The elongated peninsula in southern Lolland is all to itself for five months a year. No tourists, no walkers, no bird watchers. During the breeding season there is a ban on entering the well-known nature and bird reserve. During the autumn migration, however, nothing stands in the way of a day tour on Hyllekrog to the lighthouse and further to the eastern top of the headland.
Driving to the parking lot behind the Baltic dunes is like a journey through no man’s land. Sure, somebody owns all the fields and pastures along the gravel road, but apart from a few cows and the omnipresent common pheasants, you hardly meet a soul. An extensive buffer zone between civilization and one of the most beautiful natural landscapes on the Fehmarn Belt. Kestrels patrol the area again and again. Their large number is certainly related to the autumn migration, but the untamed, wide meadows here seem a paradise for birds of prey such as hawks, buzzards and kites throughout the year.
Anja from Hamburg, with whom I spend a week’s birding vacation in southern Denmark, keeps me company. Four eyes see more than two and Anja has a practiced look, while my powers of observation seem a bit rusty due to the long pandemic break.
From the dike that separates Saksfjed from the Baltic Sea, one overlooks the bay and the Hyllekrog peninsula with the iconic lighthouse and one of two wind farms off Lolland’s south coast.
Less than ten kilometers east of Rødby, Hyllekrog pushes itself at a right angle to a kilometer-long dike in the Baltic Sea, behind which lies a wild landscape of oak forests, wet meadows, ponds and hedges: the 1100 hectare Saksfjed.
The construction of the dyke began as early as the 1870s as a result of a flood. It initially led across several islands in this area, including Hyllekrog. By draining the diked areas until the 1950s, the narrow island finally connected to the mainland. Koniks and Belted Galloways graze where the seabed was a hundred years ago, and some deer roam the oak grove. White-tailed eagles have an eyrie behind the dike, which is closed during the breeding season. And above it all, the kestrels fly their circles.
The weather promises late summer atmosphere. We want to hike first to the lighthouse and from there to the eastern tip, where a few sandhooks form an intermediate world that sometimes seems to be land and sometimes sea and is populated by numerous water birds and limicolas.
The morning is typical for a September day. High fog lies over the coast and covers everything in a pale, unreal light. In the east, towards the sun, the silhouette of the lighthouse rises into a milky sky. In the bay between Hyllekrog and the dike, the water is mirror-like. Greylag geese and the somewhat smaller barnacle geese stand on the sandbanks outside in the shallow bay. In between wigeons, mallards, cormorants, mute swans. Dunlins fly in small flocks close to the water along the edge of the river. Their typical plew-plew is a wonderful sound on this quiet morning when even the surf still seems to sleep.
Hyllekrog welcomes us with soothing silence. The September day begins with a veil of clouds over the coast. There is a certain mysticism in the delicate colors and soft contours of the landscape.
Here on the dike, Hyllekrog is still narrow. Here you can also find wild hedges and muddy banks that have been churned up by the hooves of the cows. Behind the dunes, the Baltic Sea lies like a purple-brown carpet, criss-crossed by the dark stripes of the crests of the waves. A young great crested grebe rocks lonely on the water near the beach. In the west you can guess the port of Rødby, from where ferries leave every hour across the Belt to Fehmarn.
At its narrowest point the peninsula is only about 40 meters wide . On the left the Fehmarnbelt, on the right the flat bay.
Hyllekrog turns out to be a firework of colors on this sunny autumn day. For hours we only meet a handful of people. Time and again I sink into a pleasant contemplation in this picturesque, colorful landscape. As always by the sea. Looking at a dead straight horizon untangles the mind. But it is also the country, the barren, sparse and yet somehow lush nature all around. The eye always finds something interesting and thoughts willingly follow it. And while walking kilometer by kilometer through dry meadows and dunes, we reach Ninas Hus and immediately afterwards a crooked, half-dead pine grove next to the massive lighthouse.
After a good three kilometers you will reach a pine grove by the lighthouse. Ninas Hus nestles behind the dunes. We have not been able to fathom what the house on Hyllekrog is all about. Not entirely unlikely that it will serve as an accomodation for ornithologists and scientists.
In the dry dune landscape there is only a puny shrub here and there or a gnarled tree that has been blown by the wind. Robins find shelter in these vegetation islands. Goldfinches and meadow pipits pass over us. We also see some of the sparrowhawks that day. Their way leads them directly out to sea, across the Belt towards Fehmarn. It feels a bit strange to see the bird of prey over the endless waves. It’s not a duck, and a stopover is not possible. But here in particular, the way across the sea is short and therefore one of the main migration routes for birds of prey. From the end of August, up to 7000 honey buzzards pass through Hyllekrog on this route, so many that on the first weekend of September each year a „Honey Buzzard Day“ takes place on the peninsula under the direction of the Danish ornithological association Fugleværnsfonden.
