Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Friday, March 31

Johan and Johanna invited me on an extended weekend away to Öland, an island off the South-East coast of Sweden. Originally Johan mentioned that they were going to visit his mother, but I later found out that there's actually some pretty good birding on Öland and that was what Johan was intending to do for three days. In particular a migratory species, the eider, was due to be passing between the island and the mainland in the thousands at this time of year. Johan pulled out one of his bird books and showed me some pictures, then pointed at the next one down. "This is the king eider, there's only one of these for every few thousand common eiders passing." He had an excited gleam in his eyes.

So far the only new thing I've knocked back has been a game of floorball so I accepted the invitation, thinking that this would make or break my fledgling interest in birding. Johanna vowed that whenever she got bored she would find something else for us to do. We set off at 3:30 on Friday afternoon for the 5 hour drive. Johan talked about Öland and the changing landscape, and eagerly pointed out every new bird we passed on the way. The highlight for me was seeing Canada geese for the first time. My trips to the US in 2004 and 2005 resulted in two research papers about the management of age-structured populations and of Canada geese in particular. I didn't see one in all of the time that I was there.

The other sight of note on the journey was the home of Astrid Lindgren, author of "Pippi Longstocking". It had been developed into a modest theme park, Astrid Lindgren's Värld. As we headed south the snow became thinner and thinner on the ground, and the forest was increasingly replaced by agricultural fields, partially submerged in melted snow. By the time we reached the 7km bridge from the mainland to Öland it was 9pm and dark. I would have to wait until the morning to see it.

Johan's mother Raggna and her husband Carl-Gustav welcomed me warmly when we arrived at their house and proved to be very generous hosts. Raggna fussed in the kitchen, presenting red wine, bread and five types of cheese for supper, and offered a huge tube of Tartex (vegetable pate) that she had bought especially for me. It looked like the tubes of Kaviar I've been seeing everywhere, but it was nice that she was so concerned about feeding me and I assured her that I'd try some for lunch the next day.

The kitchen was very cosy, like the few other Swedish kitchens I've been invited into, and was heated by a traditional wood-fueled stove. The house was built in 1906, actually as a railway station. One of the back rooms can still be recognised as the waiting area with a ticket window. The room upstairs where I stayed was of about the same area as my cabin at Grimsö, with its own bathroom and kitchenette. Johan told me that they rent it out to visiting birders. Later I noticed a "Birds of Öland" poster on the back of the door.


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