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BIRDING TRIP REPORT:

Lake Annsjon (Ånnsjön) region - central Sweden

24 - 27 June 2010

By Stephen Burch, England

Introduction
Another business trip, this time to Bergen in mid June presented me with a further opportunity to visit the Lake Annsjon area of Sweden. After an initial visit in 2002, I've now been fortunate enough to visit three years in a row (2008-10). These visits have all been at slightly different times between late May and the present visit in late June. The difference this one month makes in these northern areas is quite marked! Last year in late May there was a lot of snow still around, and some of the summer migrants didn't seem to have arrived. The present visit was the latest in the season I'd made to this area, and I was keen to see what difference this would make.

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 some northern species to be found without endless trekking through the sparsely populated (by birds and people) northern forests.

For this visit I would continue to be on the lookout for lifers and also attempting to improve upon my 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 realistic target list included Gyrfalcon (surely no chance, but see below!), Hazel Hen and vague possibilities of Pine Grosbeak. Having been to Finland in May this year, I didn't need to worry about the absence of northern owls!

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 my other reports on visits to the same area in 2008 and 2009.

General
Flights and car hire
From Bergen, I caught the short (but surprisingly expensive) SAS flight to Trondheim, and then picked up an Avis hire car at Trondheim airport. From here it was a drive of about one and a half hours to my accommodation.

Accommodation
As for my previous recent visits, I stayed in a self catering cabin at Duveds Semesterby - see bottom of the page for further info.

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 the late John Gooder's old "Where to Watch Birds in Europe" book. From my previous visits I had a good idea of the lie on the land by now.

Weather
My 2008 and 2009 visits were blessed with spells of very good weather. No such luck this time! The weather was generally cool (around 7 °C) with significant amounts of rain and crucially for fine photography, very limited sun. Only on my last day, when I could only spend the morning in the area before heading home, did it improve somewhat.

Photos
All the pics shown below were taken with my current "front-line" DSLR equipment - Canon EOS 50D with EF400mm f4 DO lens, usually mounted on a tripod - apart from the flight shots. For most, 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.

25 June
Valadalen
This site is reached from Duved by first going east along the E14 to Undersaker, and then turning south on the minor road to Valadalen, which is a nature reserve. Go through this village to the end of the road near a lake.

The forecast for today was better for the morning than the afternoon (which turned out to be spot on!), so I was up & off reasonably early. Previously I'd seen Moose in the early morning on the minor road between Undersaker and Valadalen, but this time the only mammals visible were a couple of foxes, with a den just beside the road. Keeping in the car, they were quite approachable.

In the car park on arrival the usual very mobile Crossbill sp. flocks were immediately obvious, and were seen later elsewhere. However Valadalen itself was much quieter than previously, with very little bird song - presumably because of the more advanced season. I took the usual path that follows the edge of two lakes, before heading up into the forest (see map). As last year, there was no sign of the Three-toed Woodpecker seen in 2008 (although on my return I did hear a snatch of distant drumming). I turned around at around point 2 on the map having seen or heard very little.

The return was more productive, with a group of three Black-throated Divers out on the main lake. They came closer, but not quite close enough for really good results, but the results were still much the best photographs I've taken of this species - in full breeding plumage they are always magnificent birds.

When the divers drifted away, back on the track, I heard a strange call behind me and turned round to see a Siberian Jay which flew straight past me, and landed just a few meters away. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the camera onto it before it flew off. There were a pair of them, and I pursued them for awhile through the forest, but they were moving too quickly without hanging around long enough to pose for photos!

So this seems a reasonably reliable site for these splendid Jays - now seen on 2 out of 3 years I visited this site.

Fox by the road on the way to Valadalen
Black-throated Divers at Valadalen (click right to enlarge)
Valadalen panorama - in a brief sunny spell!

Lake Annsjon
Ann Reserve
Leaving Valadalen by mid/late morning, it was clear the weather was following the forecast and was rapidly deteriorating. By the time I'd reached the Lake Annsjon area there were ominous dark clouds gathering. Undeterred, I parked at Kursgard, by the E14. This approach shortens the walk to the Dolparna hide considerably. Following the boardwalk towards the hide, I was approaching the elevated section near the hide when I bumped into a group, probably a family party, of Siberian Jays. Two sightings of this northern speciality in one day was a real bonus! Moreover these birds, unlike the pair at Valadalen weren't going anywhere in a hurry. They were very tame, and even started raiding my open rucksack for food! They were almost too close for the camera at times, but on the downside the light was very poor, and quickly got even worse and then the rain started in earnest. From bitter experience, I know that water and DLSRs and their lenses don't mix well, so I reluctantly packed up and made for the dry sanctuary of the hide!

Initially the view from the hide seemed to reveal practically nothing through the driving rain - the water levels were high due to the poor recent weather, and all the waders were well hidden in the low vegetation surrounding the pools, with virtually no mud or clear areas on view. However waiting around for sometime, it became apparent that most of the regulars were present, and could be seen and of course heard briefly in flight and sometimes on landing on the more open areas. These included Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff and Redshank. On the reed fringed pool to the right were a pair of Slavonian Grebes and a nice pair of Little Gull (that were joined briefly by a flock of about 8 others). There was however no sign of Broad-billed Sandpiper, which I had been hoping for here, nor the Cranes that had been nesting here last year.

