Monday, 24 January 2022

Colourless Mute Swan

I went for a walk in the forest on Friday on a windless day hoping to pick up woodpeckers by the sound of their tapping. I was in an area which in previous years has produced up to 5 species but this time just produced two Great Spots. There seems to be something going on in forest over the last 12 months with woodpeckers in strangely short supply. Bird of the walk was a singing, but heard only, Hazel Grouse in a usual area.

In Maridalen the Great Grey Shrike showed again but was very flighty and clearly doesn’t have a favourite area. A Mute Swan on the only area of open water is the first species of wildfowl I have seen in the valley this year and was a strange individual. Its bill was almost entirely lacking orange colour and on an overcast day it looks as though my pictures were taken in black & white. This bird had a colour ring and had been ringed just over a week previously on the fjord amongst a large group of bread eating birds. It was recorded as an adult female but without any mention of the strange bill colour. That it would then fly to Maridalsvannet on its own in January when there can not be much food for it to find is very strange but maybe it is a sick bird.

My smelly stream has again revealed a Jack Snipe but attempts to watch the bird in action again failed. I positioned myself about 20m from the bird such that I could just about see it and waited and waited but the bird would not move a millimetre. Maybe investing in a trail camera is what I need to do.

Mute Swan (knoppsvane) - all of these pictures are in full colour but the bird's bill was lacking orange colour

ring L761

Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin)

And here a video of the two Water Rails (vannrikse) I saw last week

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Dicing with death

The weather has changed a lot last this week. There have been days with strong northerly winds, temperatures have been going up and down and we have even had some rain. The net result of this is that all paths and roads where the snow has been pressed down have now turned into ice rinks and you risk your life or at least the odd bone or two if you venture off gritted paths.

Last Saturday I avoided these perils by being lucky enough to accompany Halvard out on his boat although there was ice on the fjord in places which we had to sail through. It was a lovely windless but cold day and we enjoyed a magnificent sunrise. I had hopes of seeing King Eider or at a minimum getting my first Shag of the year but had to be content with various good wintering birds such as Purple Sandpiper, Red-throated Diver, Long-tailed Duck, Twite and Rock Pipit.

Other than this I can jut report how few birds there are this winter and I have even contemplated going to the dump to look for gulls but have so far remained strong. My smelly stream seems to have lost its appeal for snipe with just a single Jack noted this week. Whether this is due to milder weather or the birds having moved on will perhaps only be clear when we have the next snow fall and other sites become unavailable.

I visited the Water Rails at Østensjøvannet today and saw three birds. Interestingly two fed closely together but the third bird (an adult) was not tolerated at all by one of the other two (a 1st winter) which repeatedly chased it away and eventually caused it to fly off to another area.

A nice way to start the day. 08:48 on Saturday as we headed out onto the fjord

male Long-tailed Duck (havelle) - we usually only see young birds so this was a treat

Purple Sandpipers (fjæreplytt)

Maridalen has been very disappointing and this Great Grey Shrike (varsler) was the clear stand out bird

a new sign has been put up encouraging photographers to show restraint in their attempts to get an even better picture of the Water Rail than they have from before. It features one of my pictures 😀

the two friendly Water Rails (vannrikse)

and the lone and bullied bird. Grey chin should make this an adult

the aggresive bird of the pair

same bird - white chin should make it a 1st winter

Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin)

Friday, 14 January 2022

A fish too big

My smelly stream continues to deliver snipe (is the plural of snipe snipe or snipes?). Despite the milder weather (temperatures reached +11C briefly last night!) it seems that the Jack Snipe are very happy there and I have seen upto 3 birds on my daily visits. It is a great challenge walking the stream and trying to find the birds and it is often not until the second or third check that you actually spot the bird. Seeing them in action remains as difficult as ever though.

A visit to the Kingfisher resulted in seeing it catch a fish that was clearly too large for it to handle and it eventually dropped the fish. I was unsure as to whether this was deliberate but it did not fly down and pick it up from the snow it had fallen on to. Maybe Kingfishers do not pick up dead fish from land or maybe this is proof that it had just discarded the fish. Interesting to watch no matter what though.

