Saturday, 23 May 2015

Guiding with the blessing of the Bird Gods

I was guiding Angie from Nottingham yesterday and those bird gods they did shine on me today. The weather was cloudy and with a strong wind which meant there was reduced song activity but was still preferable to a baking sun.

Starting at Fornebu we found first a male Red-backed Shrike (tornskate) and then an unusual song from a nearby tree revealed the presence of a pair with the male courting the female by bobbing his head at her and although we didn’t see the act his behaviour as he perched on a nearby tree top shortly afterwards suggested he got lucky J

Stopping to study a Common Sandpiper I became aware that there was another similar but much smaller wader in the grass nearby and soon one Temminck’s Stint transformed into five of these wonderful tiny waders. My photo attempts were however hampered by having the autofocus setting wrong which it took me a long time to realise even though it was obvious to me that the camera was no focusing properly.

It was also around now that I realised that mobile digiscoping has a lot to offer. Angie has a Swarvoski ATX and an Iphone 6 and the quality of her photos was quite simply fantastic. I know what I’m putting on my birthday and Xmas wish list!

We also had Icterine Warbler (gulsanger) and Garden Warbler (hagesanger) here amongst many others. Eiders (ærfugl) turned out to be a favourite bird of Angie and we had 3 broods of youngsters with a number of “aunts” in attendance plus a couple of males still in full plumage.

After 3 hours at Fornebu we moved to Maridalen where the Tawny Owls (kattugle), Goshawks (hønsehauk) and Long-tailed Tits (stjertmeis) performed impeccably and yet again my 500mm lens proved to be hopeless in comparison to mobile scoping.
The best picture I managed of one of the Temminck's Stints

all five

here you can see how small they are in comparison to a White Wagtail (linerle)

adult Goshawk (hønsehauk) with a crop full of food

male Red-backed Shrike (tornskate)

Redwing (rødvingetrost)

one the adult Tawny Owls (kattugle). Tawny Owls come in various colour forms and this is a "rufous" bird

whereas the other adult is a "pale grey"

a small youngster

the difference in size between these youngsters is obvious. Owls begin incubating the eggs as they are laid such that the frst egg hatches before the others and the youngters are of different ages. In years with little food only the oldest and largest youngster may survive and he will eat his siblings

Thursday, 21 May 2015

To Kill a Lesser White-fronted Goose

There is an intra-Scandinavian war (or should that be inter..) going on at the moment and the victims are poor Lesser White-fronted Geese (dverggås). I have closely followed the fortunes of this species since I’ve lived in Norway and it was one my birding highlights to see the remnants of the wild Scandinavian population on their spring resting grounds in Finnmark in May 2011. There are now only around 15 breeding pairs left of the original wild population and the Norwegian Government and Birdlife Norway are spearheading an effort to protect and increase this population that involves efforts on the breeding grounds, wintering grounds and migration route. These birds are extremely vulnerable and just one act of illegal hunting could make a serious dent in the population. Breeding success has also been variable and even though many (red) foxes have been killed on the breeding grounds it seems that predation takes a serious toll on the goslings and it is only in lemming years that there is high survival of goslings. A very informative and up-to-date website summarises this pan-European conservation effort.

As this population is so small and its wintering grounds in Greece well known it is in fact unlikely that many (any?) birds seen in Western Europe are actually wild and they are probably birds from the Swedish reintroduced population which is the source of the battle.

The last breeding birds in Sweden were in the 1989 and with no native population to protect they have chosen reintroduction with the Swedish Hunting Association leading the work ?!? The first reintroductions did actually begin before the species disappeared from Sweden but were made in a different area. This reintroduction also had the goal of getting the geese to migrate to Holland in the winter and thus be safer and this was achieved by releasing the goslings with Barnacle Geese foster parents that already used this flyway. This reintroduction however stopped in 1999 when it was discovered that the birds being used were genetically not pure Lesser White-fronts and actually had DNA from Greater White-fronted Geese.

In addition to not being genetically pure, they are migrating in a way the wild population does not, they are using habitats that the wild population does not (town parks for example) and they also hybridize with Barnacle Geese in Sweden so one really does wonder whether these birds should even be called Lesser White-fronted Geese.

