Thursday, 18 December 2014

A little snow

Less than 5cm of snow last night was enough to cause a big change in Oslo’s birdlife today. I started by giving the large Vestre Gravlund cemetery a go hoping that its many ornamental trees would be proving just as attractive as those at the Botanical Gardens. Well they weren’t! A flock of 30 Redpolls turned out to be Lessers (brunsisik). This is the (sub)species that breeds around Oslo but it is unusual to see such a large flock and there is always the uncertainty of separating them from Common Reddpolls (gråsisik). This winter though there is hardly a single Common Redpoll to see though as they have presumably migrated elsewhere.

At Bygdøy, the refugees which have not been reported for a few days were not to be seen and the cold weather has seemingly pushed them off elsewhere to look for asylum. Little else here either except for an unexpected and late flyover and calling Redwing (rødvingetrost) that must have been pushed out by the snow and was belatedly making its way south. The reeds at Hengsenga only turned up a single Wren.

I headed to the Opera area in town where a very rare white-winged gull was seen yesterday. Rarer then either Glaucous (polarmåke) or Iceland Gull (grønnlandsmåke). This leucistic Herring Gull (gråmåke) was first seen 8 days previously in Hamar where it was confused with Iceland Gull for a while. You can see pictures here. It is the two black spots on the back that allow this bird to be identified as the same individual. It is nice when an individual can be recognised and its movements tracked without it having to be assaulted/mugged/snared/trapped/ringed (delete according to your own persuasion) although it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see this bird wearing bling in the near future. I failed however to find it today amongst the 300 or so Herrings Gull sitting on the ice.
Kongshavn had 36 Tufted Duck (toppand) but no Scaup (bergand) and a flyover Common Crossbill (grankorsnebb) was rarer at the moment than the 2BCs(båndkorsnebb) which were my next stop. 

There were only the three females left today. A good clue to the fate of the male came when a large female Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk) flew at the three females who were feeding high and exposed in a larch tree. They flew off and avoided the hawk which landed in a neighbouring tree. 10 seconds later the 2BCs landed in the same tree as the hawk before going back to feeding in the larch. Quite reckeless behaviour if you ask me. I am sure that this is also the reason for the gradual reduction in numbers last year and I therefore now reckon there is little chance that these birds are the same as last winters.

The snow had pushed off nearly all the Fieldfares (gråtrost) and Greenfinches (grønnfink) but a minimum of 7 Hawfinches (kjernebiter) were still present. I also found the Long-tailed Tit (stjertmeis) flock and was able to get in the middle of them as they fed in some bushes. As I was trying to take pictures I heard them giving alarms calls and saw a small male Sparrowhawk take one of them less than 5 metres from me! If I had had an enormous dollop of luck on my side then it would have taken the bird I was photographing and I would have captured it all digitally but that dollop wasn’t on my side today. So still lots of reasons to visit the gardens! I searched a couple of places where I have found losts of feathers that have been plucked by Sparrow or Goshawks feeding in the tree above but could nt find any feathers from either a male 2BC or a LtT.

A quick trip around a misty Maridalen revealed no Pygmy Owl (spurveugle) but there were 4 Whooper Swans (sangsvane) on the lake which is starting to freeze over.

Sparrowhawk and 2BC in same tree. The 2BC seemed much too relaxed about the presence of the hawk which goes, I think, a long way to explaining the reduction in their numbers since yesterday
Mrs. Hawk

Two of the 2BCs feeding a bit lower today but still in the same larch tree. The light was pretty cra*ppy though so no improvement in picture quality

some slightly better Long-tailed Tits pictures though

this one spent a long time preening after the male Sparrowhawk took its buddy and the whole flock was very local but not with alarm call but more a type of anxiety call

This Nuthatch (spettmeis) was very approachable but that doesn't mean it was easy to take a good picture

Here is a little reminder of the trumpet call of 2BC

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Two + two + two + two bars

Yesterday's trip to the Botanical Gardens was great in a birding sense but it completely knocked me out and I was shivering when I got home and slept 12 hours. I awoke feeling better today although soon realised that I wasn't yet 100% after trying to get some breakfast down me.

Not necessarily the sharpest tool in the tool box I was tempted out to do some christmas shopping and then pop into the Botanical Gardens again. There were quite a few birders there when I arrived but none had seen the 2BCs. After a check of all the likely larch trees they suddenly appeared in the same tree as yesterday and then showed well although frustratingly high up. At least one of the females is an adult so maybe it is a family party.

the male Two-barred Crossbill
all four birds

the broad white tips to the tertials show that this female is an adult. I didn't get to grips with the other two females

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Still surprises to find

The last couple of days I have been a bit under the weather with today a nasty stomach adding to the previous days cold. I wasn’t really up to anything other than lying on the sofa but when the sun shone through at 11am I decided that this was an opportunity not to pass up as we approach the shortest day of the year and the limited birding opportunities at this time.

I headed therefore for the Botanical Gardens hoping for some nice photo ops but also hoping for something a bit unusual – Pine Grosbeak (konglebit) or Two-barred Crossbill (båndkorsnebb) being foremost in my mind.

