Searching Sweden's forests for the phantom of the north: the great grey owl

The Black River Valley offers no shortage of fascinating feathered attractions for keen birders, writes Brian Jackman

13 October 2019 - 00:00 By Brian Jackman

A ghost came gliding out of the shadows, heading straight for the camera until its face almost filled the screen. Its staring eyes seemed to be looking deep into my soul. It was a great grey owl, rated as one of the world's top five must-see birds, and I found the BBC wildlife documentary so compelling that I later joined a tour to Sweden with Naturetrek (, a UK-based ecotourism company, to try to see a real one.

It was May, and the land was awakening after the long Scandinavian winter; the birch trees were a froth of green. The great northern migration of Arctic waders was in full swing, and as the breeding season got under way the valleys echoed to the bugling cries of cranes, signalling the time when great grey owls emerge from the forests to hunt in the lengthening evenings...

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