Friday, 30 January 2015

Failing again

I teamed up with Rune Z and later with Andreas Gulberg to try to find the White-billed Diver (gulnebblom) that is wintering on the huge lake, Mjøsa north in Akershus. Despite very good viewing conditions we failed to locate it and also an attempt at Akershus’s only stake out for Siberian Jay (lavskrike) failed when we started having to wade through crotch high snow. Today probably goes down as the least productive day’s birding I ever had in company with Zak.

The only highlight was a good concentration of waterfowl on the Vorma river by the Eidsvoll which included a 1st winter male Scaup (bergand) amongst 80 Tufted Ducks (toppand) and over 100 Whooper Swans (sangsvane). A flyby Capercaille (storfugl) at 100km/h on the motorway was a good bird but hardly a satisfying experience,

the 1st winter male Scaup. It has already moulted its head feathers and lacks the white around the bill of a juvenile but is still moulting it back and flank feathers

the Scaup (bottom left) with Tufted Ducks

a good congregation of Whooper Swans
The motorway bridge over Mjøsa by Minnesund is used as a roosting site by large numbers of Cormorants

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The wrong type of gull

Oslo on foot yet again failed to give me any real results and definitely no rare gulls although I am sure that my body will thank me for it (in the long run).

A real surprise was singing Wood Pigeons (ringdue) at two sites. In a normal winter this species doesn’t occur in Oslo in January but this year there have been many records but for them to be singing and engaging in their display flights is quite extreme. Another extreme record was a Grey Wagtail (vintererle) in Frognerparken. There have been a couple of other records of this species in Oslo this winter and it could well be that there is a bird overwintering. Also in Frognerparken were 6 Teal; 5 were quite shy birds and the 6th a ringed female that has spent the last few winters eating bread with the Mallards.

The Caspian Gull didn’t turn up during the hour I gave it and things became so desperate that I started looking at the Herring Gulls in more detail than is healthy. I read four colouring rings but as nearly always seems to be the case there was little interesting data from them despite them all have been recorded multiple times: all had only been seen in the Oslo area away from breeding sites.

whilst whiling away the time I took a number of pictures of Herring Gulls in differing plumages but only realised once I uploaded them to the PC that I had completely the wrong setting on the camera so they are of poor quality.
Adult Herring Gulls (5cy+)
this bird (J4424) was ringed Jan 2013 and was already aged as at least in its 5th cy making it a 7cy+ now. It has been reported in Oslo the last 2 winters but there are no other reports. This bird is particularly streaked on the head with a dull bill perhaps suggesting it is a northern breeder

a very clean adult with a much brighter bill - perhaps a local breeder 

I find no brown feathering in the tail or wings meaning this bird is at least a 4th winter (5cy). The dark band on the pale bill suggest that it is this age though and no older
4th winter (5cy)
Due to this bird being ringed (J2298) in October 2011 we know it is in its 4th winter (5cy) but without the ring it would be difficult to differentiate this individual from an older bird although the bill is a sign of immaturity
3rd winter (4cy)

this bird can be aged as a 3rdwinter due to the brown in the tertials and coverts plus a faint tail bar

a different bird but showing the same combination of a quite adult like general appearance but with some brown in the wing and the tail. This bird also still has a dark eye

2nd winter (3cy)

This age group is very variable with some birds looking at first glance like 1st winters whilst others are so advanced they look like 3rd winters.
this age class is very variable. This bird has some grey feathers on the mantle

this bird has hardly any grey feathers on the mantle and is not straightforward to age but note it has a pale eye and two toned bill which say 2nd winter plus the pattern of the greater coverts is also 2nd winter. The primary feathers do look very pointed though which is normally a sign of a bird in its 1st winter

a farly advanced 2nd winter with nearly completely grey mantle 

another bird with little grey and also still a dark eye
an advanced 2nd winter with nice white tips to the primaries unlike the other birds
1st winter (2cy)
a rather dark bird but note the lack of grey feathers in the wing and mantle compared to 2nd winters. Note also the different pattern of the covert feathers.

a paler bird but the pattern of the coverts is still 1st winter

Wednesday, 28 January 2015


The yoyo weather continues and temperatures were above zero today and with drizzle all day the pavements have become treacherous and led me into a purchase I never thought I would make namely some spikes for my shoes (a definite sign of age).

I did venture out in the morning to see if I could locate the Caspian Gull which has not been reliable for the last week or so. I failed but others seemingly didn’t as it was reported mugged in Frognerparken at lunchtime and now is the proud (but surely embarrassed) wearer of bling. Will make it easier to find, I guess…..

Despite the nasty and most definitely non spring like weather a male Great Tit (kjøttmeis) was heartily singing in the garden and a pair of Blue Tits were inspecting a nest box although I don’t fancy their chances very much over the Great Tits in securing occupancy.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015


5 weeks after the winter solstice and we already have 1hr and 41 minutes more daylight than the shortest day (sunrise today was 08:42 and sunset will be 16:17). With today’s weather of no wind, blue skies and a couple of degrees below zero it also feels like spring is just around the corner and a walk around Maridalen revealed many avian signs of spring. Great Spotted Woodpeckers (flaggspett) which like the other members of their genus become very unobtrusive in late autumn and early winter were now very obvious and out of around 10 birds I had 5 were drumming. Nuthatches (spettmeis), Great Tits (kjøttmeis), Blue Tits (blåmeis) and Willow Tits (granmeis) were all singing and being territorial which of course may change if we have a severe cold spell but they were enjoying the sun whilst it shone today.

