Wednesday, 20 June 2018

From Oppland to Hedmark

Day 3 guiding Lotti and Detlef from Switzerland had us leave Oppland and take in the Hedmark highlights. This being Norway, what looks like a short journey actually takes ages as you navigate winding roads that take you from one valley to the next and meander around lakes but the rewards make it all worthwhile: Great Grey Owl, Hawk Owl and Ortolan all performed as ordered :-)

The guiding finishes tomorrow in Maridalen where I have of course saved the best until last!

The batteries of both my cameras went flat today but I have a lot of pictures and film to show of Southern Norway's star birds. Just need to find time to go through them...

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Stormy guiding

Today's weather made yesterday's look positively cosy. We had snow, temperatures down to 3C, storm force winds (more than 25m/s), saw a mini tornado sucking up water over a lake but also had amazing blue skies and rainbows.
Despite this I was able to find birds and we had great views of Siberian Jay, Bluethroat, Lapland Bunting, Yellow Wagtail, Merlin, Kestrel, Black-throated Diver, male Bramblings, Willow Tit and Crested Tit amongst others.

The Siberian Jay was especially pleasing as this is never an easy bird to find and as usual after the hard work of finding it was done then it showed really well.

One worrying thing from this visit and also last weeks is the very low numbers of waders. Just one sighting of Redshank and two of Golden Plover is a crisis for these species which I would normally expect to see in many locations.

Tomorrow we are taking the long way home via Hedmark :-)

One FJELL of a day

I am guiding up in Beitostølen again and battling against the elements. Yesterday in temperatures down to 5C and rain and fog we saw FJELLjo, FJELLlerke, FJELLrype and FJELLvåk aka Long-tailed Skua, Shore Lark, Ptarmigan and Rough-legged Buzzard. You have probably already guessed but fjell is Norwegian for mountain and the mountains also gave us Dotterel. We therefore scored with all the target species and at close range although the weather made photography a tad problematic.

Then in the evening after having watched England win their first of what will be seven consecutive victories in Russia we visited my Great Snipe lek where we had great views in good light of a displaying male. The bird was very active from 10:30pm and showed really well but it was strange and worrying that it was just one bird. Also here we had Woodcock, Cuckoo and a Short-eared Owl.

I have lots of video to upload once I get home but very foolishy did not bring my battery charger so have to hope there is not too much action over the next two days...

Monday, 18 June 2018

Three-toed Pecker nest

I've been back in Oslo for a few days including some guiding before I again head to Beitostølen for more Oppland guiding although with snow and storm force winds forecast in the mountains I may have a challenging time.

My few days in Oslo have given some real highlights though. I eventually found the Three-toed Woodpecker nest after hearing the calls of young. The nest is only 1 m above the ground and I have walked within 10metres of it on many occasions - it really is amazing how once birds get down to the job of nest building and egg laying that they become so much harder to find.

The eggs have hatched in the Red-breasted Flycatcher nest I am following (Norway's only breeding this year?) – a big post on these birds will come later in the year.

Some other birds are having a late breeding season with Lapwings still on eggs in Maridalen and Goshawks still on eggs (with another pair having failed) perhaps suggesting they will not hatch as it is late in the season.

the nest only 1 metre above the ground

female Three-toed Woodpecker
the male with a bug

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Friday, 15 June 2018

Oppland Guiding

The last two days I have been guiding Kathy and Mike from Oregon. After a stop to see Maridalen’s highlights we headed off to find the best that Oppland County has to offer around Beitostølen and Valdresflya. We had to contend with a day of heavy rain and strong winds on Thursday but despite this had a very enjoyable and successful trip.

Highlights were many but good views of a Blyth’s Reed Warbler on the way up (a, for once, successful twitch), lekking Great Snipes, Dotterel, Long-tailed Skua, Purple Sandpiper, Lapland Bunting, Bluethroat, Rough-legged Buzzard and Red-breasted Flycatcher were stand outs.

I took few photos due to the bad weather and also because I was guiding but here is a flavour of how good it was.

