BIRD GUIDING AROUND OSLO

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Bygdøy

Another day of great weather for being out but the overnight frosts seem to be putting a real dampener on migration with no bird seen or heard migrating overhead (the same as yesterday). We started at Huk, Bygdøy with a flat sea that revealed three Common Scoter (svartand) feeding close in including two young males slowly attaining adult plumage, 6 Long-tailed Ducks (havelle) far out as usual, my first Shelduck (gravand) of the year, 2 Oystercatchers (tjeld), Red-breasted Mergansers (siland) and feeding Cormorants (storskarv) and a seal which really seemed to struggle with a large fish it had caught.

After this we went looking for a Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin) that has been frequenting a ditch north of Sandvika. We didn’t find it although footprints frozen into the mud looked to be of the right size. A Common Snipe (enkeltbekkasin) that we flushed here was my first of the year though.
With one dip on my conscience there was no harm in risking another so we went looking for Two-barred Crossbill (båndkorsnebb) in Fetsund where 7 birds had been seen yesterday and then again today. We arrived, found the obvious and cone laden larch tree where they had been, spoke to a lady who had seen them low down only an hour before but of course they did not show for us in the hour we waited. Whooper Swans (sangsvane) and Goosander (laksand) were some compensation.

Long-tailed Ducks in flight. There was a male (probably a young one without a long tail) and it looks like this is the bird that is hidden such that only its wing is visible
 
Two young male Common Scoters coming into adult plumage alongside a female Goldeneye
Take off for a male Red-breasted Merganser

young Mute Swan
the DFDS Danish ferry entering Oslo
 

this Siskin (grønnsisik) was the highlight in a larch tree that had earlier held 2BCs
 
 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Maridalen in the sun

We had temperatures down to -7C overnight and fantastic blue skies this morning making for a crisp trip around Maridalen in fantastic light. I had pretty much promised Red Squirrels but was feeling a bit foolish after having failed to see them on my last three trips to Maridalen. Thy however had obviously heard my prayers and at least squirrels showed very well. Five moose also showed at close range at the feeding station until a local decided to also visit and then get out of his car and walk towards them for better pictures…! Two Roe Deer gave a trio of mammals and we saw the signs of beavers even if we did not see the animals.

Bird highlights were various tits, Yellowhammers, Siskins, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Bullfinch and a flyover Whooper Swan. A Hawfinch sang constantly from within a high spruce tree but try as we may it failed to show.

I discovered that my memory card was still in my computer and even though Ian kindly let me borrow his spare my photo efforts today were limited to three pictures. Ian on the other hand has, I hope, got number of good shots the best of which may end up on his Flickr page.
Goldeneye (kvinand), Dipper (fossekall) and tree that has fallen victim to a beaver

Great Spotted Woodpeckers (flaggspett) were quite obvious today drumming and enjoying the sun
 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Bean Geese are back!

Today was my only chance this week to see if the Scottish Bean Geese (sædgås) have arrived back at their staging ground in Akershus which is one of the highlights of each spring. I had an appointment at the physio at 1030 so I was not going to have much time at my disposal but when I received an MMS from Stig Helge with a picture of a White-fronted Geese (tundragås) from the flooded fields by Kjelle School I found it might be an idea to see if I could change the time of my appointment. No problem so I was soon on my way out east to Aurskog-Høland. I didn’t go directly to Kjelle but drove as usual the valet past Haneborg and Haugrim. And what do you know. At the first flooded field I came to there was a flock of 20 Taiga (fabalis) Bean Geese! They were in exactly the same part of exactly the same field as I discovered the first birds last year on 27 Feb when there were 13 here plus 15 a few kilometres away (which joined up a few days later). Unfortunately this year, as last, none of the birds were ringed so it is not possible to tell if they are from the Scottish population but what is clear is that this is a preferred staging post for a sub group of a population and they arrive here earlier than at Udenes/Horgen. In addition to the records from this year and 2014 there were 15 nearby on 14 April 2009 and 19 on 13 April 2002 which suggest this area may have always been used. The later dates of the earlier observations matches the dates of records from the larger staging area at Udenes/Horgen which have also started appearing much earlier in recent years.

