Thursday, 29 April 2010

A day of 2 halves...

.. in terms of weather and birding trips. The first half saw me up in Maridalen in mist and temperatures of only about 5 degrees. Despite this the ice is melting fast and the lake is now around 60% frozen. All the waterbirds of yesterday were gone (showing how active migration is at the moment) and were replaced by 8 Pink-footed Geese, 3 Grelyag Geese and 2 Black Throated Divers. Also nice was a group of 8 Golden Plovers flying around seemingly confused by the mist and a Curlew also flying around rather forlornly. I headed up into the forest hoping to find evidence of Black Grouse. It was rather miserable in the forest with verly little to see or hear. I did hear a Black Grouse calling whislt I was approaching the lek site but when I got there I drew a blank (maybe they heard me approaching and flew off). Evidence of their presence is shown below:

 Otherwise I glimpsed a Hazel Grouse and found a pair of Willow Tits inspecting a potential nesting site.

The second half was an afternoon trip with Bjørn Olav Tveit, author of the recently published first ever where to watch guide for Norway. Despite Bjørn Olav's knowledge and warm sunny weather with southerly winds we saw very little at Nordre Øyeren. Numbers of Teal were very much reduced from earlier this week with only a couple of hundered present. A few Greenshank were picked out at about 1 kilomotres range but nothing new except for a couple of House Martins amongst a handful of Swallows.
On the way back to Oslo we popped in at Østensjøvannet which is rich shallow lake within the city limits. A White-fronted Goose had been reported earlier and we easily located it - most likely the same bird seen earlier in April at Bygdøy. Also present was a strange hybrid seemingly paired with a Barnacle Goose. It can be seen in the following photo along with the White-fronted Goose, Barnacle Goose and Greylag Goose. I reckon it is a hybrid between Barnacle and Grelyag.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Today has been cold and the drizzle even turned into sleet. Brrrr.

Undeterred I spent an hour or so at Maridalen this morning. The ice is slowly melting although still covers 90% of the lake. I reckon that by May 1st it will be ice free. 3 Common Scoters were a good find and relatively confiding allowing me to get the following photo:

A pair of Wigeon and a pair of Whooper Swans were also good finds and finally I found a Ring Ouzel this year at Maridalen.
Other than that there was a fair amount of frog spawn to be seen. We will collect some this weekend and see if we can be better frog foster parents this year than we managed to be last.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

An early start today to match my high hopes saw me on the road at 0730. I headed to the far south east of Akershus county on the border with Østfold. This area has a number of shallow reed fringed lakes which are often very attractive to a number of water birds. After an hour I arrived at Hemnessjøen which I had never visited before. There were not huge numbers of birds to be seen but a dozen Red Throated Divers and a couple Black Throated Divers were good to see. Highlights though were a male Marsh Harrier which was collecting nesting material and delivering them presumeably a female deep in a reedbed although I did not see her. A Bean Goose with 5 Greylag Goose was a bit too distant to safely identify to race but it looked most like a Tundra. Perhaps most surprising though was a male Eider which is extremely unusual inland. Quite what this sea duck was doing here I have no idea. 4 Swallows and a Tree Pipit were welcome summer visitors. Next stop was Hellesjøvannet where this time a pair of Marsh Harriers were seen collecting nesting material. This video shows the male:

Marsh Harriers are very rare breeders in this part of Norway so to see signs of breeding at 2 separate localities was noteworthy.