The Swedes though seem determined to continue with reintroductions and from 2006 have imported wild birds from Russia (which hardly has a large enough population to lose any of its own birds) which have been used as breeding stock. Goslings have been released in the Swedish mountains but these birds have shown an amazing inability to join up with the other Lesser White-fronts and have turned up all over the place including Norway and England.
Recently one of the birds turned up with the wild birds in Northern Norway and promptly got itself shot!  See here and here. Not illegally but under the orders of the Norwegian Government and supported by Birdlife Norway who do not want to risk this bird mating with a wild bird and tainting the gene pool and possibly raising youngsters that will want to migrate differently to the rest of the wild population.

The Swedes are up in arms with Birdlife Sweden saying the Norwegians have lost a chance to get new genes into the dwindling population and also a chance that it would help take birds on the safe migration route to Holland thus increasing chances of survival.

The Norwegians are  however indignant that this bird should not be allowed to risk the purity of the wild birds but hang on haven’t birds been released at precisely the site where this bird was shot? You would be hard pressed to find any information on this now although at the time it was widely spoken about and I actually saw one of the released birds in May 2011 and mention it on this very blog. In fact it now seems the Norwegians want to pretend this never actually happened. However this document in English from a Norwegian Govt. Minister shows how proud the Govt was and how Birdlife Norway was a willing participant. How times change and so quickly!

Conservationist often face difficult choices with one species having to be controlled to allow another to recover but it must be very rare for there to be two so different opinions as to the best course of action for one species that one side literally shoots down the others attempt.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Back in the Dale

After the futile idiocy of yesterday’s petrol-head birding I decided to keep it very local and very slow today and reacquainted myself with Maridalen’s birdlife (although a trip to Brentetagen today would not have been such a bad idea as skuas eventually came which given the southerly winds and sun was maybe to be expected).

Migration has really slowed down but a few Yellow Wagtails (gulerle), Meadow Pipits (heipiplerke) and Wheatears (steinskvett) are definitely just passing through. I added a new species to my year list today and a species I had forgotten to mention a few days ago namely Spotted Flycatcher (gråfluesnapper). The other flycatcher, Pied (svarthvit fluesnapper) seems to be very scarce this year and I had my first in Maridalen today but there were none at three nest boxes which held birds last year. It is possibly still too early but they should be back by now.
Rarest bird was a 2cy male Marsh Harrier (sivhauk) which flew from west to east over the valley and is clearly a wandering bird. Best birding experiences though were close encounters with some of the valleys breeding species. A male Wood Warbler (bøksanger) again showed very well and this time in good light. He was singing in an area of predominantly spruce trees but there was a small open area with sunlight and a few deciduous trees and it was here he sang almost constantly whilst I was with him. I also had prolonged if uninteresting views of the Goshawk (hønsehauk) on the nest. It would be nice to see food being brought in and I did earlier see the male carry food across the valley towards the nest but I guess that before the young hatch it is only necessary for him to bring food a couple of times a day. I found a couple of feeding Long-tailed Tits (stjertmeis) and began to think that it was strange that one of them wasn’t on the nest but then realised that it was possible that they had young in the nest and were both collecting food. I followed them and eventually they led me to their nest hanging high up in a spruce tree. This is the first time I have found a nest of this species in Norway although as a spotty teenager I became quite adept at finding them in England and even wrote a note in British Birds after finding an adult which had managed to weave its own tail into the nest and needed me to free it. All the nests I found in England were low down in brambles which I assume provided protection but as brambles are not to be found around Oslo I guess height is the preferred strategy for safety here.

As if all these encounters were not enough a loud din from alarming Starlings led me to an adult Tawny Owl (kattugle) perched right next to a hole which held a brood of Starlings (stær). I guessed that a Tawny Owl hunting in the middle of the day could only mean it too had a lot of large and hungry mouths to feed and a check of a nearby nest box showed three white fluffy heads bobbing around in the opening and the other adult perched nearby. I guess they will be out of the nest within a couple of days.

Wood Warbler (bøksanger)

same bird in different light

Goshawk (hønsehauk) on nest. The picture is taken from a safe distance

Tawny Owl (kattugle) right outside a Starlings nest

one of the youngsters in the nest

the other adult who was standing guard near the nest. Note the bloody claws
no bird in this photo but can you see the Long-tailed Tits nest?
here is the Long-tailed Tit (stjertmeis) and the nest is above and to its left

Swallow (låvesvale)

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

When will my luck turn?

With winds from the South East and lots of rain in the morning today was most certainly going to deliver the goods……for someone else at least.

My thoughts were of lots of grounded waders including Broad-billed Sandpiper (fellmyrløper) and Dotterel (boltit) in Akershus, enormous numbers of hirundines including Red-rumped Swallow (amursvale) with Hobby (lerkefalk) hunting them and a Black Tern (svartterne) or Little Gull (dvergmåke) amongst them.

