Tuesday, 27 January 2015


5 weeks after the winter solstice and we already have 1hr and 41 minutes more daylight than the shortest day (sunrise today was 08:42 and sunset will be 16:17). With today’s weather of no wind, blue skies and a couple of degrees below zero it also feels like spring is just around the corner and a walk around Maridalen revealed many avian signs of spring. Great Spotted Woodpeckers (flaggspett) which like the other members of their genus become very unobtrusive in late autumn and early winter were now very obvious and out of around 10 birds I had 5 were drumming. Nuthatches (spettmeis), Great Tits (kjøttmeis), Blue Tits (blåmeis) and Willow Tits (granmeis) were all singing and being territorial which of course may change if we have a severe cold spell but they were enjoying the sun whilst it shone today.

Today's photographic highlight - Long-tailed Tit (stjertmeis) in Maridalen
My 10km walk around Maridalen had three special targets: Pine Grosbeak (konglebit) which have been reported close to Oslo, Three-toed Woodpecker (tretåspett) and Pygmy Owl (spurveugle). I had to be content with only one of these but given that it was a bird I failed to see in Oslo at all last year I was pretty happy. I have now had two species in January which I didn’t see at all in Oslo in 2014: Little Auk (alkekonge) and today’s Pygmy Owl. The owl chose to sit on the highest tree it could find and with knee high snow I also struggled to get closer to it so my photographic efforts were poor but I was able to hear it singing after a bit of encouragement from me.

I also had a couple of Long-tailed Tits (stjertmeis) in fantastic light which gave me some good photos and a couple of flocks of Yellowhammers (gulspurv) and 3 Moose which are the first I‘ve seen so far this winter.

In the garden the number of Blackbirds was significantly reduced with only a maximum of 4 at a time.
Bird of the day - Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)
Great Spotted Woodpeckers were very obvious today including this ringed bird which was drumming on a metal part of a telegraph pole

The three Moose -  a youngster plus two adult females
the Pygmy Owl at ca.400m range
Blackbirds in the garden on Saturday when the snow came

Monday, 26 January 2015

Israel VIII - Namaqua Dove

Yesterday we awoke to -10C, blue skies and fantastic weather. Today it was +2C and rain which then developed into mist - far from fantastic weather and a day to concentrate on work and chores inside.

Therefore I come with another Israel instalment and a couple of photos I forgot to include in a previous post. Namaqua Dove is an African species that has a small population in Southern Israel. It is also a very small dove and is hardly larger than a Sparrow except for the longer tail.

Namaqua Dove (maskedue)

Friday, 23 January 2015


We awoke to -13C today and no wind so a good day to see if there was anything interesting (bird or mammal) on the sea. There wasn’t unfortunately and the only interest was the Peregrine which was sat by the clock on the City Hall for a couple of hours whilst I waited in vain with James Ewan for Flipper to turn up. Some good banter caused time to pass quickly but in the end the cold beat me and I needed to seek warmth and dark the garden a new 2cy male and a minimum of 14 birds seen today including the female with the orange lower mandible with the total now up to a min of 17 individuals.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

More darkbirds

Today’s birding gave a rather meagre payback for my efforts and it was only in the garden whilst enjoying a coffee at the kitchen window that there was anything of interest and that is also stretching things quite a bit. The interest? Blackbirds of course.

I had in total 16 birds in the garden today with 3 being new: a male with a yellow rather than orange bill without any black, a new 2cy male and a new black-billed female (3 seen together). I also worked myself to the conclusion that the bird I have been uncertain about is a well-marked (old) female rather than a 2cy male. So today’s total was 10 males (3 without black, 2 2cy and 5 with some black on bill) and 6 females (shorty, reddy, 3 black-billed and the dark bird with yellow bill tip).
I have now seen a minimum of 17 individuals in the garden and the only bird I didn’t see today was the female with an orange lower mandible which I have only seen on 15 Jan although I am also quite sure that there must be more than the 5 males with black on the bill as this is just the max number I have seen together at one time.

This new bird with a virtually unmarked yellow bill (rather than orange). Note that it has paler primary feathers which according to some sources indicates a 2cy although the coverts all seemed to be of the same generation and were dark. I have noticed paler primaries on other birds that are without doubt adults so it is the coverts that are the important feathers to look at.
The other new bird is definitely a 2cy though with a bill with a lot of dark markings, paler feathers on the belly and brown wing including covert feathers.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Flippin snow

Another day of falling snow where being inside and not driving was the smartest choice and further obervations of the gardens Blackbirds followed. I finally managed to take better pictures of the definite 2cy male Blackbird but are still unsure about the other bird.  On these pictures you can see the browner wing feathers contrasting with blacker body feathers which is typical of 1st winter birds whereas the other bird had a more uniform colour suggesting it is an adult and therefore cannot be a male.

