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BIRDING TRIP REPORT:

Lake Annsjon (Ånnsjön) region - central Sweden

5 - 9 June 2008

By Stephen Burch, England

Introduction
Another business trip, this time to Stavanger in early June presented me with a further opportunity to experience a brief taste of the magic of birding in northern Europe. This time I decided to revisit the site of my first proper such trip, way back in my pre-camara days of 2002. The advantages of the Lake Annsjon area in central Sweden include straightforward access from Trondheim airport (east along the E14), magnificent scenery, and some relatively compact sites which allow northern species to be found without endless trekking through the sparsely populated (by birds and people) northern forests.

This time, with some knowledge of the area, I had two main aims. First was of course to see one or more lifers and second was to try for some DSLR pics of the northern species. For lifers, as those with some experience of birding northern Europe will know, getting to grips with many of the specialities is not easy and requires luck, persistence or local knowledge (or preferably a combination of all three). My dwindling realistic target list included Three-toed Woodpecker and Hazel Hen with vague possibilities of Pine Grosbeak and any of the northern owls. In the event, in the absence of any local information on owls, these were non starters.

This was of course a self organised trip on my own, which allowed for some reasonably early starts and prolonged photo/birding sessions!

See also a report on my visit to the same area in 2009.

General
Flights and car hire
From Stavanger, I caught the SAS flight to Trondheim via Bergen, and then picked up an Avis hire car at Trondheim airport. From here it was a drive of less than 2 hours to my cabin based accommodation.

Accommodation
Accommodation in this remote area is difficult to find in early June. It is a popular skiing area, but only in winter. In early June many places are closed, before the start of the summer holiday season, The self catering cabins (stugby) at Duved, to the east of Lake Annsjon were an exception and are open even earlier in the season. Thanks to Geoff Dicker for giving me the contact details for this place, which was definitely better organised and higher quality than the Handol cabins where I stayed in 2002.

Maps
F
rom my previous visit, I had a 1:100,000 map of the area Z6 Storlien-Ljungdalen which was quite good. Smaller scale maps would probably be quite adequate, unless you want to take long walks through the forests or up into the hills along the various paths in the area.

Birding information
There is some general information about the Lake Annsjon area on the Internet and also a short piece in John Gooder's old "Where to Watch Birds in Europe" book. More detailed site information is hard to come by - searching the Internet turned up one good report by Geoff Dicker, who stayed for a couple of the days in this area. I also had information from my previous visit in 2002, and I managed to obtain a little information by contacting the Bird Observatory in Handol, in advance of my visit. After my visit, I found another interesting trip report from 2004, in which Fraser Simpson spent a couple of days in the area. This report is difficult to find as it uses the proper Norwegian spelling of Ånnsjön!

Weather
Amazingly, the first two days of my stay were blessed with hot sunshine, with temperatures up to c. 25° C. But the next day was cloudier, with heavy rain in the evening. On the final day, there was plenty more rain and the temperature had plummeted to c. 6° C!

With the hot midday temperatures on the first two days, birding was particularly slow during that period, with much more activity early on.

Photos
All the pics shown below were taken with my DSLR equipment - Canon EOS 350D with EF400mm/f5.6 lens, usually mounted on a tripod - apart from the flight shots. For a few, a x1.4 teleconverter was also used. All pics were taken in RAW format, and I use NeatImage for noise suppression, with PhotoShop Elements 3.0 for subsequent processing. For further details see the equipment and image processing pages elsewhere on this website.

Sites
Valadalen
Many thanks to Geoff Dicker for putting me onto this site, which was the most productive of my visit. It is reached from Duved by first going east along the E14 to Undersaker, and then turning south on a minor road to Valadalen. Go through this village to the end of the road near a lake.

A reasonably early start on my second day saw me arriving here in glorious sunny conditions, just as some campers in tents around the lake shore were getting up! The obvious path is shown on the map here. It skirts the east edge of the first lake, then goes between two further lakes before heading up into the wilderness in a north west direction.

