Look at the map of Europe and you’ll soon see an obvious route for returning migrant raptors that want to take advantage of thermals over the land to ease their passage back to their breeding grounds. It sticks out like a giant sore thumb into the North Sea, and its largest landmass has a name to fit – Jutland.
It is here that Europe’s most overlooked raptor migration takes place. Given easterly winds, the largest numbers of birds head all the way up Jutland, the main Danish peninsula. Its northern tip is on the same latitude as Aberdeen, the landmass whittling into a long spur near the end of which sits the town of Skagen. With several thousand birds passing through between April and June, and with cheap flights from the UK to Aarhus barely 50 miles away, surely this is one of the most under-visited destinations for British birdwatchers.
So what can you see on a trip to Skagen?
Red Kite: Skagen passage: around 20. But numbers are soaring in southern Sweden, up from 60 pairs in 1975 to over a thousand now. Winter in the Mediterranean.
Hen Harrier: Skagen passage: Up to 200. Mainly breed in northern Sweden, where there are a few hundred pairs. Winter in mainland Europe.
Rough-legged Buzzard: Skagen passage: up to 1000. Breed on the open terrain of the Norwegian mountains and northern Sweden above the tree-line, where perhaps 10,000 pairs, although numbers fluctuate. Winter in central and eastern Europe.
Sparrowhawk: Skagen passage: up to 3000. Widespread breeder across western Scandinavia below the tree-line, where perhaps 30,000 pairs, although at lower densities than in Britain and western Europe. Winter in central and eastern Europe.
Marsh Harrier: Skagen passage: A few hundred. Breed mainly in southern Sweden, where over 1000 pairs. Winter in the Mediterranean and in sub-Saharan Africa.
Common Buzzard: Skagen passage: up to 7000. Widespread breeder across southern and eastern Sweden and southern Norway in forested areas, exceeding 35,000 pairs. Winter in western Europe, from France to Denmark.
Osprey: Skagen passage: up to 500. Breed across Sweden (4000 pairs), and far fewer in southern Norway. Winter in west Africa.
Merlin: Skagen passage: a few hundred. Breeds throughout Norway and northern Sweden. in birch woodland, maybe 10,000 pairs, where largely a tree-nester. Winter in mainland Europe.
Honey-buzzard: Skagen passage: Can be over 2000, but variable. Nest in the forests of Sweden (5000 pairs) and south-west Norway (c.1000 pairs). Winter in sub-Saharan Africa.
*Skagen passage numbers taken from the excellent Collins Birds of Prey by Benny Génsb