Kingfisher (isfugl) with fish. The fish looks a bit strange but may have been damaged by the birds beak

it flew up into a tree and spent a long time manouvering the fish around in its beak

here the fish clearly looks to be on the large size

and here with the fish dropped onto the snow. It looks like it may be a perch (abbor) and the dorsal fin would provide problems for the Kingfisher

sometimes a Jack Snipe doesn't need to rely on its camouflage to disappear

spot the bird

the two pale lines on the back really look like blades of straw ad note here how they continue onto scapular feathers which stick out from the body thus breaking up the outline of the body

more difficult to find here

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Jacky Boy meets Jacky Bird

Further visits to my newly found polluted ditch (it smells!) have meant the books have had to be rewritten. On Monday there were four!! Jack Snipe all within 200m of each other as well as two Common Snipe and a Water Rail. The four Jacks more than doubles the number of winter records for the species in Oslo EVER and with only 7 previous winter records of Common Snipe then these two are also very significant. The highest winter count I can find for Jack Snipe ANYWHERE in Norway is of 6 birds and of only about 13 other counts of 4 or more birds are only 2 of these from inland localities so this is a significant observation!

I cannot believe that this ditch has enough food to sustain this many birds through the entire winter but we are now forecast some milder and wetter weather which will make more areas available to the snipe again for at least for a few days.

None of the Jack Snipe flew up which gave me a good conscience although one of the two Common Snipe did but it landed close by. The other Common Snipe did not fly up despite me discovering it at quite close range which is also a sign of how tough things are for them right now.

They really are not easy birds to find! I spotted the first 2 Jack Snipe on my first walk of the ditch but it wasn’t until my fourth check that the other two revealed themselves just 5 metres from each other. Once you get your eye in though it does become marginally easier.

I have, for a while, been hoping to show Jack D a Jack Snipe as I knew it would be a lifer and in my mind there was going to be a multitude of amusing word plays that would make for a witty blog post. I had messaged him on Sunday when I found the first bird but he was birding the islands and unable to come down. On Tuesday we were able to go looking though and so it was that Jack did see Jack for the first time and likewise Jack also saw Jack for what I imagine was also the first time although of course Jack may have previously been espied by plenty of Jacks without ever knowing. Jack commented on how difficult Jack was to find whilst Jack wasn’t able to convey his (or her) experience of Jack although it looked he was pretending it wasn’t happening (wasn't quite as funny as I had hoped 😅)

The change in the weather had caused more water to run in the stream which I think made it less suitable for the snipe but there were clearly other marshy areas where the snow had melted which could now be exploited so all in all the warmer weather must be good for the birds and their chances of surviving. We found two Jack Snipe and a single Common Snipe and one of the Jacks gave a stellar performance. We discovered it fairly easily and in typical fashion it tried to hide from us by freezing in place. When we checked on it later were could see it had moved a bit so was clearly being active when it felt safe. We therefore needed to be able to observe it without it realising it. Easier said than done but we found a watchpoint at some distance that just about allowed us to see the bird. He did detect us which resulted in him standing completely still but he hadn’t crouched down and it only took a couple of minutes before he started bobbing and we then witnessed a great show as he started bobbing and walking at the same time. It would have been a great thing to record on video but this time it just had to be experienced through the bins but will doubtless be reminisced upon next time Jack and I meet.

I'll start with images of the Common Snipe

Common Snipe (enkeltbekkasin)

even though it is looking away from me it is able to see my due to the large eyes being on the side of the head

And now Jacky bird(s)

here it is frozen and trying to remain invisible to me

but here it is out in the open and was feeding and then later bobbing

when hiding under the snow they are very difficult to find

just a bill and 2 toes showing

a comparison of the head patterns of the 2 species. Common Snipe has a pale stripe on the top of the head whilst Jack Snipe has a dark eyebrow and darker cheeks

a fleeting glimpse of a Water Rail that appeared from behind the snow

male Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk)