Saturday, 21 January 2017

Little Grebe

I chose a visit to the Drøbak area yesterday hoping to get some control of a number of interesting species in the area. It wasn't as successful as I hoped with Hawk Owl and Kingfisher not showing but I did pin down Great Grey Shrike and Little Grebe.

I looked again for white-winged gulls without finding any and had very few Herrings Gulls either. I'm sure there used to be more Herring Gulls here and wonder if there has been a reduction in fishing activity.
There was very little else on the sea (I have to see an auk this year) but there were a couple of Harbour Seals and a cetacean that I concluded was a large Harbour Porpoise.

The Little Grebes (dvergdykker) were not easy to find and have a habit of diving and just disappearing. I wonder whether they actually come up underneath these floating pontoons. 
this second individual showed a bit better until it dived from this position and vanished. This site just north of  Drøbak is a traditional wintering location for Little Grebes. It is a bit of a mystery were they come from as breeding records in Norway are very few and far between.
This over wintering Greylag Goose has little food available but is surviving so far. The white is not snow but a heavy frost that has lain on the ground for a few days now

There is something strange about the feathering on the flanks and belly of this bird but it is not in the best condition 
Great views of two Great Grey Shrikes (varsler) today! The bird on the left was by Årungen and the right hand bird from Maridalen

Friday, 20 January 2017

Was it a Caspian afterall?

Well this is a tad embarrassing and unsatisfactory and also a good example of why I usually let others do the gull finding. Wasn’t it nice when we just had Herring Gulls? I’ve just had a nostalgic look at Peter Grants Gull book - the authorative text in the 1980’s - and cachinnans was just a subspecies which warranted 9 lines of text whereas now it warrants pages and pages and huge ID articles).

The gull which I featured in yesterdays post after the Glaucous Gulls was clearly strange enough to get my attention and document it and although it was Caspian Gull that was going through my mind the bird didn't match my own mental picture of what a 1st winter Caspian should look like – an image formed by pictures of “classic” birds on the web plus this well watched 1st winter from 2 winters ago (Caspian Gulls are still rare bird in Norway with few oppurtunities to study them around Oslo). When I got home I therefore was more interested in deciding whether the second Glaucous was a hybrid or not and didn’t spend too much time on the Caspo like creature. When I eventually did look at it my interest was again aroused although I was thinking more along the lines of a hybrid and I sent some pictures to Sindre M who agreed that it could be (probably was) a hybrid and I may have left it that but felt it was interesting enough to put it out on the Facebook group Western Palearctic Gulls asking whether there were others who thought it contained Capsian genes. The answers didn’t take long to arrive (despite the late hour) and there were immediate comments that it was a pure Caspian. This was a surprise as I had half expected comments along the lines of strange Herring Gull but the general consensus (with the excpetion of half of the Norwegian and Finnish commentators who prefer hybrid) was that it was a Caspian and Lou Bertalan even went to the trouble of scoring it on the Gibbons et al scoring system from a British Birds Article and placed it right on the Caspian side of the Caspian/hybrid threshold. Now I will be honest and not claim to fully understand how he has scored the bird (requires more experience of this field than I can claim to have) but based on this feedback then it would seem that the bird may be good! In an out of range context it might not be the classic looking bird we would want to find in Norway but equally it isn’t a Herring either and all these LWHG have enormous variation in plumage and structure such that where the lines are drawn are sometimes quite arbitrary and DNA apparently doesn’t always help either…..

I have posted the pictures on the Norwegian reporting system asking for comments but do not expect to receive any. The Norwegian birding community which is always shy/apathetic/worried about reputation (delete based on personal opinion) is currently going through a cyclical low in engagement  and I think at the moment you could post a picture of a Peacock labelled as a Blue Tit and nobody (OK there are a couple of people who care) would be arsed to comment.

So we will see where this gull ends up. At the end of the day it will be my fellow NSKF members who will be responsible for making judgement on the bird (unless the species gets removed as a national rarity before then.…)

Here are my pictures of the bird (yesterday’s plus a couple more) plus the scoring done by Lou Bertalan on FB based on the first 2 pictures.

And Lou Bertalan's scoring (from Facebook):

Extent of scapular moult
1 a small number (less than 1/3) of first-generation feathers remaining

Greater-covert pattern
1 white edges with delicate notches or vermiculation; or dark brown centre with white tip to 1/3 of length (i.e. white restricted to tip or distal third)

Bill shape
1 Slim, slight gonydeal angle (ratio 2.87, so actually >2,8 but there is a slight gonys angle visible)

Leg length
1 Moderately long

Ventral bulge
0,5 - there is a very slight bulge visible but note especially the flat belly in front of it!

