BIRD GUIDING AROUND OSLO

Friday, 6 January 2012

Interesting shrike

I had the enjoyable company today of Rune Z for a days birding in Akershus and Østfold. We had initially planned to go for the Iceland Gull and GG Owl which Rune had yet to see and which I was more than happy to see again but our plans changed along the way. We tried for the Iceland Gull on the way out and put in a good amount of effort to find it but without success although it was found later in the day. We did have around 200 Waxwings though which showed well although I couldn't work out what they were feeding on. We wasted quite a bit of time looking for the gull so decided not to go for the owl but instead spend some time at Kurefjorden as the blue skies and near windless conditions promised for good viewing conditions and maybe some raptors.
When we arrived at Kurefjorden we were surprised to see that over half of the inner fjord was covered in ice (it had been ice free on Tuesday and is tidal) on  but there were still a few ducks to be seen, mostly Goldeneyes but also 10 Velvet Scoter. A Great Crested Grebe sat on the ice was alive but possibly trapped in the ice.
We saw the first of in all FIVE Great Grey Shrikes distantly from our first stop to scan the fjord and then as we drove around to Ovenbukta on the other side we had 2 others from the car. The three birds were all about 1-2 km apart and we saw them within such short time of each other that it seems inconceivable for there to be any duplication. Also on the drive round we had a Peregrine in fast hunting flight from the car before it gave up the chase and then headed away from us.
Coming to Ovenbukta we saw the days 4th Great Grey Shrike (which I had also seen on Tuesday) and this one allowed us close enough views to study it. Although I have seen many GG Shrikes this autumn and winter I have not spent much time looking at them mostly because the majority have been seen from a moving car or else at some distance. However I have been reading on Martin Garner's website about the Russian Homeyeri race and there has also been a recent Norwegian bird showing the characters of this race. I was therefore keen to have a good luck at a Great Grey Shrike and this bird immediately looked interesting as in flight there seemed to be a lot of white in the wing and tail. Unfortunately the pictures I took are not good enough to make any conclusions as the distance was too great (for my camera) and I had also forgotten to (re)adjust the exposure compensation such that the first pictures I took were overexposed. Here are some heavily cropped pictures though showing that there is a lot of white in the wing and tail when seen in flight and there also seems to be prominent white above the eye. However the perched picture shows a very small white patch at the base of the primaries which is not consistent with Homeyeri and is a pointer for it being the expected Excubitor subspecies. Hopefully it will hang around and allow closer views and better pictures. I haven't been able to establish how rare this race is in Norway but looking at some pictures of Norwegian Great Grey Shrikes on the internet there seem to be other birds showing similar characteristics suggesting that it is either overlooked or the variation in GG Shrike is very wide (intergrades are known to occur).
Great Grey Shrike - note seemingly extensive white in tail and white line above black eye mask

Note white above eye and extensive white in scapulars

Terrible picture: heavily cropped and over exposed but note broad white wing bar extending onto secondaries and extensive white on outer tail feathers

Showing a very small white patch at base of primaries - seemingly inconsistent with Homeyeri. However note extensive white in scapulars which is apparantly good for Homeyeri

Moving onto Hestholmen which gave us views of the ice-free outer Kurefjorden there was a a loose flock of 400 Mallard containing singles of Teal, Tufted Duck and Scaup, 13 Great Crested Grebes (but no Slavonian which appear to have moved off with the cold weather), 13 Velvet Scoter, 1 Common Scoter, 3 Grey Herons and 2 Kittiwakes. Also here at some distance we had a Black-throated Diver although would have preferred it to be the Great Northern which has also been reported. Perhaps most surprising though were 3 Rough-legged Buzzards seen hunting over islands in the entrance to the fjord. There must be a good rodent population on these small islands to host 3 individuals of what is a quite scarce wintering bird in this part of Norway.
To cap off a good day we had another Great Grey Shrike on the way home by the moterway (same bird I saw on Tuesday). Of the 4 GG Shrikes I saw on Tuesday, 2 were among the 5 I saw today but that still leaves me with 7 different birds so far this year.

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