I checked out the Udenes/Horgen area later and found no birds here although a small flock of Whooper Swans (sangsvane) were on the fields and the sandbank is exposed on the river so everything looks ready for them. Last year first observation here was 7 March, in 2013 30 March (late) and 19 March in 2012 (already a large flock as may have been around a while).
So the day started off very excitingly! I also had Great Grey Shrike (varsler), Stock Dove (skogdue) and Snow Bunting (snøspurv) in the Haneborg/Haugrim area plus singing Skylarks (sanglerke) so the atmosphere was good! When I got to Kjelle School there were good numbers of Whooper Swans on the floodwaters but no White-front but a phone call from Sig informed he was watching it now a kilometre away. And 2 minutes later so was I. It was amongst a flock of Canada Geese and was a well-marked adult albifrons. I wonder if this was one of the 2 birds that accompanied the Bean Geese last year? The area around Kjelle is great for birds and is a welcome example (and rare in Norway) of active nature management. Stig teaches nature management at the school and they are actively working to improve the wetland for both passage and breeding birds –exciting stuff!

So spring migration has no officially started as far as I am concerned and will only keep on getting better although falling snow at times today did still give a wintery feel.
I had good numbers of Whooper Swans during the day with a number of flock feeding on stubble fields. The largest flock was 152 birds and in total I had 408 birds but unfortunately no Berwick’s (dvergsvane) amongst them.
Taiga Bean Geese with their characteristic long necks and long slender bills










adult White-fronted Goose



a number of Whooper Swans today were heavily stained. It might be possible to work out where they have been wintering

Monday, 2 March 2015

Oslo guiding

It’s not just spring that has started early this year, so has the guiding season! This week I am guiding British photographer Ian Silvester for 5 mornings. Today was a bit overcast but the rest of the week it looks like the weather will be on our side so let’s hope the birds are also cooperative.

Today we started with a walk around Østensjøvannet. There are still just two areas of open water but these have grown in area with the warmer weather we are currently having and the numbers of Mute Swans (knoppsvane) and Goldeneyes (kvinand) have increased with the Mute Swans being territorial and the Goldeneyes displaying. A pair of Wigeon (brunnakke) added some nice colour and are early migrants. Some Goldcrests (fuglekonge) and Treecreepers (trekryper) came very close to us but were in constant motion although one male Goldcrest did give a very good show. As I tried to ensure Ian got good photos I forgot to take my own until nearly too late and my one effort is nothing like the pictures Ian got. An adult male Goshawk (hønsehauk) put on a good display as it flew over being mobbed by a Crow but was a bit too distant for my camera at least.
Oslo’s Famous Grouse had to be visited and was easy to find: just find the photographers! I was slightly hesitant about putting out the news of this bird last week as I knew how popular it would become and was worried how much this would disturb the bird. But seeing as how I only saw the bird due to its finder sharing the news on Facebook and the very urban habitat the bird had itself chosen then I could hardly not share. Today there were at least 8 photographers there whilst we were there and although the bird generally appears unaffected by human presence (it for example walked towards us on a couple of occasion) it clearly has it limits and on one occasion appeared agitated after a photographer came to close (seemed to want the bird to do something rather than just sit in the snow…). It stood erect and I felt sure it would fly and so upped the shutter speed to ensure a sharp action shot. It then started calling though – at first a quiet murmuring which Bjørn Olav had recorded and not necessarily species specific but then a clear grouse call which matches exactly Ptarmigan (or at least recordings of this species as I cannot say I am be well acquainted with the call). I was keen to record this as nobody else has reported this call so changed to video on the camera. Of course whilst I did this the bird stopped calling and flew so I failed on two accounts! It only flew 20 metres and landed in a large open garden bordering the wood where there were various buds that it found to eat including low hanging birch buds. Feeling that the bird had had enough of our attention Ian and I walked around the wood and saw Crested Tits (toppmeis) and also found footprints and dropping from the Ptarmigan a long way from where the bird is most seen and admired. Quite why it therefore chooses the most disturbed area is a bit bizarre given there seems to be a lot of heather and blueberry bushes (favoured food) in other areas plus other open areas with snow which is quite essential for it at the moment if its white plumage is to act as camouflage rather than making it stick out like a sore thumb.

