Alan Dalton post's birding diaries and original artwork from Sweden. Established in 2006, this now long running blog is now a complete overview of my birding experiences. As an artist I greatly enjoy sketching birds in the field and you will find a wide selection of that work here, from fieldwork to finished paintings. I am very passionate about my artwork and try to depict birds in their natural habitat, as I see them in the wild. My artwork is for sale and can be viewed at
As regards to my photography, since 2008 I have used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera coupled with a Sigma 150-500mm OS lens for since March 2012 for bird photography, all previous images being digiscoped. Regarding sound recording, I have been usung a Telinga Stereo Dat Mic and parabol to record birds in the field, coupled to a Marrantz 661 digital recorder, a superb piece of kit. Interest in butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies has recently seen the accquisition of a Sigma 150mm macro lens. I hope you enjoy the blog and please feel free to leave comments or contact me at

Monday, January 15, 2018

White tailed Eagle; Adult; Stockholm City; 15th January 2018

A marvelous sight over a major European capital city, a superb adult White tailed Eagle.

All retrices on the open wing present with no signs of active moult, a pristine bird in great condition as one might expect in the winter months...

The bird taking it's leave after frightening the life out of the local avifauna!

It was whilst checking through the gull flock at Skeppsbron in Gamla Stan, right in the heart of Stockholm City, when every bird in the area suddenly scattered in panic. I had already noted two young Goshawk in the area an hour previously, though the level of panic among the gulls and wildfowl at that moment seemed somewhat over the top. I immediately looked upwards and around me to see what might of caused such bedlam and it was no surprised when the huge form of an adult White tailed Eagle loomed over the buildings of the old town and began circling overhead. The light was not good, though I reeled off a few photos for posterity, capturing a wonderful moment. It is simply great to see these birds over the city. It has become quite a regular sight in the past few years as these birds increase in population. These birds are doing extremely well here in Sweden and the population is now undergoing a rapid expansion.The species is now regular in the city and most winter days an individual or two will be seen at some point during the day.more often than not, they can be quite distant. This bird today though, a pristine adult, gave simply stunning views...
 The history of this comeback is remarkable. At the beginning of the 20th century, because of severe persecution, the White tailed Eagle faced extinction all around the Baltic Sea. The species dissapeared entirely in Denmark in 1911, as well as in Lithuania around the same period. After protective measures were implemented, the population began to recover slowly during the 1920's, but the positive trend was eventually reversed between the 1950's and early 1980's due to the harmful and well documented effects of chemical pollutants. These chemical pollutants, such as DDT, PCB's and Mercury, had catastrophic effects on fertility, the direct result of which was a rapid ecline in population. The ban of DDT and other chemicals in the early 1970's led to an eventual improvement and the birds slowly began to have more reproductive success as the chemicals were eventually purged from the population. By the mid 1990's, reproduction perameters had returned to normal levels, resulting in an increase in breeding pairs all around the Baltic Sea. From 1991 to 2007, the total Baltic population grew from an estimated 670 breeding pairs to 2,200 breeding pairs, laying the foundation for the booming population growth now being seen. It will be interesting to see how the incresing population will expand from here, hopefully the species will go on to regain territory all over Europe. 

Argentatus Herring Gull; Skeppsbron; 15th January 2017

1st Winter/2nd Calender Year. A typical individual, showing fully moulted mantle and scapulars.

1st Winter/2nd Calender Year

1st Winter/2nd Calender Year. An interesting individual which caught my eye due to the appearance of the mantle and scapulars. On a rather cold day my thought process was slightly numbed and this struck as a bird with advanced moult. Later, given proper thought, it became apparent that a bird of this age could not possibly show third generation scapular/mantle feathers until later this year when the moult begins in the summer. After some discussion on a western palearctic forum, the reason for the birds appearance became apparent, this bird is in fact a late moulting individual. On occasion, late or retarded moulting birds moult in feathers that appear washed out. This may be due to hormonal issues, stress or lack of nutrition. In some cases, it is well documented that stress can cause birds to suspend moult, which is most often observed in primary moult. With regard to this bird, careful inspection of the feathers reveal a faint darker suggestion of the marking that might be expected on a second calender argentatus, solving the conundrum. As always with gulls, there is always something of interest to see if one looks closely, leading to more insight into moult on this occasion...

1st Winter/2nd Calender Year.

1st Winter/2nd Calender Year. Another typical bird with notched tertials and typically marked greater coverts.

2nd Winter/3rd Calender Year. Note the difference in plumage to the birds above, with the tertials and covert's having been moulted to second generation feathers, helping to age the bird correctly. Note also the light iris on the individual.

1st Winter/2nd Calender Year.

A group of 1st Winter/2nd Calender Year birds at rest.

3rd Winter/4th Calender Year. Note the clean mantle and scapualars, light tip to the bill, white spots at primary tips and light iris among other features...

