Monday, 29 February 2016

Owls save the day

Guiding is a fickle business. I learnt early on that guaranteeing a bird was a fools game but when I received a long wish list from Roberto from Spain I didn't feel I was sticking my neck too far out when I said that Willow Tit and Redpoll wouldn't be a problem. How wrong could I be?!
The feeders in Maridalen where I haven't failed to see a Willow Tit this winter were devoid of birds despite me having stocked them up with food (nobody else seems to do so anymore although many people stop to take pictures..)
The Great Grey Shrike did show well which was one target bird down but Maridalen was not very generous otherwise.
With Hawk Owl and a number of duck species also on the wish list we soon headed for Vestfold. Hawkie was showing on arrival and we met a photographer leaving the site who proudly showed the fantastic pictures that he had taken with help of the good old mouse on fishing line trick. I know that this is the trick used to get all the award winning owl pictures and I have often wondered where I can get hold of a dead mouse but I can't help but wonder about the ethics of this technique. The owl had apparently attacked the mouse three times with resulting great pictures but had not taken the mouse when the photographer discarded it as he left. A check of the mouse showed it to be dried out and presumably not particularly attractive for the owl. The owl had therefore expounded quite a bit of energy for no reward and was clearly still in hunting modus as it sat high up looking intently around.
We were lucky enough though to see it twice fly down and catch a (live and kicking) rodent. Both times it seemed to react instantaneously to the sight or sound of the mouse and it flew down without any warning or hesitation. Both times it flew over 50metres in a flat glide before dropping down unseen into long grass. The first mouse was taken to the top of the highest spruce where after ripping off a bit of flesh it swallowed the rest in one go. I thought it would then have a snooze but it remained very alert (and also looked very thin) and 20 minutes later it flew down again and took a second mouse. This one it took half way up a birch tree and swallowed it unseen. After this the owl seemed content and then returned to the top of a birch and wiped its bill and set about preening. I don't know how many mice a Hawk Owl needs in a day but two in quick succession seemed at least to be enough for breakfast.
We spent an hour with Hawkie and the weather and light were fantastic with temperatures of -10C in Maridalen rising to +6C as the day wore on in Vestfold.
After Hawkie we headed for Presterødkilen where a number of northern ducks were going to be ticked off and photographed. Disastrously though the overnight freezing temperatures and most importantly no wind had caused the whole bay to freeze over to an extent I have not seen before. One tiny area of open water held a few Tufted Ducks, Mute Swans and a rare Pochard but these were not what we were looking for. We tried to find where the other ducks had moved to but did not succeed.
With a need for something good we checked all the bays from Tønsberg to Horten but despite water with hardly a ripple disturbing it there were incredibly few birds to be seen - one of the worst experiences I have had in these parts.
Hoping to salvage the afternoon I had an idea of where we could have another go for Willow Tit and also Three-toed Woodpecker and visited a really nice area of mixed spruce woodland. Of course there were no Willow Tits or any woodpeckers but the day felt saved when we discovered a pair of Pygmy Owls. Roberto proved to be a great mimic of the male’s song which gave us prolonged and at times close views of this tiny killing machine.

I wonder whether Willow Tit and Redpoll will be the first and second or perhaps second and third species I see when I visit Maridalen next?

Hawkie where we first saw him after he had been teezed (tormented?) with a dead, dry mouse

here in the process of bringing up a pellet

it occasionally came lower down
ripping into mouse 1
about to go down the hatch - look at the talons
here it had a shake and looked quite portly
but here when perched erect it looks incredibly thin - almost as though its bone are poking out

20 minutes after devouring mouse 1, it had spied a new snack

mouse 2 safely captured
this one was eaten in private
getting ready for a post breakfast rest

the only open water in Presterødkilen with a single Pochard (taffeland) amongst commoner fare

The tiny Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)

when singing its head changes shape

flight shots never work out properly
but perched shots sometimes work out

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