Friday, 16 March 2018

It had to happen

One of the birds I tried (and tried hard) to show Ben on Wednesday was Pygmy Owl. After driving repeatedly around Maridalen for a couple of hours without seeing one it was time to drop Ben off at his hotel. I joked that I would be bound to find one the next day, and sure enough… yesterday I found a/the Pygmy Owl in the expected area and one which we had passed at least 5 times the previous day. But that is what birding and especially guiding is like.

Photos are a bit distant as a metre of snow prevented me from getting any closer!

I had no new spring migrants today but did see all four species that I have so far seen: Oystercatcher, Wood Pigeon, Greylag Goose and Stock Dove. I reckon the next species I will see will be Skylark but with Common Buzzard, Snow Bunting and Mistle Thrush other possibilities.

Pygmy Owl (spurveugle) in Maridalen

and a Stock Dove (skogdue) at Bygdøy.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Guiding White-back

Yesterday was a marvellous day! It was so sunny that it felt warm, birds sang, I was taken out for (a birding) lunch and guided in the afternoon.

The lunch gave me views of a hunting Peregrine in town, on the way to guiding I enjoyed a few minutes in the sun at Huk where a flock of newly arrived Oystercatcher were calling and one pair even mating, a fine Purple Sandpiper fed amongst them and my first Stock Dove of the year flew over.
I was guiding Ben from Kent via Brussels and our initial target was the Glaucous Gull near Drammen. Unfortunately, this was not to be found despite there being gulls attracted to the ice fishermen but whilst searching I heard a “kik kik” call that sounded a bit off for a Great Spot Pecker and after a bit of searching I was able to confirm my suspicion that it was the White-backed Pecker. We were able to watch it really well as it was extremely focused on finding a grub in the bottom of a small trunk. It would frequently stop and put the side of its head against the tree as though to listen before hacking away, changing position a bit, listening again and then hacking away again. It kept this going for 10 minutes whilst we were there and was still going when we left. The rest of the short guiding session unfortunately did not reveal many more species which is a bit of the problem just now with all the snow and migration not having started – but that will soon change..

male White-backed Woodpecker (hvitryggspett) feeding just over the snow

look at those claws! 
pausing to have a listen - "where is that bug?"

Oystercatcher (tjeld) - a true sight and sound of spring 

and a Purple Sand (fjæreplytt) was amongst them

2cy Peregrine (vandrefalk) downtown Oslo

one of the two male Wigeon (brunnakke) that has wintered in Oslo and this one has paired up with a female Mallard which could have some interesting consequences

the Wigeon in habitat along Akerselva

on Wednesday, Jules Bell and I checked out the conditions at Årnestangen. Snow, snow, more snow and ice just about sums it up

lookin over Snekkervika

Friday, 9 March 2018

Glaucous Gull and sun!

I saw the sun today! The optimist in me suggested that that was all the White-backed Pecker had been waiting for and that it would be drumming away. Of course, that was not to be although yet more chippings on fresh snow (it snowed last night) showed that it is still there. I really worked hard for it though and slogged through the snow and over frozen rivers but despite chalking up 6km I failed. I did get excited though when I heard woodpecker tapping. I got the camera ready and quietly walked towards the noise and found a Black Woodpecker… normally I would be quite happy with that but today it felt like an anti-climax.

All the walking was not in vain though as a sweep over the fjord ice revealed the Glaucous Gull in flight. A 1km walk over the snow covered ice and I got to within photo range of the bird. There were several people ice fishing here and last weekend the gull was attracted to fish remains from the fishermen. It and a few Herring Gulls were obviously hoping for some tit bits today but received none whilst I was there although if I’d had some food to throw at them then I’m sure I would have had the bird at point blank range. As it was I got only half decent photos.

The continued wintery conditions are pretty annoying when it comes to birding as I can’t wait for spring migration to start. The upside though is that when it finally does start thawing in a few weeks (?) then we could get quite a rush of birds and some very concentrated and exciting birding – ever the optimist J

2cy Glaucous Gull (polarmåke) with Herring Gulls (gråmåke)

a female Black Woodpecker (svartspett)

fresh evidence of the White-back

Linnesstranda is a very reliable place for Marsh Tit (løvmeis)

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Still winter

There hasn’t been much in the way of birding, or at least successful birding, since I came back from Jæren. Around Oslo we are still experiencing minus temperatures, the snow is lying thick on the ground, lakes and rivers are frozen and it is cloudy. The only species for which spring migration seems to have started is Wood Pigeon which is now to be seen in double figures at Bygdøy. A singing Collared Dove in the garden was also a definite and much welcomed spring sign and suggests that they will breed in the neighbourhood for the first time. In Maridalen the Great Grey Shrike is still going strong but there ain’t much else happening.

I attempted to see the White-backed Woodpecker again but only found evidence that it had recently been in the area (a pile of wood chippings on fresh snow) and later in the day could see that I was 40 minutes too late as a picture of the bird was published from the same tree where I had seen the chippings. It is clearly using a large area of suitable damp woodland here and easily goes missing but if it starts drumming soon then should be easier to find.

