Friday, 24 May 2019

Finally some seawatching

Yesterday was a day I had been waiting for all spring - finally some strong southerly winds and the chance of some seawatching. Usually I would head for Brentetangen in Østfold but instead I chose the slightly shorter journey to the Hulvik in Akershus but where numbers are usually lower.
It is a bit late in the spring for the best passage but the winds were from the south west at the bottom of Norway so I hoped that some bird that should have been in the North Sea had instead been pushed into the Oslofjord. My main hope was Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas with maybe a White-billed Diver on the cards. It also looked good for a flock or two of Pale-bellied Brent Geese which migrate end May/beginning June from Denmark to their Arctic Breeding grounds.

What unfolded was not quite what I had expected but was an exceptional event. Pretty much the first birds I saw were a distant flock of geese. These had to be Brents and sure enough were. Over the course of the next 4 hours I had in total 10 flocks totalling 4710 birds (very rough estimates but one flock was of only 10 birds..) which not only smashes any previous counts in these parts it was also the highest count ever in Norway until another count from yesterday further south in Norway came in. I had to stop after 4 hours at 10:13 because I was shivering uncontrollably. Although not that cold, maybe 10C, and with 3 layers on I had underestimated how cold the wind would be. If I had held out then I think there would be many thousand more. By mid afternoon flocks were being seen over Oslo and I scored with a huge flock from the garden as I was making dinner. This was flock was seen at various places over Oslo and was estimated to be between 1000 and 1500 birds. I ended up in the middle with an estimate of 1250 but counting from pictures shows it to be over 2000 birds! This flock may well have contained birds that I saw in the early morning.

The flocks I had seen from Hulvik were very unsure of where to go. Normally they would fly up the west coast of Norway but the SW wind had led them up the wrong side of Norway. As the fjord got narrower and narrower they clearly became confused. Many of the flocks turned around a number of times and spent up to half an hour to work out where to go. The birds seen over Oslo in the afternoon were very unsure and spent hours flying around before eventually landing on the sea. They might even end up heading south and going around the coast rather than heading overland.

It wasn't just geese that were moving though. A male Garganey was in one of the flocks, 500 Common Scoter were resting on the sea, over 100 Red-throated Divers including a single flock of 54 were moving about, 4 each of Scaup and Velvet Scoter went north as did singles of Black and Common Guillemot. A Marsh Harrier heading south into the wind low over the water was a strange sight and a single dark phase Arctic Skua heading purposefully north at least gave me a skua.

After I had warmed up a bit in the car I thought I would take a detour on the way home to look for a Golden Oriole discovered 2 days ago. It was always going to be a long shot late in the day with it being chilly and windy and sure enough I did not see or hear it. I did have a new bird experience though with a rufous phase Cuckoo feeding high up in oak trees on caterpillars. Only females come in this colour phase which is supposedely rare and is the first time I can remember seeing one. Also the way it was feeding so high up is also new for me - I have normally seen them feeding on the ground.

They never came close for good photos but her their (sub-specific) ID as Pale-bellied Brent Geese (ringgås) is documented

one of the larger flocks at Hulvik heading south whilst working out what to do 

the flock of 2000 seen from the garden - you are welcome to count them!

map showing their movements. The green spot is Hulvik and the black line shows the directions most of the flocks followed. The red line shows the movements witnessed in the afternoon

Red-throated Divers (smålom). Quite a few were heading north but most were on the sea and got put up by passing boats

a dark phase Arctic Skua (tyvjo) - honestly

a rufous morph female Cuckoo (gjøk)

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