Friday, 24 April 2015

Change in change in birds

Neither the weather nor the birds lived up to expectations today. I had interpreted the weather forecast to be thick cloud and southerly winds today which was such a change from the previous weeks weather that I was sure that there would be new birds even if there was no rain. Well the cloud was not thick and the sun often shone through and the wind took a long time to veer to the south. Consequently there was virtually no visible migration or new birds. That doesn’t mean that a morning in Maridalen wasn’t thoroughly enjoyable but the expectations I had when I awoke at 0445 were definitely not met.

Both Black-throated (storlom) and Red-throated Divers (smålom) were displaying on the lake and this always makes for an atmospheric sunrise especially when there is no wind and the lake was like a mirror. Highlight of the day was getting my best views so far of Maridalens own sub species of Parrot Crossbill (furukorsnebb). There were a couple of small pine trees behind where I was sitting and after I had kept thinking I could hear some distant crossbills calling I realised that they were actually a couple of birds just behind me. They were feeding intensively on small cones which kept falling to the floor. I spent a lot of time trying to get good photos and despite the light not being so bad I found it incredibly frustrating and difficult. I either had the birds perched with a white sky behind them or feeding inside the tree with pine cones in the way but after firing off many hundred shots there are at least some that can be used for ID purposes…. These birds gave a larger-billed impression than I have noticed before and were classic Parrots IMO. They fed on the pine cones by clipping them off with their bill and then holding them in their feet and picking out the seeds. They also flew into spruce and birch trees and looked to be eating lichen.
A few raptors showed during the day with finally some evidence of Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk) passage.
Black-throated Diver (storlom)

with back lighting

Chiffchaff (gransanger)

Curlew (storspove) - two that flew in from the south landed. Seeing Curlews on the deck in Maridalen is a rare site although Whimbrels (småspove)often stop to feed in May

male Goosander (laksand). Today a single female was repeatedly chased around by 3 males
montage of a hunting Osprey (fisekørn)

male Parrot Crossbill (furukorsnebb) with a pine cone

now to extract some seeds which is why evolution has given me this ridiculous bill
I need to use my tongue as well
and my feet to hold the cone

another cone please

grainy picture of the female but showing her to be equally large billed

here the male is looking huge billed. This picture was taken 45 minutes later than the other pictures but is I believe the same male although it does look large billed and more orange coloured

both birds flew to some birch trees where they seemed to pick off lichen

slightly blurred but parrot billed

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Rewarding morning in Maridalen

There was a change in the weather today. It was still sunny but it was now very windy but with it coming from the west it was not likely to produce much but a change is a change and over the next four days we might even get southerly winds and rain – whoopee!!

I gave Maridalen a good try today and did get rewarded with one good bird and a number of close experiences of the natural kind that make such days memorable. Starting with the goodies first, I had only the fourth Marsh Harrier (sivhauk) to be recorded in the Dale. The views were distant as it thermalled east of the valley but was at least some reward for the hours of sky gazing I put in. I had hoped there would be more raptors as there had been a clear arrival of Kestrels (tårnfalk) but these birds were feeding and not migrating as the conditions were presumably not suitable.

My memorable natural experiences came with a female Great Spotted Woodpecker (flaggspet) who was too occupied with a pine cone to bother about me standing 5 metres away, a Black Woodpecker (svartspett) peering out its nest hole at me and frogs.

Ring Ouzels (ringtrost) are still to be found with a total of six birds today.
male - note the full red crown - Black Woodpecker wondering who was standing at the base of his tree
the same bird. This one is nesting in a north east facing hole in a pine tree (hole also used last year) whilst the one I took pictures of on Monday is nesting in a south facing hole in a birch tree only 1.5km away


female Great Spotted Woodpecker (flaggspett)

I was actually trying to get this (or a similar) result by using a slow shutter speed but it didn't end up quite as arty as I had hoped

male Kestrel (tårnfalk)
same Kestrel

one of at least 2 Ospreys (fiskeørn) fishing over Maridalsvannet
Ring Ouzels are never easy to photograph. This female showed closely on the church ruins but was back lit
this male was in bright sunlight but did not allow close approach


Wednesday, 22 April 2015


A stolen hour at Maridalen this morning before I taught the kids at Jr Jr’s school a thing or two about birds (I only had (shared) responsibility for the class for 2 hours and was exhausted by the experience – I definitely think teachers deserve far more recognition than they get in many countries).

