A Guest Blog From Sweden A Life Change And Wonderful Birds From A North Wales Birder




What a fantastic sight - Common Cranes lots of them photo by Matt.



Our great friend and fellow North Wales birder Matt has made a few life style changes here is his blog...

In late July 2020, my wife, our 8 month old daughter and I made the bold (and some might say completely insane during a pandemic) move to Sweden to live. My wife Sofia is Swedish so that is the connection if anyone was wondering why Sweden?! We have moved to a town called Skövde located between the 2 large lakes Vattern and Vänern in the region of Västergotland. The reason for choosing this town was that my wife’s sister already lives here, we have visited many times and felt it was a good starting location for us…and later I was to find out it was a particularly good base for a birder!


Having Hawfinches close to home is wonderful photo by Matt.



We took a couple of months to get settled into our new life especially as the pandemic was still very much live. I had been able to keep my job in the UK so was working remotely between Sweden and England, and Sofia was still on maternity leave with our daughter. Gradually, I started to research birding and bird photography in the Area and discovered a very active bird club in the town. I reached out to the local birding community in the Autumn of 2020 and that’s where my revitalised birding adventure began.


Long-tailed Tit of the white headed northern race photo by Matt.



As I got to know folks and became part of the bird club I found out about several good birding opportunities in the area which amongst other things gave me access to three forest feeding stations to start aclimatising to Swedish birding life (and the chance to try out new photography equipment kindly bought me by my parents). All of these feeding stations are within 15 minutes from home and one is in a very large expanse of old forest (and that’s one thing that I have found rather overwhelming is the amount of forest here and where one begins in it!). In late autumn/early winter it held regular crested tit, willow and marsh tits, long tailed tit and nuthatch (of the northern races) and great spotted woodpecker, and have been informed its used by nutcracker in some years too. The same woodland has provided me with brilliant views of Black grouse, Black woodpecker, Elk and Fox as well as Pygmy owl - a first for me. I haven’t yet caught up with Capercaillie but they are in there and probability says I will be lucky soon! I didn’t get to one of the feeding stations until this spring as its by invitation only but it was worth the wait when it gave stunning views of hawfinch, bullfinch, brambling and red squirrels.


We love Hawfinches and these photos by Matt are just fantastic!




Common Crane lifts off into the sky photo by Matt.



During the autumn of 2020 I also discovered the thrill of the Area’s most iconic species - the Common Crane. We live 20 minutes away from Lake Hornborga (Hornborgasjön) which is famous for its spring and autumn gatherings of this enigmatic species. During the autumn, about 10,000 cranes use the lake for feeding and roosting on their southerly migration and stay for about 4 weeks from early September to early October. It appears our apartment is on the migration pathway of these majestic birds and looking out of my window one early October morning whilst trying to work allowed me to count 1800 in several groups over the course of 1 hour. On their return migration they come in even bigger numbers over March and April and in early April can peak up to about 20,000 individuals in some years. At Easter this year I was lucky enough to spend the day in a very small photography hide in the middle of the main feeding area. After getting into the hide at 3:30am, whilst still dark, I witnessed thousands of cranes arriving around me at dawn until I was surrounded by them completely oblivious of my astounded reactions and excitement in that little box. When they were at times less than a foot from the hide window I realised how big and how intimidating these phenomenal birds look. By the time I left the hide at 9pm I had taken over 6000 photographs and had had one of my most memorable wildlife days ever. During the quieter times in the hide I managed to observe some of other species around the hide which included several White-tailed Eagles, Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, White Fronted Geese, Whooper Swans, Pintail, Teal and Shoveler.


Common Crane up close and personal such wonderful birds photo by Matt.