Monday, 26 April 2010

I really expected today to be a day when something good would turn up: wind from the south east should be very productive at this time of the year. As usual my expectations were not met but there were enough new birds to keep me going and I have even greater expectations for tomorrow.
I visited Årnestangen and Nodre Øyeren. The ice has completely melted now and the water level is extremely low. I have never seen the water this low and there are huge areas of mud exposed which are starting to attract waders. Hopefully the water level will remain low through May although it would be nice if it rose a bit such that the birds are not so distant.
There are still large numbers of Teal - I had 1800 in total with 13 Pintail and a few Wigeon amongst them. Waders were not in large numbers but there was some variety: Wood and Common Sandpiper and Ringed and Little Ringed Plover were new for the year as was Willow Warbler. I've still not seen any Swallows but they will surely turn up in the coming days.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Double entendres

Bird and nature websites can sometimes be blocked by firewalls due to the double meaning of many species names. The following account of my trip to Maridalen this evening is a (fairly) accurate account of what I saw although the adjectives may normally have been ommitted.
Whilst admiring a pair of Great Tits I was excited to see not one but two hairy Beavers showing well in the river whilst a proud Woodcock flashed by.


No birds and no rain. The weather is really not the best for birds at the moment although the majority of people would probably be very happy with how it is. We are still having frosts at night but we haven't had any real rain since easter and it is very dry underfoot. We went to Fornebu today and decided to grill some sausages. Only problem was I didn't place the bbq very cleverly and suddenly I had to deal with a little bush fire! As for birds today a single male Ring Ouzel was nice to see as I had given up on seeing this around Olso this year.
At home the first daffodills are just coming out in the garden and tulips will also be out soon. We have pairs of both Blue and Great Tits interested in the only nesting box I had up so I have put another one up and maybe both will nest in the garden this year.
Monday promises southerly winds and some rain - maybe that will bring some new birds.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The geese came today....

.... and I saw them. 3540 to be precise between 11.00 and 14.00. This little film snip shows a large flock going over.
I had cycled up to Maridalen to see if there were any signs of Black Grouse at a lek site I found last autumn but there was too much snow on the forest tracks for me to cycle there so I was on my way home when I heard my first flock of geese going over and then after seeing another 2 flocks I realised that something big was happening. There were in total 23 flocks during the three hours with the largest being 380 birds. I had not taken any food with me but managed to persuade Seamus that what he needed to do was have a bit of exercise and an outdoor lunch. Surprisingly enough he agreed and at 1pm i was enjoying cheese and salami sandwiches. Here is my lunch arriving.

 Otherwise, there was qctually quite a bit to see with 3 Black Throated Divers now on the small area of open water, 4 Teal, an Osprey which appeared from the south and after a look at all the ice disappeared off to the south again. The Buzzard was still present and one of the local Goshawks was taking an interest in the Wood Pigeons again. In the forest I found Crested and Willow Tits a small flock of Bramblings and best of all this Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I know that this is an absolutely atrocious video but you do get to hear the bird calling and drumming which in the UK at least is a pretty rare sound these days.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Is it a bird.....?

No it's a plane.

A morning birding trip to Årnestangen wasn't particularly exciting on the birding front but the sight (and sound) of 2 light planes was something different in these days. The fly ban over Norway was lifted this morning so I guess some pilots just couldn't wait to get some air time before a new ban is imposed.

The water level is low and most of the ice has gone exposing huge areas of mudflats but it is still too cold for any large numbers of waders. Therefore 7 Curlew and a couple of Oystercatcher were the only waders of interest and a couple of Ospreys and Cranes flying over the only other birds of note. One of the Ospreys was calling presumeably to attract a mate but was still flying alone when I left.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

What's that smell?

It's all been depressiungly quiet the last few days. On Friday I cycled about 25km around Maridalen which resulted in a very sore rear end and very few birds although a Buzzard was nice and did not appear to be a migrating bird. Maybe they will breed here this year?
Today a walk through Oslo city revealed a Stock Dove in the park around the royal palace and the first Wood Anenomes are now in flower. The sun is still shining but there are still frosts at night so spring has not really sprung yet.
Last night we after the wife questioned whether I had coughed in my pants we realised that there was a strong smell of sulphur in the air from the Icelandic volcano - I wonder whether the fallout from the volcano is affecting birds in the same way that it is affecting aeroplanes or have we humans just become a tad hysterical?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Little to write home about