 
Satisfied with our mornings birding I dropped Ian off at his hotel and then went to Maridalen to see how things are. There is still a lot of snow so no migrants on the ground yet although a Skylark (sanglerke) did fly over. I had 5 moose again running as though scared but in a different area this time. They did appear to have been spooked but I could see no humans or dogs nearby – maybe it wolves (wishful thinking).
I didn't think I had taken that many pictures today but found out that the Ptarmigan and moose did fill up quite a few MB on the card! The white Ptarmigan in white snow with sunlight pose a few technical issues but luckily Ian taught me a thing or two - not that it necessarily shows on these pictures....

once all the bricks have fallen into place it is annoying that I resisted this birds true identity so long. Here the small, thin and relatively long bill is clear to see plus the jizz of the bird is more like a pigeon than a grouse.
 








a habitat shot

very natural

this picture shows the beak looking perhaps slightly more Willow Grouse like
making footprints in the snow

here it was reaching up to eat the buds from a sapling

these 2 moose swam across a river
 
this individual had noticeably blue eyes

another individual with darker eyes

a young animal


same animal as the above two photos. Note the emerging horns showing it to be a male
this Common Gull (fiskemåke) had an unusually dark head
not often I take pictures of Hooded Crows (kråke)
 
this singing male Goldcrest raised his orange crown as a Mohican - this was unfortunately the only picture I managed

in Maridalen a group of at lest 5 Hawfinches (kjernebtiter) were singing we hidden in some roadside pines. They made so much noise that I heard them whilst driving

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Moose

I have spent an unhealthy amount of time this weekend typing Google searches along the lines of “ptarmigan feet” and “willow grouse head” and all this in a vain attempt to dispel the outrageously preposterous suggestions that the Oslo grouse was a Ptarmigan. It was therefore quite a relief when the weight of evidence put forward by Bjørn Olav became too heavy to ignore and I could move on to more important things like my family for instance….I have now come to terms with the birds true identity but surely though these grouse are just like redpolls and crossbills and merely clinal extremes of the same species ;-)

 After taking the family swimming I shot around Maridalen and saw few birds but 5 Moose running at full speed through fields close to the feeding station. Obviously something had scared the sh*t out of them. Amongst the animals were the mother and very small youngster that I have seen before. The youngster is so small that it is perhaps a dwarf rather than a late born individual.
 
mummy moose

baby moose

the family moose
 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Infamous Grouse

The Famous Oslo Grouse has proven quite popular with birders and it has been suggested that it is an even more exceptional record than I first thought.

When I saw the bird I did not consider that it was anything other than a Willow Grouse (lirype). Ptarmigan (fjellrype) looks pretty much identical in white winter plumage but the chance of this bird being that species did not warrant any thought, or so I thought. After all the habitat did not suit the high montane Ptarmigan and of the two species Ptarmigan is hardly ever seen seen away from its breeding sites whereas Willow Grouse is known to wander. It has however been pointed out that the bill of the Oslo bird is very small and in white winter plumage that is one of the few clues to separate these two species whose white plumage is identical. Male Ptarmigan has black lores (the area between the bill and eye) but female Ptarmigan and both sexes of Willow Grouse have white lores. The Oslo bird has white lores so this rules out male Ptarmigan but not female. Otherwise, Ptarmigan is a slightly smaller bird but size is notoriously difficult to judge on lone birds. The calls of the two species are slightly different but I have not heard it call and the one observer who has heard it heard a call unfamiliar to him for either species!

There is one other difference which is the colour of the claws. BWP describes the colour as blue-black for Ptarmigan and horn-brown for Willow Grouse. I have not found many photos on the web to confirm this although have not found anything to suggest this colour description is wrong. The colour of the Oslo birds claws are difficult to see due to a lot of feathering but this picture by Per Buertange shows them to be horn-brown. It has also been stated (this was a statement by one person which has not yet been supported by others) that exactly the excess feathering is a Willow Grouse character.

Bill size can be easily checked on photos on the web and it is clear that there is a huge amount of individual variation between the species with some Ptarmigan having in my eyes monster bills whereas some Willow Grouse (females?) have small bills that match the Oslo bird. I also took a picture on 12 Feb of a Willow Grouse in Hedmark that matches the Oslo bird. This bird was in a lowland, forest habitat with a flock of similar birds so is for me undoubtedly a Willow Grouse. Also BWP confirms the large individual variation with the following measurements being given:

                                    male                female

Ptarmigan                  9.0 - 10.6          8.2 - 9.8
Willow Grouse        10.0 - 12.8          9.8 - 12.3

So what do I think the bird is? Well I find the thought of it being a Ptarmigan so outrageous that I still believe it to be a small-billed female Willow Grouse which the claw colour supports. Here is a picture showing the bill of the Oslo bird (right) with a comparison to the bird I photographed in Hedmark. If the claw colour (and feathering of the claws) are not diagnostic then it is difficult to know how to 100% prove the ID of this bird. Trapping it to take measurements would be ethically wrong but it is probably possible to take DNA from its droppings.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Snow Buntings in Maridalen

It was always going to be difficult to match yesterday’s excitement but it is spring and those birds do keep coming so every day now and for the next 3 months has the potential to surprise. Despite a new fall of snow overnight the positive temperatures caused it to melt during the day and when the sun peeked through in the afternoon it again felt like spring. The second half of next week is forecast to have freezing temperatures again so spring might have to take a short pause but that just adds to the suspense.

