Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Now for the full story

This trip was designed to see some of the unique Scandinavian species that can be seen in Southern Norway but for which most people either head for Northern Norway, Sweden or Finland. I am talking about species such as Broad-billed Sandpiper (fjellmyrløper), Rustic Bunting (vierspurv), Great Grey Owl (lappugle), Ural Owl (slagugle), Long-tailed Skua (fjelljo), Red-necked Phalarope (svømmesnipe), Pine Grosbeak (konglebit), Siberian Tit (lappmeis) and Siberian Jay (lavskrike). In addition we would be looking for more widespread but still hard to come by species such as Great Snipe (dobbeltbekkasin), Dotterel (boltit), Ruff (brushane), Ortolan (hortulan), Shore Lark (fjellerke), Ptarmign (fjellrype) and Willow Grouse (lirype)

My hope is to offer this as a kind of Scandinavian Highlights tour based out of Oslo and this trip was a dry run.

We started the trip in style at the Great Snipe lek I found near Beitostølen last year. It is difficult to find a better word than awesome to describe the experience. Birds came close and there was constant activity with birds running around like rodents, clashes with birds jumping and of course displaying with their strange call and chest pumping, tail spreading display. I managed acceptable photos and video this time although need to invest in much better kit if I ever want to get take my own version of the classic Great Snipe photo.
At the lek site ww saw the Ghostly sight of a Short-eared Owl (jordugle) flying with prey. It Looked definitely like it was coming in to a nesting site but was not to be found next day. After sleeping to the sound of calling Willow and Black Grouse (orrfugl) we were up at 0400 but all activity on the lek had stopped,  2 birds did fly up from nearby though.
Great Snipe (dobbeltbekkasin)
Valdresflya had many small areas of snow free ground meaning birds were spread around unlike a month later last year when there was hardly a dark speck to break up the snow. Many waders, mostly Golden Plover (heilo) and Ringed Plover (sandlo) could be seen and heard distantly in display flights and an ice free lake lower down held four Long-tailed Ducks (havelle).
displaying Temminck's Stint (temminck snipe) Valdresflya

Going over the northern edge where we had a grand total of 8 Rough-legged Buzzards (fjellvåk) sitting on rocks the previous evening we now had only two. Two displaying Temminck’s Stints put on a fine show, Shore Larks sang, two Dotterel flew over and best of all a Long-tailed Skua was found perched on a rock before flying past. It was distant but still closer than I could hope to see one on a Brentetangen seawatch.
We also had a Short-eared Owl on Valdresflya and another on marshes to the north suggesting a good year for them.
Due to my initial planned route being impassable die to a mountain road still being "closed for the winter" we headed north from Valdres instead of east over the mountains.
There were always a few birds to see from the road with Bluethroats being quite common in areas of bushes and small trees.

We checked out a nest site for Hawk Owl (haukugle) which is in a dead pine right by the road. We found the tree no problem with two large old Black Woodpecker (svartspett) holes but looks like the owls have already fledged.

We drove in on the long mountain road towards Glitterheim as far as we could although this was also still closed due to winter damage. Walked up a suitable mountain and had Ptarmign, Dotterel and Shore Lark - just as it should be!!!
female Dotterel (boltit)

male Dotterel - slightly less colourful than the female

male Dotterel
Ptarmign (fjellrype)

A delta on a nearby lake was just fantastic with a pair of Velvet Scoter (sjøorre), 3 Scaup (bergand) and two Red necked Phalaropes alongside a good selection of commoner ducks and waders.

Fokstumyra was as is often the case a disappointment although we did have a pair of Hen Harriers (myrhauk), Crane (trane), Black-throated Diver (storlom) and numerous Bluethroats.
It was now mid afternoon and we had one more stop before heading for our overnight location. We checked the forests neat Alvdal hoping for Sibe Tit and Sibe Jay. Around some cabins there were a number of nesting boxes and we hoped this would be where the Sibe Tits were. We did have a few Redstarts (rødstjert) and Pied Flys (svarthvit fluesnapper) making use of the boxes but no tits at all. We played Sibe Tit calls and a tit came to investigate. It called occasionally and its call was like the recording. From below I called Sibe Tit due to it having a very large black bib and seeming to be warm brown coloured on the top. I went into picture taking modus and it took a while to notice that the cap was black. This was no Sibe Tit and more like a Willow Tit (granmeis) but it didn’t feel exactly right and I wonder if there could be some Sibe genes in it (the two species are known to hybridise).