All flights in Norway were cancelled today due to the Icelandic ash cloud but it wasn't visible to me in Oslo and seemed to have little effect on the birds - there is still little to see.
The last 2 days has only seen some half hearted birding from me with today given over to being a handyman - I plastered our veranda wall, which was a new skill for me and not one I can say I have mastered.
Yesterday I got on my bike for the first time this year (still feeling the pain when I sit down today) and rode around Maridalen. Really very little to note, a small migrating flock of Greylag Geese and a male Goshawk hunting Wood Pigeons being the highlights.
Today I had a couple of flocks of Pink footed Geese migrating over the house which may have been a sign of a larger movement but I haven't seen any other reports to suggest this.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The geese came today....

....but not where I had chosen to be! Many thousands of Pink-footed Geese migrated over Oslo today but I had chosen to go elsewhere so didn't see a single one. My destination today was first to Årnestangen which is a part of Nordre Øyeren, a Ramsar site and supposedly the largest inland delta in northern europe. This picture shows a part of the delta with Årnestangen being the slither of land winding its way out into the water. The water is shallow here and large mud flats are frequently exposed attracting many thousands of water birds although they are frequently very distant and difficult to see. The ice is only just starting to melt and the mudflats are mostly covered in ice hence are not yet suitable for waders. The reason for my trip here was the sighting yesterday of a Gyr Falcon which I still need. Needless to say I did not see it today but I did have Osprey plus a Smew which was new for the year and also my first Curlew. There were many hundreds of Teal, Mallard and Whooper Swans on the water and a touch of spring was given by a Snipe giving its "chipping" song. The sun was still shining today but factor 25 suncream ensured that I came home no redder than I left!

After Årnestangen I visited Aurskog Høland again. The river between Leirfoss and Bjørkelangen was still in flood and in total I had 145 Cranes, a couple of hundred Whooper Swans (markedly fewer than a week ago), 200 Teal (markedly more than a week ago), a pair of Pintail and a Buzzard. The Cranes were very flighty and making a lot of noise. At Bjørkelangsjøen I bumped into a couple of other birders who had just found a Bean Goose which turned out to be of the Tundra variety. This is different to the one that I have seen at Bygdøy (the Taiga variety) due to being smaller, darker and with a smaller bill with much less orange. The top picture shows the Tundra Bean Goose and the lower picture the Taiga Bean Goose with most of the key features being visible.

Also at this sight a few Green Sandpipers and a couple more Curlew.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Too much sun

This weekend has been lovely and sunny. Fantastic you might say but not if there are no birds and you have pasty English beetroot-like skin. Do you like my sunburn?

How does somebody turn so red when it is only just over 10 degrees and there is still frost at night?
Both Saturday and Sunday were spent at Fornebu but with birding not being the main activity. The Fornebu area has now has been landscaped into a park (after having been Oslo's airport until the late 90's) and is great for a walk with the family. On Saturday it was just the Rixes but today we were with a whole group of friends and even managed a spot of cricket and a BBQ. All very civilised don't you know?
My binoculars were always round my neck so I did manage so see a few birds although the fine weather was not actually of any help and there was no evidence of active migration on either day (reports from other birders were also negative). On Saturday I had my first Osprey and Stock Dove of the year and today a distant sub adult White-tailed Eagle which was circling very high over the city of Oslo. These great birds have in the last few years started breeding within the inner Oslo fjord so this sub adult may be a sign of even more birds settling down.
My predictions for the coming week? The Pink-footed Geese will have to come soon unless they are choosing to bypass Oslo this year. Otherwise Ring Ouzels have started arriving so I hope to locate some in Maridalen.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Wrong again

My belief that tomorrow would be the BIG day was again mistaken. It's a bit like when we go walking in the norwegian mountains and I confidently tell Rita that now are we in perfect Dotterel habitat - we never see them!
So, I arrived at Fornebu at 0830 this morning to be met by fog that didn't lift until 1030! Fog is never conducive to see much. I did hear a Water Rail singing though which was new for the year.
As soon as the fog lifted I had a migrating Sparrowhawk closely followed by a distant flock of 13 Cranes migrating up Sørkedalen. This was promising. But over the next 2 hours I added only a couple of other Sparrowhawks, 4 Goshawks and a pair of Kestrels. Where were the Buazzards and Pink feet? It was warm, sunny and a slight southerly breeze. Isn't this the right weather for migration? At least I wasn't the only disappointed birder at Fornebu - I was joined by a couple of other equally expectant soles.