Today's photographic highlight - Long-tailed Tit (stjertmeis) in Maridalen
My 10km walk around Maridalen had three special targets: Pine Grosbeak (konglebit) which have been reported close to Oslo, Three-toed Woodpecker (tretåspett) and Pygmy Owl (spurveugle). I had to be content with only one of these but given that it was a bird I failed to see in Oslo at all last year I was pretty happy. I have now had two species in January which I didn’t see at all in Oslo in 2014: Little Auk (alkekonge) and today’s Pygmy Owl. The owl chose to sit on the highest tree it could find and with knee high snow I also struggled to get closer to it so my photographic efforts were poor but I was able to hear it singing after a bit of encouragement from me.

I also had a couple of Long-tailed Tits (stjertmeis) in fantastic light which gave me some good photos and a couple of flocks of Yellowhammers (gulspurv) and 3 Moose which are the first I‘ve seen so far this winter.

In the garden the number of Blackbirds was significantly reduced with only a maximum of 4 at a time.
Bird of the day - Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)
Great Spotted Woodpeckers were very obvious today including this ringed bird which was drumming on a metal part of a telegraph pole

The three Moose -  a youngster plus two adult females
the Pygmy Owl at ca.400m range
Blackbirds in the garden on Saturday when the snow came

Monday, 26 January 2015

Israel VIII - Namaqua Dove

Yesterday we awoke to -10C, blue skies and fantastic weather. Today it was +2C and rain which then developed into mist - far from fantastic weather and a day to concentrate on work and chores inside.

Therefore I come with another Israel instalment and a couple of photos I forgot to include in a previous post. Namaqua Dove is an African species that has a small population in Southern Israel. It is also a very small dove and is hardly larger than a Sparrow except for the longer tail.

Namaqua Dove (maskedue)

Friday, 23 January 2015


We awoke to -13C today and no wind so a good day to see if there was anything interesting (bird or mammal) on the sea. There wasn’t unfortunately and the only interest was the Peregrine which was sat by the clock on the City Hall for a couple of hours whilst I waited in vain with James Ewan for Flipper to turn up. Some good banter caused time to pass quickly but in the end the cold beat me and I needed to seek warmth and dark the garden a new 2cy male and a minimum of 14 birds seen today including the female with the orange lower mandible with the total now up to a min of 17 individuals.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

More darkbirds

Today’s birding gave a rather meagre payback for my efforts and it was only in the garden whilst enjoying a coffee at the kitchen window that there was anything of interest and that is also stretching things quite a bit. The interest? Blackbirds of course.

I had in total 16 birds in the garden today with 3 being new: a male with a yellow rather than orange bill without any black, a new 2cy male and a new black-billed female (3 seen together). I also worked myself to the conclusion that the bird I have been uncertain about is a well-marked (old) female rather than a 2cy male. So today’s total was 10 males (3 without black, 2 2cy and 5 with some black on bill) and 6 females (shorty, reddy, 3 black-billed and the dark bird with yellow bill tip).
I have now seen a minimum of 17 individuals in the garden and the only bird I didn’t see today was the female with an orange lower mandible which I have only seen on 15 Jan although I am also quite sure that there must be more than the 5 males with black on the bill as this is just the max number I have seen together at one time.

This new bird with a virtually unmarked yellow bill (rather than orange). Note that it has paler primary feathers which according to some sources indicates a 2cy although the coverts all seemed to be of the same generation and were dark. I have noticed paler primaries on other birds that are without doubt adults so it is the coverts that are the important feathers to look at.
The other new bird is definitely a 2cy though with a bill with a lot of dark markings, paler feathers on the belly and brown wing including covert feathers.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Flippin snow

Another day of falling snow where being inside and not driving was the smartest choice and further obervations of the gardens Blackbirds followed. I finally managed to take better pictures of the definite 2cy male Blackbird but are still unsure about the other bird.  On these pictures you can see the browner wing feathers contrasting with blacker body feathers which is typical of 1st winter birds whereas the other bird had a more uniform colour suggesting it is an adult and therefore cannot be a male.

There was also a new adult Blackbird with a large amount of black on the bill or so I thought. The pictures actually show it has a lot of muck on its bill in addition to some black so could well be a bird I’ve recorded previously. These pictures show that it has black wing feathers meaning it is an adult rather than a 2cy (1st winter) and therefore does show that there is a lot of variation in the bill colour of adults (3cy + ). Following me? Intersted? Probably not….
The  2cy male Blackbird

one of the black-billed females and not, I think, the one I've shown before

red female

the male with dirt on his bill
 Well I didn’t find it that interesting either and instead decided to head out but today with rather more public transport and a tad less walking. Checking the downtown gull sites revealed nothing interesting (a white-winged gull must surely turn up soon) except for a very smart yellow-legged Herring Gull (rather than Yellow-legged Gull) but at Aker Brygge the dolphin was again showing well. It was once again keeping to a very small area (reminds me of tales of tigers that have lived in cages and once released into bigger enclosure continue to pace the same small area of their old cage) but had moved a couple of hundred metres from yesterday. Today it was possible to take pictures with the city’s landmarks in the background. I switched to my 18-55mm lens today which made finding the animal in the view finder easier and also gave the pictures and video more context.

