Monday, 5 December 2016

4 out of 4

A grey day with temperatures over zero but no rain and no fog. I headed for Lillomarka again hoping to reconnect with some of the exciting species I had there last week. Today I added a new species to the list with a Hazel Grouse. This bird was in an area I have walked past thinking was ideal for the species and today I had it singing and saw it briefly in flight a few times but it can’t be classified as a cooperative individual. I also had Pine Grosbeak giving me sightings on all four of my visits. I had a single noisy bird today (seems to be the case that lonely single birds make quite a bit of noise but flocks remain mostly silent). I saw the bird once and heard it (or I at least assume was the same bird) a couple more times over the course of half an hour or so. I also had a noisy bird flying over me a kilometre away when I was walking back to the car which could possibly have been the same individual. No Three-toed Woodpecker today but a Black Woodpecker was feeding in the same place and gave me unusually good views.

In Maridalen the Scaup and Great Grey Shrike showed as well as a single newly arrived Whooper Swan on the lake. I didn’t find the Hawk Owl in Sørkedalen but it was seen over the weekend.
The poor light again made taking photos challenging but videos were OK.

view from Lillomarka (where the grosbeaks are) towards NE Oslo

Pine Grosbeak (konglebit)

Black Woodpecker (svartspett). Note the two very broad shafts to the tail feathers which it actively uses to hold itself steady when banging away

The Scaup (bergand) and Tufted Duck (toppand) still on Maridalsvannet

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Long-tailed Tits on ice

On Friday I searched for Pine Grosbeaks in the valley without finding any or anything else of note but with luck I will find some also here before the winter is finished. The Scaup and Great Grey Shrike were still going strong and a small flock of Long-tailed Tits were interestingly searching for food on the ground. I have seen them very occasionally on the ground before but here the whole flock of ca.8 birds was on the deck and it wasn’t a forest floor but on ice with a thin layer of snow on the top with vegetation sticking up through the ice. I’ve no idea what food they were finding here but would imagine that it was insects of some sort – not that there are many around at the moment.

Long-tailed Tit (stjertmeis) finding food in the snow

Great Grey Shrike

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Three-toed Woodpecker and a bit of Piney

I just had to go searching for the Pine Grosbeaks again. I have really fallen in love with this area of Lillomarka. Despite being closer to the city than the areas of Nordmarka that I usually visit there are far fewer people here, the forest seems to be richer and it is also a lot easier getting around with fewer steep slopes to negotiate. The weather at the moment is perfect for searching for forest/taiga birds. There is no wind, it is cold and crisp and mostly sunny (although today a level of mist hung over the hill tops) and there is no snow meaning getting about is easy.

Despite the perfect listening conditions there is still little to hear as the density of birds is very low but when you find a flock of 10 Pine Grosbeaks and have quality time with a male Three-toed Woodpecker down to 5metres range then it is definitely a case of quality over quantity.

The Grosbeaks made me work hard but then suddenly I heard one and there they high up in a spruce only 25m away. I was able to get quite close to the tree which was on a slope and I could view the birds from nearly the same height but the light was absolutely pants! I counted a maximum of 7 birds at a time but these were all females/juveniles whereas I had also seen an adult male so knew there were at least 8 birds in the tree but when they flew out to a nearby birch there turned out to be 10 birds! In typical Piney style they fed quietly and thoroughly in the spruce tree and were there for 20 minutes!! before flying en masse (when they made quite a lot of noise) to a birch where they fed on tiny buds. When a flock of 10 birds can feed almost silently in one tree for 20 minutes then it is clear that one needs luck combined with a slow and thorough search method to find them.

The flock of 10 birds contained only a single adult (red) male and my photos show this to be unringed and therefore not the same bird that I saw on Monday. One can wonder how many birds there are in the area.

On my way out to the Grosbeaks I had a male Three-toed Woodpecker which gave itself away by the tapping noise it made. I saw this bird quite well but the light was terrible and it was feeding high up. On my way back 2 hours later I heard it tapping again only 100m away and this time was able to see it very well. It was still dark for photography but I saw the bird at head height when it was licking sap and got so close that I managed an iPhone selfie with it J This was definitely the closest and most prolonged meeting I have had with this species which is known to ignore people but has previously not been so confiding with me.

In Maridalen the Scaup was suddenly back in the company of a Tufted Duck. Quite incredible that they can avoid detection for so many days (last record was on Saturday).
First a video of the woodpecker which has turned out better than the photos I took (it always seem to be the case that video copes better with poor light than stills).

male Three-toed Woodpecker (tretåspett). Photography in the dark forest was a challenge

here licking/eating sap

iPhone selfie

This Black Woodpecker (svartspett) hole looks good for housing Tengmalm's Owls (perleugle) if next year is an owl year
my first view of the Pine Grosbeaks (konglebit)

4 birds in this picture

a young male (I think) eating spruce buds

adult male. This bird has no ring unlike the bird I saw three days ago

eating buds in a birch tree

all 10 birds
Scaup (bergand) and Tufted Duck (toppand)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Ultimate Oslo birding

Back in the winter of 2012/13 when there was an invasion of both Hawkie and Piney to the Oslo area I had a birders wet dream that involved seeing a Hawk Owl eating a Grosbeak. This rather gruesome bringing together of my two favourite birds was always very unlikely to happen given that Hawk Owl very rarely eats birds but I did have one occasion when I saw (and filmed) bothspecies from the same spot at the same time and it was to be honest a ratherorgasmic experience.