On the way home all the geese and ducks were still present at Bygdøy and the Teal had risen to 18. Having been told that a Great Grey Shrike had been seen in Maridalen the last 2 days I took a trip up there but couldn't find it. Did see over 200 Twite and 100 Chaffinches though which was a pretty good count.

The pictures show one of the Goshawks and the fog lifting at Fornebu.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Expectations not met

Last night on the way home from the shop I had 250 Pink footed Geese flying north over the house. This and a look at the weather forecast for today (southerly winds) had my expectations very high for a day of considerable goose passage.

So after dropping the kids at kindergarten it was off to Fornebu were a few years ago I was lucky enought to witness around 12,000 Pink feet migrating in a single day in the middle of April. On getting out of the car it was clear there had been an arrival of both Song Thrushes and Chiffchaffs and both proved to be common as were Reed Buntings. I decided to walk around the site first before sitting down to scan the sky as experience has told me that the goose passage doesn't really kick off until late morning as the geese will have set off from north Denmark the same morning. 4 Kestrels were on site and 3 of them were calling noisly around a nest box so hopefully a pair will try to establish itself. On the sea which is still frozen in many places there were numerous Eider and Goldenye plus a few Teal. I disturbed a Snipe and heard a Pheasant both of which were year ticks but there was little else to see.

At 11.18 I saw my first flock of 60 Pink feet heading north at some height. I was quite sure this was going to be the start of something big especially when a Buzzard also went over but then nothing much else happened. Another flock of 65 at 11.50 was followed by 25 3 minutes later but then it started to rain hard and the cloud came down. A flock of 200 battled through very low at 1203 but after that there was nothing to see. If there were any flocks still migrating then I assume they ditched down on the sea or had looked for an alternate route avoiding the rain. Interestingly the flocks seemed to choose different route north from the Oslo fjord with 2 choosing Sørkedalen, 1 Maridalen and the fourth seeming to be heading for Grorudalen.

Popping in at Bygdøy on the way home revealed all the geese and duck still present but this time with 12 Teal new in. Will Garganey turn up here?

I am predicting that tomorrow will be the big day for Pink feet. We will see.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Two good days

Yesterday saw me up at Maridalen fairly early but low cloud and cold temperatures resulted in few birds although Song Thurush was new for the year and a calling Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was a good bird.

Down to Bygdøy again for another look at the geese. The Taiga Bean and White-fronted Geese were both still present along with a pair of Gadwall which were new for the year and a good bird in these parts.

At lunch I saw that a Mandarin (a Norwegian tick) for me had been sighted at Østensjøvannet so I went for it and easily saw it along with Moorhen and Coot which were new for the year.

Today I headed South East to Aurskog Høland. Here there is annually flooding which attracts water birds and especially Whooper Swans and Cranes. In total between the towns of Lierfoss and Bjørkelangen I had 480 Whopper Swans and 125 Cranes. Also to be seen were 6 Golden Plover with 50 Lapwings, 7 Green Sands, 4 Wigeon, 20 or so Teal (many hundreds will appear in the coming weeks), a singing Great Grey Shrike and a Rock Pipit in amongst 80 White Wags and 2 Meadow Pipits. The habitat of a flooded field far more suited Water Pipit which would have been a major rarity but it was just a nice scandinavian race Rock Pipit coming into summer plumage. Here are 2 videos. The first of the shrike with calling Golden Plovers in the background and the second displaying Whooper Swans (be warned they are quite noisy!).

