Common Ringed Plovers from south to north (1:3)

A full clutch of Common Ringed Plover eggs with the lighthouse Långe Jan in the background.
For the fifth year in a row the Common Ringed Plovers breeding in Ottenby, on the island of Öland, have been visited to retrieve and deploy geolocators. The aim for this study is to track the annual cycle of this population and compare to other populations breeding and wintering in different climate regimes. This gives the possibility to see where they spend the winter and stop overs during migration, as well as annual timing of the annual cycle. New for this year’s field season is the deployment of activity loggers. These will indicate when the birds fly or rest, and thus give higher resolution data of how many and how long in time the flights during migration are.

The first individuals in Ottenby where observed in late February. Since they are colour marked they are easy to spot in the field and several observations where reported to me by local bird watchers. A couple of days later I went there to count how many of the arrived individuals had returned from previous years. At this point there were still snow on the ground and the temperature was bellow zero. Nevertheless, about 25 plovers where present and about 15 of these where colour marked. Additionally, I was very happy to see that several of these were carrying geolocators, as well as two of four individuals that where equipped with activity loggers as a test last year. Now the long waiting started. Waders are, during breeding season, easiest to catch while incubating their eggs, which do not start until mid April in Ottenby.

The field site in beginning of April.
In mid April I returned to look for the first nest. However, the temperature was still low and most birds where still courtshiping and digging out nest scrapes, which is done by leaning their chest against the ground and move forward by pushing of with their legs. A procedure that make one think about penguins sliding on their belly across the ice. No luck this time. The following week however, the first nests were found and it did not take long to catch the first birds, but none of the individuals with loggers from previous years. Which of course are the gems in this case. 

Female Common Ringed Plover ringed, sampled, logged and finally photo documented in Ottenby Bird Observatory’s photo lab. Photo: Ottenby Bird Observatory

The loggers are attached with leg-loop harnesses so that the logger itself sits like a little backpack. Photo: Ottenby Bird Observatory
In mid May the breeding season should have progressed into the later stages of incubation and the field site should be filled with incubating waders. But the temperatures were still low.  When I walked out of the car in on May 11 I expected to feel the spring. Instead a cool wind pierced through and the thermometer said 5°C. This was true for many other places as well. There were still some new nest found and the first geolocator were retrieved on the May 12. The day after that the first activity logger was caught back, which was over all expectations since only four of these had been deployed in 2016.  

The first activity logger to be retrieved from a small shorebird.

It was not until the week after the site got littered with nests. Not only by Common Ringed Plovers, but Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Arctic- and Little Terns too. There were also a lot of migrants, like Red Knots and Dunlins, stopping over on their way to the Arctic tundra. Also, some days the sky was filled with Brent geese migrating towards north-east. One of the biggest highlights however, was to see two pairs of Ruddy Turnstones patrolling and displaying on the meadows. Likely they will breed, something that does not occur every year in Ottenby. It is truly a privilege to see all these birds while carrying out work. In the end 7 loggers were brought back to Lund and two of these were activity loggers. These will shed new light on flight performance in waders, since these are, to our knowledge, the first time this kind of measurement have been retrieved in this group of birds.

A bownet is being set up over a plover nest. Photo: Marcus Danielsson

Now I am setting of to follow the spring to more northerly latitudes, namely Abisko, to give the plovers there a visit. 

 //Linus Hedh


Great field work challenges for Great Snipe researchers

For the ninth consecutive season we visited Storulvån in Jämtland, central Sweden, to study Great Snipes. As in previous years, our team consisted of people from Handöl (the local village), Lund, Uppsala, Stockholm, the Netherlands and Poland. The goal for this season was to retrieve some of the 20 accelerometers that we put on birds in 2016.

It was a season filled with greater challenges than normal. In April, a month before departure, we learned that the bridge over river Handöl had been torn to pieces earlier the same winter by moving ice. This bridge is crucial to us for reaching some key leks in the area.