Our overnight stop was Nekmyrene where we arrived at 10pm. We had decided to just set up the tent, get some much needed sleep and start at 0430. Driving in to the area reminded me of being in Pasvik in Finnmark and this area has a number of birds normally found much further north. It is a high plateau with marshes, some low forest and hardly any human activity.
We were both very excited when we awoke. From the tent we had heard Willow Grouse, Whimbrel (småspove), Cuckoo (gjøk) and a number of Yellow Wagtails (gulerle) calling. The wagtails were giving a call that I have not heard before and which I didn't hear later in the day and I think was in response to a nearby Cuckoo.
Walking to the dam on the lake at Nekmyrene we straight away saw male Ruffs and were soon treated to a great performance. Five males were leking for the attention of two females and didn't care too much about us. They were jumping around and posturing and just looking FANTASTIC! There were at least two other males on the lake making this perhaps the largest remaining lek in Southern Norway for a species that is in an alarming decline. The Ruffs leked from various places around the lake often flying as a group of three males and a female to a place where another male was standing. By 0830 though all leking was finished and the birds became hard to find as they fed in the vegetation.
male Ruff (brushane) in his breeding attire

some action

Four males waiting for a female to turn up. Two have similar pluamge but the other other two have very different attire

Female Red-necked Phalarope (svømmesnipe). As with Dotterel it is the females that are more colourful and do all the chasing. They then lay the eggs and let the males brod and rainse the young

The area was alive with over waders and there was a peak in display activity around 0600.
Our target bird here was Broad-billed Sandpiper for which this site is one of the most important for the very small Southern Norwegian breeding population. We heard no displaying birds but did have a single and a group of three flying over (initially low over the lake but then gaining height and flying off). It could very well be that these late returning birds were still flying around checking out suitable nesting sites and hadn't begun with display. I had really hoped to see and hear them displaying though so this was a slight disappointment. Five Red-necked Phals including a relatively photogenic female were a good compensation. We had in total 12 species of waders here and it really was an awesome locality with a special landscape and for the first couple of hours before the wind picked up a great atmosphere. An Otter here was a completely unexpected site running over marshland and with no obvious river nearby - I hope he doesn't predate wader nests.

We then headed south with Rustic Buntings being the target. Along the road I saw some suspiciously small gulls on a lake and found 10 Little Gulls (dvergmåke) amongst a small colony of 20 or so Black-headed Gulls (hettemåke). The Little Gulls were seven adults, two 1st summers and a single 2nd summer which differed from the adults in having traces of black on the wing tips and grey rather than black underwings. 10 Little Gulls inland in Norway is a very good record but even better was that at least one adult was singing on a nest - a very rare breeding record.
Rustic Bunting is red listed in Norway and by all indications going to die out in a few years. Kjetil Hansen who has the painstaking job of surveying the remaining population had only found 13 territories this year but has made one general location public. The area is typical habitat of marshy forest and stretched over about 500m. It took nearly three hours in the end to see them (although Egil Ween who had joined us briefly saw the female after two hours)! When I did find them I suddenly had the pair giving alarms calls and saw them well for a couple of minutes. I then withdrew from the area and phoned Rune, who was back at the car changing clothes due to it having poured with rain for over an hour, and it was another hour before the female showed again although it was a while between hearing her call to actually seeing her. During the wet three hour wait my optics had misted up. Whilst taking pictures of the bunting I could see everything was a bit hazy but thought there was just a drop of water on the view finder. Turns out the lens had steamed up inside the camera - oh shit!! The pictures therefore have a romantic feel to them which is perhaps appropriate as Rustic Bunting was a lifer and a beauuuuutiful bird to boot. Let’s hope the lens dries out. After photoshopping the pictures the misty look has vanished so I am pretty happy with how these pictures turned out.
male Rustic Bunting (vierspurv)

female Rustic Bunting (vierspurv)