Close to the first lake shore, the woods were fairly quiet, but I did pick up a singing male Pied Flycatcher (see red 1 on map) close to the tents. Further on, beyond all the lakes, the path started to go uphill slightly.

Just by chance, I stopped by an obvious clearing on the right of the path which looked a promising spot (see red 2 on map, approximately). Shortly afterwards, a fly over male Hen Harrier seemed promising. I then tried a spot of play-back of a Three-toed Woodpecker recording. Shortly afterwards, a dark possible woodpecker species flew across the clearing and vanished into the trees. It then flew back again over my head, and started drumming nearby! Scrambling to get nearer, I didn't manage to see anything more than glimpses of the bird before it disappeared again. But having located the dead tree on which it was drumming (to the left of the path), I sat down and tried more play-back. Amazingly, this brought the bird back for another drumming session, and I got great views, and even managed some record shots through a gap in the branches of the tree in front! Unfortunately, having moved round to get a better view, the bird could not be made to re-appear again.

After this huge slice of luck, I went a bit further along the track but is seemed very quiet, so I soon headed back the way I had come. Where the path runs close to the shore of the second lake (approx. red 3 on map), I noticed some movement in the sparse trees between the path and the lake and was delighted to see two "spirits of the forest" (as legend has it, apparently) in the form of Siberian Jays, moving reasonably swiftly and silently from tree to tree left to right. Hurrying along the path, and then heading off the track across towards the lake, I almost ended up getting stuck in a bog, but recovered to get a splendid close-up view of one of the birds in a tree right in front of me (with the sun behind me)! Unfortunately, I had the x1.4 TC on the lens, and the auto focus wouldn't lock, so I had to resort to manual. Fortunately the bird stayed just long enough for me to get some reasonable pics:

Three-toed Woodpecker at Valadalen Siberian Jay at Valadalen
Record shot of the Three-toed Woodpecker Siberian Jay
Siberian Jay at Valadalen (click to enlarge)
Siberian Jay (click to enlarge) General view of lake at Valadalen and the area with the Siberian Jays & Crossbill sp.

The Jays then abruptly vanished, but there was one further highlight here - a flock of Crossbill species flew over in the same general area. So three excellent northern species in quick succession - very good going for these regions.

Storlien
Storlien is on the E14, just by the Norway/Sweden border. It is notable for a Great Snipe lek in the hills above, which I successfully visited back in 2002.

This time, I didn't try this late evening hike, and stayed much closer to the roads and tracks. I made three visits to this site, although the first was a very quick look-see on my way from Trondheim, late in the evening. The second visit was in the middle of one of the hot days, and the whole place was very quiet.

However, persistence eventually paid off on my third visit, in the reasonably early morning of my third day, when the weather was starting to turn. Turning off the E14 by a large supermarket, the road into Storlien goes downhill, just past the supermarket, with small lakes on both sides. Stopping the car here I could hear loud Bluethroat song, but it took me a while to work out where it was coming from - right above me! The bird was singing away from the top of a lamp post! It stayed here for a long time, occasionally moving to a different post, and just once coming down to the ground by the road. The camera angle was not ideal, but I took masses of pics, some of which came out OK - see below.

Bluethroat on the ground Bluethroat singing from a lamp post!

Next stop after this pleasant interlude was to revisit the pools beyond the caravan park (see map). To reach these, turn right onto a track before crossing the railway. Then go straight-on, avoiding a turn to the right, and go up to and through the caravan park. Shortly afterwards, there are some pools on the right which had changed somewhat since 2002. They were now surrounded by a fence, and seemed from the smell to be settling pools for Storlien's sewage! There was however a large gap in the fence which easily allowed entry. The largest pool to the right of the hut had Wood Sandpipers in varying numbers up to at least five. Also a few Redshank, and a very brief visit from a Red-necked Phalarope. Also a briefly obliging White Wagtail - see below.