I only partially scored on my goals with a few waders and a lot of hirundines but if I had gone to the great big dump then I would have scored even better with a White-winged Black Tern (hvitvingesvartterne) being seen there. Just shows I was right predicting something good today it’s just that this year it clearly is not going to be me that finds it.

I started at Kurefjorden where three Temminck’s Stints were keeping 18 Dunlin (myrsnipe), 28 Ringed Plover (sandlo) and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits (lappspove) company but I couldn’t find any Dotterel on the fields. I then drove the rather long way to Hellesjøvannet where I the large numbers of hirundines that I had expected were present but 8 Common Terns (makrellterne) were the only other thing amongst them and certainly nothing rare. The day’s only excitement came as I checked fields for Dotterel (some were seen here on Sunday) and heard my first Quail (vaktel) of the year. It was singing from relatively short grass in the middle of the day but I failed to see it. Continuing past Bjørkelangen I checked more fields for Dotterel and finally found some Golden Plover (heilo) which got me excited but they didn’t have any more colourful company. 20 Cranes (trane) feeding in nearby fields gave me my only photo opportunity of the day. These are most likely non breeding birds and bear witness to the fast growing population in Norway.
non-breeding Cranes (trane)

this ne bird with a lot of red on the crown was a bit frisky

Golden Plover - the nearest I came to a Dotterel today

spot the Moose

Monday, 18 May 2015

Last wave of summer migrants

Nearly all the summer visitors are back although that doesn't mean they have crossed my path yet but today I crossed a few off the list. My first trip to Fornebu in a while gave me Reed (rørsanger), Icterine (gulsanger) and Garden Warbler (hagesanger) and in Maridalen I added Red-backed Shrike (tornskate) to the list.

Marsh Warbler (myrsanger), Bluethroat (blåstrupe) and Common Rosefinch (rosenfink) will arrive soon and then it is just to mop up on the classic nocturnal singers: Corncrake (åkerrikse), Spotted Crake (myrrikse), Quail (vaktel) and Nightjar (nattravn) plus any of the rarer birds that may grace us this year.

I had three hours in Maridalen either side of lunch and hoped for some raptors. Sparrowhawks (spurvehauk) showed regularly and I had a displaying Goshawk (hønsehauk) that was mobbed by Sparrowhawk. No falcons unfortunately but I did have a number of medium sized raptors of which 4 were too distant to ID. Three that came close enough though were singles of Common Buzzard (musvåk), Osprey (fiskeørn) and best of all a Honey Buzzard (vepsevåk) migrating to the NW.

Wood Warblers (bøksanger) were noticeable today and Whitethroats (tornsanger) are also back in numbers.

female Red-backed Shrike (tornskate) in Maridalen - hopefully I will be lucky enough to find their breeding site this year

Skylark (sanglerke) at Fornebu

Whitethroat (tornsanger) at Fornebu

best picture I managed of Icterine Warbler (gulsanger) at Fornebu

Greylag Geese (grågås) seem well established as a breeding bird in Maridalen now and in addition to this pair with 5 young here was a pair with three young
This singing Wood Warbler (bøksanger) in Maridalen was very cooperative within the woodland but all my photos were at high ISO due to it being quite dark

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Less than expected

Tomorrow (17 May) is a day when Norwegians indulge themselves in an orgy of nationalism which would be illegal in almost any other country and it is also such that any activity that does not involve the waving of the Norwegian flag is illegal. Therefore it is necessary to get any birding in today as the practising of such an activity tomorrow would lead to instant ostracism from society.

Per Christian and I were not entirely sure where to go this morning but ended up choosing Brentetangen/Kurefjorden.  On the way we had 3 Peregrines (vandrefalk) flying over the motorway which I have never before experienced. When we arrived at 0630 the two best seating positions had already been taken although the early birds had not seen anything to make us regret our late arrival. Over the next 2 and a half hours there was just enough to keep us interested but just as in my two previous visits this spring it never really kicked off. The undoubted highlight was two Arctic Skuas (tyvjo) a light and a dark phase bird that flew very strongly and quite high to the north. Their manner of flight had me thinking (hoping) they were Pomarine Skuas (polarjo) but that was not to be.

