|Photo: Magnus Martinsson
|Viper's-bugloss, Sysne udd
Gotland - In the Footsteps of Linnaeus
This 7-day tour focuses on the wildlife, history and culture of the island, with particular attention paid to some of the rare and beautiful plants found here.
There will be plenty of photographic opportunities and our tour leader, world renowned
wildlife photographer Magnus Martinsson will be on hand to give us a few tips!
Lying in the Baltic Sea off the eastern seaboard, Gotland is Sweden’s largest island.
Gotland’s capital, the mediaeval town of Visby, with its city wall, winding cobblestone
streets and alleys and its large number of ancient stone and wooden houses, churches
and ruins will be our point of arrival on the island. The town´s singular appearance bears witness to its history as one of the Hanseatic League’s main trading hubs during the Middle Ages. All of Visby and its city wall is included in Unesco´s World Heritage List as a unique historical site.
During the summer season, Visby is a popular tourist destination bustling with energy,
with a highpoint of the year being the summer solstice.
We take a morning flight from London City Airport to Stockholm Arlanda. After a 35 minute domestic flight from Stockholm, we arrive in Gotland around lunchtime.
Our first stop will be at Lummelunda where we find the first tracks of Linnaeus. The stalagmite cave being one of Europe´s largest is a possible visit, but the surrounding area also offers much for the botanist and birdwatcher, with potential birds such as Thrush Nightingale, Common Rosefinch, Icterine and Greenish Warblers.
On the forest floor we make the first interesting botanical sightings of White Helleborine and lovely, photogenic, pink Pyramidal Orchid. The latter sometimes blooming in thousands on this site just by the shore, this being the best site on the island for this eastern species.
On our way northwards we come across our first Alvar area. Even from just a roadside stop, an abundance of plant species will meet us, with the first real local speciality Gotlandssolvända (Fumana procumbens), along with rarities like Anthericum ramosum, Prunella grandiflora, Globularia vulgaris, Artemisia rupestris and Vincetoxicum hirundinaria.
Among insects we can also look for dayflying Cinnabar Moths, or Gotland´s official county insect – the colourful red- and black striped beetle Harlequin Bug. Some years an abundance of Large Blue butterflies is also present here.
After a lunchbreak/afternoon coffee at a countryside, stone-oven bakery we are ready to cross over the sound to the northern island Fårö. On a track off the mainroad we will soon feel thrown back a few hundred years in time. The landscape of dry, barren Fårö, with its old pine trees and sunny glades, remains practically unchanged for the past few hundred years. Here we can relax in some of the sheltered clearings and explore what plants, insects or birdlife there might be around. For sure there will be plenty.
Having had a look at the inland habitats, we pay a visit to the coast, where we shall see one of the prime attractions of Gotland – the rock formations called Raukar, standing tall on the shores.
An after dinner treat for the bird enthusiasts will be to get a look at the Eagle Owls breeding on the low coastal cliffs of the island.
As we work our way back south on Fårö an essential morning stop will be once again to catch sight (and pictures) of the exclusive Alvar-species Fumana procumbens, since they only bloom in the morning (!).
Since Fårö has got a lot to offer, we shall spend some time in the habitats we didn´t have time fully to explore yesterday.
The wetlands of Fårö are of special interest, with a good selection of Orchids including three sub-species of Early Marsh-orchid. The charismatic Fly Orchid, Marsh Helleborine, Narrow-leaved Marsh-orchid, Great Sundew, Broad-leaved Cottongrass, Tofieldia calyculata, Prunella grandiflora, Euphrasia salisburgensis and more are all present
Breeding birds in the neighbourhood include Hobby, Montagu´s Harrier, Caspian Tern, Little Tern, Baltic Gull, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet and White-tailed and Golden Eagles.
In the fine, ancient landscape we look at a good selection of flowers including Hairy Buttercup, Rye Brome, Loose Silky-bent, Forking Larkspur, Corncockle and Corn Buttercup.
Fårö is also the home to Europe´s largest beetle, the Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus).
As we close in to our accommodation for the next two nights, the Borgvik Hotel by the sea in Katthammarsvik, we hope to see the coastal meadows dressed in blue with flowering Viper's-bugloss.
Starting the day just like Linnaeus in the year 1741 we pay a visit to Östergarns prästänge where Linnaeus saw his first Collared Flycatcher and encountered and described a plant species new to science – Scorpion Senna. Today we can enjoy it on exactly the same spot as he did some 350 years ago.