female again

As if we hadn't experienced enough we then went looking for the big owls. Hedmark is home to the Norwegian population of these two magnificent owls which have spread over from Sweden. The Ural Owls have been around for a while and have a low but slowly increasing population due to the provision of nest boxes. The Great Grey Owls have only appeared in the last few years but are already more numerous than the Urals. They make more use of natural nest sites (old raptor nests) but will also use platforms. There is a great secrecy around the sites although quite a lot of bragging on Facebook with jaw dropping pictures from those who are in the know. Inevitably though some sites become known about.....
Ural Owl (slagugle) revealed itself by peering out of the hole in a nesting box. Even though we only saw two black mournful eyes and upwards on the head it was a magical experience knowing that we were seeing a sight seen by very few in Norway. It was also exciting as we knew the male had to be watching us and this species is known for its aggressiveness. We kept ourselves at a very safe distance from the nesting box and didn't prompt an intervention from the male. Neither in the short time we dared to be at this site did we manage to locate him in the trees in the area but that would just have been icing on the cake.
This was the view we got of Ural Owl (slagugle)

 Bjørn Olav Tveit has also visited the same site and got the surprise of his life when got this view before hastily withdrawing from the area........(picture taken with iphone through telescope and then texted to me!)

The icing on the cake did come though an hour and a half later with a hunting Great Grey Owl. He was hunting over a large clearing and over the course of around an hour and a half we had him in view most of the time except after he probably caught prey and headed into the forest. He came gradually closer to us and eventually was a maximum of 10 metres from us. What a truly majestic beast!! Although I had an even closer experience last winter there was something magical about this encounter in a forest on a warm spring evening. I concentrated on taking video (with a tripod - I am learning!) and will probably be able to put together a nice little film although it will end up being quite boring as he did very little except peer intently and fly to a new perch every few minutes. I did take some still pictures too but the end result didn't match some of the flight pictures that Rune took.
Great Grey Owl (lappugle) - note what a small tree it is standing on. This species is all feathers and weighs surprisingly little

whilst I filmed video (to come later) Rune managed this great flight shot

I don't know what beats icing on the cake - maybe some sort of chocolate topping but whatever it is called came in the form of an adult and a recently fledged Hawk Owl - my first dose of Hawkie for a couple of months :-) later on we saw the adult Hawkie perched on exactly the same tree as the GG had been 10 minutes before - does it get better?

We finished the night by continuing until the dawn chorus started and picked up a number of scarce and rare summer nocturnal singers in the form of River (elve-) and Grasshopper Warbler (elvesanger) plus Quail (vaktel), Spotted Crake (myrrikse) and Corn Crake (åkerrikse). Listening to these species is one of the great experiences of the Southern Norwegian summer when there is a short window of time when all other species have shut up for the night and only these late returning summer visitors are making their presence known.

We slept from 0230 ‘til 0630 and then visited one of the last remaining Ortolan sites in Norway where four males sang and one was paired so there may be some hope for the species.
male Ortolan bunting (hortulan)

We then had a long drive to Lillehammer where we were going to search for breeding Pine Grosbeaks. However here we were also hampered in our efforts due to a mountain gravel road not yet being open.

The final bird (of substance) and the rarest of the trip will never appear on any lists. It was a hybrid Black Redstart (svartrødstjert) x Redstart (rødstjert). It has been around for a while and was initially (and is still by some) reported as a Black Redstart. Pictures however clearly showed it not to be right for Black. This bird deserves a separate post later this week.
male hybrid between Black Redstart (svartrødstjert) and Redstart (rødstjert)
The trip was great and has given me the foundations for a very exciting tour next year. Due to some roads not yet having opened a later start date may be better which will also be better for Broad-billed Sandpiper but could make owls (assuming it is an owl year and locations are available) more difficult as the young fledge the nest in the beginning of June. An advantage with this time of the year though is that mosquitos were no problem at all but will become so later in the summer.

I have only included a small selection of photos in this post as I have around a thousand images to go through still but will come with video and more pictures later.

This Woodcock (rugde) ran across the road in front of us

female Yellow Wagtail, presumably of the race thunbergi (all the males were)

This Bean Goose (sædgås) of the race fabalis (taiga) was a real surprise find. Perhaps one of the Scottish birds as it was close to their migration route that is not breeding this year?

1 comment:

  1. Is it possible to se the great grey owl in july, ore is it to late? I am considering to take å trip 17-18 july.