Long-tailed Skue (fjelljo). One of a minimum of 10 that we saw which is a very high number in southern Norway

2 distant skuas against the cluod covered mountains

Valdresflya with Bitihorn in the distance. Very little snow this year

Dotterel (boltit)

Great Snipe (dobbeltbekkasin) 
Purple Sandpiper (fjæreplytt)

Rough-legged Buzzard (fjellvåk)

Arctic Tern (rødnebbterne) - small numbers breed high in the mountains

Blyth's Reed Warbler (busksanger)

And a short video of the highlights, or at least the ones that I video ;-)

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Good Guiding

I was guiding for GGs again today. Carol and Derek from Vancouver had a few days in Oslo on their way to Svalbard and fancied filling some holes on their world list. I was only too happy to oblige and was able to produce Marsh Warbler and Black-throated Diver in Maridalen and then we drove up to Hedmark where we added Ortolan Bunting, Black Woodpecker and GG Owl. In addition, we saw Hawk Owls, Rough-legged Buzzard and Red-backed Shrike amongst others on another successful day.

It was particularly pleasing to see the Ortolans this time and we had two singing males plus a female which hopefully means a good chance of successful breeding for this endangered species. The Great Grey Owls (the surviving nest) had two growing young in the nest and the five Hawk Owl young were still going strong and had moved 400m from where I saw them last.

The next two days I am off guiding in Beitøstølen and hope to see leking Great Snipe, Long-tailed Skuas and Dotterel amongst others – it will be fun 😊

Great Grey Owl with 2 young

2 young Hawk Owls

5 (2,2,1) young Hawk Owls

a 2cy male Ortolan, a much more brightly coloured 3cy+ male and a female who looked to be paired to the younger and duller male. There are under 20 singing males left in Norway and far fewer females so this is a signficant part of the remaining population

male Red-backed Shrike

Crested Tit

Monday, 11 June 2018

Daytime Long-eared Owl

On Friday and Saturday I had the joy of guiding Bruce and Janet around Oslo including a whole 8 hours in Maridalen on Friday. I found 16 lifers for Bruce including Three-toed Woodpecker, Rb Fly, Goshawk, Icterine Warbler and Water Rail.

On Sunday morning after a much needed good night’s sleep I was making my wake up coffee and received a message from Reidar Myhre that he had found a Gull-billed Tern at Årnestangen! I briefly entertained the idea of going for this really good Norwegian rarity (the first record in Oslo and Akershus and one of only a very few records that have not been single observor undocumented flybys at unlikely seawatching locations..) but the minimum of 3 hours needed to get to see it plus my dislike for twitching meant I passed on the opportunity (I had instead a particularly nice day with family and friends instead) but I did pass on the news onto the local Band group. Far twitchier people than myself were on the scene in record time (or standing 1.5km away and stretching the definition of tickable views...”it’s the third white bird from the left”..).  The bird was watched by a steady array of admirers until after 9pm and with heavy rain overnight I had high hopes that both it and some newly arrived birds would be on site this morning. 

That of course was not to be though. The Little Gull was back after having not been noted yesterday but a Long-eared Owl hunting openly at 11:30 was the highlight for me (there are 4 large youngsters needing to be fed so the adults have their work cut out). It was first hunting over a field in Short-eared Owl style and that was originally thought it might be but when it perched and I was able to see it better then its true identity became clear.

Long-eared Owl (hornugle)

exciting times :-)

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Hedmark Guiding Highlights

So, the last 2 days I have been guiding a group of Chinese bird photographers. It has been fun but was definitely a new experience for me. We visited Østensjøvannet yesterday where we had lots of photogenic birds and then the magical forests of Hedmark today where there were fewer birds but they were most definitely magical and also exceptionally photogenic. The main reason for going to Hedmark was of course the Great Grey Owl. When we arrived at my favoured nest I had a real shock as the nest had partially collapsed and was empty of birds!! I approached and an adult flew up from the ground under the nest and landed unseen in trees close by. Another few steps and repeated bill snapping told me that it would be wise to stop and retreat. We approached the area where the bird had landed from the other side such that the nest was behind the bird and we were therefore no threat. This allowed us to locate the bird and have quite amazing views.