Today I visited Bygdøy where the fields now held 23 Greylag Geese (grågås) and a small flock of Fieldfares (gråtrost) contained my first Starling (stær) of the year. The sea off Huk was pretty quiet but three Long-tailed Ducks included a fine male – unfortunately though they were far too distant for photos.
I threw out loads of bread to the gulls in Frognerpark but no Iceland Gull showed up and I suspect that the ringed bird of the last two springs has chosen a new migration route this year after having been seen recently in England.

Maridalen produced the day’s excitement. The lake is still frozen and the fields covered in snow but this didn’t stop the first Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese from flying over and a field corner where the snow had melted held 2 Snow Buntings (snøspurv)! Last year was very good for this species in Maridalen (after only two previous records for me) and hopefully this year will also be good. 
Two Snow Buntings. Possibly a pair but I'm not fully up to speed on how to separate them in winter plumage

 
This adult (female I believe due to size) Goshawk (hønsehauk) was perched up near a nest site and hopefully indicates that they will breed this year although I have yet to see any display flights
 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Famous Oslo Grouse



One of the great things with birding is that it never fails to surprise. On Facebook yesterday there was a fascinating report of a Grouse (rype) seen in a small wood within urban Oslo. I didn’t really expect this bird to be “twitchable” so made no plans to go looking for it today. Instead I headed out east again where Stig Helge Brasnes could report that the spring flood had started at Kjelle and the first geese and swans were thee. He had also seen some crossbills nearby recently which could well have been Parrot (furukorsnebb) and I had a hope of getting some photos. Weather-wise the temperatures are holding just above zero so the thaw is continuing but with a fresh southerly wind and rain in the air it was quite unpleasant being out. There were only small numbers of geese and swans with 30 Whoopers (sangsvane), 55 Canada Geese and 5 Greylags (grågås) but they should build up to many hundreds over the next couple of weeks. My first two Lapwings (vipe )of the year were as hoped for as was a heard only Skylark (sanglerke) and a Great Grey Shrike (varsler). I searched for crossbills but found none although it was far from ideal conditions for searching for forest birds.
With good time on my hands I headed home wondering what else I should do. I stopped at Langtjernet on the chance that the Caspian Gull may still be around but there were very few gulls. However the hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow that has been seen a few times was on the ice and looking pretty ugly.

Still with a bag full of time to play with I realised that it would only be a small detour on the way home to the area where the grouse was seen yesterday. I wasn’t going to search for a needle though so found the phone number of the lady who had reported the bird and rang her. She was most pleasant and helpful and described exactly where she had seen the bird yesterday which was not deep in the wood but right on its edge by a road. I drove there, got out of the car and as Garner would say BOOM! There was a fluffy white bundle of feathers just metres away from me!! I must admit I began to think it was a stuffed bird and I was the victim of an early 1 April prank but it moved! I watched it, filmed it and photographed for around an hour and saw it feeding, shitting, ducking when a falcon-like Pigeon flew over and generally looking healthy. The fact that it was sat in exactly the same place as yesterday, in a city, by a building site though does suggest that this bird is a beer short of a six-pack, a spanner short of a tool box etc etc. But what a bird, my best views ever of the species and something I never, ever, thought would end up on my Oslo list. Edit: this bird has turned out to be a Ptarmigan and not a Willow Grouse - unbelievable!
I even got the tripod out and made an effort with regards to my photos and video.






 
 


 

 
and some of today's other birds which were also quite noteworthy but got rather eclipsed by the now Famous Grouse.
 
a hybrid Carrion Crow (svartkråke) x Hooded Crow (kråke)

Great Grey Shrike in still wintery conditions

I think it was difficult for this Lapwing to find much food on the frozen field

both the Lapwings - the long head plumes show them both to be males