Sunday, 10 April 2011

An awesome weekend

I was invited on an owling trip into deepest, darkest Hedmark on Saturday night. The target was Ural Owl with Hawk Owl a good possibility and Tengmalms Owl a dead cert. The locality was 3 hours drive from Oslo and we left at 1430 so that we could do some daylight birding and recce the owl sites in daytime. Once in the car i was also given the exciting news that we had a good chance of hearing both Eagle and Great Grey Owl as well so so this was going to be a good night! With Long Eared, Pygmy and Tawny Owls also around we had a chance of scoring nearly a full suite of owls. Driving north I was surprised to see that neatly all snow was gone from agricultural land although there were no large concentrations of birds to see. We did have a migrating Crane, Lapwings and a group of 8 Whooper Swans in a flooded field but no big gatherings of thrushes or finches. As we entered the forest area where we to search for the owls we stopped at likely looking clearings to search for Hawk Owl. No luck for us unfortunately (although others saw them) but we did have 2 Rough Legged Buzzards, a Goshawk, Black Woodpecker a Chiffchaff and best of all 2 Hazel Hen right by the road although they evaded the camera. Many Siskins were singing and there were a few Mistle Thrushes and Chaffinches also in evidence. We had a couple of Common Crossbills but there were no large concentrations. The highlight was probably an adder that we narrowly avoided running over.
We stopped the car for a better look and to move it off the road. It seemed very docile until we started moving it with a stick when it suddenly snapped its body very quickly and started hissing surprisingly loudly. Once we got to the owl area we still had hours until darkness so we drove all the tracks in the area that we would be searching later in the dark.
 There were good numbers of Black Grouse to see including this one by the roadand as it got dark and we were listening to a bird which may have been a Hawk Owl (although it will have to go down as only a probable) we saw a Great Grey Shrike which flew from a tree top with a mouse in it's beak that must have been some heck of a feat given the mouse looked to be half the size of the shrike. Also a Crossbill calling from a tree top proved to be a Parrot. As it got dark we searched first for the Great Grey Owl. The forest track where our gen had told us to drive was blocked by a closed barrier so instead we walked 5km in the darkness with unfortunately no joy. 2 distant singing Tengmalms Owl were poor compensation. Next stop was a certain site to hear Ural Owl - again no luck. We tried this site and nearby sites continually between 2230 and 0330 but we had no joy. This was despite it being great conditions - no wind, minimal cloud cover, and good light from a one third moon. We even bumped into someone who had heard a female Ural Owl calling only 5 minutes previously but we couldn't locate this birds either. We did have over 10 Tengmalms Owls calling including 3different birds simultaneously on one occasion with quite different hoot frequencies noted - possibly a pair dueting?? Also 3 Long Eared Owls calling including what we assumed to be a dueting pair with slightly different calls from 2 birds very closed to each other. We kept at is until 0330 but eventually had to admit defeat on the Ural Owl. It was also too late to go for the Eagle Owl as we needed to be heading home. Despite missing out on the real star attractions it was a great experience to be out in vast forest at night and hearing at least 2 species of owl. Mammals were in short supply with a couple of elk to add to the mouse and adder. The area is home to wolf, bear and lynx but unfortunately no sight nor sound for us.

I was in bed at 0630 completely exhausted and was then woken at 1000 by a family eager to get out and enjoy the great weather. Temperatures reached 19C today although there is still snow in the garden. We drove out to Fornebu for a walk which was great for me as it is a great birding site and from the car we started seeing flocks of hundreds of migrating Pink footed Geese. During the 15 minutes drive we must have seen over 1200 birds and whilst at Fornebu there seemed to be flocks to be seen whenever one looked up. I probably notched up 5000 birds although it seems anything upto 20,000 birds were on the move today. Little else moving although a flock of about 50 Cormorant was noted. Mute Swans were very photogenic. On the ground my first Linnet of the year seen. Back home the Blue Tits seems to have won the battle of the nesting box and were taking in nesting material although the Great Tits are still hanging around. 15 Waxwings flew over the garden.

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