Primary projection
1 moderately long (ratio 0.5

Moult: greater coverts
5 no moult

Moult: median coverts
4 one or two feathers moulted

Moult: tertials
3 all old

Darkness of head and body
1 reduced grey wash or streaking (confined to flanks and/or single streaks around nape)

First-generation tertial pattern
1 fine pale fringe around distal portion (like classic michahellis), possibly also with some vermiculations

Second-generation scapular pattern
2 strong, contrasting shaft-streaks, anchors and/or dark central diamonds, but these more patterned feathers are less than 1/2 of all; ground colour creamy or silvery-grey, possibly with some grey feathers mixed in.

so this makes a score of 21,5 which is still within cachinnans, close to the border to hybrids. but it also illustrates some weakness of this scoring system. covert moult weighs too much, imo (5 points for no replaced GC!), there is no criteria for rectrices pattern which personally i give a lot of weight, and it simplifies matters of 2nd gen. scpaular pattern: there are certain types of scapular patterns and each one should be scritinized separately.

what i'd still discuss in this bird is: head jizz (mentioned as not good for caspian gulls) - yes, could sit on a weak female YLG too, especially with the slight eye smudge, but caspians can show even more dark striation around eye than this. scapular pattern is of the shaggy type with one central transversal mark and only a weak thin (or absent) subterminal band. this is a common type in caspian, can appear in other taxons too but usually more bold (double anchor in YLG, bold subterminal bar giving a scaly look in HG), which i think is often underestimated because one likes to have the nice diamond shapes or just shaft streaks as typical cachinnans pattern - but this distorts reality since at least half of all 1st winter caspians don't show this kind of expected pattern but the one more similar with the other taxons. tail in this bird is very good for cachinnans, inner wings shows the nice venetian blind with p2-4 showing pale lozenges etc...

With regards the score of 21.5 (which is a bit cheeky as I don't think the system was meant to allow half points) the range for Caspian is 12-25 and the range for hybrid 22-32 so as you see right on the (edge of) the border.

Today I went birding at Fornebu. I didn’t find any pipits (had been talk of something possibly rare there yesterday) but the reedbed at Koksa was positively hopping with birds. A flock of Long-tailed Tits were feeding in the reeds along with good numbers of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Wrens, a Robin and surprisingly 5 Goldcrests. Best of all though was hearing at least a couple of Bearded Tits which wouldn’t show themselves but at least dispels my previous conclusion that they had moved on/perished.
A Long-tail where there should have been a Beard

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A foggy tip

I really am not posting so much at the moment. My latest absence was due to being housebound after a skiing accident on Sunday whereby a large man on a snowboard used my back to stop himself. The pain the next two days was excruciating and I was sure that I had a broken rib but I awoke on day 3 to find that things were much better and I was able to move around freely although bending down is still a pain.
Oslo is currently experiencing no wind and weather that results in a “lid” over the city and concerns for air pollution such that yesterday saw a ban (for the first time) of diesel cars in the city. It was warned that the ban would last a few days but in the end the pollution wasn’t so bad and there was no ban today (I have petrol so wouldn’t have been affected anyway). Today though saw thick fog. When I left the house I hoped that it was an Oslo phenomenon but it soon became clear that it was an everywhere phenomenon. I had decided to go the Rubbish Tip at Askim which I had visited on Friday in the hope of a white-winger. As I drove and the fog didn’t lift I became worried that 1.) there would be no gulls there as they wouldn’t have been able to find their way there from their roost site (unknown site but potentially many 10s of kilometres away on the coast) or 2.) that if there were gulls there then I wouldn’t be able to see them!
When I arrived and after enduring a smirky smile from the guy on duty at the entrance (what type of person wants to come in here to watch gulls!) I could see there were some gulls but only 20 or so on a roof top.  I parked up and scanned through them and the second gull I saw was a 1st winter Glaucous and so was the fourth gull I saw!! Good start.
The fog was a bit of a problem but after a bit they flew down into the rubbish and I was able to drive close to them. The two Glaucous Gulls were very different with one being a bruty, classic plumaged bird but the other was a much darker bird especially on the breast and primaries and had generally far more patterning on its feathers. It was different enough to have me considering a hybrid with Herring Gull or at least the presence of Herring Gull genes but I believe that it was just a very well marked (pure) Glaucous but cannot be entirely sure.
After a while a lot more gulls turned up but there were fewer than on Friday with maybe 300 Herring and only 3 Great Black-backs. Despite having a good overview of the tip I realised that a lot of gulls were going down to rest on a field beyond the fence. I was able to view the field but the fog meant I couldn’t see the gulls properly.  There were a lot of corvids here though at closer range and amongst them two locally scarce Rooks.
Although the Glaucs were very easy to find for 30 minutes or so after I arrived they suddenly vanished (despite there being lots of other gulls on the tip) and I only saw one of them distantly after this despite being there for 2 and a half hours. Whether they had moved off or were just resting unseen on the field I don’t know but it confirmed that one needs to put a lot of time in to find good birds. The Iceland Gull hasn’t been reported again since I just missed it on Friday but it wouldn’t surprise me if it could still be around. I had a single gull that I had me thinking Caspian and which may well be a hybrid (or is it pure? Comments on Facebook would suggest pure) and also a tiny dark Herring Gull see pictures below).