After this we headed towards Kurefjorden and stopped at a recently sown field along the way to look for Dotterel (boltit). What felt like a thorough scan revealed a single Golden Plover (heilo) but just as we were about to leave I thought that a dark stone looked suspect – and indeed it was a Dotterel. Whilst admiring this we suddenly realised there were two!

Kurefjorden had a few waders including 10 Dunlin (myrsnipe). One wader caused us a lot of head scratching when we first saw it in flight and it appeared much large than it actually was. Eventually though we saw it on the deck where it revealed itself as a Knot (polarsnipe) in winter plumage (presumably a 2cy bird).
A boat, dirt on the lens and a prick that may be one of the Arctic Skuas we saw
The two Dotterel

I took this picture to document the single bird we saw but inspecting it afterwards showed I captured both although we hadn't yet noticed the bird to the left


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Oslo wader bonanza

Now, everything is relative so please do not get disappointed when you read this post if you think that the title could possibly refer to more than 30 waders of 7 species.

The tiny county of Oslo (therefore excluding all the good localities close by in Akershus) does not have an abundance of wader locations, in fact there is only really one that is semi-reliable: Gressholmen.
Maridalsvannet has had its moments especially a few years ago when work on the dam resulted in low water levels in May and a good selection of waders. Gressholmen though is an island just offshore of the city centre and holds a shallow, muddy tidal bay. It has held a number of species over the years but is unpredictable and this combined with the necessary boat trip means that I have only made the trip a handful of times and have never connected with anything better than a couple of Greenshank (gluttsnipe) plus Oslo's only pair of breeding Ringed Plover (sandlo).

Today though was different. Yesterday’s sightings at Kurefjorden made it clear there is a good passage at the moment although today's blue skies were not the best for grounding waders so I was not sure what was in store for me. On the boat ride out we were passed by Cunard’s enormous cruise ship Queen Elizabeth which totally dwarfed the Oslo waterfront.

So what did I see? Well I can start with an Oslo tick in the form of a Bar-tailed Godwit (lappspove) which along with Dunlin (myrsnipe) was my hoped for species today. Dunlin will have to continue as a glaring omission on my Oslo list but I will get my hands on you one day (I’m considering blowing a hole in the dam at Maridalsvannet in July....).

The barwit had the company of 4 Redshank (rødstilk), 6 Greenshank (gluttsnipe), 6 Whimbrel (småspove), 9 Oystercatchers (tjeld), 2 Common Sandpipers (strandsnipe) and the nesting pair of Ringed Plover.
A female, the barwit was not a particularly exciting bird to look at but alone made the trip worthwhile. There was plenty more to see though so much so that I didn't even feel guilty for cheating on Mari.

A Redstart (rødstjert) sang nearly constantly from a tree top (this spring seems particularly good for Redstarts) plus Lesser Redpolls (brunsisik) were flying around singing all the time (I have never noticed so many as I have this year), Wheatears (steinskvett) were singing and inspecting nest sites, 3 Whitethroats (tornsanger) and a Lesser Whitethroat (møller) sang and a few Blackcaps (munk) were also singing or at least all the ones I saw were Blackcaps but my ears can't rule out that my first Garden Warbler (hagesanger) of the year was among them.

Over the fjord there were 20+ Common Terns (makrellterne), a lost summer plumaged Guillemot (lomvi) sat on the sea and a flock of 10 Red-throated Divers (smålom) flew around at some height seemingly unsure of where to go next now that there was no more sea to see.

Prize for the days a**hole goes to a dog walker. He let his dog off the lead when he stepped on to land and when I checked the Nature Reserve sign it confirmed what I had assumed namely that dogs had to be on leads. I pointed this out to the man as politely as I could (but the fact I had already mentally labelled him an a**hole might mean in relative terms I was not actually SO polite). His answer was that yes he knew of the law and it was because dogs might disturb animals or birds or eat their eggs but that his dog would never do that. When I sarcastically told him that I also chose which laws to follow and therefore don't pay taxes his reply was that he most certainly did. Jerk!

Oslo tick! Fmale Bar-tailed Godwit (lappspove)

here with Oystercatcher (tjeld)

Common Tern (makrellterne) and reflection

Cunard's Quenn Elizabeth suddenly becomes Oslo's largest building

the  migrating lock of 10 Red-throated Divers

singing male Redstart (rødstjert)

trying to to be a bit arty

the female Ringed Plover (sandlot) trying to lead me away from her nest

her on the nest and the contents of the nest

the male (note the broader and blacker breast band) did not do very much other than watch proceedings

male Wheatear (steinskvett)