Denmark’s Black Sun


“Black Sun” (Sort Sol) is a phenomenal experience, where you can marvel at the fascinating patterns in the sky formed by hundreds of thousands of starlings weaving and wavering in the dim light of the morning and evening skies adorning the marshes of the Wadden Sea. 

The birds band together to protect themselves while departing or arriving at the nesting area in the twilight light of dusk and dawn. Due to the sheer size and numbers in which these birds gather, covering the sky and perhaps even blocking out the sun, people aptly named this phenomenon “Black Sun”.

 

When can you observe the Black Sun?

The starlings migrate to the Wadden Sea to feed on the many insects and worms found in these marshy grasslands. The starlings can be found in the Wadden Sea area from February to mid-April and from August until November.

Typically, the birds are more active in the sky during spring, but they have more individuals during autumn (because the breeding season is over).

The best time to observe the spectacle in the sky is just before sunrise and sunset. In the morning, the birds wake up an hour before sunrise and start singing (which itself can be an enjoyable aural experience if you can get up early enough!) before they head out and gather food. To avoid predation, they all take-off simultaneously, forming the iconic dark clouds on the sky and fly towards the grasslands to find food for the day. 

In the evening, an hour before sunset, they start heading back to the marshes to hide in among the reeds after a whole day of stuffing themselves full. In the beginning, you will likely see smaller groupings – slowly forming bigger and bigger groups until they again form a massive flock and pick a place to rest for the night. Staying together and waiting for the sun to set makes it easier for the individual starling to survive the birds of prey lurking in the marshes, waiting for the starlings to return home.

The starlings take on different formations in the sky depending on the predators in the area and as a means of inter-bird communication :P. If you attend a guided tour, the guide will instantly know which bird of prey is attacking or if the group found a safe spot for the night (I am amazed that this was even possible ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

The starling resting place changes often to mislead predators and because the reeds break after a few days of nesting. One can, therefore, never be entirely sure where the starlings will go down for the night.

Where can you see it?

If you are lucky, you can observe the Black Sun phenomenon across most of the Wadden Sea area; as long as there is a lot of space and open grasslands. However, there are areas where you might have a bigger chance of bumping into them. Take a look at the map below for inspiration.

https://naturstyrelsen.dk/naturoplevelser/aktiviteter/sort-sol/

https://naturstyrelsen.dk/naturoplevelser/aktiviteter/sort-sol/

It was our first time going for a Black Sun, and we had no idea how to find the birds or what to look for. I found some information telling us that the largest gatherings could be seen in the Tøndermarsken area, so we decided to head there. I thought, how hard can it really be to find a million birds in the sky? Well, it was a little more challenging than I thought (^⌒^*).

Driving from Copenhagen, we tried to make it for the first sunset, but due to heavy traffic, we arrived at Rudbøl just when the sun was setting on the horizon, and we only managed to see some geese migrating in their classical V-formation across the sky (which also looked kinda cool). So the next day, we woke up at 5:30 in the morning and headed to Rudbøl (we had read that you need to be at the spot at least 30-60 min before sunrise). Luckily we were rewarded for our troubles. Initially, we saw some smaller clouds of starlings flying over our heads. But what really got our attention was a big cloud, visible far out on the horizon, heading our way. Luckily, I managed to take a few shots of it as it crossed the lake next to us! 😀

Our next (and final) chance was at sunset. We decided to head to the area across the lake, where we had seen the big cloud of starlings originate in the morning. We drove towards a place called Møllehusvej Grænseovergang, where we wanted to access the marshes from that direction. We saw many cars parked in the area, and once we left the car, we noticed people wearing “Sort Sol Safari” hats. Bingo! O(≧▽≦)O

We entered the marshes, and after walking for a little while, the tour guide stopped, and so did we (how inconspicuous). We were standing on a dyke overlooking the marshes, trying to distance us a bit from the tour group, but after a while, more and more groups arrived (never would I have thought that Black Sun was so popular!), and some of them decided to wait for birds right next to us. Thanks to that, we got a chance to listen in on the guide talk about the birds, their habits, and ways to spot them. 

We saw many different birds flying over the marshes to find a resting spot, from seagulls to ducks and geese and many others for which I still don’t know the name. The guy sitting next to us was really excited about them (something about a rare bird type that can only be found in a few places in Denmark :D). We managed to see a couple of bigger starling clouds flying close by; unfortunately, the main one was 1 km away from us ( ˃̣̣̥ω˂̣̣̥ ). I saw it for a moment through my lens, but it was too far away.

After sitting on the wet ground for 1.5 hours in the cold and windy weather, we ran back to the car to not die of hypothermia the second we couldn’t spot birds anymore:P We decided it was not the last time we visited the marshes (hopefully next time it will be at a warmer time). Now we know where to find the birds and what to prepare. Hopefully, we will be back in autumn! It was a fantastic experience, and we had a lot of fun!

If you would like to have a guided tour, check out the tour that was in the marshes with us. It was a nice guided tour from what we heard from the distance (note that it is in Danish), and they knew where to find the birds. Or you can go happy-go-lucky like us and make an adventure out of it 🙂 To be honest, I didn’t think any tours were happening because of COVID, so we didn’t even google it ^ ^

What to bring and how to behave:

  • Bring a foam cover to sit on; the ground is likely wet, so put something under your butt to make it comfortable and dry. You might have to wait for up to 1-1.5 hours for birds to show up (depending on when it becomes dark), so prepare for the wait.
  • Bring a blanket. Again, it is cold to be sitting for so long in one place. I was so frozen that I lost feeling in my tiny toe (thank you, Danish weather! They call it Black SUN! Not black clouds, -mist or -rain!)
  • Do not shoot pictures with flash. It will scare the birds away, and the flash won’t work either way in the distance.
  • Don’t stand up around the reeds or on top of the dike; sit down instead. If you are standing, the starlings will be too afraid to go down and will likely fly further away to find a safer place.
  • Don’t venture into the marshes; you will spook the birds. You can follow a marked trail that takes you around the wetlands if you want a closer look.
  • Don’t bring a dog. Again, you want to see birds close by, don’t scare them.
  • Bring binoculars if you have some. Sometimes the birds are far away, and it’s hard to see them.
  • Be quiet and enjoy the show O(≧▽≦)O

I can promise you; it is an unforgettable experience that will leave you stunned wanting more!

If you would like to know more about the Black Sun phenomenon, follow this link (in Danish)

FYI. I heard something about a White Sun (^_-)I guess I will find out next time what that one is all about 🙂

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