Image 1: Queen of Spain fritillary (Issoria lathonia) | Image 2: Fox moth caterpillar (Macrothylacia rubi)
It is now noon and the light has become glaring. Behind the lighthouse, a path leads through the dunes to the beach. If the morning haze had hidden their presence, I now notice them all the more clearly. There are dozens of wind turbines in the sea, a forest of swirling metal arms rises into the sky and we inevitably wonder how this fits in with the bird migration routes that lead here and further east near Gedser on Falster across the Baltic Sea to Germany. In addition, the Belt Tunnel, which Denmark finally punched through with a rapid start of construction, which encroaches on the maritime habitats right here below the surface of the sea and will destroy them for years. Does the more environmentally friendly traffic through the tunnel outweigh such a disruptive encroachment on the seabed and the coastal landscape? We stand perplexed and divided in front of the sea. Being human also has its price, it seems, it’s just not clear who really pays the bill in the end.
In the lighthouse of Hyllekrog there is a small exhibition on the species and habitats around Hyllekrog. Beautifully designed display boards show – even without knowledge of Danish – what nature has to offer here. We also find an overview of the Baltic Flyways, i.e. the migration routes from Sweden via Denmark to Germany. The offshore wind farm in front of Hyllekrog is practically right in the middle. Probably someone has thought the whole thing through well…
To get to the gallery to the lantern you have to climb a ladder through a hatch, adventurous but doable. The view over the peninsula is great and worthwhile in all directions.
A herd of Galloway cattle grazes on Hyllekrog, only stopped by the pasture fence on the dike and the sea all around. Here at the lighthouse there is a shelter for the animals and a small lake. The cows look over at us curiously, but they seem to know people like us. Even if it is very quiet here, we are not the only guests on this day. We encounter a handful of other hikers during the day, and not all of them actually go all the way to the eastern headland. It takes a good half an hour to get there from the lighthouse. The path shifts to the northern beach in a wide arc always along the bay. The breeze blows flakes of foam on the drift line. Small crests of waves paint patterns on the water. Wilted seaweed and mussel shells line up in front of us like ribbons on the sand.
To the east of the lighthouse, the path disappears after a while in the vegetation and it is better to shift to the northern beach on the bay.
From afar we can see the swarm of dunlins on the sandbank at the end of Hyllekrog. Their calls waft over to us. Mute swans stand with their feet in the water and clean their plumage. The land plunges into the sea here, gently and hesitantly, forming shoals and sandbanks everywhere, even further out. You can see it in the geese and swans that seem to be standing in the middle of the sea. We decide to come closer inconspicuously so as not to startle the animals. We slowly work towards the edge of the dune and find a spot where we can settle down. This place is not only the end of the way, the turning point of our day tour, it also has something remote, untouched, even almost sacred about it.
We know we are only guests here, only spectators, observers. There is absolutely nothing for us here, other than the fulfilling joy of being able to watch the dunlins plow through the damp sand. They work their way over to us from the drift line at the end of the headland, meter by meter. In waves like the sea itself, they slide past each other towards us until they are only three arm lengths away. If you don’t know this feeling of happiness yourself, you will hardly be able to understand how wonderful it feels when you become part of the landscape and merge with it, so that the beings there hardly take any notice of you and approach so carefree.
Not all are prudent. A short time after us, two women reach the bank and prepare to walk to the edge of the water. They scare away everyone who is looking for food and cleaning their plumage until even the imposing swans have flown away. We can hardly hide our displeasure. The two ladies come over to us and say something. We don’t speak Danish and they don’t speak German, so the conversation dies down before it has even started. When the two of them return to the lighthouse, we wonder what they wanted to know. Perhaps the classic question: what is there to see?
„Nothing more now!“ Anja remarks in her north German laconic manner. I have to grin. But I wonder why some people seem to see ‚only‘ a landscape in places like this. Is it really that difficult to take a closer look and see what life is like in the landscape?
But maybe the two ladies just wanted to know what time it is.
The eastern tip of Hyllekrog is a mosaic of sand and water. On this sunny autumn day, the vegetation conjures up intense colors next to the blue sky and the sea. Such landscapes impress me a lot.
