Stockholm, Sweden may not have an international reputation as a top birding destination, but to this biologist from South Texas, the local birds were as exotic and exciting as any in the tropics. Naturally, there were visits to historical and cultural landmarks, such as the Vasamuseet, housing the pimped-out, bling-encrusted warship Vasa, which capsized and sank to the bottom of the Saltsjön on its vainglorious maiden voyage in 1628. Dozens of the Vasa’s crew drowned, in spite of rescuers’ efforts, as none of the sailors could swim, and in any case, many were trapped in the claustrophobia-inducing lower decks (which you can experience, along with the vertigo-inducing crow’s nest, in the Vasamuseet). Of course, there are hundreds of wonderful things to do and see in Stockholm and surrounds, but a little ancillary birding never detracts from the charms and unique characters of a world-class city.
Wooden boats in Stockholm, Sweden
Photo by barn owl, ©2008
The first birds I noticed in Stockholm were the gulls; some of the city is built on islands, and thus surrounded by water, so gulls are Very Abundant and Very Loud. The late June weather was quite pleasant, so my friend left the windows of his flat open to the breezes and city sounds, and each morning I awoke to gull conversation and the flappity-flap of webbed feet on the roof. The three gull species I was able to identify were the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), the Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus), and the Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus); in Swedish, respectively, the Silltrut, the Skrattmås, and the Fiskmås.** On an excursion to Finnhamn in the archipelago, a Silltrut eyed our plates greedily throughout our lunch at a café. She lurked and paced around long enough, and close enough, for me to sketch her in my journal.
Windmill at Skansen
Photo by barn owl, © 2008
The obligatory tourist trip to the touristy (but lovely and entertaining) Skansen and Djurgården yielded sightings of many city birds that seem to be comfortable with humans, and adapted to the urban environment. Perhaps my favorite was the Pied (White) Wagtail (Sädesärla; Motacilla alba), tastefully outfitted in contrasting patches of black, white, and gray feathers. While enjoying lunch from the Eco-café, under the dappled shade of trees in the park, I also spotted Jackdaws (Corvus monedula), Magpies (Skata; Pica pica), Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris), and Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos). I loved the Fieldfares, with their chestnut backs and slate-gray heads, and the Song Thrushes made me think of the snail-cracking bird in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Around ponds and waterways in Stockholm, there were beautiful Barnacle Geese (Vitkindad gås; Bronta leucopsis), and aristocratic Mute Swans (Knölsvan; Cygnus olor).
Watercolors of a moose and a Gotland pony foal, Skansen
barn owl © 2008
I had high expectations for birding opportunities during the boat excursion out into the archipelago, as I had been instructed by a Swedish colleague earlier that summer to search for male Eiders (Ejder; Somateria mollissima) in breeding plumage. I fixed the plumage pattern, both afloat and in flight, in my visual memory, in advance of the trip. When I finally spied the striking white and black male Ejder, floating with other sea ducks (females, most likely), I nearly fell over the side of the boat in excitement. While waiting for the ferry at Finnhamn, we also saw Ejder ducklings, floating in a crèche with adult females, in a sheltered inlet. Other birds that made the archipelago excursion memorable were the Shelduck (Gravand; Tadorna tadorna), Red-breasted Merganser (Småskrake; Mergus serrator), Great-crested Grebe (Skäggdoppig; Podiceps cristatus), and the acrobatic Arctic (Silvertärna; Sterna paradisaea) and Common (Fisktärna; Sterna hirundo) Terns. On my next trip to any European city, I will be sure to bring my binoculars, even if it’s the old and heavy pair!
** Any true Swedish-speakers, please feel free to correct my language in the comments! I took the names from a Swedish bird identification poster that I have displayed in my house. I’d also love to know the Swedish names of birds that weren’t on my poster.