After weeks of discussing alternatives to reach the remote leks, including the use of helicopter or snowmobiles, or even a skiing expedition over the mountains, we finally found a decent solution. By the local sami village we were granted access to an otherwise closed dirt-road by which it is possible to reach the most distant leks. This gave us the possibility to use a four-wheel motorbike for transport, snow conditions permitting. Motorized support was in practice a prerequisite, because the distance via this road to the furthest lek is 17 km (one way).

The next challenge would be the snow conditions. The combination of an unusually snow-rich winter, and a very late spring, resulted in “a lot of snow” waiting for us. As if this was not enough, the weather forecast suggested five days of more or less continuous rain.

Indeed, the first two evenings in the field gave us a combination of the strongest snow cover so far and on top of that, wind, rain and fog. Luckily our local team member had secured a set of snow shows from the tourist station, which significantly facilitated the walks to the first leks.

After the first two evenings, our wet, cold and slightly troubled moods were raised significantly by the recapture of two birds wearing accelerometers.

The third day the weather had improved, and we decided to have a go at the most distant leks, via the dirt road. In the early afternoon, Peter, our local team member, took us by four-wheel bike on the dirt road for six kilometers. After that the road was blocked by snow and ice. This meant that we needed to walk the remaining distance…


In mild and still weather, and a blazing sun, one team of three persons walked in snow shoes the 7 km to Laptentjakk. After a steep climb up the mountain side, six mistnets were raised and nine birds trapped, of which two carried accelerometers! After a very tiring walk back they reached the meeting point for the four-wheel bike at 6 am. For some in the team it was by far the toughest walk in the nine years of the project. This was dwarfed, however, by the team of four who walked 11 km one way to Tjallingen, trapped 30 birds including one with accelerometer, and finalized  their 23 km walk already at 6.30 am! After another four-wheel ride back, we all gathered at the field station at 8 am for breakfast.

With all the focal leks visited, five accelerometers retrieved, and 29 out 30 new accelerometers attached, we felt that the season had definitely been a success - despite all the initial problems and worries. However, there was one more night available for trapping, and we decided to try the nearest lek again. The first evening we had seen two birds with accelerometers there, but only trapped one. The activity level of Great Snipes this evening was very low but we managed to trap one single bird – a bird with an accelerometer!

Just what we wanted and needed! After removing the old accelerometer and attaching the 30th accelerometer for this season, we took the nets down early and returned to the bird station. Very tired, very happy! Now we are eagerly waiting for the exciting information the accelerometers may carry…

//Åke Lindström


All you want no know about Daphnias's behaviour in the field

The field season is now open for catching the little zooplankton animals!

Yongcui Sha and myself are collecting Daphnia magna in diverse aquatic systems in West Skåne. Combining biomolecular and nanoparticle tracking techniques, we want to investigate the intra- and inter- behavioral variability of Daphnia magna individuals collected from natural populations, as inferred from their population genetic structure and their swimming patterns under natural environmental stressors such as UV and predation.

Now we are looking forward to further understand how Daphniids are happily living outside of the lab!

//Sylvie Tesson


Along the longest of ways. Tracking 10 gram songbirds from eastern Siberia to southern Africa

Adult male willow warbler
Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) is the most common breeding bird species in Sweden. Globally its distribution range spans from coast of Atlantic to Pacific ocean. Species is currently split in three subspecies mainly due to differences in migration behaviour. North Scandinavian P. t. acredula migrates SSW to east Africa, central European/southern Scandinavian P. t. trochilus migrates SSE to western Africa. Far NE P. t. yakutensis hypothetically migrate SWS to southern Africa. This might be longest passerine migration on planet.
Me in the field with freshly caught dusky warbler female (Phyllsocopus fuscatus)
June and July this summer I spent on expedition to Chaun field station in arctic Russia (68.81 N, 170.62 E). I collected blood and feather samples as well as morphological measurements, phenotype data and some ecological information (clutch size, phenology, breeding density) of P.t.yakutensis breeding there. Importantly I fitted 28 geolocators on adult male willow warblers who were breeding in Chaun delta. Next year I will return to very same study site and try to find returning birds and hopefully document this remarkable migratory trip. Many thanks to Prof. Staffan Bensch, Prof, Susanne Åkesson and Dr Diana Solovyeva for making this project possible.

