Quick facts about Haparanda Sandskär Bird Observatory

A folder in Swedish can be downloaded here as a pdf-file
The folder gives information about Haparanda Sandskär Bird Observatory and about birds and bird watching sites on Sandskär. The size is A4. The file size is 4,5 MB.

Activities at Haparanda Sandskär Bird Observatory

The observatory is operated by Norrbotten Ornithological Society (NOF). It is manned from the middle of July until the middle of October. The work is carried out by volunteers and mainly consists of

  • ringing of waders and passerines
  • ringing of nestlings on surrounding islands and skerris
  • migration studies
  • inventories


More than 100 000 birds have been ringed since the start in 1981. The most common species to be ringed is Willow Warbler with more than 34 000 individuals ringed. Then follow Common Redpoll with about 14 400, Brambling and Reed Bunting, each with about
5 700 individuals ringed.

The birds are caught with mist nets. In addition Ottenby cages are used to catch waders. The ringing is usually carried out between 05 and 11.

A ringing hut near Vanahamina (old harbour) on the Southern part of the island makes the work easier. The main part of the ringing takes place there. The ringing hut is situated less than 700 meters from the accommodation in Kumpula.

Haparanda Sandskär

In the northernmost part of the Bay of Bothnia close to the border between Sweden and Finland there is a small group of islands that was set aside as a national park in 1995. Haparanda Sandskär is the main island of the group.
Once upon a time there were several fishing villages here and as many as 300 persons stayed on the island from the break-up of the ice until july 25 to fish for herring and salmon. Now it is only populated for part of the year by the personnel of the bird observatory and a few fisherman and tourists.
The total area of the park is 6 000 hectares, of which 770 hectares are land and the remainder sea. The area of the main island is 400 hectares. It is about 5 km from north to south and about 3 km from east to west.
The island consists of sand and has risen out of the sea with the land rise after the last ice age. The land rise is still going on at a rate of about 1 cm per year. The oldest part of Sandskär is from the 5th century and the north spit was still under water 200 years ago. With time vegetation has colonised it and the great biodiversity now present is one of the factors making Sandskär such an interesting and diverse birding site.
However, not only the birds make Sandskär a worthwile goal for a visit. Around the island one can see Grey Seal and Ringed Seal, Phoca hispida botnica, an endemic subspecies of the Bay of Bothnia and on the island Elk, Red Fox and Weasel, are often seen in the summer.
For the person interested in the flora there are som real rarities, for example Grove Sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora) and Alisma wahlenbergii (Does not seem to have a name in English).

Skumpula (22K)

The island is also very beautiful and often enjoys sunshine even when the weather over the mainland is bad. For this reason it is common that people visit the island for a few days to relax, bask in the sun and swim along the long sandy beaches. That the island has good potential for fishing is obvious, since the fishing at Sandskär has been an important part of the economy of the region during several centuries.

Birds month by Month

Autumn ringing season starts around July 15. Still many birds are in the middle of their breeding season. Everywhere Meadow Pipits, Willow Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings are singing. At sea Velvet Scoters, Greater Scaups, Red-Breasted Mergansers, and Goosanders are seen followed by their downball chicks. Around them Arctic and Common Terns and Parasitic Jaegers are hunting, sometimes accompanied by a few Caspian Terns.
The passerine migration has not yet begun. Often fledgling chicks are caught in the nets, frequently more than once.

lundsang (46K)

The wader migration is well in progress, and it is not unusual to see 2-300 waders in "Östviken" (East Bay). However, peak wader migration is not until August.
Among interesting species at this time of the year are breeding Little Bunting, Greenish Warbler or with some luck a few Little Terns. Of course one should also check for rare waders like Curlew Sandpiper or Terek Sandpiper.

