Sunday, 19 May 2019

Black Tern!

Friday was Norway’s national day and a public holiday with lots of parades and dressing up in national costume. For me highlights were my first ever house Canada Geese flying over plus an also flyover Common Sandpiper.

Yesterday the promise of rain had me (and others) out early in Maridalen but the reality was just getting wet and seeing nothing interesting. Later in the day though I heard a Red-throated Pipit flying over the house whilst taking the Beast out for some airing.

Today though was the big day. More rain was forecast early in the morning and I thought that Årnestangen deserved my attentions. Goal for the day was a mountain marsh runner but at this time of the year anything can turn up. I parked the car at 6am and had a 45 minute walk in constant rain that was only enlivened by a mixed flock of waders heading north. I only managed to identify the large birds which were ca.20 Ruff but this was both a good and a bad sign. Good that there were waders but bad that they were flying off in the rain (made me think they had been scared off from the mudbank at the tip of the peninsula). When I got to the end I could initially not see a single wader which I thought confirmed my suspicions of everything having been scared off. I did see three Little Gulls though (an adult, a 2nd summer and a 1st summer) and 6 Arctic Terns as well as the Common Terns that breed here and when I eventually got my eye in (the rain and light were not making things easy) I realised there were waders: Whimbrel, Redshank, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Temminck’s Stint! I heard a Red-throated Pipit flyover and after an hour or so hit the jackpot when I suddenly saw an adult Black Tern. The first in Norway this year and only my second ever in the country. I put the news out and Anders quickly called as he was already on his way out. I lost sight of the tern but by the time Anders had walked out over half an hour later the tern was back on show. Our attention was taken by the Red-throated Pipit which flew over again with a Meadow Pipit chasing it and with a bit of enticement it landed not far away and allowed itself to be admired in fine breeding plumage!

summer plumaged Black Tern (svartterne)

there seem to be 2 generations of primary feathers  - which may allow the bird to be aged?

summer plumaged Red-throated Pipit (lappiplerke). Although the species breeds in the far north of Norway it is a very scarce migrant in the south

Two Arctic Terns (rødnebbterne) 
three Little Gulls (dvergmåke) resting with 2 Arctic Terns

the adult Little Gull

and the 1st summer and 2nd summer
the first Lapwings (vipe) have hatched in Maridalen. This female had three young

male Whinchat (buskskvett)

Thursday, 16 May 2019


Despite having had Maridalen as my local patch for over 15 years it is still large enough that I can discover new and exciting areas and there are also areas that I have forgotten about and then rediscover. Today was about rediscovering. I was looking for a place to walk the Beast in the shade (temperatures reached 20C today with little wind) and decided to follow up a tip about Hazel Grouse which I knew would involve shade – two birds with one stone and all that.

The same area has previously held Three-toed Woodpeckers and was close enough to where all the excitement has been this year that I thought I may relocate the new pair which after having seen off one toe, three toe had gone missing. I succeeded royally and even witnessed mating! There will eventually be a dedicated post to the Three toes but I'll post a couple of pics now.

And I found a Hazel Grouse 😊 which even allowed itself to be photographed on a dark forest floor but the camera chose to focus on the sunlight areas either behnd or in front of it.

male Hazel Grouse (jerpe) in habitat

attempts to zoom in did not focus correctly..

but I did get one focused (and cropped) picture but the shutter speed at 1/800s resulted in ISO6400 so it is a bit grainy

female Three-toed Woodpecker (tretåspett)

and mating!
here the Beast pulled on the lead but the birds just stayed in shot

the male before the act. He is a particularly lazy male and lets the females fight over him and do most of the drumming

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

More succesful Dale guiding

Another full days guiding today in Maridalen with a lot of good birds.

Highlights were singing Wood Warbler, Wryneck, Three-toed Woodpecker, Black Woodpeckers feeding young in the nest, Black and Red-throated Divers, Goshawk, and Common and Wood Sandpipers. The days headache was a warbler that I guess must just be a Willow with a strange song but you can judge yourself in the video. The bird looked like a Willow Warbler although was quite a "powerful" looking bird. The song resembled the start of Willow Warbler although wad louder and stronger and the end of the song was missing. I played Willow Warbler song which as you will see in the video caused the bird to come closer wing shivering. It did not sing in response and after I stopped the playback it carried on wing shivering for a bit before slowly starting to sing again with just a couple of notes and then taking quite a while to get into its full song. If it is not a Willow Warbler then I cannot find another species that it could be but a hybrid is obviously a possibility. And Greenish x Willow Warbler could possibly suit the song and plumage.

We started early hoping that would result in possibly hearing the Ortolan singing but that was the case although I am pretty sure I glimpsed the female. The Ring-necked has also gone so I may soon have Maridalen back to myself😊

I had no battery in the bazooka so it was just superzoom and lots of video today.

Willow Warbler with strange song:


Black Woodpeckers:

Female Three-toed Woodpecker drumming:

Monday, 13 May 2019

Guidng in the Dale

Yesterday I was guiding Andy from Florida. We spent the whole day in Maridalen and despite a very fresh northerly wind the Dale did not disappoint and we had a very fun and production session.

I was back in the Dale this morning (where else would I be) to follow up on the Ortolan Buntings. They have had a steady stream of would be admirers but have been far from cooperative and I believe many have left without seeing them. It is also only the male that has been seen (or heard briefly singing) since I saw two birds on Saturday. Today I found that both birds were still present and in the same area but again they were not seen together. Over a couple of hours in the area there was no song and just some very occasional and quiet contact calls. That a male and female are in what looks to be suitable breeding habitat and have been here a few days would suggest possible breeding but I don’t think so now. When I have observed breeding birds in Hedmark then the male has sang loudly and over long periods of time. Here the male has only sung quietly and for very short periods. Also on Friday when I found the male I used playback to try to locate him but this only resulted in the bird moving away which would not be the expected behaviour from a paired, territory holding male. Also one would expect to see them together if they were paired but the only interaction with another bird I noticed today was that a male Yellowhammer twice approached the female Ortolan who then flew off. One explanation for the lack of singing and lack of sightings of the female is that they are already nesting and she has begun laying or is incubating but this would be very early and suggest they have been around even longer than we have observed them. However today I observed her feeding over an extended period (45+ minutes) which would be too long for her to be away from the nest if incubating although as incubation begins with last egg then she may be laying? Time will tell.

Other good birds included my first Bluethroat and Whitethroat of the year, Great Snipe, Merlin and Wryneck.

yesterday we came across this male Great Spotted Woodpecker which was raiding a Blue Tits nest. The Blue Tits vigourously defended their nest but it looked as though the pecker was eating their eggs in the nest. Ironically enough the Blue Tits were using an old Great Spotted Woodpecker hole so he gives and he takes..

late Bramblings (bjørkefink) with Chaffinch (bokfink) and Yellowhammer (gulspurv)

Common Sandpiper (strandsnipe)

Wren (gjerdesmett)

the Ring-necked Duck is still present. Here with two displaying 1st summer male Goldeneyes (kvinand)

here with a Tufted Duck (toppand). There were 4 Tufted on Thursday when I found him, 40 on Friday, none on Saturday and Sunday and 1 today.

he lifted up his eventually but could have looked at me!

the male Ortolan today. He sat for around 10 minutes in this tree, calling occasionally

and then moved a bit closer before flying off

I found the female shortly after and she perched silently here for over 5 minutes

before feeding on the ground for over 40 minutes

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Two Ortolans

I finished yesterday’s post asking what the next new species for Maridalen would be. Well the answer came today: Black Kite! Not seen by me but photographed over the church ruins (where I had this RedKite in 2012). So four new species in the course of five days and five for the year including the Mandarin from a few weeks ago.

I chose to prioritise a harmonious life and did not go out early. I was very happy with my decision but it did mean I missed the kite plus a Marsh Harrier and an astonishing 11 Kestrel that Halvard saw together. I did get into the Dale just after lunch with the family and dog in tow. It was raining hard and we drove around first hoping that the rain would stop. No Kestrels were left (the wonders of migration) but three Cranes on the field where they had regularly been earlier in the spring suggests breeding has failed.