The dunlins return soon after. With them a couple of shelduck and a common godwit. We stay in the Holy of Holies of Hyllekrog for a while before we start our way back. Along the beach we circle the tip of the island and finally come to the south beach, which is long and monotonous clinging to the Baltic Sea. A weathered swan skeleton lies in the sand, reminding of the becoming and decay of everything, including the beautiful. The high dunes block the view of the bay and the lighthouse like a wall and so we keep walking straight ahead. The sun is back with its old summer power and burns on the skin and in the eyes. The march on the beach would probably have been less amusing had it not been for a special couple. A wheatear and a meadow pipit hop in front of us at a suitable distance, over pebbles and through the herbaceous tufts of sea rocket, which is still in delicate purple bloom here. I remember meeting such a duo a few years ago in front of the dyke at Pilsum in East Frisia. Perhaps a pact of fate that the two of them made with each other so as not to make the migration journey on their own.
Image 1: European golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) | Image 2: Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) and Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis)
The red lantern roof of the lighthouse finally appears over the dunes. A couple of cormorants and eider ducks crouch on the beach while the ferries pass by out at sea. All hikers, the ships and their passengers as well as the birds. The clouds pass in the sky, the sun follows its circle undeterred and we too hike on our way. Everything in motion. Through the dunes we get back to the lighthouse and take a break at the shelter in the pine grove.
Here at the lighthouse, Hyllekrog is most varied: dunes, dry grass, wet meadows, ponds, the lake, the Baltic Sea beach in the south, the flat shore of the bay in the north and the small collection of gnarled pines create a mosaic of habitats in a small area.
Common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
A fine melody sounds from a nearby tree, the gentle song of a common redstart. It is a female and so a first for me. So far I have only been able to observe males of the already rare flycatchers. A female is a little sensation for me.
With this icing on the cake for the day, we start the three and a half kilometers long way back to the dike. The headland becomes narrower, more hilly, with more vegetation and on the bank in the shallow bay ducks, geese, seagulls and waders have gathered in the course of the afternoon.
The water shines ink blue. Even if it cannot be seen from the beach, aerial photos from Hyllekrog show how many sandbanks and shallows form the seabed of the bay. Hosts of water birds crouch there. Barnacle geese, gray geese, wigeons and mute swans move leisurely across the water in large and small groups. Grey plover and dunlin putter restlessly along the shore in search of the next source of food. Black-headed gulls rest on the damp, wind-exposed mud flats, their heads tucked under their wings.
Image 1: Black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) | Image 2: Dunlins (Calidris alpina) and Grey plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) in the bank area | Image 3: Barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis)
A storm has been reported for the coming day, which still seems difficult to imagine on this mild, sunny afternoon. The birds must have known it for a long time. Perhaps it is not just a human impression but a fact that they are enjoying this last quiet day for the time. Saying goodbye to the idyllic bay and the friendly Hyllekrog is difficult. We can hardly tear ourselves away, but we can feel the eight hours of wind and sun and the twelve kilometers hiked in our bones. With filled minds and memory cards, we cross the dike, take a last look at the green Saksfjed, the cows and horses and the kestrels in the air.
I have heard the argument many times lately that we must preserve nature, species and habitats for the sake of our children. I have three children myself and I don’t want to imagine anything more terrible than having to leave them behind one day in a barren, impoverished world.
When I watch a flock of dunlins, look at their perfect plumage and the ideal shape of their beaks and feet, their coordinated movements in the flock when foraging or in flight, all of this in front of a backdrop like Hyllekrog, which is unique and incorrigible in terms of colors, shapes and elements then I realize that it is not human descendants for whose sake we must preserve all of this. The very existence of a species is enough to justify its being. We should be motivated to preserve nature as we know it for its own sake.
… about the PICKLE JAR
Homepage of the Danish Ornithologists Association Fugleværnsfonden – danish
Flyer about the Baltic Flyways (migration routes across Denmark) – german/danish (on yumpu.com)
Flyer Hyllekrog-Saksfjed (Overview and route plan of the Danish Ornithologists Association) – danish
We found an interesting brochure about the construction of the Fehmarnbelt tunnel in our holiday home in Nysted. The extremely controversial immersed tunnel in the Fehmarnbelt means, on the one hand, a fast transport connection from Scandinavia to the European mainland, and on the other hand, a serious intervention in the already endangered Baltic Sea ecosystem. There is also a video on YouTube for the prospectus, which I would like to include here, possibly as an impulse for interested people to obtain further information about this project and its possible positive and negative effects: