, waders are

thin on the ground due to the lack of nour­ish­ment on the sandy beach. There are sev­eral large parks within the city in­clud­ing Kungsparken, with its or­na­men­tal lake, and the largest, Pil­dammsparken. Take a stroll there as dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son you are cer­tain to bump into Ic­ter­ine War­bler, Lit­tle Grebe and there is even a good pop­u­la­tion of ur­ban-breed­ing Red-necked Grebes. Dur­ing pas­sage times, look out for reg­u­lar Firecrest and less fre­quent Yel­low-browed and Pal­las’ War­blers and, if you are re­ally lucky, a rarity like a lone­some Radde’s War­bler. By day, Spar­rowhawks and Kestrels pre­date un­wary passer­ines and lo­cal ro­dents. The now ar­che­typal ur­ban­ite Peregrine can be found sit­ting on the high-rise build­ings in Malmö, with up to two pairs present, al­though they rarely breed. By night, the owl depart­ment is rep­re­sented by oc­ca­sional Long-eared Owls that form win­ter roosts, al­though Tawny Owls are ab­sent from the city, so don’t go look­ing for them. One win­ter vis­i­tor that is vir­tu­ally un­known among the res­i­dent Malmö folk is the White-tailed Ea­gle. The rea­son for their ob­scu­rity is that they tend to fly very high over­head, so are only no­ticed by keen bird­ers. They spend the day on Saltholm, an is­land be­tween Copen­hagen and Malmö, where they lunch on the very com­mon Cor­morants, be­fore fly­ing back to the in­land forests about 25 miles away at dusk. In­ter­est­ingly, they fol­low the course of the Øre­sund Bridge to and from Saltholm. This strik­ing bridge strad­dles the Dan­ish Straits that sep­a­rates the two na­tions and, in­deed, the two cities and it cuts an im­pres­sive fig­ure when viewed from Malmö. It is also a good venue for watch­ing au­tum­nal rap­tor mi­gra­tion. Dur­ing cer­tain winds, rap­tors con­gre­gate at a lime­stone quarry at the base of the bridge on the Malmö side. The winds whip up from the quarry to give them the height that they need to make the cross­ing, fol­low­ing the bridge into main­land Europe. The flocks can in­clude num­bers of Honey Buz­zard and, later in the au­tumn, Buz­zard and Marsh Har­rier. The most un­usual Malmö or­nitho­log­i­cal story is that of the Crested Lark. A small pop­u­la­tion used to breed in the har­bour area in the north­ern end of the city, and ev­ery au­tumn they would mi­grate a cou­ple of miles away to a mar­ket­place in south­ern Malmö. They would spend the win­ter scav­eng­ing around the mar­ket stalls and nearby streets be­fore mi­grat­ing back to the har­bour in the spring. By 1979, af­ter a mas­sive de­cline, the Malmö pop­u­la­tion were the only breed­ing birds left in the coun­try. The fol­low­ing year they were named as the City Bird of Malmö – the year that they be­came ex­tinct. The Crested Lark is cur­rently a very rare va­grant to Swe­den.


HOTSPOT Fal­sterbo – a top mi­gra­tion site pop­u­lar with bird­watch­ers Snowy Owl Pine Gros­beak

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