The Little Grebe (dvergdykker) was the only interesting bird at Huk, Bygdøy today. In the background is Dyna Fyr, an old lighthouse that is now a restaurant

The grebe slightly closer

Oslo was covered in thick, black smoke today from a fire at the recycling plant at Alna, right next to the best location for gulls in the city - yet another reason to not go gulling...

Monday, 5 March 2018

NSKF in Tangen

Friday to Sunday was spent at Tangen, Kjell Mjølsnes’s house which (as I have written many times before) must be the best birding house in Norway. The occasion was the spring NSKF meeting and as usual the meeting was scheduled for a time of the year when the birding would be so poor that we would manage to do NSKF work instead of being out birding. And it worked – we were very hard working and on Saturday did not even leave the house although there is always something to see from the windows….

What we can see from the windows is fascinating though. Two Woodcock were often to be seen feeding on the lawn (something I have only ever observed from Kjell’s living room), Hen Harriers flew by, a male Smew and Scaup could be seen from the viewing platform on Kjell’s barn and very close by were flocks of geese and swans.

We did manage some other birding on the way to and from the airport and Black-throated Thrush and male Steller’s Eider were twitched. I had hoped to finally see Stonechat in Norway but a pair of birds that had been wintering in the area were not to be found and had probably perished as the Europe wide cold spell had left its mark even here although surprisingly there was no snow. Passerines of any kind were incredibly scarce and Lapwings that had previously been in the area had also disappeared and there were no signs of spring. Woodcocks were also seen in a number of places other than Kjell’s garden which is a sure sign of how difficult conditions had become for them and desperate they were.

Here are videos of Woodcock (rugde) , Black-throated Thrush (svartstrupetrost) and Steller's Eider (stellerand):

male Black-throated Thrush - this bird has been hanging out on this manure pile for a few months and seems very at home

Long-tailed Duck (havelle)

arctic conditions

Orrevatnet as viewed from Kjell's barn had just a few small area of open water where this male Smew (lappfiskand) had sought refuge

this male Steller's Eider is a rare bird in SW Norway and was a big surprise 
male Tundra (rossicus) Bean Goose (sædgås) with Greylags

one of two Woodcock forced into looking for worms on Kjell's lawn in the middle of the day. The large eye is because this bird is normally nocturnal. Here it had been scared by an oerflying Sparrowhawk and had frozen

they feed very actively and are constanly digging into the ground looking for worms

Sunday, 4 March 2018

American Wigeon Lofoten July 2017

I still have a load of photos and experiences from last year's summer holiday that I should blog about but can begin here with an account of a female American Wigeon. I was just twitching the bird and the impressive work behind finding it and identifying it belongs to far more accomplished birders than myself ;-)
Females are notoriously difficult to separate from European Wigeons and even well observed birds may not be possible to ID 100% let alone be approved by a rarities committee but this bird seems to fit the bill.

a snapshot from the video showing the persil white underwing axillaries. This is one of the main ways to separate from European Wigeon which are grey. That said though I have seen a number of photos of European Wigeon where the coverts look white although sunlight and slight over exposure may play role.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Too cold now

Another day of very cold temperatures (-14C at breakfast) and with a biting wind making it feel even colder. The cold got the better of me a couple of times and I had to retreat to the car to warm up. I started the day hoping to see the White-backed Woodpecker again but despite some good old hard work I failed to see it although a Great Spotted Woodpecker first picked up tapping away got me going briefly.

I took the rather scary Oslo Fjord Tunnel (although a major road it is frequently closed due to accidents and a favourite type is the brakes of HGVs over heating due to the 3km long, steep ascent and catching fire….) and then checked out the Drøbak area. A Little Grebe showed really well and caught and devoured a fish that I would imagine would count as breakfast, lunch and dinner. A small flock of Velvet Scoters fed unusually close to shore (usually this species is always a long way out) and had clearly found some sea urchins or crabs as they kept diving in unison over the same spot. I grilled them but had to accept that all of them were “just”. 11 were adult males (or at least 3cy+) and 3 were in female like plumage. Closer inspection showed that at least one of these was a young (2cy) male and the other 2 may also have been. I have noticed many times before how winter flocks of Velvet Scoter contain a real overweight of adult males which contrasts with the smaller numbers of overwintering Common Scoters which seem to always be young birds (sex undetermined). A group of around 50 Common Eiders were cooing away in the sunshine but also failed to reveal any rarer cousins in their midst.

I had a drive by Great Grey Shrike on the way home and a drive through Maridalen did not reveal a single bird (or at least that I can remember) …

Little Grebe (dvergdykker) - the sunshine now makes photography easier

although it was in the shade when it took the (relatively) large fish

clockwise from top left in the act of positioning and then swallowing the fish

can't ever remember seeing the foot of a Little Grebe before

always nice with a Waxwing (sidensvans)

I only had a Great Spotted Woodpecker (today) and with Sunday's White-backed for comparison

14 Velvet Scoters (sjøorre) and 4 Eiders (ærfugl)

The Velvets. Note there are 11 adult (or 3cy+) males and 3 in female/immature plumage (one with head down)

here the bill colouration of the immatuure/female bird shows its to be a 2cy male