A small flock of Redpolls was flying around the place and when they once landed close to me I was delighted to see at least one Arctic Redpoll amongst them. My pictures were a bit distant though. I tried sitting in the car and playing Redpoll calls which did bring three birds very close (they sat on the roof at one stage) but they were just Common/Mealy Redpolls.
Time flew though but 2 and a half hours is long enough and with the fog showing no signs of lifting I headed home.

I had a stop to look for Kingfisher (not been reported for a long time) in Bunnefjorden and when I arrived there was very little open water and it was calm which I thought gave me a good chance of finding one if it was still here. And sure enough it was! J

The classic brute of a Glaucous Gull (polarmåke)

same bird

The second Glaucous Gull which has me wondering as to whether there are som Herring Gull genes in it 
same bird

both the Glaucous Gulls together. Note the different head shape of the less obvious bird - here both head and body shape are quite Herring like
This Gull with its dark tertial and coverts plus pale head definitely has a lot of the Caspian about it without quite ticking all the boxes (or does it?)

same bird

and then there was this tiny, dark Herring Gull. I saw it in flight and it had a paler window on the inner hand which dispelled any ideas I had that it was a LBB Gull
another dark eyed Herring Gull
Arctic Redpoll (polarsisik)
possibly a different bird
Common/Mealy Redpoll (gråsisik)
I took this bird to be a Common/Mealy in the field although did note a large pale rump in flight. Note how it does have a single dark feather on the undertail coverts plus some darker streaks but that these can disappear depending on how the feathers are arranged
another Common/Mealy Redpoll

This bird shows features of both Common/Mealy and Arctic 
This bird must be a Common/Mealt with such dark plumage and large bill but look at that large white rump 
Rook (kornkråke) with Hooded Crows (kråke)

Kingfisher (isfugl) 
It seems to have a slightly paler base to the bill but I believe the lower mandible is black over nearly the entire length so this is a male

Friday, 13 January 2017

Tipping me over the edge

I finished my last post with the word DIRE and will start this post with the same word, repeated many times: DIRE, DIRE, DIRE, DIRE

Wednesday’s storm blew quickly over and yesterday it was sunny and just a strong breeze. I went forest birding and birding conditions were good. In the same area of Lillomarka that gave many good birds in November and December I had to list a calling Black Woodpecker as the best bird.
Others had a good day yesterday though. The storm had blown in a number of good gulls (although why did I see none when the wind was blowing?) and a Med Gull was found on the other side of the fjord from where I had been seawatching the day before and Østfold had a number of good gulls. The great big dump at Øra had two different Caspian Gulls and a Glaucous Gull and Jerry Skogbeck had yet another good find when he visited a rarely visited dump near Askim and turned up Iceland and Glaucous Gull. The pictures were so good and the birds so close that I found myself unable to resist a trip there this morning. This was dump and gull watching as it should be. You could stay in your car, it didn’t smell and the area was small enough that you felt you had good control of the birds. In addition, I was not the only birder there and had the company of Morten Olsen as we sat in my car from 0935 until 1115. I think anyone would agree that that is a sterling effort for gulling at a dump and in my opinion it should have been rewarded with gold. Unfortunately, though that was not the case and despite there being at least 500 Herring Gulls all we could find amongst them was 15+ Great Black-backs. An adult Herring Gull with small dark eyes made me get the camera out but the wing pattern ruled out any thoughts of an adult Caspian. Morten stayed when I left to take the scenic route home and predictably it was only half an hour after I left that he rang to say that the Iceland Gull had turned up……DIRE.

 I was in two minds as to whether to turn round but decided to continue back to Oslo where I hoped that a dose of Hawkie would save my day. I got my dose but it didn’t hit the spot at all and I feel that I need something very hardcore quite soon or else this birding business will lose some of its charm.

