Saturday, 4 June 2016

Hedmark 2016 Installment IV - the rare buntings

Finally, in my fourth instalment is it time for some pictures of Hedmark’s special birds.

I did not go looking for owls as I had heard it is a terrible breeding season for them. Afterwards though I’ve heard that a few pairs of Ural Owl have bred so I may make an attempt for this species next week. Other than owls though Hedmark is very important for holding the only remaining Ortolan and Rustic Buntings in Norway. These species have declined drastically over the last few decades and in 2015 there were fewer than 10 known singing males of Rustic Bunting and I believe under 30 of Ortolan (although little is published despite there being govt. funded counts of both species). The Ortolan population is I believe well known but there must be more Rustic Buntings out there as the available habitat is just too vast and often hard to access that no matter how dedicated the surveyor there is no chance of finding all the birds that are out there.
I have been lucky enough to see Rustic Bunting on the breeding grounds in every year since 2013. In the first two years I had to put in a lot of hours to see the birds as they were already paired and breeding and the male stops singing and they become incredibly difficult to detect although when you do find them they show at close range. Last year I had a singing 2cy male which is the first time I’ve had the species singing (apart from a couple of 5 second burst of song before that) and also a breeding pair. This year I heard a male singing as soon as I arrived on site and although he took a bit of finding I eventually got to see him well and he was a fine 3cy+ bird. He moved around quite a bit and would stop singing for 15 minutes only to start again 100 metres away. My assumption was this was an unpaired male but as I was on my way out of the area (and making me turn back) I suddenly heard the contact call of a Rustic and then a female flew up into a tree beside me before quickly vanishing. She was in an area at least 50m away from the larger area where the male had been singing which makes me wonder if she was paired with him or was breeding with another (now silent) male. Despite searching, I never saw the female again or became wiser as to how many birds there were. But who cares? I was just happy to encounter this enigmatic species, hear its song and enjoy the magical habitat of marshy, old spruce forest that it inhabits.

The Ortolan Buntings are due to their habitat choice much, much easier to find. The accepted wisdom is that they prefer peat bogs or regenerating areas of burnt forest but the area where I have always seen them and which I believe holds the highest remaining population is arable farmland on sandy soil with the birds singing from lines of wind break trees. On this trip I had 6 males singing in an area of less than 1 square kilometre with 4 males singing along one wind break within 300mtres of each other.
So here are some pictures of these two species (video will follow later in a separate post). The pictures are no way near as good as I have taken in previous years but the video will I hope be good.

3cy+ male Rustic Bunting (vierspurv) singing above my head

catching the first rays of morning sun

presence of dead spruce trees seems to be an important habitat requirement

the breeding area

singing male Ortolan Bunting (hortulan) taken with the bazooka
and taken with the superzoom
this bird is better marked than the other bird meaning, I believe that this is a 3cy+ males whereas the other is a 2cy

and this is the favoured habitat of Ortolan in Norway in 2016. 2 males sang on both the left and right side of the tractor tracks in the windbreak trees

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