Saturday, May 25, 2013

In the nick of time

I left Norway in the nick of time. Though my last night in Norway was fantastic with no wind or rain, things were different when I arrived in Hirtshals in Denmark. The cold weather that had been predicted had arrived. By the time I disembarked from the ferry in Hirtshals, the wind was howling followed by buckets of rain. While the next day seemed fine as I followed the bike trail down the west coast, I was in for a surprise. During my second night in Denmark it snowed. Not much, perhaps only an inch at the campsite where I over-nighted, but the landscape became whiter as I cycled towards the city of Thisted. The cycle path was covered in snow and only occasional stretches between major towns had been swept clear; the off-the-beaten-track trails would not be serviced for a while, if at all (it was after all early winter when no sane person would be cycling these routes!). 

The cycle route on Denmark's west coast actually follows the beach for about 10 km.

Trampled snow and ice making cycling a challenge.

The cold snap put a damper on my birding efforts in Denmark, as I grew increasing worried that I would not make it to Germany in time to catch a flight back to South Africa. I looked at my options of taking a bus or train should things turn out for the worst, and then just pedalled and hoped for the best. I passed the lakes of Vejlerne Nature Reserve in northern Jutland to get an impression of the area. Hundreds of ducks and large flocks of Lapwings occupied the open waters and frozen mudflats respectively. I could see the area had huge potential, given more time. I wished it was summer!

Just follow the cycle path and all will be fine!

Not the best conditions for cycling, especially when in a hurry!

A bird hide in the Vejlerne Nature Reserve in Denmark's northern Jutland.

I continued my slow progress along the snowed-up cycle paths, and occasionally sneaked onto the main roads when things got too tough. At the saltmarshes at Agger Tange, in the southern parts of National Park Thy, there were scores of birds including Coots, Mallards, Goldeneyes, Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls, Mute Swans, Oystercatchers, Whimbrels, Eurasian Curlews, Bar-tailed Godwits, and Greylag Geese. Raptors such as Common Buzzard and Rough-legged Buzzard were regularly seen.

A large Barnacle Goose flock on the grasslands of Denmark's west coast.

I was making good progress despite the snow, and fairly easily made my way to southern Denmark following the west coast. The snow eased up in places, and almost seemed to be non-existent, but never for too long. South of Fjand the grasslands held large migrating flocks of Barnacle Goose. On Romo Island the mudflats held Common Shelducks, and the occasional Brent Goose. Cycling around the island, I also found Skylark, Pink-footed Goose, Kestrel, Carrion Crow, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Rough-legged Buzzard, Twite, Pintail, and Snow Bunting. 

Sunrise in Denmark, with the snow easing up for a change.

After Romo it was only a four-day cycle to Hamburg; I had made it with a couple days to spare. I spent the spare time with family, who kindly hosted me until I caught my flight back to South Africa. Though my trip through Denmark was rushed, I hope to return someday in the summer! So after four and a half months since starting in Norway on 18 July, I had seen 183 bird species of which 80 were new to me (lifers). I had missed quite a few, but that means I have a reason to go back! For now I was looking forward to a hot summer in South Africa before returning for some more adventure cycle touring. 

A frozen pond in Germany.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Lista, the final birding destination

Lista was my last birding destination in Norway, and perhaps one of the best. I arrived after sunset in the drenching rain, and managed to find a spot for my tent in a small pine plantation on the edge of Borhaug, one of the villages in the Lista region. Fortunately the rain came to a trickling end during the night, with the promise of good weather on the horizon. My first stop in the morning was the shop Natur og Fritid (, a mainly online shop for nature books and gear, but also open to the public. Vegard and his colleagues had heard about my trip from various local sources, so were sort of expecting me when I strolled in. While I browsed their impressive collection of bird books, a phone call was made to the nearby Lista Bird Observatory – they had kindly organised me accommodation! I also got some tips on where to find some specials in the area. 

Some flooded grassland near Lista Lighthouse.