The weather continues to be hot with little wind but it is not bringing with it any new arrivals of insect eating birds but that is probably because there are not many insects in evidence yet although I am now up to three species of butterfly so far this year (Brimstone, Camberwell beauty and yesterday my first Comma). There is some rain forecast over the weekend and hopefully this will bring with it an arrival of new species.

Today was very quiet although I did have three species of raptor. An Osprey (fiskeørn) flew in from the north presumably to feed on the lake although I didn’t keep track of it. A couple of Sparrowhawks included a migrating bird and another that was probably a local breeding bird. Best though was a falcon that I spotted coming in low from the south. I had no idea what it was as it flew towards me although it did look small and long winged. When it finally showed some plumage characters it became clear it was a 2cy Peregrine (vandrefalk) and due to its small size again probably a male. In addition to proving an ID problem for me it also proved a photographic problem as I set the camera to overexpose far too much although with a bit of photoshoping there are a couple than can be used for ID purposes.

On the ground there was hardly a bird to see although a couple of female Ring Ouzels were still hanging around.
2cy Peregrine (vandrefalk) on its way north over Maridalen

despite appearances a lerke (lark) and a falk (falcon) does not a lerkefalk (hobby) make

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Sobering experience

I spent too much of the morning babysitting an electrician and by the time I got out of the house it was far too hot. Raptors are about the best one can hope for in this type of weather but there was hardly a cloud to see in Maridalen which makes picking up any high fliers that much more difficult.

And difficult it was. Around noon I did have 3 Ospreys (fiskeørn): one was a very distant bird performing its bounding areal display over a distant forest with a fish in its claws. I did not see this bird attract another bird and wonder the purpose of this display.

The day did provide me with a real birding a-ha moment. I saw goose flying low across the lake and was struck by how dark it was. I saw it in the scope and was in little doubt that it was yesterdays Bean Goose (sædgås). It flew into Nesbukta and I drove over there hoping to get some good pictures of it. I walked down to the water and it flew up from the waters edge where it had bbeen resting unseen to me and landed not too far out. Although it was horrible strong midday light I was still in little doubt that this was a Bean Goose. It was dark on the head and back and the broad white edges to the mantle and tertial feathers all looked identical to the Taiga Bean Geese I know well. It also looked to be a large bird (although there were no other geese to compare it to) held its rear end high in the water which is something I associate with Bean Geese. The neck was fairly long but not quite what I would associate with a fabalis and the bill was also fairly long but yet again not quite fabalis so I thought I had a rossicus Bean Goose but one of the confusing types that are easily confused with fabalis. I then sat down and put the scope on it. What was this? The bill that had looked orangey in the bins was pink and the legs which I saw then it paddled were pink –this was a Pink-footed Goose (kortnebbgås)!!.

I was really taken aback by this and it reminded me of the importance of not relying on secondary ID features when bill and leg colour are key to identifying this potentially tricky species pair plus the importance of neutral light conditions in assessing colour. As a result of this experience I realised that I cannot count yesterday’s bird based on the views I had and my initial confidence that I was seeing the same bird today. Pink-footed Goose normally has a greyer back than this bird and gives the impression of being an overall paler bird but darker ones such as this do occur but I have never seen one quite like this.
first an undisputed ID - an Osprey with fish

Pink-footed Goose masquerading to my eyes as a Bean Goose

the light is of course atrocious but the bird looked this dark in he field

looking spookly beany and the bill colour is a strange pinky orange. The pink leg colour can just be glimpsed

the back colour is best represented by this picture

here the pink bill colour shows

my only flight shots were thwarted by a bush between me and the water but the upper wing can be seen to be unusually dark
leg colour can sort of be seen and is definitely more pink than orange. The tail is classic Pink-foot with a broad white rear edge

Monday, 20 April 2015

April Guiding

I was guiding Matthew from Toronto today. We had fantastic hot weather but after about 11am it didn’t prove too conducive to productive birding.

