• Sweden edition
 
Cranes - and nature-lovers - flock to Swedish lake

Cranes - and nature-lovers - flock to Swedish lake

Published: 06 May 2010 09:57 GMT+02:00
Updated: 06 May 2010 09:57 GMT+02:00

The deafening sound hits you way before the sight: piercing shrieks coming from wet marshlands in western Sweden that host one of the world's largest gatherings of migratory cranes.

"The sound is just amazing. It's not beautiful, but it's fascinating," said biologist Anders Bergström. He leans on a wooden fence that separates visitors from trampled fields where some 10,000 cranes are taking a break.

Up to 25,000 Eurasian cranes – or grus grus, a tall, grey-feathered bird – pass through the wetlands at the southern tip of Lake Hornborga during the first six weeks of Spring, generally starting in mid-March.

An individual crane spends on average 12 days resting here, the final pit stop on a long journey from their winter homes Spain to summer breading grounds in central Sweden and Norway.

At peak periods, some 14,000 cranes – with a record of 18,500 last year – can pack the relatively small feeding area, offering their peculiar song and dance to visitors who themselves flock each year to see the performance.

"They really do dance!" lake visitor and avid bird watcher Lars Lejdegård, 68, said excitedly.

"They jump like that and come down on each other," said the retired banker, peering up from his tripod-perched monocular to mimic bird movements with his arms.

The "dance" is not as obvious to the untrained – or unequipped – eye, but at any moment pairs of birds can be seen flapping wings, bowing necks, jumping up and down and, at times, throwing grass up in the air.

"It's not a mating dance," explained Bergstroem, as cranes don't perform this ritual once they reach their breeding grounds. Instead, it's "probably a way to strengthen the social bonds within the pairs."

The annual spectacle draws up to 150,000 visitors to the lake, in Västra Götaland county, 150 km north-east of Gothenburg. Both average tourists and passionate bird watchers gather to witness the sight. Though most are Swedish or from neighboring Denmark and Norway, some, like Czech national Zdenek Soucek, drive more than 15 hours to witness the gathering.

"In our country, (the cranes) nest, but not so much. It's a rare kind of bird for us," said Soucek, in camouflage trousers and gripping a thermos in one hand and a tripod-mounted camera with an impressive telephoto lens in the other. The 57-year-old headmaster and four travel companions have already set up their observation point at 6:30 am to watch the cranes fly in, from their sleeping grounds farther off, to feed in the field.

"All the people coming here, they all have one question in common," said Claes Hermansson, a 62-year-old local ornithologist and crane specialist. "It is: how many?"

The answer is provided by a 15-member "bird counting team", of which Hermansson is part. Each day, they send two or three members to an abandoned bus stop on a hilltop near the lake, equipped with monoculars and a crowd counter device.

'Listen, they are happy'

Alf Karlsson, 75, has been with the team the longest, involved in every crane count since they first started at Hornborga in 1966.

"I don't know why. I think it's interesting," he said, as he, Hermansson and Börje Carlsson, a 79-year-old retired policeman sitting next to Karlsson on the bus stop bench, kept a recent count.

Their tally was 12,200 cranes, with a few more to go.

While local lore says the birds have stopped at Hornborga for thousands of years, their numbers were not always this great.

More and more started flocking to the area in the early 20th century, attracted by the potatoes grown by nearby distilleries and only a day's flight from their previous stop in northern Germany.

"If cranes find a good spot on the migration route, there's a good chance they will come back, and they will also bring other cranes with them because cranes are very social," Bergstroem said.

By the 1950s, Hornborga was attracting about 3,000 cranes annually and gaining fame as a local tourist attraction.

When the distilleries closed, local authorities first kept the potato fields for the cranes, but later switched to spreading barley to save time and labour.

With the barley – today some 140 tonnes are spread each season – came more cranes, more visitors, and the counting began.

On a delicate point, Bergström concedes that feeding the cranes means interfering with nature. "We might affect the migration route," he said.

But he points out that despite the food and visitors, the cranes are far from tame, insisting they are shy, wild birds not the least interested in their spectators.

Bird counter Hermansson agrees, saying the cranes do not flock to Hornborga to put on a show.

