When spring is about to go over to summer, and when the sun has just set, there is chance to encounter birds that are otherwise seldom encountered. Among the Nettles and Cow-Parsley you hear a Marsh Warbler sing. You can tell he is good at imitating other birds. Common Sandpiper, Blue Tit, Barn Swallow comes one after the other as well as a number of other unknown species, whose sounds he might have picked up in Africa during the winter? From all sides Thrush Nightingales are heard and in the distance you may hear a Corncrake.
The Night birds
To be out in the spring or early summer night to listen for nocturnal birds adds a new dimension to birding. You don’t scout for birds – you listen. The night is full of sounds and all doesn’t come from birds.
To get as much as possible out of the nocturnal bird listening, is about having the knowledge of sounds and of course about to be out at the right time, the right place and in the right weather. The very best conditions exist when there is no wind and unseasonably warm, preferably after a period of a little worse weather.
In the night it is mostly males of species that use the quieter time of day when they are without any major competition with other bird species to attract females that are heard, females that pass unseen above them. This means that they rarely start singing until it become so dark it may be in the early summer. The first hours after sunset usually are noticeably silent, but after midnight the vocal activity increases. The hour just before dawn is usually the best.
Car or bicycle?
The best way to experience the bird nights on Öland is to be a long time at one place, and to use bicycle for transportation. The downside is that one does not cover so large areas. By car you have time to cover larger areas, but miss the birds during transportation. In calm weather with no wind, most species are heard from a long distance, Corncrakes and Thrush Nightingales are heard from miles away. So a stop every two kilometers for five minutes to listen is recommended.
Where should you go?
What has made Öland truly known when it comes to night birds is the accumulation of a series of night singing species, some quite rare, that in the spring and early summer can be heard on the island. In a few nights you can, with the right planning, experience an impressive night concert with many musicians and, if lucky, with a famous guest soloist from a distant land.
What makes that Öland can accommodate as many bird species are the small-scale agricultural landscape. Pastures and fields are succeeded by groves and other forest islets, ditches and ponds, stone walls, field margins, shrubbery and Cow-Parsley thickets. This mosaic of habitat types makes it that in some places you can hear both pure forest birds and, at the same time, species that belong in the meadows and marshes. A night bird tour should be planned so that as many habitat types as possible are covered, plus at least one larger wetland area.
Already in March it may pay off to go out in the woods at dusk to listen for voices associated to Eurasian Woodcock, Song Thrush and Owls. On Öland among Owls is usually only Tawny Owl and Long-eared Owl heard, and these begin hooting from the end of February.
From April onwards the wetlands begin to be filled with sound. Water Rails and Red-necked Grebes squeals like a stuck pig and Eurasian Coots cackles in the reeds. Mallards, Garganeys and Teals are chatting discreetly in the dark of night, and from the sky is neighing Common Snipes heard in acrobatic mating games. In early May, the first Reed Warblers arrives and adds to the sounds over the reeds.
Early Summer Nights
Towards the end of May and during the first two weeks of June, the night concert culminates on Öland. This time a year the Thrush Nightingales dominates the night. If there is only the slightest of trees or grove nearby, the singing can be heard from all four cardinal points simultaneously. After a while you learn to “listen through” the Thrush Nightingales song after other, not quite so loud vocalizations. From overgrown wet meadows the Common Grasshopper Warblers buzz like song can be heard, and the Marsh Warblers imitating song from the Cow-Parsley thickets. Out on the meadows the Corncrakes and the Common Quail are heard and in the pine grove comes the sound of the Nightjar.
With some luck, the night’s concert is spiced up with the River Warblers mechanical whirring or some rarer guests from the south like Savi’s Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Little Bittern or Little Crake.
After night comes morning
A Night among Öland’s night singers is a different and powerful experience. If you forward the dawn defies the increasing fatigue and have the energy to stay just a little bit longer into the dawn, the reward will be substantial.
To experience how the Thrush Nightingales gradually cease to sing, one by one, and how they are replaced by Whinchat’s, Northern Wheatear’s, Song Thrush’s, Eurasian Curlew’s and Northern Lapwing’s is stunningly beautiful. When then the first Lark’s rises to the sky it’s time to go home satisfied.