We started in Maridalen which as usual produced some good birds. Highlight for me was locating a Crane (trane) that we repeatedly heard calling and thereby seeing and documenting one on the deck for the first time. We also had two male Black Woodpeckers (svartspett) sticking their heads out of nest holes- one from last year’s hole which surprised me as I thought they excavated new hole each year. We also heard one drumming from another location revealing at least three territories in Maridalen which is more than I have been aware of before. My first Swallow (låvsevale) and Wheatear (steinskvett) of the year were perhaps to be expected but a Ring Ouzel (ringtrost) felt a little out of place in the heat despite this being the right time of year. Per Buertange was there all morning and sent me an excited message that a Bean Goose (sædgås) had flown in with Greylags which we managed to see although very distantly and in bad light and to be honest we saw little more than a compact dark goose. Then just after we had left Maridalen he texted me that a White-fronted Goose (tundrågås) had also flown in with Greylags! This was a Maridalen first but one that I will have to wait for another occasion to see. Both of these species have been associating with Greylags on Bygdøy earlier in the spring so may well be these same birds that have been keeping a low profile somewhere else in the area.
After Maridalen we headed out east to Aurskog-Høland where I hoped that raptors would be prominent which was our best bet for the afternoon with the weather being too hot for much other activity. At Hellesjøvannet we had three Marsh Harriers (sivhauk) with a young male being chased away by an old male who seemed to be paired with a female although the female produced a great bounding areal display over the lake without the male joining her (perhaps he had no prey to present to her?).
Also here displaying Buzzards (musvåk) and a falcon that initially looked like it would be my very own very early Hobby and at distance it ticked lots of boxes including flying in a way that suggested it was hawking for insects (not that there are any at the moment). However when it came a bit closer it was clear that it was a small (therefore male) Peregrine (vandrefalk) and these are presumably the source of confusion for most of the reports of early Hobbys which is a species that normally doesn’t return before May as it times its return to their being food available for it (insects and hirundines being favoured).

Apart from a pair of Coot (sothøne) Hellesjøvannet didn’t produce the more unusual species reported by more productive eyes than mine yesterday.
As usual when I am guiding I do not prioritise my own photos so todays are of the record shot variety.

one of the three Black Woodpeckers (svartspett) in Maridalen today

finally proof of Cranes on the ground in Maridalen - the day's undoubted highlight

the young, presumed 3cy male Marsh Harrier

the older at least 5cy male shown by the paler underparts and very thin black band on the rear of the wing

first Wheatear (steinskvett) of the year

Sunday, 19 April 2015

More Maridalen and always a joy

Yesterday I received a message that a pair of Slavonian Grebes (horndykker) were on Maridalsvannet. In recent years it seems that a pair makes an annual guest appearance for one day and one day only in April. They are obviously migrants but maybe are breeding not too far away. I saw them at great distance but would have loved to be close enough for pictures of this beautiful bird. The Great Crested Grebes (toppdykker) were also still present yesterday but both grebes were gone this morning when I gave Maridalen a serious session from 0550 to 0930. There was little wind and a high thin cloud cover and although there was evidence of a light overnight frost it was pleasant to sit at the waters edge and enjoy the day breaking.

Migration was not very strong today but a few Red-throated Divers (smålom) flew north calling very early and during the morning a few hundred geese went north and more than 75% of these were Greylag (grågås). This caused me to reappraise the 4 geese flocks I had high over the house yesterday which I saw without optical aids and just assumed to be Pink-footed (grey goose sp. is what they are now).
The best migrants were in total 25 Curlew (storspove) that flew north with 5 briefly stopping at the waters edge. This is clearly the peak migration time now and I expect the flock in Svellet to peak around 400 birds soon.
On the lake there were 6 Black throated Divers (storlom) with another heading north plus an unusual couple of mute Swans (knoppsvane) that didn't hang around long and a male Red-breasted Merganser (siland).

Raptors were not a prominent feature of today but there was a fly over Osprey (fiskeørn). I did have a falcon which when I first saw it flying fast, at range and in silhouette looked as though it was going to be something rare but when I got my bins on it and it flew closer I saw that it was "only" a Kestrel (tårnfalk) but then again any falcon in Maridalen is an exciting find.

Curlews (storspove) migrating north

these 3 Curlews were part of a group of 5 that briefly landed at the waters edge
a pair of the local Greylag Geese flying in formation

this Canada Goose pair was angry about the presence of another pair on a clearly disputed part of the lake


male Red-breasted Merganser (island) with one of the bird world coolest haircuts

four Tufted Ducks (toppand) and a male Teal (krikkand)