During the first week the wader migration intensifies and more Tringa waders like Wood Sandpiper and Common Greenshank now reach their peaks with 2-300 and 50-100 individuals respectively. Also Whimbrels increase and good Redpoll-years these now begin to fly in. Good Crossbill years this is the time for Two-barred Crossbills.
The second week of August the Willow Warbler movements are becoming clearly noticeable. Towards the end of the week the daily ringing of Willow Warbler may exceed 200.

blahak (38K)

The Common Snipes now reach their peak. Most birds now have fledgling chicks and this means that after Willow Warbler the most abundand species are Sedge Warbler and Common Reed Bunting.
During the third week the Willow Warblers have normally peaked and the conditions are ideal for catching Greenish Warbler and with some luck Arctic Warbler. Species now appearing in greater numbers are Flycatchers, Redstart, Yellow Wagtail and Wryneck.
During invasion years the island may now be full of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers that make life hard for ringers. During this time also Rustic Bunting and Bluethroat show up. The waders are decreasing, but it is an ideal time for more exotic waders like Red Knot, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, and Sanderlings in the flocks of Dunlins.
During the last week the groups of waders have thinned considerably and only some 30 are left in the East bay. Most terns have disappeared and the warblers have peaked. However, the number of Rustic Buntings, Red-throated Pipits and Hen Harriers are increasing.

Around the open ground large groups of pipits are moving around, dominated by Tree Pipits, but also up to 50 Red-throated Pipits on the best days. The Rustic Buntings and the Bluethroats have peaked. If the Little Bunting was missed in July there is still hope. Not everyone who says "tick" is a Rustic Bunting.
Almost all waders have now disappeared, as well as the terns. Now the migration of the Tengmalm´s Owls has begun in earnest and an attempt to catch them at night is not a waste. For raptors this also seems to be the best time. Interesting species like Black Kite, Gyrfalcon, Pallid Harrier, and Peregrine can be seen between the common species if you stay alert.

cafla_4 (28K)

Towards the end of the month Common Redpoll, Siskin, Arctic Redpoll and the tits increase much and the Great Grey Shrike has taken the place of the Greater Spotted Woodpecker as the most hated bird. Also Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Three-toed Woodpecker help even if few in numbers. For the one set on rarities the Yellow-browed Warbler are on the go as well as Richard´s Pipit and why not a really heavyweight Siberian species.
During 2001 were seen among others 1 Greater Pipit, 2 Steller´s Eiders, 1 Pallid Harrier and 2-3 Yellow-browed Warblers during September.

The temperature drops and the long distance migrants are gone. The clearly dominating species are Common Redpoll and tits with additions of Arctic Redpoll, Waxwing, and Great Grey Shrike.
The actual end of the season depends on when the snow arrives. It is no longer only a dance on roses to work on the island now when the mornings are very cold, but rewards await the persistant. Among the common species Siberian Tits and many Arctic Redpolls have been trapped and also rarities like Pallas's Leaf Warbler. This should also be the best time for those who wish to catch rare eastern warblers such as Dusky and Radde's Warbler.

More about the work at the Bird Observatory

Ringing is the main study method at Haparanda Sandskär Bird Observatory for studies of birds with emphasis on migration routhes and migration behaviour.
Already in 1963 the first ringing was performed in order to study the potential of the island as a standardized ringing site. The results from the first year were clearly positive, but nevertheless it took almost twenty years before the activities really got going. Until now a little over 100 00 birds of 137 species have been ringed.

Of these the leader is the Willow Warbler with about 35 000 followed by Common Redpoll with 14 400 and Brambling and Reed Bunting with nearly 5700 ringed individuals. Other frequent species are Meadow Pipit, Siskin and Bluethroat. It is hardly surprising that mountain/subarctic species dominate since birds often use shorelines for navigation and the surrounding areas, execept for the most nearby costal region consists of mountains or taiga close to mountains.

Standardized ringing is conducted between July 20 and mid-October. Earlier there was also standardized ringing in the Spring, but due to lack of personnel and because of logistic problems this is no longer so. (Transport to the island then takes place via snow mobile on the ice, and from the island by boat when the ice is gone.) However, if there is a crew interested in taking on the spring ringing, this can be arranged.

Birds are caught with mist nets and during July and August with wader cages. In the beginning of July there is also an extensive investigation of breeding success and ringing of chicks of gulls and shorebirds on the small islands in the park.
Very little research on bird migration has been carried out in the north of Sweden compared to more southern bird observatories and there is thus still much to be done here. For those seeking to see many species, this is a good place for eastern rarities.
This is as close to Russia as you can get in Sweden.