Monday, 19 November 2018

Jæren delivers BIG time!

I think I said I was looking forward to my two days birding in Jæren with Kjell and rightly so - it was epic!!

I have been on a high ever since Friday afternoon that made sleep difficult and would be difficult to explain to "lay people" 

Kjell picked me up from Stavanger airport at 0930 on Friday and we were birding shortly afterwards. A late Wheatear was notable even for Kjell whilst I could also enjoy birds like Long-tailed Duck, Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper which are scarce in Oslo.

We then drove a good way south to look for a Buff-bellied Pipit that had been found a couple of days earlier. This bird had yet to be identified to (sub)species and was a different bird to a well watched rubescens from earlier in the month. We found the bird fairly quickly on a small seaweed covered beach and were able to watch it well feeding with Rock Pipits and a single Meadow Pipit. This particular individual stood out like a sore thumb in a way which I never expected of this species. It had thick white edges to its tertials and secondaries that almost formed a wing panel and the two wing bars were also very white. The bird was nice and buffy on the underparts though and seems to be a clear cut rubescens from North American (as opposed to japonicus from asia). Some pictures though give a much whiter impression of the underparts and highlighted the real problems that rarities committees can have when assessing birds from a single picture or even a series of pictures when these pictures have been chosen as they show what the observer wants the committee to see whilst the other pictures giving a different impression are ignored.
Quite why pictures can show a different bird to that which we observed through binoculars is a technical question which I do not have the answer to but the very pale sand the bird is standing on probably plays a part. I have no problem though in saying that a picture can lie.

Leaving the pipit we had a swallow fly over us. It turned out to be a Barn Swallow but at this very late date should really have been something mega rare.

Arriving back to the car we heard some crest/tit sounds. I said I thought they sounded like Firecrest (a species we had spoken about finding but which hadn't been seem anywhere in Norway for a month or so). Kjell wasn't too convinced and stayed by the car whilst I went looking for the sound. I couldn't locate the bird but a shout from Kjell revealed that a Firecrest had indeed appeared by the car! We then enjoyed the bird at very close range and quickly realised there were two!! We had exceptional views of both birds although they were so close that getting a picture of both proved to be beyond my photographic powers.

Right now things were feeling very good! We had a bit over 3 hours of daylight left and we were now quite pumped up and were wondering what else could be out there (Friday was the first day of good weather after quite a few days with a lot of wind so there were potentially lots to find and this was precisely why Kjell had invited me out). We headed for a sandy beach where we hoped that sand flies around rotting seaweed would produce pipits/wheatears/chats. We hadn't quite got to the beach when I looked inland and saw, at quite some range, a large raptor. I couldn't make out what it was (it wasn't a buzzard sp. but didn't fit any of the expected eagles either). I was not too fussed as I just thought it was the range making ID difficult but shouted out that I had a "large raptor". Two seconds later and Kjell is shouting "bombe ørn" which I guess translates as "f***ing rare eagle".

The bird was gliding towards us with drooping wings and yes it did look like the migrant eagles I have seen in Israel. But in the bins I couldn't see any plumage details.

Whilst setting up his scope (I hadn't bought mine from Oslo) Kjell mentioned a Steppe Eagle that a photographer had taken pictures of not too far away a few weeks but once he had it in the scope he exclaimed "it has a dark underwing, I think it is a Greater Spotted Eagle!!" or (Norwegian) words to that effect. But no sooner said than eagle disappears.

We waited and waited and concluded that it had landed in the wood it had been flying over. We informed a couple of others who we knew were nearby of our sighting and made our way towards the wood. I made my way along the edge whilst ignoring what sounded like more Firecrests and then briefly saw the eagle low over the wood through the trees. I lost it and started running to where I thought I would have a better vantage point. I couldn't find the eagle and started scanning desperately in all directions and there it was! It must have flown low over me whilst I was running.

It then started circling at some range and the binocular views were non-conclusive but with the power of digital photography we were able to zoom in on pictures and confirm Greater Spotted Eagle – a true Norwegian mega. It was quite amazing how quickly twitchers arrived at the bird and soon it was a tick for a number of the country's top listers (and most importantly a self-found for yours truly and Kjell). There have been 4 other records in Norway including Tönn a GPS tagged bird from the Baltics that spent the summers of 2010-2014 wandering (almost) unseen around Norway before eventually and quite impressively being successfully seen by a handful of twitchers based on day old plots but this is the first field found twitchable bird (and was seen again on Saturday and twitched by many of Norway's finest).

By now I was running on adrenalin and didn't calm down until around midnight with my mind reflecting on the day that had been and day that would come (we had after all hardly done any "proper" birding so there must still be lots left to find).

Kjell and I had big plans for Saturday and started off at the beach which we hadn't checked after the teenage eagle changed our plans. On our way down we had a Two-barred Crossbill which was a good start and then a Wheatear which was unfortunately just a Common/Northern. We then walked a fair few kilometres of beach (which according to our plan was going to reveal a never-ending list of rares) whilst seeing next to nothing until Kjell found an interesting pipit in the scope that turned out to be a Water Pipit! I did not enjoy the best views and could not add much to question of ID unfortunately but managed a picture that might classify as a record shot (this was possibly Kjell's fourth Water Pipit of the autumn but as he said, a single Water Pipit would normally makes a whole autumn and this just shows how birding can never be predicted).

The reason for the poor views was that a Sparrowhawk flew through causing all the pipits to fly up and disappear to the south. Whilst waiting in vain for them to return we had stunning views of a Short-eared Owl which came in off the sea and flew directly towards us before breaking off at less than 10 metres range. Unfortunately, it all happened a bit too fast for the amazing photo that the experience warranted.

After this we got news of a Desert Wheatear on a nearby beach. We were a bit pissed off that we had not found anything on our beach and were not too keen on joining a twitch but eventually did. When we arrived though everyone else was leaving and we had the bird almost to ourselves and could watch it running after flies on the sand.

We didn't stay long though as we only had two hours of sunlight left and lots more beaches and seaweed to check. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anything else to surpass our earlier encounters but close encounters with a Hen Harrier and a Peregrine hunting Snipe were a fitting end to the day.
I had over 1200 photos to go through but have finally got around to choosing and editing the best ones. Enyøy!

Greater Spotted Eagle (storskrikørn). The bird is is basically juvenile plumage but has very tatty outer primaries and tailed feathers showing it to be a 2cy. It also looks to have moulted its inner primaries

lots of eagle killers at Jæren

this was the best photo from the intial encounter. Maybe good enough for an ID?

Firecrest (rødtoppfuglekonge)

this photo does actually show both birds

American (rubescens) Buff-bellied Pipit (myrpiplerke) left with Rock Pipit (skjærpiplerke)

Buff-bellied Pipit - the ehite edges to the flight feathers were realy noticeable

very white outer tail feathers

male Desert Wheatear (ørkensteinskvett)

I didn't manage a spread tail shot but here we can see that tail is completely black rather than a T-shape

in the desert

Two-barred Crossbill (båndkorsnebb)

with some rather large billed Common Crossbills

juvenile Peregrine (vandrefalk) chasing a Common Snipe (enkeltbekkasin)

Short-eared Owl (jordugle)

Kjell's house (on the right) - our base for the weekend
Hen Harrier (myrhauk) hunting at dusk

a very poor photo of the Water Pipit (skjærpiplerke) together with a Rock Pipit

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