There was also a new adult Blackbird with a large amount of black on the bill or so I thought. The pictures actually show it has a lot of muck on its bill in addition to some black so could well be a bird I’ve recorded previously. These pictures show that it has black wing feathers meaning it is an adult rather than a 2cy (1st winter) and therefore does show that there is a lot of variation in the bill colour of adults (3cy + ). Following me? Intersted? Probably not….
The  2cy male Blackbird

one of the black-billed females and not, I think, the one I've shown before

red female

the male with dirt on his bill
 Well I didn’t find it that interesting either and instead decided to head out but today with rather more public transport and a tad less walking. Checking the downtown gull sites revealed nothing interesting (a white-winged gull must surely turn up soon) except for a very smart yellow-legged Herring Gull (rather than Yellow-legged Gull) but at Aker Brygge the dolphin was again showing well. It was once again keeping to a very small area (reminds me of tales of tigers that have lived in cages and once released into bigger enclosure continue to pace the same small area of their old cage) but had moved a couple of hundred metres from yesterday. Today it was possible to take pictures with the city’s landmarks in the background. I switched to my 18-55mm lens today which made finding the animal in the view finder easier and also gave the pictures and video more context.

A local boat owner asked me if I was watching the Porpoise (nise). I replied that it was a Bottle-nosed Dolphin (tumler) but he said he and the other boat owners were sure this was a porpoise although there has been a dolphin before and they believe there are 3-4 individuals. His reason for this being a nise were that it was larger than a dolphin, wasn’t jumping as the dolphin had and was darker. The size argument is incorrect as adult Bottle-noses are upto 3.5metres whereas Porpoises are rarely over 1.5m. I had actually worried that this animal was too small but that was more an illusion from being so close as when viewing the animal at longer range today it was clearly much too large for a porpoise. That it isn’t jumping is I imagine more to do with how it is feeling and it wouldn’t surprise me that with the cold weather it has less desire to jump. The colour though is very dark for a Bottle-nose and also worried me yesterday. However I have found pictures of individuals that are so dark, see here , and colour is clearly very variable in this species. In addition it is beaked although this has been hard to see and this rule out porpoise. I have looked at other dolphin species or small toothed whales but can’t find anything else it could be.
dolphin with the City Hall (Rådhuset) in the background

and Akershus Festning

To give an impression of size - here from Aker Brygge with Hovedøya in the background. The video an other pictures were taken by the boats on the right when the animal was right by the boats
adult Comorant (storskarv) in breeding plumage. This bird is of the southern race sinensis which used to be considered scarce in Norway but now has a colong at the Great Big Dump (Øra) which numbers hundreds if not thousands of pairs and this now appears to be commoner than the northern race carbo around Oslo

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This Herring Gull really stood out with its yellow legs and clean (unstreaked) head (although a few other adults also had clean heads). Such a bird naturally leads your thoughts towards Yellow-legged Gull (gulbeinmåke) but this is actually just a Herring Gull with yellow legs. Note here that the eyering is orange instead of red and.....
the wing has much too little black


Tuesday, 20 January 2015


I had plans to “do” Oslo by public transport and foot today but in the end it was a lot of foot and just a little public transport. I walked at least 15km and felt that I deserved a good result which I did in fact get although not a bird.

My route took me via the little park at Marienlyst which held a Med Gull a couple of winters ago. No Med Gull but this park continues to hold the vast majority of Oslo’s over-wintering Common Gulls (fiskemåke) with over 100 present. There was just a single Herring Gull (gråmåke) here plus 3 B-h Gulls (hettemåke). Elsewhere in town it is nearly only Herring Gulls one encounters but for some reason this park has monopolised Common Gulls but excluded the Herrings. The reason the park is popular is that a string of old ladies feed the birds here which also explains the 8 Collared Doves (tyrkerdue) and over 100 House Sparrows (gråspurv).

In Frognerparken there were 5 wintering Teal (krikkand) plus 2 adult Grey Herons (gråhegre) feeding in the stream. I reached the fjord at Frognerkilen and then walked the waterfront all the way to the Opera. I was hoping for a rare gull, some auks or a diver or grebe. Well none of that happened – it was depressingly quite. At Aker Brygge (very downtown Oslo) I walked up to the waters edge to scan hoping for a Little Auk and nearly straightaway heard the snort of a breathing cetacean. Looking down there was a dolphin less than 10 metres from me!! I realised that a couple of other people standing nearby were already watching it and it amazingly stayed in the same small area for the next 40 minutes I was there. It would be under for around three minutes before coming up to breathe when it would break the surface between 3 and 5 times before diving again. A couple of times it rolled onto its side but there were no acrobatics to witness. A Bottle-nosed Dolphin (tumler) has been reported every now again in the Inner Oslofjord since May and has been filmed by others see here including it jumping and here from the same location on Christmas day and I was sure this had to be the same animal but was it really a Bottle-nose I was watching? It did not resemble the Bottle-noses I’ve seen in dolphinariums or on TV but after studying my pictures I can see that it is and it was just very hard to see the head properly as it never really held its head out of the water. Filming it was also difficult as I never knew where it would come up and it was up so briefly each time. It was also so close that it was difficult getting a wide field of view.
My video where you can here the dolphin snorting and me sniffing. The bells are from the Oslo Town Hall at noon:

rolling on its side

the white mark on the left hand side of the dorsal fin is a good character to identify this individual. Notice also the blow hole

here it looks more like a pilot whate

but this shot shows the distinct "bottle nose"