Researchers and students at Chaun field station, summer 2016. From Left to right: Ksenija Alehina, Anastasija Mylnikova, Carly Stransky, Darya Barykina , Tatjana Stepanova, Dr. Diana Solovyeva (director of the station), Prof. Chao Lei, Gleb Danilovich, Kristaps Sokolovskis, Dr. Sergey Vartanyan, Nikolai Lane


Typical willow warbler breeding habitat in Chaun river delta.

Comparison of willow warbler subspecies. From left to right: yakutensis, acredula, acredula and trochilus hybrid, trochilus. Yakutensis is alive and was gently placed on back to take this picture before reliesing. Others are stuffed dummies used as reference specimens to score phenotype.

Adult male willow warbler with geolocator
//Kristaps Sokolovskis


The next move!

Our mobile tracking radar station has been on the move again. It was transported from temporary storage at Ljungbyhed airfield to a long term deployment at Stensoffa ecological research station outside of Lund. There it will be easy for us to access it for maintenance and upkeep, but it will also be operational and possible to use in future projects. The transport went smoothly, and the trucking company we use can claim a real expertise in moving radar equipment by now!


Earlier blog post about the radar field projects:
1(3) Preparing the radar for a new field season!
2(3) Radar calibration field campaign
3(3) Bringing home the radar


Getting the IgNobel Prize!

It has been a great experience to receive the IgNobel prize, which makes people laugh and then think. The prize highlights the innovative and improbable research, and promote scientists thinking out of the box. I am happy to now belong to this community of scientists combining partly humor with research.
The last few days I have shared many laughs and new insights with my fellow Prize Winners. To be part of the whole event has been great and I have learned much about, for example, personalities of rocks, lies, badger life, and itching arms seen in mirrors. The project we won the prize for, how horseflies find the black but not white horses, a project I have pursued togethter with Gabor Horváth and his hungarian reasearch team received much attention and interest from the audience at the afternoon talks at MIT, Cambridge where the IgNobel Prize winners were lecturing 24 September.   

I truly recomend to catch up with more improbable research at the IgNobel homepage.

The Prize.

...and the Prize money.

 Our research has been summarized by a short film by Lund University.


More info from Lund University


The great flights of great snipes: fact or fantasy?

By using geo-locators we have in recent years been able to reveal a most spectacular migratory behaviour, that of the great snipe. In late August, males of this medium-sized wader bird leave their breeding grounds in central Sweden and embark on a long and fast direct flight to sub-Saharan Africa. They then fly on average 5500 km in 2½ days, at an average speed of about 90 km/h. One individual was estimated to have flown 6900 km over 2½ days, at a speed of 115 km/h.
The combination of distance and speed seems to be a “world record” among migrating animals and when the first paper was published in 2011 it received a lot of media attention. Apparently, the great flights have now also reached the fantasy genre. In “The Magician’s Land”, a fantasy novel from 2014 by Lev Grossman, some of the characters want to transform themselves to migrating animals, to be able to reach Antarctica. One suggestion is they should turn into great snipes (!) and then the amazing capacity of these birds is referred to in quite some detail. 
It is nice to see how the wonders of nature can fit so well into a fantasy novel. Facts from nature just as they are. But given that “The Magician’s Land” is a real best-seller, and therefore is read by many more people than our original paper in Biology Letters, maybe there is a risk that the great snipe flights may soon be considered more fantasy than facts? (-:
“- I have heard that great snipes fly thousands of km in just a few days”.
“- Come on, that’s just something written in a fantasy novel!

//Åke Lindström
(Thanks to Phil Battley for informing us about the fantasy world!)

Read more in:
Klaassen, R. H. G., Alerstam, T., Carlsson, P., Fox, J. W. & Lindström, Å. 2011. Great flights by Great Snipes: long and fast non-stop migration over benign habitats. – Biol. Lett. 7:833–835.
Lindström, Å., Alerstam, T., Bahlenberg, P., Ekblom, R., Fox, J. W., Råghall, J. & Klaassen, R. H. G. 2016. The migration of the great snipe Gallinago media: intriguing variations on a grand theme. – J. Avian Biol. 47:321–334.