And we will keep following his path to nearby Torsburgen, a limestone plateau that offers a wide variety of attractions.
For history, the remnants of what used to be one of the largest hillforts of northern Europe 2000 years ago, is still an interesting pile of rocks. But the habitat itself, a semi-open primaeval pineforest, with lots of dead trees on a rocky ridge with steep cliffs, is a different sight altogether.
With flying inhabitants such as Black Woodpecker and breeding Greeenish Warbler and Montagu´s Harrier around, it´s perhaps easy to forget that many endemic species of moss, lichen and fungi also dwell here.
Floristically there is even more variety to attract us. Once again we find a rare species of plant that Linnaeus encountered on the site – Great Burnet. Furthermore we will find Red Helleborine, Shining Crane's-bill, Prunella grandiflora, Spiked Speedwell, to mention but a few. Wild Marjoram will attract a host of butterflies as well, among them several species of Fritillaries.
Those interested in birds might find it interesting to return here on the optional evening excursion, because this is a stronghold for European Nightjar. And they are quite likely to be seen in the light midsummer night as they clap their wings in display flight.
But with our noses down in the spinach for a while now, it will be nice to hit the coastal meadows and heaths with great views and a new set of interesting species just around the corner. Here one of the star flowers is the exclusive Adder's-tongue Spearwort, along with Slender Hare’s-ear, Gypsophila fastigiata, Sea-holly and more.
Today we head south to the ”end” of the island.
Maybe you would like to have a look for the small, dark, indigenous horses Gotlandsruss, still roaming in a forest and wetland area at Mallgårds källmyr.
Another änge (Fide prästänge) along the route might add some more plant species to the list, such as Devil's-bit Scabious, Fragrant Orchid, Woodruff, Bush Vetch, Viper's-grass and Leafless Hawk's-beard.
Marsh Fritillary and Woodland Brown are regular butterflies at the site and once again Collared Flycatchers breed.
The south island Storsudret offers several good birding sites, coastal lagoons and great views. At the south end the landscape the rock rising up at the formation Hoburgen, is defintely a tourist trap, but nonetheless a very scenic point worth a visit and a lovely picnic lunch break.
Naturally we pay a visit to the Nature Visitors Centre in Vamlingbo, with the Lars Jonsson Museum of Art next doors where we shall have time for coffee and a chat to this famous inhabitant of Gotland.
The lodge Holm hällar set deep in creeping pineforest offer perhaps just basic accommodation, but good chances of a great barbeque and some good moth finds.
After breakfast we head out for the 30 minute boat crossing to the twin islands Stora and Lilla Karlsö. Stora Karlsö is the major seabird island in the Baltic Sea, with thousands of pairs of just two species; Guillemots and Razorbills. But the island is also a site of great botanical interest. Mulgedium quercinum, Cotton Thistle, and Proliferous Pink are some of the local attractions.
Birdwise it is also an interesting site with Barred Warbler and Red-backed Shrike being the typical inhabitants of the dry, bushy areas, while Greenish Warbler and Common Rosefinch can be found on the lush slopes. On the shores Arctic Terns and Eiders, Velvet Scoters and Lesser Black-backed Gulls of the Baltic race fuscus are easy to see.
The midsummer evening on Stora Karlsö is a spectacular event when the auklings are getting ready to jump the steep cliffs. We are invited to take part of the ringing scheme if … that is…. we are prepared to climb the ladder down the steep rocks to the shore below, where it all takes place. As dusk falls, the calls of the Guillemot males rise up the cliff walls. The fathers are calling the young to encourage them to take the leap from the nest shelf and glide down to the shore. They are still small and flightless at this time, so they use their tiny wings to reduce the impact as they land on the rocky beach. Their fat bellies serve as a cushion to soften the landing a bit. Meanwhile, big flocks of Razorbills are swarming outside the cliffs before settling on their nests at dusk. Bring a headlamp and help catch the young with your hands before they get to the water. This ringing project has lead to the discovery that Guillemots are among the longest lived birds in the world, several individuals being more than 35 years old and still breeding (!).
Transfer from Karlsö back to mainland Gotland and then to Visby. On our last afternoon we enjoy the culture and history of this interesting and beautiful city Visby, including taking in a guided tour; here we shall also enjoy a last evening dinner together and night in a great hotel.
Domestic flight from Visby to Stockholm. Flight back home Stockholm-Arlanda – London where we arrive in late afternoon.
|Photo: Magnus Martinsson