3rd Winter/4th Calender Year

3rd Winter/4th Calender Year





Adult showing dark irides. A small proportion of adult may show such dark eyes, though it is quite unusual.

Adult bird with dark irides. The birds primary pattern show dark markings restricted from P6-P10.

A close up of the head reveals the iris is in fact dark brown, whilst there is also a red orbital ring around the eye in this interesting bird. 

An adult bird with a rather interesting primary pattern. Such od primary patterns in northern argentatus are present in a small number of birds. Unfortunately, this bird dropped in only briefly and kept it's distance, so the photos are not of the best quality, though the lack of dark in the primary tips is striking.
The same adult bird here, a very small idividual. 

The same bird at rest on the water when I first noticed it, Rather small individual, with a short primary projections. The legs appeared light in the water, though I could not confirm my susupicion that this was a yellow legged omissus type bird as it flew and left the area after just a few minutes. Hopefully this bird will stay in the area and some better photos can be obtained. The bill is rather pale and lemon toned, quite long and parallel sided.

Some images from a day out watching gulls on the atch around Skeppsbron in Stockholm today...

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Decline of a UNESCO Reserve; Birding on North Bull Island, Dublin, Ireland. 29th December 2017-January 5th 2018

 Above; A rather iconic species, the Eurasian Curlew. Sadly, this species number are rapidly dwindling throughout it's range. Ireland is no exception. The species is red listed as a breeding species in Ireland after a catastrophic in breeding pairs, more than ninety per cent of the breeding population has now been lost. Numbers of wintering birds have also dropped alarmingly and this was apparent on the island again this winter...

A trip home to visit family alway's has a silver lining for me, I get to visit the site where I cut my teeth as a young birder, North Bull Island. I spent several mornings on the island over the turn of the year, throughout my stay in Ireland the weather was difficult, gale force winds sweping over the island. There were some wonderful birds to be seen throughout, but the more I looked through the birds on the first morning, there more I noticed that there has been an alarming decrease in the overall numbers of wintering species in general. Having lived abroad for many years, this was striking to me personally and returning to the island was a poignant experience as a result. The huge flocks of Dunlin, Knot and Bar tailed Godwits I remember as a young birder are no longer wheeling over the saltmarshes at high tide. Wildfowl numbers have plummeted and I was stunned to see so few Shoveler, Pintail, and Wigeon in particular. These declines have been well documented in the regular bird counts over thirty years or more. Bird populations have been regularily monitored here for decades and the data reveals alarming and steady decreases in many species populations. The declines are due to a combination of factors, though it is an inescapable conclusion the the site is suffering from chronic neglect. North Bull Island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is Ireland's oldest nature reserve, first established in 1931. It holds critical numbers of wildfowl and waders and as such, requires careful protection and management. This has been sadly lacking.
 The island's duty of care falls mainly under Dublin County Council, in partnership with Dublin Port Company. In addition, there are two Golf Courses on the island. Sadly, the care of the island's wildlife has been practically ignored by Dublin County Council in particular, with a strong emphasis having been put on the development of the island primarily as a public amenity, not a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. The results of this can be observed on a daily basis on the island, with activities such as canoeing, windsurfing, parasailing, motorbike scrambling and bait digging all commonplace. Dog walking is practically unregulated and dogs are frequently to be seen running freely off leash, often chasing waders and other birds at high tide roosts. The causeway, built between 1962-1964 has caused a disastrous build up of silt and has changed the islands ecology drastically. The introduction of the invasive Buckthorn shrub is now looming large and the plant is now encroaching on key habitats all over the island. Key ground nesting species such as Little Tern and Ringed Plover have already ceased to breed on the island due to constant disturbance, whilst the Irish Hare has been sadly driven to extinction due to the problems caused by free running dogs. All of this disturbance and the failure to manage the island primarily in the interest of it's wildlife mean that the sites biodiversity has been dramatically impacted.

 Greenshank; Small numbers of this lovely wader winter on the island...

 Grey Plover; Up to 142 present on the island during the period...