Margrethe, the project manager at the bird observatory, kindly gave me access to the observatory’s accommodation for the few days that I spent there. It was a real luxury to be able to sleep under a roof and not have to worry about a wet tent and damp sleeping bag. The bird observatory, located adjacent to the Lista Lighthouse, undertakes regular mist netting and daily migration counts in the area surrounding the lighthouse. The observatory has databases spanning over 20 years, and serves to improve the understanding of bird populations and their trends over time by monitoring bird migrations (

Lista Lighthouse in southern Norway.

One of the first lifers for me Greater White-fronted Goose; a small flock was foraging the pastures close to the sea shore near the lighthouse. Peregrine and White-tailed Eagle were regularly seen along the shore, while immature Goshawks were not uncommon. Occasionally Goshawks could be seen flying over the bays, just a couple of metres above the sea swells. 

Searching the beaches at Lista for unusual species.

My birding strategy at Lista was to walk the kelp strewn beaches where the best chance would be to find an unusual species, and to occasionally venture inland to explore the agricultural landscape and lakes. The beaches certainly delivered some good species for me, including Shorelark and a Richard’s Pipit. Both species had been recorded in the area during the preceding weeks, so I was bound to eventually find them. A single Ruddy Turnstone was also seen on the beach, as well as many Rock Pipits and a few Snow Buntings. 

A Richard's Pipit on the beach, a good bird to find in Norway.

The flat interior of Lista held numerous common species such as Yellowhammer, Greenfinch, Brambling and Chaffinch. Collared Doves were common around the houses, but were new for my Norwegian bird list. A pair of Common Cranes near the airport was a nice surprise, while I also enjoyed watching the radio-controlled model aircrafts buzzing about. Mixed flocks with up to four corvid species were also occasionally seen on the agricultural fields, and included Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw and Rook.

Lista's beaches were exciting to explore, not to mentioning the great scenery.

In the small harbour at Borhaug there were Little Grebes, Red-throated Divers, Goldeneyes, Great Northern Diver, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common and Velvet Scoters. Herring Gulls were continuously moving up and down the shoreline, and further out to sea there were Northern Gannets, Little Auks and the occasional Red-throated and Great Northern Diver flying by. On the lake Nesheimvatnet there were flocks of Greater White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose, Tufted Duck and a single Smew. 

A male Long-tailed Duck in stunning breeding plumage in the harbour at Borhaug.

A thorough search of an area’s birds is never complete without a visit to the local sewage works, where I saw a small flock of Twite and a single Grey Wagtail. I thought the wagtail was a great addition to my bird list for the area, only to see four Grey Wagtails together the next day at a small piggery. Here I also found a single Common Redstart and Black Redstart, typically perched on vantage points such as buildings and farming implements.

The small woodlands near the beaches held the usuals such as Blackcap, Crested Tit, Goldcrest, Tree Sparrow, Wren, Waxwing, and Robin. I was hoping to find a flock of Parrot Crossbills but had no luck with these. Other species I was hoping for in the Lista area but did not find include Hen Harrier and Great Grey Shrike, but then one can’t have it all at once!

After four fantastic days in Lista I reluctantly left for Kristiansand, my departure point for Denmark. It was a two day cycle, and while there was not much time for birding, I did pick up a Hawk Owl which was a rather unusual species for the area. I also took the time to get to the southern point of Norway near the town of Farestad. At Kristiansand I boarded the ferry for Denmark, and with that ended my memorable four-month cycle of 5000 km through Norway. I was fortunate to have met old friends during this time, and have made new ones too – these were certainly the best moments of the trip. It had been a real adventure in a real country, with wide open spaces, woodland and forest as far as the eye can see, stately mountains and magnificent fjords. Would I cycle Norway again? Of course! But for now there are other areas of the world to explore…  

A Hawk Owl on the way to Kristiansand.

Near the southern tip of Norway, in the vicinity of Farestad.

On the ferry to Denmark, leaving the lights of Kristiansand behind.