Hot weather and Orioles at Ottenby

This post is also available in: Dansk

Hot weather and Orioles at Ottenby were some of the highlights from this years Albicilla Explorer birding trip Öland. The Swedish island Öland is located in the Baltic Sea. The island is also located on what is known as the Baltic Flyway. This means that many birds will pass the island during migration. And that is one of the reasons to go here.

If you have read our previous posts (only in Danish) from Öland, e.g. Pleased to meet you or Kulørte fugle og store loppis-dag and Solen och vindarnes ö you will know that it has become a bit of a tradition to do a late spring/early summer birding trip to Öland. This year was no exception when we were birding the island in the first week of June.

Hot weather

Large parts of Scandinavia including Öland was experiencing a heat wave, which meant quite high temperatures for the season. From a clear blue sky, the sun was shining from sunrise to sunset. The temperature rose quickly during the mornings and exceeded 25 degrees (Celsius) in the afternoon most days. And very unexpected as Öland is called the island of the sun and the winds, there was almost no wind to cool you down. We had some pretty hot days – and that we, of course, have no complaints about.

one of the many old windmills you will see at Öland

One of the many old windmills you will see at Öland.

Where to go birding?

The possibilities are many and depend on season and your preferences – e.g. watching the fall bird migrations, enjoying the breeding birds or do you hope to find that vagrant species. When birding the Ottenby area in spring most birders often start the morning at the lighthouse area to see if any migration is going on. This is often seabirds. Later you often take a walk in the southern or northern part of Ottenby Lund (in English: grove). Or you do it the other way round.

We really like the southern part and that’s where we go most of the time. The southern Öland and especially Ottenby nature reserve are known for the birds and there is a reason the Ottenby Bird Observatory is located at the southernmost tip. The coast and marshes of Ottenby is a great place watching flocks of waders, ducks and geese roosting before they continue the migration further north and east. From your car or bike, you have good up-close views of local breeding birds. Maybe the staff at the bird observatory have caught some uncommon or rare bird in one of the Heligoland traps. Usually, they show rare birds caught to the public at the fence. And who knows – you might be the lucky birder finding that “MEGA” (a mega is a really rare bird) amongst all the other birds!

Ölands Southern Headland

Ölands Southern Headland

Ottenby Lund is a very interesting forest with many oak trees. It has lots of breeding birds and the forest is often visited by more uncommon and rare birds too. You can easily access Ottenby Lund from one of the two main parking areas from where several trails will lead you through different parts of the forest. If you go up the bird tower on the eastern edge of the forest you have great views over the meadows Shäferiängarne.

If you have more days you should not miss to visit some of the island’s other fine birding sites outside the Ottenby nature reserve.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a common bird in Ottenby Lund

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a common bird in Ottenby Lund

The yellow birds of the oak forest

One of the birds many hope to find when visiting Ottenby Lund is the Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus. If you have ever seen or heard one you know why.

The Golden Oriole is not common in Sweden but Ottenby Lund is one the few areas you can find it. It is a migratory bird about the size of a Black Bird Turdus merula. The male Golden Oriole is shining yellow with black wings but despite that, it is more often heard than seen. The females and young males are more greenish-yellow with yellowish-white underparts. The coloration and the behavior where it typically moves around in the canopy makes it difficult to get good views of the astonishing bird. The Oriole will typically reveal its presence by the melodious song.

Yes, of course, we were hoping to find an Oriole. But it was not until our dinner at Ottenby Lund southern parking area we “got the bird”. We had returned after an unsuccessfully twitch for a Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor (more about that later). Now we were relaxing with some food. Suddenly from not that far away, we could hear a teeloo-hoh-weeyo – or something like that. The sound was repeated five or six times. “Check” – a singing Golden Oriole.

Shortly after a Swedish birder appeared. He asked us if it had our interest, then there was an Oriole nearby. I guess he couldn’t see our binoculars because of all the food and stuff and therefore thought we were non-birders. We told him that we had just heard it and asked if he had managed to see the bird – which he did!

A few moments later we were looking up the trees hoping to spot a Golden Oriole. Not long after the oriole started singing close by. Suddenly two birds were flying over a short opening in the forest. The two birds were thrush-sized and yellow-looking! From the tree where the two birds disappeared into, one of the bird started singing again. Two Golden Orioles – how cool was that! We stayed a while listing to the beautiful song until the mosquito repellent no longer had the desired effect.

Over the next days, we made several visits to the “Oriole site” as we were calling it. Sometimes we were alone and at other times there were other birders. The Orioles stayed in the same small area and were quite active. The best time to see and hear them was in the mornings and again in the evenings. We actually managed – or were lucky – to see them many times. Mostly we saw them very briefly in the canopy when they were moving between the trees.

Looking for Golden Orioles. Ottenby Lund.

Looking for Golden Orioles. Ottenby Lund.

How many Golden Orioles were there?

Two Orioles were seen together for sure. And from what we could see, they were not adult males. Most times only one bird was singing, but at least two birds singing at one of our visits. Several times we also could hear other calls from the Orioles. It was probably some alarm calls but one call-type sounded like that the female sometimes uses to respond to the singing male.  Two Orioles there was flying from a tree and a possible third bird was following. Unfortunately, it was seen in a bad light for a positive id.

The Orioles was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. If you watch our YouTube video #1 Travel – birding in Sweden, Öland, full version (link here or scroll down to the bottom of this post) you can hear the song of one of the Golden Orioles.

The rare bird we did not see

There are many reasons to what makes bird watching exciting and fun. One thing is the chance that some unexpected or a rare bird shows up. And that’s what happened Friday afternoon.

As we returned to the car after some bike birding by in the cooler forest, we received a “bird alarm” through BirdAlarm (a bird sightings messaging system). A birder had found a Lesser Grey Shrike near a place called Gårdby on the east coast.

As fast as speed limits and road conditions allowed we arrived at the site in about 50 minutes. A small group of birders was already searching the area. But no one had seen the shrike. The finder has left and there was some doubt about the exact spot. More people arrived in hope of seeing the bird.

Birders hoping to see a Lesser Grey Shrike

Birders hoping to see a Lesser Grey Shrike

Still no sights of the bird. A birder manages to get in touch with the finder and could update the present birders with more information about the sighting. Every time there was just a little movement in a scrub or bush everyone was checking it and afterward, you would hear something like – “no it was just a Red-backed Shrike” or “nope a Whitethroat“.

We did our share searching the “shrike” but after a couple of hours we as the last people gave up and returned back to Ottenby.

Lots of places to go and things to do

As written in the top of this post some of the highlights from our birding trip to Öland was the hot weather and Orioles at Ottenby. But we saw many other birds and visited other places not mentioned in the post. You can also do other things than birding. Many people also connect Öland with its botany and especially the orchids. We were also looking at flowers and plants and did some photography and video recordings.

Öland is a great place, from the south and all the way up to the northernmost tip you can find many spots. We are pretty sure you can find your favorite place somewhere.

A pair of Black-tailed Godwit.

A pair of Black-tailed Godwit.

A male Montagu's Harrier passing close to the road.

A male Montagu’s Harrier passing close to the road.

All images and video © Bente Steffensen and Uffe Damm Andersen.