I felt I needed to determine what had happened to the young in the nest - the adults behaviour suggested there were young on the ground and I could hear something calling there. I therefore decided to approach with the tripod and telescope held above me as a shield. When I got quite close I heard the youngster calling but then heard a lot of bill snapping. I managed to locate the youngster and document it whilst continuously looking towards the adult (who I couldn't actually see)...which was suddenly coming in for attack. If only I had a head mounted GoPro then I could show you the bird flying straight at my head as I fell to the floor. I beat a hasty retreat as it glared and snapped at me from a nearby tree top.
It was now even more photogenic and the sound of camera clicks filled the forest air. I was asked (seriously) if I would go back towards the nest so they could get flight shots.... I politely declined and explained quite how aggressive they could be, i.e. eye losing aggressive. Eventually of course the bird flew of its own initiative (it returned to watch over its young) and those with their cameras ready (not me of course) got the requested shots.
The single youngster I located had a bloody wound on its back and what looked like insects on it. With the presence of the protective adult I was unable to do anything (if anything can be done) but have contacted someone who will visit the nest and may be able to do something such as put up a platform and place the youngster on it (whilst wearing a motorcycle helmet and thick leather jacket). It might seem strange that an old Buzzards nest would fall down but this nest has been in use by GG Owls since at least 2014 so has not been added to or repaired in any way since at least then. It is of course a shame for the owls and especially the youngster(s) which will almost certainly perish but is also a shame for me that I am losing such an accessible nest although a platform here may do the trick...

After enjoying these birds, it was Slavonian Grebes that were next on the agenda with a roadside Red-backed Shrike good click bait. The first (my usual) stop for the grebe did not produce a bird that was sufficiently close for the photographers (30m was too far...) so we drove to another site where no one could complain (I even took the camera out..).

After this we visited Elverum’s only chinese restaurant where a lot of talking in chinese with the cook ensured that "proper" chinese food was served.

Last photo stop of the day was Hawk Owl. We went to the nest site where I had not found anything on my last visit so I had been very cautious about promising anything. When we got out of the car though I immediately heard the hissing sound of a begging baby owl. And then first two and then a third male Capercaillie flew up and over the clearing but before anyone was ready with their camera. We then went carefully to investigate the owls and had 5 youngsters, 1 or possibly both adults and witnessed an adult bringing a large vole to feed one of the youngsters some of which were already good flyers. It is a bit of a mystery to me what happened last week when there were no adults to be seen and no sight nor sound of the young in the nest hole.

The only raptors today were single Rough-legged Buzzard and Kestrel so once again, and very strangely, owls outnumbered BOPs.

I need to have an early night as I am up early guiding tomorrow so haven't had time to go through all the video and stills I took today. There will doubtless be a follow up post later in the summer but here a few hastily chosen pictures to give a feel of the magic.

Great Grey Owl (lappugle)

baby Hawk Owl (haukugle)


Slavonian Grebe (horndykker)

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Broad-billed Sandpipers

Yesterday I gave Årnestangen another go. I could read that the water levels were continuing to fall so thought it would be worth the walk despite the late date meaning there was little in the way of waders to expect. But quality often occurs at unexpected times so a trip would hopefully result in quality over quantity.

The quality came in the form of 2 Broad-billed Sandpipers which showed remarkably well (for Årnestangen) after an unseen raptor had put everything up and they settled quite close. The two were in noticeably different plumages but both would class as summer plumage – one bird was a lot darker than the other and surprisingly like Jack Snipe. Other waders were scarce but Redshank (8) and Ringed Plover (11) are still moving north although singles of Ruff and Wood Sandpiper may have been heading south. Numbers of moulting male dabbling ducks had increased and the 2 male Garganey were still with them.

The Little Gull was also still present but there were no exciting terns to see. Ospreys were omnipresent but the only other raptor I saw was a single Marsh Harrier.

Other highlights during the day were a Long-eared Owl with two fluffy young in an old crow’s nest and discovering a Red-breasted Flycatcher nest but more on those later.