When the rain had almost stopped we went for our walk across the fields and I thought I heard yesterday’s Ortolan singing. I went searching and although it did not sing again I found it and got to see it fairly well plus heard it calling. I lost it for a bit and it was raining too much but I eventually found it again. Then it flew up into a bush where after a wait a handful of birds eventually flew out and down onto a field. I found an Ortlan on the deck but surely this was another much less brightly coloured bird? It again flew up and I then found the colourful male in the same area it had disappeared into and begun to question my skills again. But my pictures show without doubt that there was a male and a female (I was initially not sure whether it could be a 2cy male but I don’t think so now). I never saw them together and saw nothing to indicate they were a pair or the possibility of breeding but they were in exactly the same area. Ortolan has become an extremely rare breeding species in Norway with maybe no more than 10 pairs (more unpaired males) left in a very small area of Hedmark, to the north of Oslo where they seem to have a very specific habitat choice. Decades ago they used to be a common breeder in many areas of southern Norway in farmland and where they are in Maridalen looks to actually be a suitable breeding area. It is a very popular area with people indulging in “recreational” activities but enough other birds manage to breed there so fingers crossed although it is of course much more likely that they are grounded migrants and will move on once the weather is favourable for migration.

The Ring-necked Duck was still present and it was again interesting to watch the differences in its diving technique when compared to the Tufted Ducks.

the male Ortolan

the female Ortolan. Note the brown as opposed to green head and streaking on throat and breast
the male from other angles showing how orange he is on the underneath
and the female from different angles showing the extent of the streaking

the bedraggled male with tertials a bit out of alignment
looking very boldly coloured here (you could even wonder whether there are two males but we see the tertials are the same)
I never saw the two together but this picture at 13:37 shows the male
and this picture at 13:38 in exactly the same place shows the female but I have no picture with both in and if I remember correctly the male flew up after I took his picture and what turned out to the the female flew down shortly after
wet and worn Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk) that was hunting breeding Starlings
the three Cranes (trane) which appear to be a pair plus a friend. The middle bird is much darker underneath. Is this as a result of sitting on a wet nest that has now been flooded due to all the recent rain?
here one of them got a seeing to from what I assume was the male of the pair

Here a video of the Ring-necked Duck from today

And a video of some of the Golden Plovers from yesterday

And the Cranes not doing what I predicted they would do

Friday, 10 May 2019

Maridalen's best day EVER?

With two new species for the local patch in the course of three days then it wouldn’t seem possible to beat that but oh yes it was. I didn’t have any specific plans to go out early this morning but when I awoke just before six and felt awake then I snuck out to the Dale. The conditions were seriously good with low cloud and rain and my first stop at 0630 at Skjerven to check on the breeding Lapwings revealed a flock of over 50 Golden Plover flying around wanting to, but not daring to, land. I then moved on to Kirkeby where there was a displaying Snipe and loads of Wood Sandpipers and Greenshank, 3 Whimbrel and more Golden Plovers. Over the course of the next hour there were hundreds of waders in the air and it was difficult to know whether they were migrating or just flying around in the low cloud. I have had days like this just a couple of times before in 18 years and they have to be savoured. I put out a message that it was good for waders and predicted that there must be Dotterel and Great Snipe out there waiting to be found. Shortely after a flock of Golden Plover flew over and whilst checking them for any smaller plovers (Dotterel) a snipe flew through the flock. Based on a jizz halfway between Common Snipe and Woodcock I was sure it was a Great Snipe but it would never be more than a probable. 10 minutes later I was sure I heard the sound of displaying Great Snipe though. I walked towards the sound but none of the other three birders present joined me. About 150m along the path 2 Great Snipe flew up from the strip of long grass by the side of the path just a few metres from me. My camera was sheltering from the rain inside my jacket, the zoom was locked at 150mm and it was set for over exposure as I had last taken a photo of overflying Greenshank, but amazingly enough I managed a record shot. Then one step later and another two flew up from the same spot just 5 metres ahead of me!!