Wood Sandpiper White Wagtail (click to enlarge)
Wood Sandpiper White Wagtail (click to enlarge)

In 2002, this pool had several Red-necked Phalaropes, and the brief appearance of a solitary bird this time indicated they were still in the area. There was a larger lake beyond the sewage pools, so I tried walking further along the track, which approached quite closely to the lake, with signs indicating it was a reserve of sorts. In addition to various duck, I was delighted to see several Red-necked Phalaropes (10+). As ever, these birds were very tame and by standing still, they came very close. Unfortunately, the lakeside vegetation prevented clear shots most of the time, but from time to time they emerged very briefly into the open:

Red-necked Phalaropes at Storlien (click to enlarge)
Red-necked Phalaropes at Storlien (click top left to enlarge)

Also in the Storlien area, there was a Red-throated Diver on a small lake, near to a group of houses, reached from the track which goes off right from the caravan park approach road.

Lake AnnsjonAnn reserve map (click to enlarge)
Ann Reserve
The most productive part of the huge Lake Annsjon is the reserve area at Ann, which can be easily reached from the E14 by the Ann railway station. There is a large sign giving a plan of the reserve, reproduced here for reference. This reserve has a number of hides and observation towers, and a boardwalk across the marshes which goes on for miles.

Nearest to the road is a small lake overlooked by two hides. Nearby is an observation tower which gives good views out over the main lake, to the east. Because it was so accessible, I made several visits to this near part of the reserve. On the small lake there was only a few duck - Teal, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and the odd Wood Sandpiper round the edges - not much to get the pulse racing. In the trees by the lake shore were Pied Flycatcher.

The observation tower was better. The highlight was a very distant pair of Red-necked Grebe in full summer plumage (thanks to a Swedish birder for allowing me to use his 'scope briefly). Also in the distance were Velvet and Common Scoter. Much nearer in were at least two pairs of Slavonian Grebe. One evening, a fishing Osprey appeared briefly. There was also a distant Whimbrel once, as well.

Slavonian Grebes on Lake Annsjon Slavonian Grebe on Lake Annsjon
Slavonian Grebes on Lake Annsjon
Slavonian Grebe on Lake Annsjon Plunge diving Osprey
Another Slavonian Grebe Plunge diving Osprey
Teal Tufted Duck in the rain!

Further on along the board-walk the reserve had limited interest, with the ground seemingly quite dry. The next observation tower (Nätaholmen) gave distant views of two Cranes way out on the marshes. The east-west long straight section of boardwalk had only a Whimbrel (too wary for pics). I didn't get further than the west end of this straight section, where it went back into trees. On the sunny day, this part was also good for dragonflies, with plenty of immature White-faced Darter (quite wary and difficult to photo - very difficult to see in flight) and one Northern Damselfly.

Well after returning from this trip, I discovered another trip report with informantion on the Lake Annsjon area by Fraser Simpson from 2004. He had Broad-billed Sandpiper at the next next hide (Dolparna)! Had I known this at the time of my visit, I might well have pressed on. Whether they were still present in 2008, in the dry conditions, I will probably never know!

Northern white-faced Darter (female or immature) Northern Damselfly
Northern White-faced Darter (female or immature) Northern Damselfly (heavily cropped)

Here are some pics which give an idea of the spectacular scenery around Lake Annsjon, but don't really do it justice!

Views of and near Lake Annsjon

Klocka Gard
To the west of the village of Ann, an unpaved road goes south from the E14, signposted Klocka Gard. This goes down to the lake shore, where there are some houses. To right of the road, just by the first house is a small lake, well below the road, which had three Black-throated Divers, once briefly. From the eastern end of the road, it is possible to walk along a track which heads east, back towards the Ann reserve. On the lake side of this track is splendid ancient forest habitat, but all I found was a few Crossbill sp. (probably Parrot). This track was however good for dragonflies with immature White-faced Darter and a probable Azure Hawker.