"They need to eat you know," he said, lifting a hand to his ear. "Listen – they are happy."

Related links:

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

16:50 May 12, 2010 by eemmi
I once saw a pair of cranes take flight on a Swedish river - it is one of my most amazing memories. They are so huge yet graceful. Glad Sweden keeps their migration point free from development.
15:16 May 13, 2010 by dew_pansy
I like this because this makes me happy all the time
Today's headlines
Police seeking missing Swede in London
Sofie Marie Jansson, who is currently missing in London. Photo: Metropolitan Police

Police seeking missing Swede in London

British police have issued a plea for tips in the search to find Swedish national Sofie Marie Jansson who has been missing for almost a week. READ () »

University applications rocket to record high

University applications rocket to record high

Swedish universities continue to draw a record numbers of applicants with the number of prospective students seeking a third level education increasing for the seventh year in a row. READ () »

Teen in 'Jihad Jane' Vilks murder plot sentenced
Swedish artist Lars Vilks pictured in New York in 2012. Photo: Linus Sundahl-Djerf/TT

Teen in 'Jihad Jane' Vilks murder plot sentenced

American authorities have sentenced a 20-year-old accomplice of 'Jihad Jane' to five years in prison for an attempted terror plot to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, after getting involved with the murder plans when he was a teenager. READ () »

Sweden scraps 'new start zones' after EU input
Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag visits a school in Tensta, one of the neighbourhoods mentioned when he and his colleagues first floated the new start zone proposal. File: TT

Sweden scraps 'new start zones' after EU input

Sweden has abandoned a plan to ease taxes for small companies in blighted areas after the European Commission challenged its legality. READ () »

'Easter eggs an invitation to spread germs'
A typical Swedish Easter egg. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

'Easter eggs an invitation to spread germs'

A Swedish microbiologist has warned that traditional Swedish Easter eggs laden with candy are an open invitation to the spread of bacteria and viruses. "Is this really a good idea?" he asked. READ () »

Jammed truck snarls Stockholm rush hour
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Jammed truck snarls Stockholm rush hour

PICTURES: A truck got wedged inside a tunnel in central Stockholm on Thursday, with authorities concerned the accident may have damaged cables in the tunnel's ceiling. READ () »

Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
A Swedish Easter witch holding daffodils. File photo: TT

Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter

In India, I'd notice Easter only from the traffic jam outside the churches, but here witches, egg hunts, and feathers mark the Christian holiday. The Local's Deepti Vashisht brings you the various shades of Swedish Easter. READ () »

Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Chemtrails?: Shutterstock.

Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe

A Swedish MP who launched an official government investigation into the existence of chemtrails tells The Local why he thinks Swedes deserve the truth, even if it may leave some conspiracy theorists unsatisfied. READ () »

PM pleads ignorance of Vattenfall's Nuon bid
Fredrik Reinfeldt answers the constitutional affairs committee's questions. Photo: TT

PM pleads ignorance of Vattenfall's Nuon bid

Sweden's prime minister on Thursday said Vattenfall itself, not its owners the Swedish state, had responsibility for the loss-making Nuon deal. READ () »

'Kockums submarine raid may be illegal': lawyer
Photo: TT

'Kockums submarine raid may be illegal': lawyer

A Swedish lawyer says the Swedish military may have broken the law when it raided the Malmö premises of German defence giant Thyssen Krupp. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Advertisement:
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
TT
Politics
Swedes to give six-hour workday a go
TT
Society
Aussie choir member wows Abba in Sweden
YouTube
Society
Stockholm magic a surprise YouTube hit
Fastighetsbyrån
Society
Gallery: The Local's Property of the Week
Private
Society
Swedes find 200-year-old gravestone in living room
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Deepti Vashisht
Features
Deepti Vashisht dissects the magic of Sweden's personal ID number
Shutterstock
Society
Ten signs you've been in Sweden too long
Society
Jimi Fritze heard every word when doctors discussed taking his organs
Society
A Swedish farmer explains why the new bestiality ban is 'pointless'
ESL
Sponsored Article
Learning Swedish the easy way
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

772
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com