I tried to get on to the island most days to enjoy the birds whilst home, with the first day producing stunning views of a wintering Common Kingfisher at the mouth of the River Santry. The bird proved quite confiding an allowed me to get some decent images of a normally elusive species, as well as some excellent video footage. The tide was high in the morning and I decided to walk along the causeway. Over the saltmarshes a Peregrine Falcon was observed on a couple of occasions, with a single Merlin also present.
Another highlight during the week was a Short Eared Owl, which gave wonderful views towards the north of the island. This bird exploded from the marram grass in typical fashion and flew a short distance before pitching down on the saltmarsh. Nearby, a careful check of a favoured area produced two Jack Snipe. It was whilst looking for Jack Snipe that a more unexpected species was flushed in the guise of two Water Rail, the first multiple sighting of this scarce winter visitor ever on the island. Up to 18 Common Snipe were also noted in the same area, another regular wintering species here.
 Back at the River Santry outflow, 407 Black tailed Godwit was a nice count on the falling tide. Happily, Shelduck and Brent Goose are still present in very high numbers over the reserve. These three species are doing well here and numbers remain high. This, however, was not the case for three other key species. Dunlin, Bar tailed Godwit and Knot were all present, but in remarkably low numbers. In fact, the long term figures point to a steady decline in all three species over the past twenty years. These three species used to darken the skies at high water at this site. It didn't end there. Wildfowl numbers were also down, with Shoveler most difficult to find. Pintail were still present along the causeway at high tide, though again, their numbers have been declining steadily. This elegant duck numbers just over one hundred birds at present, the graph for this species overall numbers prescribing an alarming downward curve from a former wintering population of several hundred. Eurasian Curlew, an iconic wintering bird on North Bull Island, has also plummeted in numbers. The Oystercatcher roost is much reduced, whilst the numbers of Redshank present upon the mudflats as the falling tide receded were far fewer than I would of expected. The more I looked, the more apparent it became, many nationally important bird populations on the island have crashed..

 Above; Images and video footage of the overwintering Common Kingfisher at the mouth of the River Santry. A rather confiding individual, given a little patience. Very nice to get some decent images and some excellent video of this stunning little bird...

 Little Egret, An increasing species on the island, reflecting this birds rapid population expansion in Ireland in the past twenty years.

 Common Redshank; Abundant on the island, though like so many other species of wader, numbers are dropping steadily at this site...

Throughout the week, small numbers of passerines were noted, though this is not a group of birds for which the island is noted. Good numbers of Linnet were present however, and I would estimate no fewer than 200 are currently present on the island. Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Skylark, Dunnock, Reed Bunting, Blackbird and Starling were all present, with 3 Rock Pipit also seen. On the sea, Great Crested Grebe, Red breasted Merganser and a few Greater Cormorant were the best, though the rough conditions and the westerly origin of the wind meant that not much else was noted on the sea at high tide.

 Rock Pipit; This individual was one of three birds noted during the period and favoured the south side of the causeway.

Adult Mediterranian Gull. Small numbers are generally present on the island, with a maximum of two birds on 5th January 2018.

In short, North Bull Island remains a wonderful place to visit. The proximity of the birds has always been remarkable and to have such a reserve so close to the capital is nothing short of a blessing. All those that have regularily visited the reserve regularily over the years enjoy the wonderful spectacle provided by such a diversity of birdlife on their doorstep. My overall feeling as I write remains one of concern, as it is quite clear this is a reserve is in decline. Given the proper attention and correct management there is little doubt the island could only benefit and possibly even recover to a degree. Outside factors, such as loss of habitat on the breeding grounds, polution and the effects of global warming must also be factored in. Given the current state of affairs, however, it is only too apparent that wildlife here is not the primary concern. Despite the island's legal status as a UNESCO reserve, it seems the firm priority is to develop the island as a public amenity. In an increasingly urban surround, it seems inevitable that disturbance and development can only increase and that the wildlife will gradually be squeezed out. There are already plans to build another visitor centre complete with a cafeteria. Soup, toasted sandwiches and coffee will be provided for the visiting hordes. The alarming downcurve in the reserve's bird populations are being completely ignored whilst those charged with their protection turn their attentions to insuring a steady upcurve in visitors and revenue. The huge flocks of wheeling waders against the backdrop of the Poolbeg chimneys are already becoming a thing of the past, the bubbling call of the Curlew is being slowly silenced, a tale to be told in the not too distant future by elderly Dubliners out walking the dog on a fine, breezy morning....

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Ural Owl; Stockholm City; 3rd December 2017

It is impossible to ignore a bird of this calibre when it it so close to home, so when the rain cleared after a miserable morning, I was out the door like a shot with the camera. On arrival I was delighted to find the owl sitting in open area of trances, allowing a clear line of sight. For a while there was even some decent light and I took full advantage and utilized the DSLR in the hope of getting a few decent images. A passing Magpie decided not to pass and the resulting fireworks between the two birds were memorable to say the least. Without a doubt my best shots of this impressive bird to date. The bird is now present for it's sixteenth day...

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ural Owl; Stockholm City; 26th November 2017

Now present for it's ninth day at LĂ„ngholmen, the temptation to go and have a second day with the bird proved too much. It was resting beside the school along the water and was, once again, completely oblivious to the passer's by who were gathered to look at the bird. It seems the bird is doing well and finding a good supply of food in the area. I spent a couple of hours watching the bird before moving on. also in the area were 85 Common Redpoll, which I carefully checked, as well as a small group of 12 Waxwing which flew overhead calling. A very nice morning in the city...