I wanted to come as close as possible to recreating that feeling today although the only realistic plan was only to see both species in Oslo on the same day. I started with the Grosbeaks first and when I parked the car saw that Zak clearly had the same intention as me. He was already a long way into the forest and had not had sight nor sound of Piney. I was not to be deterred though. It was once again very quiet in the forest and a single female Capercaille flying out of a pine tree above me was the highlight for the first hour and a half.

My last two walks in the forest have surprisingly not revealed a single crossbill although I have had the occasional bird flying over in Maridalen recently. There are still lots of cones on both spruce and pine trees but they are clearly not at the right stage in their development for crossbills. Both Parrot and Common Crossbill are nomadic in their search for cones at just the right stage of development for them to breed in the late winter. Last winter spruce cones were right in southern Norway and we had huge numbers of Common Crossbills that bred but these birds started to vanish during the summer and there are now just stragglers left (where the others have gone I do not know). The previous winter we had no spruce cones and no Common Crossbills but there was a good crop of pine cones and suddenly there were small numbers of Parrot Crossbills which otherwise are very uncommon around Oslo. When I heard a crossbill today I was keen to get an eye on it and it was a male Common Crossbill flying over. As I stood there wondering where all its kin had disappeared to I heard a short whistling call close by. I looked up and saw a Blue Tit but thought that the call surely was from something far more interesting….. and then suddenly three Pine Grosbeaks flew into a tree 40m away and started calling. They had the sun behind them and when I finally pulled the camera out of the bag I didn’t check the settings but after three poor photos they just vanished. I played the call but this had no effect today (because they were already in a flock). Over the course of the next 15 minutes I heard them call twice again somewhere nearby but never manged to see them again. Guess I’ll have to search for them another day because they are incredible birds and deserve to be enjoyed and studied when one has the chance.

So one target down (if only just) I then went to see if nearby Maridalen had a Hawkie for me but had to be content with one of the Great Grey Shrikes.

A visit to Sørkedalen was therefore necessary for Hawkie. As I passed Bogstadvannet I saw there were a few ducks waiting for bread and amongst them was the Pintail which has not been seen for a week or so. Frustratingly when I went down with the camera it walked away from me and clearly didn’t want to be photographed – I’ll have to remember bread next time.

I drove further into the valley but had only driven a minute and reached the northern end of the lake when I saw a bird perched half way up a birch tree (it was a good 300m away). I stopped the car and was expecting to find a Sparrowhawk in the bins but was more than happy to see a Hawk Owl. It soon flew up onto the top of a relatively low spruce tree and I was then able to walk out to it and really enjoy it although the light wasn’t so good. I was keen to find out if it was a new bird so ran back to the car and continued driving. Quite soon the sun broke though and I regretted not staying with the bird in the hand. 4km away there was no sign of birds in the bush although there were forlorn photographers who had been searching for a while. I headed back as quickly as I could and the light was fantastic but the only problem was that the bird had moved to the very highest spruce he could find…..although a couple of photographers were no longer forlorn.

But who cares Hawk Owl and Pine Grosbeak in the same day and within sight of Oslo city – it’s what birding is all about J
Hawkie looking in every direction but at me

as can be seen here there are still lots of cones on the spruce trees - and a Hawk Owl

here when I first had Hawkie relatively low down but poor light

and here fantastic light but too high up

au revoir min cherie

just about recognisable - Pine Grosbeak (konglebit)
Great Grey Shrike (varsler) in Maridalen - the southern bird

1st winter male Pintail (stjertand) Bogstadvannet - what no bling?

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

And now Hawky baby!

So, I finished yesterday’s post saying how nice it would be to see the Hawk Owl in Sørkedalen today. I was asking for trouble, wasn’t I? I arrived in the favoured area soon after 9am when the sun was just coming over the horizon and the cold air (-5C) was filled with the lovely smell of burning plastic (some farmer thought that would be the best way to quit himself with his rubbish). A couple of drive bys didn’t reveal the bird so I parked up and went on a thorough search of the area. I did turn up a Great Grey Shrike which is the first record in Sørkedalen this year but no owl which is par for the course when I go twitching. I retreated to Fornebu but despite the sun, no wind and minus temperatures there were no Bearded Tits to see or hear and little else with the bays now being frozen.