Late autumn and late winter/early spring also bring spectacular gatherings of geese into the Area. Lake östen is only 15 minutes away from where we live and is a magnet for several species. Bean Geese (both Tundra and Taiga) appear here in their thousands with accompanying smaller numbers of both races of White Fronted Geese, Pink Footed Geese, Barnacle Goose, the odd Brent Goose, Greylags and Canada Geese. There was great excitement amongst locals in the first week of March this year when a Red Breasted Goose appeared one morning with a new influx of Bean Geese. This was a species many had been waiting for for years and was a new species for the Area. I was lucky enough to see it on the 6th March and it was new for me. What a smart looking goose it was too! A few days later the same area held two Lesser White Fronted Geese.


A beautiful Whooper Swan photo by Matt.



Apparently this past winter has been one of the hardest in the Area for many years - down to -20 at times and several weeks of lying snow up to about 8 inches deep and completely frozen fresh water (including rivers) for much of that period. One thing I’ve noticed is the lack of numbers of birds during a hard winter here - they literally disappear and suddenly reappear when the ice melts and temperatures begin to increase. Its actually quite strange! The regular species are, however, replaced by some really nice hardy species - waxwings were very evident and it was apparently a poor winter with some past years affording totals in their 10s of thousands in the town where we live, a few great grey shrikes took up winter residency in the surrounding area, and where there wasn’t ice I saw a few smew including some males, and a couple of Velvet Scoters. Raptors became a feature of my winter with several rough legged buzzards, hen harriers, a golden eagle and white tailed eagles a common site including seven sat together on a frozen lake on one occasion - all within half an hour of home.


Nuthatch coming to a feeding station near Matt's new home photo by Matt.



And with a hard winter spring has crept in very slowly. Wood anemones and liverwort have slowly started to cover the forest floors wherever you go which has made everywhere look so beautiful. Only in the last 2 weeks has spring really sprung with fieldfare’s everywhere, pied flycatchers, yellow wagtails, firecrests, lesser spotted woodpeckers, wood warblers, willow warblers, chiffchaffs, sedge warblers and blackcaps, wrynecks, whinchat, wheatears and hirundines having reached us. An early morning on the shores of lake hornborga a week or so ago saw many summer migrants including lava yellow wagtails, common and Arctic terns, several pairs of summer plumages red necked grebes on nests, osprey, wood and common sandpipers, greenshanks, warblers singing everywhere, common cranes, black kite, marsh harriers etc.

So what’s next. I am reliably informed the next phase of incoming migrants will arrive very soon. That will include thrush nightingale which fills the evening and nights with its beautiful sound, and one I am particularly keen on seeing - great Reed warbler - which I am told is present at my local patch - a lake less than 10 mins walk which already holds breeding goldeneye, 3 pairs of breeding Slavonian grebe, a large colony of black headed gulls amongst others. The Area is apparently very good for insects too and I am particularly looking forward to catching up with Camberwell Beauty. Oh and then there are other birds which I am yet to catch up with which include Nutcrackers, Red-backed Shrike, Black-necked Grebe (yes you can see all f grebes in summer plumage in a day here) Garganey, Woodlark, Eagle Owl, Short Eared Owl, Great Grey Owl, Hawk Owl, Pallid Harrier and many others. Its going to be fun this year!

So hopefully this gives a flavour of where I’ve moved and the place that’s reignited the birding and photography spark in me. My first impressions are that nature and wildlife thrive here in beautiful surroundings. The locals are so friendly and so willing to help newcomers, and to welcome more visitors to what is surely an underrated or simply unknown area. One difference to the UK is that you rarely see many other people when out and about birding so you feel you have the place to yourself! The help of locals is hugely appreciated and invaluable as the area is vast with so much different habitat and potential. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, please feel free to drop me a line if you want to know more and I will write another post in a few months to tell you all about the late spring and summer. For anyone interested some of the locals provide guiding services and several wildlife tour companies are already using them to discover this hidden gem and you can follow my photography at

http://www.mattlatham.smugmug.com

Hej då! Vi ses snart. Matt

We hope to hear more of Matt's birding adventures in Sweden sounds fantastic!





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