Monday, 5 April 2010

Ton up

Another Norwegian tick and 3 year ticks today (bringing the year list to a round 100) as I took the kids for a walk around Fornebu.

First bird we saw was a Wheatear (year tick), followed by some Skylarks and then 2 Woodlarks (Norwegian tick) flew past calling, there smaller size very obvious. They continued flying north out of site so were obviously migrants. A calling Meadow Pipit was the third year tick. Otherwise a Kestrel, a Goshawk and a couple of Twite were the only birds of note on a very quite day with no viz. mig. The cloud level was quite high and the sun popped through occasionally but the north easterly wind was probably a dampener.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Geese galore

A Norwegian tick and 7 year ticks were the highlights of yesterday, a day characterised by, to paraphrase a failed politician, geese, geese, geese.
I started the day at 0830 in Maridalen but in lowish cloud there was little to see and no real viz mig. A flock of 15 Twite feeding in a small snow free area was nice and a few Skylark and White Wagtails gave a definite spring feeling. Otherwise Chaffinches and Siskins were frequently calling, a Robin was new for the site this year and 6 Goldeneye with 2 displaying pairs had found enough open water on the lake. The following photo shows how Maridalen looks at the moment. The fields in the foreground have a few patches of bare ground but otherwise snow still lies thickly and the lake in the background has a solid covering of ice.

By 1000 I had put in enough time at Maridalen so the coast at Bygdøy beckoned. Bygdøy is a peninsula within the city limits that amongst other things is home to the King’s farm which has meant it has remained relatively undeveloped. It had been reported yesterday that a number of geese had been seen in a flooded field with one reporter seeing 6 Pinkfeet and 2 Bean and another reporting 8 Pinkfeet. What would I find? Well, I found 8 Pinkfeet, 1 Bean, around 90 Greylag, 16 Canada and 5 Barnacle Geese. The Bean Goose was a very distinctive bird and consorted with the Greylag and was rarely to be seen together with the Pinkfeets although I did get the following terrible photo showing all 3 species.

Also at this site was a pair of Wigeon whose frequent calling had me thinking of winter birding in the UK. 4 Chiffchaffs, 5 Reed Buntings and a Redwing were all year ticks. Leaving the site I saw another birder viewing geese in another field. Stopping I asked the Norwegian equivalent of “what’s about” which is “har du sett noe”. To my surprise the answer was affirmative. He had a White Fronted Goose which was a Norwegian tick for me. The bird showed very well but was not a classic bird due to it being a 1st winter with only the beginnings of the white front and no black belly barring. However the identification was sure and soon another birder pulled up to ensure a three birder twitch entailed. Little else to see at this site other than more Greylags and soon I had to head for home so the kids could search for evidence of the Easter Bunny.

At home a latish flock of Waxwings flew over the house and a walk along the Akerselva in the afternoon had a group of 3 Cranes flying north at the same spot we had seen migrating Buzzards two days previously.

As I write this on Sunday morning a Dunnock is feeding in the garden taking the year list to 96.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Willy wagtails

An afternoon walk along Akerselva which runs through Oslo from Maridalen to the fjord added 2 species to my year list and had enough of interest to make for a thoroughly enjoyable walk.
The 2 year ticks were Grey and White Wagtail both of which were flying in a northerly direction up river. A pair of displaying and singing Dippers were interesting to watch with the male trying very hard to woe his mate with much wing shaking and bobbing up and down. Amongst the Mallards were 3 Goldeneye with a displaying male and a gorgeous male Goosander. Chaffinches were evident in the riverside trees and Nuthatches were calling in a couple of places.
Highlight though was thanks to the wifes eagle eyes; a pair of Buzzards circling above us and then a further single flying purposely north a little later. For me there is nothing better than seeing raptors migrating.
We have had a few days of heavy rain and tomorrow is forecast to also be wet but with sun on Saturday. Surely Saturday will see some impressive viz mig as the birds that have been held up by the rain make a mad dash north.