White-faced Darter (immature male?) Probable Azure Hawker

Further on, the track reaches a small river, and emerges onto the Ann reserve, with a further boardwalk. Taking the right fork, I soon came to a small pool which looked promising for dragonflies. Sure enough, when the sun came out briefly, so did a splendid Northern White-faced Darter, or at least I think it is, based on the pics below. Anyone care to comment?

Northern White-faced Darter Northern White-faced Darter
Northern White-faced Darter

E14 east of Stjordal (Norway)
En-route back to Trondheim airport on the E14, I was very surprised to find a couple of Cranes in farm land, just a few miles to the east of Stjordal. Maybe they were on migration, as this certainly didn't look like a breeding location.

Crane
Fieldfare - the most obvious bird of the region Crane - a surprise find by the E14 near to Trondheim airport!

Duveds Semesterby
This group of comfortable cabins (see accommodation details below), had a few reasonable birds around, including the omnipresent Fieldfare (the most obvious bird in these northern parts by far), plenty of Siskin, and singing Redwing at dusk (very late). Also on arrival at around midnight, I had roding Woodcock right over my cabin.

Also there was a fantastic, weird lighting effect one evening when, through the pouring rain, brilliant shafts of light from the low sun appeared on the hills opposite, together with a double rainbow. Difficult to capture digitally, but it was remarkable.

Brilliant sunshine and double rainbow over the cabins in the evening Sunset over a Norwegian Island from earlier in this trip

Systematic list
I was not aiming for a long trip list, but for completeness, here are those species seen or heard in Sweden:

Red-throated Diver - One at Storlien
Black-throated Diver - Three briefly on small lake at Klocka Gard
Red-necked Grebe - Two from first observation tower at Ann
Slavonian Grebe - At least two pairs from first observation tower at Ann
Grey Heron
Whooper Swan - One in distance probably this species from first observation tower at Ann
Wigeon
Teal
Mallard
Tufted Duck
Common Scoter - From Ann reserve and also eastern shore of Lake Annsjon
Velvet Scoter - From Ann reserve and also eastern shore of Lake Annsjon
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser - A pair on Lake Gevsjon
Goosander - Lake Annsjon from bridge near near Handol
Osprey - One briefly from first observation tower at Ann
Hen Harrier - 1 m at Valadalen
Common Crane - 2 from second observation tower at Ann
Lapwing
Woodcock - Roding over cabin at Duveds Semesterby at about midnight. Also from E14 en-route there
Common Snipe
Whimbrel - Ann reserve
Common Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper - Ann reserve & Storlien
Common Redshank
Red-necked Phalarope - Several on lake at Storlien
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Arctic Tern - A few here & there over lakes in area, eg. Lake Gevsjon.
Wood Pigeon
Cuckoo
Three-toed Woodpecker - The find of the trip at Valadalen
Swallow
House Martin
Tree Pipit
White Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Redwing
Fieldfare
Bluethroat
Pied Flycatcher
Willow Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Blue Tit
Siberian Jay - 2 at Valadalen
Jay
Magpie
Hooded Crow
Raven
Starling
Chaffinch
Crossbill sp. - Small flock at Valadalen. Also a few near Klocka Gard. Most likely to be Parrot Crossbill?
Siskin
Yellowhammer
Reed Bunting

55 Species

Accommodation Details

Place Web Comment
Stugby (Cabins) Duveds Semesterby Stugby website Good quality and value self catering cabins at Duved, which was c. 15-20 mins by car east of Lake Annsjon, along the E14. My grade B cabin came with a well equipped kitchen with fridge/freezer, cooker & microwave. Also a huge plasma screen TV, and a balcony for admiring the view over the valley. Local supermarkets in Duved (small) and Are (larger - built into the station) for all your self catering needs (which of course means not being tied to any set meal times). Good fast response to e-mail enquiries in advance. Recommended.

© All pictures copyright Stephen Burch

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