Monday, 25 November 2013

Oslo's finest

1cy female Two-barred Crossbill (båndkorsnebb) in Oslo today

After all my attempts to find some stationary Two-barred Crossbills (båndkorsnebb) in Oslo have failed it was exciting when a small group was reported from the Botanical Gardens yesterday and the pictures suggested they were, as is often the case, quite trusting birds. I have had a couple of local 2BC records but they have been fly-overs and I have been regularly checking the berry trees I know of so I had hoped to be the one to find the photogenic birds but at least they got reported.

Today was planned for filming with James but I had persuaded him that 2BCs would make a nice subject later in the day after the planned shooting was completed. We had great light for our filming and got some (hopefully) good shots of gulls amongst others. We saw that the Peregrine (vandrefalk) was on top of the hotel - after having seen the remains of its lunch (a half eaten pigeon) under the silos where we saw it hunting previously – but were not able to gain access to the roof top as we couldn’t get hold of the right person. Whilst we waited to be called back the Peregrine flew off and I received a call that the 2BCs were showing. I persuaded James that we should make tracks which James was happy to do after I had explained what a beautiful, fascinating and photogenic bird this really was! James decided to do the right thing and made a call, as we walked, to check it was OK to film in the garden. The answer was yes but it takes two days to consider a request.... WTF!!!

Well a fuming James and I parted ways and I proceeded up to the park. The birds were quite easy to find where I expected them in a large berry laden tree although if I hadn’t known they were there I could have easily walked straight past as they allowed close approach and rarely called. They then showed exceptionally well for the next 100 minutes! As with Pine Grosbeaks (konglebit) I don’t think this is a bird I can ever grow tired of.

They fed on the berries most of the time (seemingly discarding the flesh and just eating the seeds) and on a couple of occasions flew towards some larch trees laden with cones. I did not actually see them in the larch trees but they returned to the berries after around 5 minutes on both occasions. They also, on three occasions, flew down to the ground. I initially expected them to be eating fallen berries but they were actually eating snow/frost. Crossbills need to drink a lot so this was there source of water. I assumed that there was no ice free water in the area but shortly after I heard a Common Crossbill (grankorsnebb) and traced it to a small stream only 20 metres away where it, along with Fieldfares (gråtrost), Blackbirds (svarttrost) and Blue Tits (blåmeis) was drinking and bathing. Quite why the 2BCs chose snow which must be quite energy consuming rather than water I don’t know. I picked up 3 Common Crossbills in total but they fed exclusively in the larch trees and did not eat the berries. This berry tree was very popular attracting also Hawfinch (kjernebiter), Greenfinch (grønnfink) and Fieldfare.

Overhead hunting Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk) and Goshawk (hønsehauk) frightened all the birds on a couple of occasions.

As I said earlier the 2BCs were mostly quiet making them difficult to locate. However before moving (either to the larch trees or onto the ground) or when spooked by a raptor they would call. They gave the “trumpet” call and the more Common Crossbill like call but with a Redpoll (gråsisik) quality. The trumpet call is to my ears IDENTICAL with the call of eastern Bullfinches (dompap) except that it is much quieter. This confirms my previous experience and I am therefore not happy at all about ID’ing based just on the trumpet call especially from a distant bird (as I don’t believe the call of 2BC carries that far). The other crossbill/redpoll type call is fairly distinctive but for me the safest way to ID on call is if one hears both calls which is the basis of my one remaining call only observation this autumn.... It is of course a question of experience of the calls though and must become easier the more birds one sees and hears.

There were five Two-bars and they showed five different plumages. Of the three males, one was a red bird looking to be in adult plumage, one a pinker male and one a more orange male (which on a brief look resembled an adult female) – both of these two being definite 1st calendar year birds. Of the tow females, one was a fine adult looking individual and the other a more juvenile looking specimen. It may well be that all the birds are 1st calendar year (i.e born in 2013) as judging by the aging of ringed birds that I have seen pictures of it looks like 1cy birds can show plumages ranging from juvenile to bright red male which is due to birds have been born at different times in 2013 (different broods) and there also must be differences in how quickly different birds moult.

montage of all five birds as they ate snow/frost. In the middle is an adult female - note the lime green colours. Top left is a 1st cy male with pale orangy pink colours and resembling the adult female. Top right is an advanced male (adult?) with dark red colouration, bottom left another 1cy male with pink colouration and bottom righ a drabber 1cy female
I took over 300 pictures and a load of video of the birds which I need to review and edit. In the meantime here are the shots that struck me as the best on my first run through. Even though it was 1.30pm and a sunny day the light where the birds were was not the best and most of the pictures are taken with 6400 ISO which unfortunately shows. I’ll maybe try again earlier in the morning when the sun light might actually be on the tree.
pinky male

pinky orange male

red male

1cy female

one of the females - biting through the flesh of the berry to extract the seeds

one of the males (reddy?) having sliced open a berry

1 cy female Two-barred Crossbill. With their relatively small bills and small size these birds can almost appear like Greenfinches (grønnfink) on a brief view

poor picture but shows off the red male best

the 1cy female from behind. compare to the adult female below which has far more green colouration on the mantle (back) and head whereas the 1cy bird is grey in these areas

adult female

red male

red male with seeds

adult female
two of the males

adult female Common Crossbill (grankorsnebb) bathing and drinking in a small ice free stream in the garden

Hawfinches (kjernebiter) are a regular sight in the botanical gardens

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