They all flew off low over the top of the field and I was quite sure they would land in the long grass alongside a stream. I could not find them though. Whilst searching I did hear a very short snatch of song that I was sure was Ortolan!  Despite it still hanging on as a breeding bird in Norway there are no modern day records from Oslo and none from the Dale so this was another MEGA. However, I didn’t find an Ortolan but did find a couple of Whinchats. I put out the news that I was pretty sure I had heard a singing Ortolan but as time went by begun to wonder if one of the Whinchats had been mimicking.

I checked out the rest of the Dale and then went on an unproductinve trip half an hour south of Oslo to an area where I thought there might be Dotterel. I didn’t even find any Golden Plovers and regretted my decision. Getting back into the Dale just after noon there were still Golden Plovers and a fly over Hobby was a good find. I then had to head home to feed the Beast and returned again with him in tow. The Ring-necked Duck was with 40 Tufted and showing very well although taking photos in rain with a dog pulling at the lead is no easy task. When I had finally decided to call it a day I had a long walk back to the car. Just before the car I met another birder and whilst talking heard the Ortolan again. This time though I was much less sure and seeing a Whinchat I lost even more faith but the singing continued and no it had to be Ortolan. Moving closer I glimpsed the singing bird before it flew and YES I hadn’t been imagining things. It moved off around 100m but was still singing but as the rain picked up it went quiet. Stig J arrived and we widened our search area. It eventually flew up from the ground in front of me and landed out of sight (for me) and sang. Dragging the Beast behind me I was just able to see it and most importantly get a photo before it moved off to where we initially had it and as the rain picked up we couldn’t refind it although it was seen later in the day.

On top of this a fly over pipit heard very much like it had a red throat and a ticking call seemed to come from a bunting that disappeared before I could get my bins on it but had a very rustic feeling……

LOTS of birders (in Norwegian terms at least ) have visited the Dale to see the Duck and although I usually shun crowds it has been nice to meet people and receive some congratulations 😊 We birders are funny people though, and I was again reminded about why I sometimes regret sharing news of rare birds. There are though some birders, and most often the ones who’s very active birding career revolves around ticking birds (be it lifer, county or month tick) that others have found, who only manage to grumpily say “where is it then?” or words to that effect. They let the side down. Another side effect of increased visiting birders in the Dale is that House Sparrow has once again been recorded. In the course of 18 years this is a species I have never recorded and nor have any of the other Dale regulars (so would be as good as any of the new species I have recorded the last few days). But visiting birders often find them, even flocks that they have only identified by call. It is so good to get that reminder that I am not on my game and have to work harder with the commoner birds and makes me realise how much else I am missing or perhaps how much crap others are recording….
The Maridalen list as recorded in Artsobs (including House Sparrow and one or two other dubious species) is now 211 species of which I have seen 193. This list however doesn’t include 4 species which a couple of now deceased old boys enjoyed telling me about: Black Tern, Caspian Tern, Ural Owl and Dotterel. With 4 new species included in that list already in 2019 what will be next?

That was a lot of words! Here are the pictures...

Ortolan Bunting (hortulan) - pity it wouldn't look at me but no doubting what it is

two of the four Great Snipe (dobbeltbekkasin)

the male Ring-necked Duck (ringand). He jumped before diving which was noticeably different to the Tufted Ducks (toppand) which slide under water. He was also seen displaying to a female Tufty

Golden Plover at 0630

one of the flocks of Goldies seen flying around

part of the 125 that eventually settled

Greenshank (gluttsnipe) on a field - when you see this then you know it's going to be a good day
I took a picture of this flock of Greenshank and only discovered on the PC that there was a Redshank (rødstilk) in their midst

Hobby (lerkefalk)

Whimbrel (småspove) 
Wood Sandpiper (grønnstilk) - there really were a lot of waders today!

male Grey-headed (Yellow) Wagtail

this bedraggled female Kestrel (tårnfalk) was around most of the day 
took me a while to work out that this was a leucistic Fieldfare (gråtrost). Maybe this was the source of rumours of a Rosy Starling (rosenstær) in the Dale

male Merlin (dvergfalk) - the only decent bird on the my failed attempt to find Dotterel