Making a break from the hide a brief drier spell, I returned to the car, catching a glimpse of the Jays on the way, but they weren't being obliging. I then tried the section of the reserve accessible from the railway station at Ann. In rather poor conditions, this was most disappointing, with virtually nothing of interest apart from some very distant Common Scoter, and another party of 3 Black-throated Divers. Of the Slavonian Grebes, seen and photographed here well in the last two years, there was no sign at all (maybe connected with the higher water levels?). The small lake with the two hides had nothing at all on it (previously it has at least had the odd Wood Sandpiper, Teal, Goldeneye etc).

Family party of Siberian Jays at Lake Annsjon (click to enlarge)
Lake Annsjon panorama with mountains behind

26 June
With dismal weather in the morning, I was in no rush to start early today. When I finally got going, I first tried driving up the 322 which eventually rises and then goes over the top into Norway. There was some nice scenery but the weather was not conducive to birding, let alone photography. A brief, wet walk down to a promising looking lake produced some Black-headed Wagtails, a pair of Brambling and a Redshank.

To use up time, I then returned to the E14 and drove round to Handol and the observation tower, which is tucked away behind some almost deserted cabins. In continuing poor weather there was almost nothing of note from here - only a Tree Pipit singing from the tops of the trees around the cabins.

With these poor conditions, and lack of birds, I began to have some doubts about the merits of northern birding at this point. However, as the forecast was for some improvement in the afternoon, I thought it would be worth trying another of my old haunts - Storlien.

Lake Topptjärn (Topptjarn) - Storlien
Storlien is on the E14 almost on the Norway/Sweden border. Turning off the E14 by a supermarket, the road into Storlien goes downhill with small lakes on both sides. No Bluethroat on this stretch this year, unlike 2008. So I headed for the pools and lake 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 [there is actually a no entrance sign here so you should probably park just before it]. Shortly afterwards along this track, there are some pools on the right which had nothing at all on them this year, unlike previously.

Walking further along the track, you reach the northern side of Lake Topptjärn (a local nature reserve it seems). This can be a good site for waders, including about 8 Red-necked Phalarope, Wood Sandpiper, and this year for the first time, a very black but wary summer plumage Ruff. Other birds included Arctic Tern and a pair of Slavonian Grebes. I spent some time trying for Red-necked Phalarope photos, but they were not being very obliging. Also it kept on raining, which didn't help either [covering the lens and camera with a carrier bag seemed to work well keeping the water out!].

After some time of this, I suddenly noticed a distant but most promising looking raptor to the south. It was clearly a large falcon and excitingly appeared quite pale. As it came somewhat closer it was difficult to make out any further details with binoculars, due to the distance and poor light. So I grabbed the camera and spent the rest of time it was in sight snapping away.

Despite the considerable distance, reviewing the pics later on my laptop, it was immediately quite clear that my original suspicions were correct.. This wasn't a Peregrine at all - it was a much bigger prize in the form of a superb lifer - a GYR FALCON!! I knew Gyr's were thinly distributed in this part of the world, but had thought the likelihood of connecting with one by chance without walking for miles in the mountains was very low. This bird was visible for about 5-6 minutes in total, and while it never came very close, the amount of detail visible on the photos afterwards was most impressive, compared with the view through binoculars. Also of course the digital images provide a permanent record, so there is then no doubting one's memory or eyesight!

Gyr Falcon in the distance!! Red-necked Phalarope

After this extremely memorable sighting, which certainly made the whole trip worthwhile, I returned to the car in a hurry to avoid another heavy shower. I think I glimpsed a Bluethroat in the bushes by the track, but despite searching for it again afterwards (and the next day) there was no further sign.

I then noticed that a way-marked path and boardwalk (posts with blue tops) led off from the track between the pools and the caravan park. I'd not noticed this on previous visits, but it led to a hide overlooking the southern shore of Lake Topptjärn/Topptjarn (see map). This provided a better viewpoint of this lake, with the sun behind one for long periods of the day. Exploring along here I came across a pair of Red-throated Divers, and then got very wet as another heavy shower caught me out in the open!

27 June

Storlien (again)
At last the weather this morning was a considerable improvement on the previous two days, but I had to leave the area at around mid day to head home via Trondheim, Bergen and Gatwick. So I was off from the cabins in reasonable time, and decided to spend my last morning back at the scene of yesterdays highlight - LakeTopptjärn at Storlien.

This time there were no further Gyr Falcon sightings, but I did manage some photographs of the Red-throated Diver and the odd one of the Red-necked Phalarope (see above) that were in general being even more elusive than yesterday for some reason.

Red-throated Diver at Storlien (click either to enlarge)

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 (not used much this time due to the cold and wet conditions!). 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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