There was very little else to see along the way and my last hope for the day was to find a good gull at the tip in Oslo. I’m not sure that I have ever visited two different dumps on the one and the same day so yet again felt I should be rewarded by the birding gods but yet again I failed to see anything other than Herring and GBBG. Maybe I should try stamps, or planes or how about trains?
Tangen tip, near Askim 

possibly rarest bird of the day - a Russian ringed 3cy Herring Gull. It was ringed as a nestling 1343km away near Murmansk on 14 June 2015 and was seen in September 2016 at the Great Big Dump.

my small, dark eyed Herring Gull which I also thought a bill that was good for Caspian. Structure and leg length though were as Herring
but I don't think this wing pattern says anything other that Herring
my first dose of Hawkie in 2017
The Maidalen Great Grey Shrike (varsler). I only had one other of this species during the day in what seems to be a poor winter for the species

Wednesday, 11 January 2017


It is not often that I have such a long gap between blog posts but the weather has been so bad this week that birding has just been a waste of time. After temperatures fell to -14C last week we have had a rapid increase to plus temperatures which has bought first fog and now the last two days rain! Winter seems like a distant memory at the moment.

Yesterday afternoon and today winds rose to storm force in the fjord and were directly from the south something which was surely going to result in some seabirds so I thought I would give Krokstrand a go. I didn’t hurry down though as heavy rain was forecast first thing. As I drove down there was a sign saying the ferry from Moss to Horten was not running. I assume this was because of the wind and was a promising start. When I arrived at Krokstrand the waves were high but that was as good as it got! There was no movement of birds AT ALL. I gave it 45 minutes but didn’t even have a single auk. I had also hoped there might be some white winged gulls to find as there have been a few on the south and west coasts so I checked a number of places where there are normally lots of Herring Gulls but they were not many of them to see either. The rain and wind made looking for Hawk Owls pointless. I checked out the Inner Oslo Fjord on the way back and had nothing here either and was feeling that this could well go down as the worst days birding EVER.

The only consolation was the Great Grey Shrike in Maridalen (which I thought had departed) and apart from three Crows this was the only bird I saw in the Dale. DIRE.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Fornebu and redpolls

After a bit of driving yesterday I decided to keep things local today and be a bit more environmentally conscious. We awoke to “only” -11C today and it gradually warmed up as the day went by and is forecast to be plus degrees tomorrow. As the warmer weather arrived it clouded over and there fell some very light snow.

I started at Fornebu where I was hoping to find the Bearded Tits were still around but I have had enough negative visits that I am resigned to the fact that they have either moved on or perished. There were quite a few Blue Tits in the reedbed which are probably birds that arrived in the huge invasion from the east in the autumn. There were also a few Wren’s calling and when I played the alarm call on my phone an amazing 8 birds appeared! Otherwise it was incredibly quiet but as I returned to the car a flock of 9 Waxwings brightened things up. Then a flock of 14 Redpolls flew over and landed in a nearby alder. I studied them to see if they were Mealy (flammea) or Lesser (or at least birds showing the morphological characters of these described (sub)species..) when almost the first bird I focused on proved to be a bit of a fluffy snowball – a northern Redpoll or an Arctic Redpoll (exilipes) as they are also still called. I managed a few photos before it then moved a bit higher amongst some other birds after which it became surprisingly hard to find when I had to look up against a white cloudy sky. There was a lot of variation in the redpoll flock with the majority of birds being quite pale Mealy’s but there was also a single smaller warm brown bird which matched my interpretation of the morphological characters of a Lesser (cabaret). This bird also occasionally kept a bit apart from the rest of the flock. I am usually very sceptical to claims of all three redpoll (sub)species/forms in the same flock but feel confident that was the case today…..

The fjord off Fornebu was very quiet with 3 Long-tailed Ducks and 30 odd Velvet Scoters the clear highlight.

A drive into Sørkedalen revealed nearly nothing and definitely no Hawkie and Maridalen was equally quiet. A trip to the dump at Alna was equally disappointing with no white-winged gulls to find.

Arctic Redpoll (polarsisik). This picture shows how pale it was with a nice straw coloured wash around the head and a small bill. The flank streaking is on the strong side and some would argue too strong for Arctic Redpoll but new ID criteria eg Garner says that this is OK for Arctic Redpoll especially as this bird would seem to be a 2cy based on pointed tail feathers.
here the extent of the white rump can be seen plus just a single thin black feather on the undertail coverts. Note also the white fluffy feathers on the leg

the bird showing the morphological characters of a Lesser Redpoll (brunsisik) 
all three of these birds look to be Common/Mealy Redpolls (gråsisik)

the same male as in the above picture. Note the heavier bill than the Arctic

The two upper birds are Mealy and note that extensive streaking on the undertail coverts. The bird on the lower right is possibly an (the?) Arctic (although I didn't notice it when I was taking the pictures as I was focusing on the Mealys). Note the small bill and fluffy trousers although the flank straking is possibly too strong.
Waxwings (sidensvans)

a frosty Wren (gjerdesmett)