Saturday, 19 September 2015

Cycling my way to glory, of sorts

At noon I really felt that things were going Pete Tong and I was contemplating chucking in the towel. The winds today were from WNW and occasionally gusted at around 15m/s. This combined with frequent showers made birding unpleasant and initially unproductive. My pre-breakfast check of Nordland gave zero warblers, zero Goldcrests and just 2 Coal Tits of any interest although these were present yesterday. So the change in the weather hadn’t resulted in new birds but had allowed birds to move on from Værøy.

With John having gone home I was reliant on a bike to get around the island. It worked out very well and to be honest birding by bike here is much better than a combination of car and walking. It is less tiring, allows you to cover a lot of ground and you get to check out some areas (not necessarily productive ones) that you would have just driven past before.

The cycle from Nordland to the first gardens in Sørland took 20 minutes and I then headed directly to the Plantation as I reckoned this would be the most sheltered area of the island and have the biggest concentration of birds. A number of Coal Tits had congregated there with a minimum of 15 but other birds were present in very small numbers. I detected only 8 Goldcrests, 5 Chiffchaffs and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers so yet more sign of birds having cleared out but nothing new having arrived. As the morning wore on I had a little uplifting moment when one of the Yellow-browed’s call penetrated the drizzle and reminded me how lucky I was to be watching this great species so the day couldn’t be that bad really…. About this time small mixed flocks of thrushes appeared and were flying around calling and giving the impression of being very disorientated but also raising the hope that some birds may be arriving during the day.

As I cycled around the gardens I had another couple of groups of vocal Coal Tits but no more warblers of any kind and I didn’t see Hawk Owl or Great Grey Shrike. The two young male Ruffs were still present in their favoured garden but yesterday’s female has moved on. It was now noon and I was thinking that the only possibility to salvage something from the day was to cycle back to Nordland and try some seawatching. But wait a minute what was that call? It’s a Citrine Wagtail! And there it was above me not that I could see much more than it was a wagtail but shorter tailed than a White. It looked like it went down amongst some rocks but just then a squall came through and I could not find it again despite waiting and searching for a good half an hour. Reckoning that it would not be leaving the island in this weather I went about searching freshly cut lawns and any pools I could find to see if I could refind it. This did not result in anything other than a few White Wagtails and I then widened my search and checked out one of the areas of fish drying racks which normally holds good numbers of seedeaters. There was a very large flock of House Sparrows feeding here and amongst them yet another Værøy first: a Tree Sparrow. The fourth Værøy first of the trip (or at least according to Artsobservasjoner) but none of them has exactly been exciting..

Also here a few Redpolls and amongst them were two very smart Arctic Redpolls plus a number of birds that could well have been Arctics but who knows and given that the science is now telling us that all the redpolls are just one species which develops different plumage characters depending on where it lives then it would make sense that there are lots of intermediate looking birds.

I made the most of these Arctics because DNA aside they are really smart birds and one was when it flew a proverbial flying snowball. After these I was ready for another search for the wagtail. I had a hope that the Ruff garden would be a good place and would you believe it but 2 hours and 10 minutes after my initial encounter there was a smart Citrine Wagtail sitting by the road. Unfortunately it was not like last years bird and was quite flighty but did call loudly every time it flew. It soon flew a few hundred metres to the north and then a minute later I heard a Citrine to the south of me. I was wondering how it had managed to relocate without me noticing when the one from north flew towards me calling and then there were 2 Citrine Wagtails flying together. I saw roughly where they landed and cycled as quickly as I could in that direction only to inadvertently flush them from beside the road. They then flew to a large recently mown lawn where I watched them at distance in drizzle. Two Citrine Wagtails together – what a way to salvage the day!! The birds were quite different although both were 1cy. One had much more grey on the flanks and had a less distinct white border to the ear coverts but never-the-less was a Citrine. I didn’t manage to get too close to them so the pictures are just of the documentation variety but maybe tomorrow I’ll have another chance.

At 1530 I really was finished and headed for the north with the plan to have a long warm shower and then man up for a bit of seawatching. I put my plan into action and at 1640 was sat with the scope looking out North West over the sea. Gannets and Kittiwakes were flying around but nothing more interesting until at 1700 I had a Norwegian tick – a Sooty Shearwater (grålire) headed south and gave a great display of shearing with high bounding arc on stiff wings which I was able to follow for a couple of minutes. 15 minutes after this a bank of cloud and rain came in and I cycled as fast as I could back to the hotel. And that was my birding day – 11 hours birding, 1 Norwegian tick, a Værøy X and a couple of Citrine Wags – got to be happy with that!
the first Citrine Wagtail (sitronerle)

same bird

same bird

the two Citrine Wagtail gether. The bird on the right is the same as the bird above whereas the bird on the left has much duskier flanks and a less obvious white frame/border to the ear coverts

bird one together with a White Wagtail
Tree Sparrow (pilfink)

spot the odd one out

for a long time I thought this would be the picture of the day but luckily things improved

 a better picture of Yellow-browed Warbler (gulbrynsanger)
Some Arctic Redpolls (polarisik)

the bird on the right is a classic "snowball" but the bird on the left is less clear although was also an Arctic for me
the Snowball

an intermediate bird with perhaps too many black feathers in the undertail coverts

another bird that is difficult but has a tiny bill and nice beige colours but again probably too many and too large black feathers in the undertail coverts to fit the classic description of an "Arctic" but where do you draw the line in a clinal morphological species?

should be little doubt about this one

but what about this one?

the snow ball again with a couple of other sp.

looking good

snow ball - note a single thin black feather in undertail coverts
snow ball but notice the long black flank streak

this streaked individual is not an arctic but is it a Scandinavian bird or from further west?

one of at least 31 Coal Tits (svartmeis) today
part of a large flock of House Sparrows (gråspurv)

female House Sparrow
Male House Sparrow


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