A local boat owner asked me if I was watching the Porpoise (nise). I replied that it was a Bottle-nosed Dolphin (tumler) but he said he and the other boat owners were sure this was a porpoise although there has been a dolphin before and they believe there are 3-4 individuals. His reason for this being a nise were that it was larger than a dolphin, wasn’t jumping as the dolphin had and was darker. The size argument is incorrect as adult Bottle-noses are upto 3.5metres whereas Porpoises are rarely over 1.5m. I had actually worried that this animal was too small but that was more an illusion from being so close as when viewing the animal at longer range today it was clearly much too large for a porpoise. That it isn’t jumping is I imagine more to do with how it is feeling and it wouldn’t surprise me that with the cold weather it has less desire to jump. The colour though is very dark for a Bottle-nose and also worried me yesterday. However I have found pictures of individuals that are so dark, see here , and colour is clearly very variable in this species. In addition it is beaked although this has been hard to see and this rule out porpoise. I have looked at other dolphin species or small toothed whales but can’t find anything else it could be.
dolphin with the City Hall (Rådhuset) in the background

and Akershus Festning

To give an impression of size - here from Aker Brygge with Hovedøya in the background. The video an other pictures were taken by the boats on the right when the animal was right by the boats
adult Comorant (storskarv) in breeding plumage. This bird is of the southern race sinensis which used to be considered scarce in Norway but now has a colong at the Great Big Dump (Øra) which numbers hundreds if not thousands of pairs and this now appears to be commoner than the northern race carbo around Oslo

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This Herring Gull really stood out with its yellow legs and clean (unstreaked) head (although a few other adults also had clean heads). Such a bird naturally leads your thoughts towards Yellow-legged Gull (gulbeinmåke) but this is actually just a Herring Gull with yellow legs. Note here that the eyering is orange instead of red and.....
the wing has much too little black


Tuesday, 20 January 2015


I had plans to “do” Oslo by public transport and foot today but in the end it was a lot of foot and just a little public transport. I walked at least 15km and felt that I deserved a good result which I did in fact get although not a bird.

My route took me via the little park at Marienlyst which held a Med Gull a couple of winters ago. No Med Gull but this park continues to hold the vast majority of Oslo’s over-wintering Common Gulls (fiskemåke) with over 100 present. There was just a single Herring Gull (gråmåke) here plus 3 B-h Gulls (hettemåke). Elsewhere in town it is nearly only Herring Gulls one encounters but for some reason this park has monopolised Common Gulls but excluded the Herrings. The reason the park is popular is that a string of old ladies feed the birds here which also explains the 8 Collared Doves (tyrkerdue) and over 100 House Sparrows (gråspurv).

In Frognerparken there were 5 wintering Teal (krikkand) plus 2 adult Grey Herons (gråhegre) feeding in the stream. I reached the fjord at Frognerkilen and then walked the waterfront all the way to the Opera. I was hoping for a rare gull, some auks or a diver or grebe. Well none of that happened – it was depressingly quite. At Aker Brygge (very downtown Oslo) I walked up to the waters edge to scan hoping for a Little Auk and nearly straightaway heard the snort of a breathing cetacean. Looking down there was a dolphin less than 10 metres from me!! I realised that a couple of other people standing nearby were already watching it and it amazingly stayed in the same small area for the next 40 minutes I was there. It would be under for around three minutes before coming up to breathe when it would break the surface between 3 and 5 times before diving again. A couple of times it rolled onto its side but there were no acrobatics to witness. A Bottle-nosed Dolphin (tumler) has been reported every now again in the Inner Oslofjord since May and has been filmed by others see here including it jumping and here from the same location on Christmas day and I was sure this had to be the same animal but was it really a Bottle-nose I was watching? It did not resemble the Bottle-noses I’ve seen in dolphinariums or on TV but after studying my pictures I can see that it is and it was just very hard to see the head properly as it never really held its head out of the water. Filming it was also difficult as I never knew where it would come up and it was up so briefly each time. It was also so close that it was difficult getting a wide field of view.
My video where you can here the dolphin snorting and me sniffing. The bells are from the Oslo Town Hall at noon:

rolling on its side

the white mark on the left hand side of the dorsal fin is a good character to identify this individual. Notice also the blow hole

here it looks more like a pilot whate

but this shot shows the distinct "bottle nose"

Grey Heron in Frognerpark

another attempt at low shutter speed artiness
Great Tit in the Botanical Gardens where I ended my day

Hawfinch and Fieldfare in Botanical Gardens
some Common Gulls, like this one, have a pink hue to their underparts but it is not captured so vividly in this photo as I experienced it live