Day 1: Sun 3 Feb Arrival then Forests of Uppland
Our flight is due in Stockholm mid-morning, and we hope to get into the field quickly and start birding. We’ll begin in the nearby forests of Uppland heading straight for target species if available such as owls or Pine Grosbeaks, planning our day around them. This area can also be good for Nutcracker, crossbills, woodpeckers and raptors – a great place to start! Driving forest tracks in these areas will give our first taste of the vastness of the Scandinavian Boreal Forest. Black Grouse are numerous, Capercaillie common, and we could score our first Pygmy Owl here. After time in the forests we make for our hotel, perhaps pausing to take a walk around the Hjastaviken or Arike Fyris nature reserves or maybe Haga Meadows . Both offer great potential, the latter site having supported wintering Great Grey, Ural and Northern Hawk Owls on more than one occasion.
Day 2: Mon 4 Feb Fiby Urskog
Three-toed Woodpecker is our principal target this morning, and we visit nearby Fiby Urskog, a relatively small local forest where we’ve had good views before. We spend a few hours walking good trails concentrating our efforts on patches of dying spruce trees where Three-toed Woodpeckers forage for their preferred food – the Spruce Bark Beetle. Great Spotted, Green, Black and diminutive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (of the Scandinavian race minor) are also possible here, as are Common and Parrot Crossbill, Siskin and Crested Tit. The surrounding meadows can be productive too, supporting Great Grey Shrike, Rough-legged Buzzard, Goshawk and eagles. We’ll be sure to check any bird feeding stations in and around villages we pass, where many Northern Bullfinch, Greenfinch and Mealy (Common) Redpolls gather, along with smaller numbers of Tree Sparrow, Goldfinch and Yellowhammer with an outside chance of Hawfinch. In the afternoon we relocate to a busy feeding station regularly visited by charismatic Nutcrackers. Black and Grey-headed Woodpeckers are often in the vicinity too and the site offers fantastic, close range photographic opportunities. We might also get our first chance to compare Marsh and borealis Willow Tit – a tricky identification in the UK but no problem here. Crested, Coal, Blue and Great Tit will be common as will Nuthatches (of the white-breasted form europea) and we will be on the lookout for (Northern) Treecreeper and beautiful, white-headed caudatus Long-tailed Tit. Our final few hours will be spent on the hunt for Owls again. The area can be one of the best to search for Great Grey Owl – a number of pairs breed here and are increasingly seen in winter too. We’ll try for any known Hawk Owl, and as darkness falls listen out for Tawny, Ural, Pygmy and Tengmalm’s Owl calling – the latter being strictly nocturnal but becoming vocal at this time of year.
Day 3: Tue 5 Feb Gastrikland
Today we travel north into Gastrikland, where mile after mile of the almighty Boreal Forest forms an impressive backdrop. It’s truly wild here, the snow depth usually greater than in the more populated counties of Uppland and Vastmanland. There’s much to do, and we devote time to driving minor roads in the search of our big targets. Hawk Owl are regular (staying to breed in 2016!), and we search for any known birds as well as checking treetops and power lines in clear-fell areas. There’s a good chance of Pygmy Owl and we will be on sharp lookout for Ural and Great Grey Owl. Black Grouse are common, gathering in tree-tops to feed, with Capercaillie and Hazel Grouse possible too, though the latter are notoriously tricky to see well. Another reason for coming here is to seek Siberian Jay. Regular birds, likely the most southerly in Sweden, visit a feeding station here and if the track is accessible and news of the bird’s attendance is positive, we will attempt to see them. Golden and White-tailed Eagles may be found cruising the skies and Goshawk patrol the forest perimeters. The higher hills here, combined with a habitat of forest and open clearings, can yield Common and Parrot Crossbill and in influx years Pine Grosbeak.
Day 4: Wed 6 Feb Baltic Coast
A change of scenery today as we take our first look at the Baltic Coast. We have a number of good birding options right on our doorstep and taking the ferry to the island of Graso is one of them. We’ll be sure to see masses of waterfowl with many hundreds each of Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Goosander and Long-tailed Duck gathering where the sea remains unfrozen. We’ll search for the best ice-free sites with Smew being a top target today. Often in good numbers, stunning white drakes are surely one of the smartest of ducks around! Common and Velvet Scoter also occur in smaller numbers, as do Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and dabbling ducks. Both Steller’s and King Eider have been recorded on more than one occasion. White-tailed Eagle and Goshawk patrol the coastline hunting the wildfowl here, so plenty of scope for good birding! It’s busy with birds out on the coast and we might well see our only gulls and waders of the trip as pairs return to breeding haunts. As we return to our hotel we take the scenic route, driving minor roads to see what we can find. The local Osthammer region has a strong reputation for Northern Hawk Owl and Pine Grosbeaks in winter - a great, varied day out.
Day 5: Thu 7 Feb Gastrikland/Dalarna County/Garphyttan National Park
Our success thus far with target species (owls, woodpeckers etc) will dictate what we do today. We may choose to re-visit local sites or return north into Gastrikland or perhaps head further afield. We could venture north-west into Dalarna County where an otherwise flat landscape suddenly becomes more mountainous. It’s a stunning area at this time of year with vast forests and waterbodies (often frozen) – the view over the massive Lake Siljan being one of the best in Sweden! Hillier ground offers more rivers and these can be checked for Black-bellied Dipper, Kingfisher and possibly Otter. If we’ve done well with targets there may be a chance to try and find some mountain species such as Ptarmigan or Willow Grouse – a real bonus. Western Vastmanland is another option and here we can visit Garphyttan National Park where a series of easy going woodland trails and feeding stations can yield all of the native woodpeckers! Grey-headed in particular often show well, while a male White-backed Woodpecker (rare in Sweden with just a handful of records annually) was well watched at this site through winter 2017/18. Northern Hawk and Great Grey Owls can take up winter territories in the forest clearings within both regions, while a number of urbanised Eagle Owl pairs are also known.
Day 6: Fri 8 Feb Norrtalje then Deprture
With an evening flight we have time for birding, so drive south-east to the Norrtalje coastal region, another top area, with large gatherings of wildfowl possible from a number of harbours and view-points. Long-tailed Duck in particular can show well, as can Smew, and if time permits we’ll take a local ferry out onto smaller islands to explore. A number of international ferry routes operate through this area and help to guarantee largely ice free, open water even when Sweden is at its coldest. Returning inland we’ll be on the lookout for ice-free lakes – and more exposed fields. Lake Norrby and its surrounding fields are good places for waterfowl, farmland birds and winter thrushes. We may find Twite and Snow Bunting or even Arctic Redpoll in with the finch flocks or Bearded Tit and locally scarce Water Rail sometimes the reed-beds. Whooper Swan and flocks of European White-fronted and Taiga Bean Geese might be found feeding in the fields. Rough-legged Buzzard will be possible throughout the day as will Great Grey Shrike and Waxwing as we near urban areas. A fine way to finish.
Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).