Öland, birders paradise!
For all visitors to and residents of Öland with an interest in the magical world of migratory birds – The Great Migration – there is always a headland or a beach, and once there the sea or a channel to gaze out over.
Discover northern Öland’s deciduous and coniferous forests interspersed with pasturelands. And on the southern third of the island there is an expansive and somewhat enigmatic “inland sea” – the Stora Alvaret!
Tens of millions of birds travel past, through and over all of this … throughout the year!
It is said that islands have an island effect on birds, a kind of magnetism. And of course this is true. For most birds, vast stretches of water are a negative thing. Birds cannot rest out there on the open seas, but “know” that they will soon reach an island where they can rest and feed.
Öland is a long, natural marker for birds migrating in a north-south course and at the same time the long coast catches flocks of birds flying from east to west or vice-versa.
Traditionally, most activity relating to birds occurs during their autumn and spring migrations, but on Öland it is evident that birds are on the move for the Earth’s entire revolution around the sun – i.e. throughout the year!
There is always a day, a place and a moment for people who are interested in this boundless world of birds.
On a day in February you can see thousands of Common Gulls and Herring Gulls travelling in a south westerly direction past Öland. The ice has started becoming fixed in the Gulf of Finland and the surrounding waters by then. As the edge of the ice slowly moves southwards, the seagulls head towards the southern Baltic Sea and Danish waters.
At the same time… and this is spectacular… there is milder air out over the Atlantic and the first good low pressure system over the British Isles will bring the first birds of spring. These are sometimes referred to as weather migrants, and include Greylag Geese, Common Shelducks, Northern Lapwings or Peewits, Golden Plovers, Eurasian Skylarks and Starlings.
Much further south than the low pressure systems, down on the African continent, the migratory birds’ internal clocks count down to a departure date. Regardless of the weather in northern Europe, the Alvar terrain’s Northern Wheatears and the White Wagtails of the fishing ports will soon start their journey north. These are two examples of migrants arriving on nearly the same date every spring and are perhaps the species of bird that we humans most appreciate.
These faithful fellow creatures create a sense of security within us… and the feeling when the wagtail is back again, twittering from the roof of the fishing cabin on a spring morning, is, of course, euphoric.
When the final returners reach Öland and Sweden at the start of June, including the Common Rosefinch and the Greenish Warbler, you can already hear the mating calls of the autumn migrants, the Spotted Redshank and the Green Sandpiper, as well as the Eurasian Curlew. These are the females, who have completed their part of the breeding and are now on their way to their winter habitat. Their respective partners remain to ensure that the chicks are fledglings by July. Then the males also fly south while the new generation migrates in August/September.
Imagine that! This magical migration sets off at three completely different departure times… but they fly along the same routes and arrive at the same wintering area!
So the avian autumn is something totally different to what we call autumn. It is an almost elusive feeling, and, at the same time, a very palpable experience.
Öland has an avian autumn that lasts for over six months!
Shortly after New Year, the first gales sweep in from the east with accompanying spates of intensive snow showers – which meteorologists now call “snow cannons”. Thousands of Little Gulls may leave the Baltic Sea at that time, having until then lived a pelagic life out there on the water, far from land. These, our smallest gull, ride above the stormy sea’s hissing breakers, tern-like, elegant and personifying the literary gull Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.
The Öland winter has arrived on the island, but the birds continue to migrate… and every day a new bird year begins on Öland!