I wasn’t the only person hoping to take advantage of the sun and there were four others in addition to me but whilst their main focus was pictures I was also keen to check out the whole park for something new. There were at least 7 Hawfinches (kjernebiter) and 5 Waxwings, a Brambling and still lots of Fieldfares. As I was walking around I first heard a short crossbill call and then a trumpet call – Two-barred Crossbill!! A group of birds quickly came into view as they flew into the top of a larch tree and those wing bars were not possible to miss. There were at least four birds but there were also Greenfinches (grønnfink), Goldfinches (stillits) and Siskins (grønnsisik) feeding in the same tree which made it difficult to confirm whether this was the total or whether there was a fifth individual which I suspected.

This species is very rare in Oslo although the group that stayed most of last winter at the same location means that it is a species that every self respecting Oslo birdwatcher now has good knowledge of. The group last year were all young birds and fed occasionally in larch trees but most often in berry trees where they were not interested in the fruit but the kernel/seed inside. Last years group which was first seen at the end of November initially contained three males and two females but the last records from the middle of January were just of a single female. Even though it was my theory that the birds were falling victim to a Sparrowhawk they could of course have moved off and there is therefore the possibility that at least some of the group today are the same birds as last winter. We’ll never know of course but the male today was an adult male which does at least not rule out the same bird theory.

Three of the four 2BCs

the adult male - notive how prominent the wingbards are even on the open wing

same male. The broad white tips to the tertial feathers show this to be an adult male

Two male Hawfinches
Oslo's Peregrine (vandrefalk) on top of the Plaza hotel at over 1km range

Monday, 15 December 2014

Israel V - waders

No current birding action to report on so here is the latest installment of the irregular series of pictures from my trip to Eilat and Southern Israel earlier this year.

Black-winged Stilt (stylteløper)

Avocet and Bleck-winged Stilt

Stilt: the greyer/browner back suggest this is a female

Silt: the golssy black back suggest a male. According to the books males generally have more black on the head but that definitely isn't the case here

Black-tailed Godwit (svarthalespove) - based on location this is a bird of the continental subspecies limosa rather the northern islandica but I'm not sure if this can be ascertained based on this plumage

Dunlin (myrsnipe) starting to come into summer plumage although mostyl still in grey winter plumage

an exceptionally long billed (deformed) Dunlin in winter plumage

adult male Greater Sandplover (ørkenlo)

female Kentish Plover (hvitbrystlo)

male Kentish Plover with a Little Stint (dvergsnipe) almost in full summer plumage

Litte Stint still in winter plumage

Marsh Sandpiper (damsnipe) - a classy bird!

Collared Pratincole (brakksvale)
one of the features to separate this species from the very similar Black-winged Pratincole (steppebrakksvale) is the white trailing edge to the secondaries visible on this picture

note how in this picture of the same bird the white seems to be absent

Spur-winged Plover (sporevipe) - a common bird in the Middle East

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Long-tailed Tits

Long-tailed Tits (stjertmeis) seem to be unusually common this autumn/winter. This is a species that breeds in very low densities in these parts but also seems to be an invasive visitor although I guess it could also just be that after very good breeding seasons there are suddenly many birds. I remember that it took me a couple of years after I moved to Norway in 2001 to see my first birds. Although I knew the species well from the UK (and had even written a short note in British Birds as a spotty teenager when I found that one of the birds from the 3-4 pairs on my local patch had managed to sew its own tail into the intricate nest they build and needed me to free it) I was very keen to see the white-headed scandinavian subspecies. And it is always a joy to see this beautiful bird although meetings with them are often very brief.

This autumn I have seen flocks in Maridalen, Østensjøvannet, Bygdøy, yesterday in The Botanical Gardens and today in the garden (for only the third time ever) there was a flock of 5 birds. There have also been a couple of records close to Oslo of birds with dark stripes on the head suggesting an origin outside of scandinavia.

I managed some pictures of the flock of 9 birds yesterday that I had in the Botanical Gardens but they are nothing that I will be wrintg home about even though I am willing writing to the world about them :-)

this is typical for most of the pictures -  a ghost like creature, out of focus and at the edge of the picture

sometimes though the bird did stay in the same spot long enough

but then they would just come too close

or even closer

Friday, 12 December 2014


More pictures of Monday's Hawfinches from the Oslo Botanical Gardens.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


For a few hours last night a southerly storm blew all the way up the Oslofjord. Even though I knew it hadn’t been long enough to push anything really exciting up to Oslo I did have a hope that a few Little Auks would have been blown in. Well as is often the case I was wrong and a watch from Huk, Bygdøy gave only the usual suspects including the refugees who looked to be enjoying today’s positive temperatures (+5C after having been -5C yesterday).

A seal (steinkobbe) just offshore was probably an Oslo first for me although I didn’t find the dolphin which has been entertaining people on ferries recently.

At Østensjøvannet there is still a lot of wildfowl although the plastic shelduck was seen flying off south with a group of Canada Geese yesterday and was not present today. It would be interesting to know where this bird spends the winter.

male Goldeneyes (kvinand) are always a good photo subject

this family group were some of the 39 Mute Swans still hanging on at Østensjøvannet

I saw a pair of Mallards (stokkand) mating and this seemed to give the lone male Pintail (stjertand) some ideas and he began displaying to this female Mallard

the seal I saw off Huk

these Teal (krikkand) are still at Østenjøvannet