I then made tracks for Maridalen but at the last minute decided to give Sørkedalen another go and I am glad I did because this time I found Hawkie. He was a few hundred metres from where I had concentrated my earlier efforts but was sat on top of the highest tree in the area clearly visible from the road I reckon I would have noticed him earlier…. Even though he was high up, the light was fantastic so I am happy with the pictures I got and reckon he will be worth further visits as yesterday he was hunting from wires right by the road.

So Piney one day and Hawkie the next - it doesn't get much better for a Brit Birder!

A quick trip to Maridalen revealed a single Great Grey Shrike but no owls of either the pygmy or hawk variety. Interestingly Maridalsvannet was only just starting to ice over in a couple of bays, whilst Bogstadvannet in Sørkedalen is completely frozen and the bays in the salt water fjord at Fornebu are also already frozen.
Hawk Owl in Sørkedalen. It was only a couple of hundred metres from the local primary school and seemed to be enjoying the sun

Sørkedalen's Great Grey Shrike (varsler)

and Maridalen's but I guess you'll have to take my word for it ;-)

Monday, 28 November 2016

Piney Baby!

Veteran readers of this blog will know that there if there is one thing that matches my love for Hawkie then it is my love for Piney (Grosbeak). I’m sure British birders will understand this love as both species have a rather mythical status in the UK.

Pine Grosbeak is very irregularly recorded in south eastern Norway although there is undoubtedly a high degree of under recording due to it being very unobtrusive and preferring vast tracts of mature spruce forest. Every now and again though (less than once a decade) it does arrive in large numbers as the species leaves the taiga forests of Russia when there has been a failure in it favoured food (which is NOT cones but rather buds on spruce trees). There was a such invasion in winter 2012/13 and quite remarkably Maridalen briefly became the best place in the whole of Norway to see this species with flocks of upto 45 being seen. Since then though there have only been a handful of records in south east Norway and I have not seen one since in the Oslo area.

This year has had a few records of birds in the south east and although definitely not an invasion it would appear there are more birds than normal. When Stig Johan Kalvatn saw and nicely photographed five birds on Saturday at Revlikollen then my plans for today were already made. Revlikollen is part of Lillomarka which is the forest area to the east of Maridalen. I have never explored this area of forest properly as I have always thought it to be too close to the city but have recently started to understand that it does contain some very interesting forest. Revlikollen is one such area and is protected as a nature reserve due to it containing large areas of untouched old, primarily spruce, forest. It was a good half hour walk before I got to the edge of the nature reserve and there was precious little in the way of bird life on the way. Crossing into the nature reserve didn’t change that but the forest looked very impressive with large spruces, lots of fallen and rotting wood and the odd pine tree. I heard a Black Woodpecker calling but NOTHING else. Then I saw a movement in front of me and suddenly I had a Three-toed Woodpecker! This species has not been kind to me in 2016 so it was nice to see one although it kept high up in the trees such that I never saw its crown but in the photos it appears to be white without any yellow and therefore a female. My enjoyment of this bird though was rudely interrupted by a plaintive whistling call – PINEY!! It was close but I couldn’t tell if it was in flight or not. I whipped my phone out, found the call, played it and got a response! The bird then started calling continually which is in my experience very unusual. When in flocks they are normally silent until they start having a little natter before deciding it is time to move to the next tree and I have never heard such continuous calling before. When I finally (and with relief) saw the bird I quickly discovered it was a single bird which may well explain why there was so much calling. He (for it was a fine adult male) was definitely looking for company because he progressively came closer and closer to me (and my phone). Unfortunately, it was dark in the forest and I had to screw up the ISO to 6400 but what a bird!! AND he was ringed. The last report in ArtsObs of a bird being ringed in Norway is from 2012 and although there are many ringers who unfortunately have better things to do than report in Artsobs I strongly suspect that this bird received its bling in another country. Unfortunately, (but not surprisingly) my photos do not allow any detail of the ring to be discerned. The bird then proceeded to feed in the trees above me, nipping off spruce buds.

After about 20 minutes the bird vanished but left me feeling very privileged. I continued into the nature reserve and had three Capercaille (two females and a male) which I think doubled my all-time records of this species in Oslo – I will definitely visit this area again and it looks to have very good potential for breeding Tengmalm’s Owl.
Grosbeak, Three-toe and Caper were all Oslo year ticks for me and to get three in a day with only a month to go is quite extreme and tomorrow I have a chance for another one with a Hawkie having been seen the last couple of days in Sørkedalen (the two released/rehabilitated Hawk Owls I’ve seen in Maridalen are not “tickable”). It is in an area that I have checked each time I have been in Sørkedalen over the last month but clearly I wasn’t meant to be the one that found that specific bird but it would be great to see it tomorrow J

a ringed adult male Pine Grosbeak (konglebit)

Add caption

feeding on buds

about to nip off a bud/shoot

Revlikollen - habitat of Pine Grosbeak and Three-toed Woodpecker

Three-toed Woodpecker (tretåspett) my initial camera settings were hopelessly wrong but it was still possible to lighten up the picture

settings adjusted but shutter speed too low

high up in the tree there was better light. It looks like there is only white and not yellow in the crown making it a female