Today (and tomorrow) I have been guiding a group of Chinese photographers which has been a new guiding experience for me :-)

Broad-billed Sandpipers (fjellmyrløper)

with a Wood Sandpiper (grønnstilk) and Redshank (rødstilk)

and both of them with the Wood Sand

1st summer (2cy) Little Gull (dvergmåke)

Two of many Ospreys (fiskeørn) present and they were often quite noisy

an early? Ruff (brushane)

Monday, 4 June 2018

A tad cooler

Temperatures fell to 26C today from as much as 32C at the weekend but it hardly felt any more comfortable. I gave Maridalen a good going over and checked up on breeding birds. The River Warbler was still present as were a couple of singing Marsh Warblers and Common Rosefinches (I also briefly heard a possible Blyth’s Reed that will need some nocturnal following up). A couple of Black Woodpecker young will soon be leaving the nest and Great Spotted Woodpecker young were making a lot of noise in one best whereas at other sites the breeding did not seem to have come so far. The Three-toed Woodpeckers are however not to be found anymore. The Whooper Swans are still on eggs but these will hatch very soon. One of the two pairs of Goshawks seems to have hatched young in the nest whilst the other pair has failed for the second year running. The Buzzards are still present although I do not know where their nest is. Hobby and Honey Buzzard are still to turn up although will I suspect appear later in the summer.

In the garden four Great Tits left the nest this morning and a couple of fledgling Robins are being fed in the garden.

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies to see today although fewer butterflies. Beautiful Demoiselle was a nice addition to the year list and Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries and Large Skippers were widespread.

A real highlight was seeing a swimming Grass Snake. I also thought I had taken some great close up photos of it but see that my camera (the bazooka) is really playing up on me and needs to be replaced pronto. I have had problems with power which are not the battery (as it happens with both the batteries I use) but today I took photos which just didn’t get recorded to the memory card and then the cameras own sequence of numbering also got screwed and it forgot it had taken some photos that did in fact get recorded to the card. At one point the snake got alarmed (I think it smelt me) and then swam under water for about 10 metres which I was unaware they could do.

Beautiful demoiselle (blåvingevannmyfe)

male Black Woodpecker (svartspett) with two youngsters visible in the hole

Four-spotted Chaser (fireflekklibelle)

Grass Snake (buorm)

male Northern White-faced Darter (østlig torvlibelle)

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Garganey Buzzes the Tower

The tropical conditions have not brought as many southern rares to Norway as one would hope for and in fact there have been fewer rare birds so far this spring than one would normally expect. Yesterday a couple of Spoonbills turned up south of Oslo and most surprising of all a 1st summer Ross’s Gull (hardly a southern bird..) turned up at the Great Big Dump so this gave me some hope.

The hot weather though has caused a rapid decline in water levels at Årnestangen and I interpreted the published water level this morning to mean that there would once again be some mud at Årnestangen. Årnestangen and Nordre Øyeren generally offer the best chance of something exciting around Oslo and although it would have been best with a thunder storm I thought that it would be worth the long walk out. From the car I could see that there was indeed a small sandbank exposed so I set off on the 45-minute walk confident I would find marsh terns, Black-winged Stilt, Red-footed Falcon, Spoonbill or something of that calibre as reward for the long walk and the extreme numbers of mossies.

Well I didn’t get quite that level of reward, but it was worth the trip. The sandbank held a 1st summer Little Gull, 7 Ringed Plover, 1 Redshank, 1 Dunlin and a Broad-billed Sandpiper! There were quite a few male dabbling ducks which were nearly all males but amongst 36 Teal were 3 females and this caused loads of commotion with displaying and calling. Two male Garganey were also calling a lot and showed very well. Both had started moulting and one was a particularly poorly marked bird which I don’t think was just a result of moult.

Raptors were again in very short supply with 3 Ospreys and a couple of Marsh Harriers the only ones noted. Marsh Warblers were singing but I failed to find anything scarcer other than a single Sedge Warbler.

male Garganey (knekkand). This picture worked out very well!!

this is the uncropped photo of the bird as it buzzed the tower (one for the Top Gun aficionados) 
and from below
the two male Garganey together. The bird in the bckground had a very poorly defined white crescent on the head

2 Marsh Harriers (sivhauk)
a pair of Lapwings gave grief to anything (me included) that walk past or flew over their field but I saw no young.Curlews and Snipe are also breeding in the area

a displaying Snipe (enkeltbekkasin) - note the two outer tail feathers which make the distinctive noise 

a Small Heather (engringvinge) butterly
same butterfly
and my first Common Blue (tiriltungeblåvinge) of the year