Grey Heron in Frognerpark

another attempt at low shutter speed artiness
Great Tit in the Botanical Gardens where I ended my day

Hawfinch and Fieldfare in Botanical Gardens
some Common Gulls, like this one, have a pink hue to their underparts but it is not captured so vividly in this photo as I experienced it live

Monday, 19 January 2015


Constantly falling snow today caused a re-influx of hungry Blackbirds (svarttrost) into the garden and provided me with some interest today. In the half-light a good hour before dawn I could see from the kitchen window 7 individuals waiting in the snow but after I put some apples out there were never as many birds at one time however I did identify a minimum of 11 different individuals during the day including at least two new ones bringing the total now to at least 14 birds. Today there were a minimum of 8 males: 2 lacking black on the bill including the partially leucistic bird, 4 with some black and 2 2cy males plus at least three females including the tailless individual. The new birds were one of the 2cy males (I’ve only ever recorded one before) plus one of the females (two birds with black bills and tails today but of normal colouration).

This means in total I have identified a minimum of 14 Blackbirds in the last week: 2 adult males without black on the bill, 5 (presumed) adult males with varying amounts of black on an otherwise orange bill, 2 cy males and 5 females. It’s all getting a bit complicated now keeping track of them. I’ve tried googling to see what I can find out about the varying amounts of black on the bill and there seem to be three reasons: age, physical form (affecting carotenoid levels which causes the bill colour) plus also a reference on the BTO website to males acquiring a brighter bill when breeding. The 2cy males are quite easy to identify but the 5 other birds with varying amounts of black may be very advanced 2cy birds, 3cy birds, not in top form or quite simply in non-breeding plumage (it could be they are immigrants whereas the two with no black are local birds who still consider themselves to be in their breeding territories)

one of the two 2cy male Blackbirds. Yellow just at the tip. Whilst looking at this picture I now wonder if this is actually an old female that has an almost male like plumage - does a young male in January have paler edges to the breast and belly feathers? As I said this is starting to get confusing

the other 2cy male. Yellow at the base of the bill. The picture was taken through the window but this bird was without doubt a 2cy male.

I did manage a quick trip looking for gulls but could hardly anywhere almost as though there had been an exodus. At Kongshavn the Pintail (stjertand) which is usually at Østensjøvannet was seeking refuge as it often seems to do at the outset of snowy or very cold weather before it returns to Østensjøvannet again after a few days. Quite a few Goldeneye (kvinand) including an array of plumages which reminded me that my Blackbird problems are probably just down to individual variation.
Three 2cy (1st winter) male Goldeneyes all showing different development of the white spot on the face
an adult male on the left with the least developed of the three 2cy birds from the first photo

Three females. The bird closest uson the right is an adult female due to it bright golden eye and the yellow on the bill. The bird behind it has a dark eye and dark bill and is therefore a 2cy (1st winter). The bird on the left has a black bill but a pale eye so what age is it? I assume that is also a 2cy but one that has already developed a pale eye

The male Pintail

Israel VII - flycatchers

We stayed at Kibbutz Lotan in the desert north of Eilat and in the old days this was famed as an oasis that attracted large numbers of birds. With the continued "greening" of the desert through irrigation schemes plus the fact that spring 2014 was a very wet spring which caused the desert to bloom we experienced very few migrant birds in the kibbutz grounds.

Two very smart birds though were singles each of male Semi-collared Flycatcher (balkanfluesnapper) and Collard Flycatcher (halsbåndfluesnapper). Both were 2cy males so not as smart as they could be. We did have a very smart adult male Collared Fly though in Eilat.

Semi-collared Flycatcher
here there is little to distinguish this bird from a Pied Flycatcher (svarthvit fluesnapper). Note the brown wash to the primaries indicating a young (2cy) male

this show the extent of the collar which is greater than on a Pied but still not complete as on a Collared. Note also a lot of white in the outer tail feathers
this photo shows the white tips to the median covets which is a characteristic feature but not always easy to see

the white tips to the median coverts again visible

overexposed in bright sunlight it looks like a different bird

here we can see that the white tips to the median coverts are quite broad and there is also a fairly broad white basis to the inner primaries

Collard Flycatcher

this bird was at the Birding Centre in Eilat and is an adult make. Note the full collar, the conspicuous white rump and the very broad white basis to the primaries

same bird as above, note the large white patch above the bill

This bird was a Lotan and the thin white basis to the primaries, brown primaries and indistinct white rump (obscured by an out of focus leaf) show this to be a 2cy