Friday, 29 April 2011

Birding by bike

Yesterday I had some errands in town and managed to see the Black Redstart that has been present a few days. The view was very brief and backed up by 2 seconds of song but enough for the year list. I was there at 9am which is already a bit late for good views - it is best to be there around 7am before there is too much noise and traffic.
Close to the house I was very surprised to see 4 House Martins inspecting their breeding colony which seems to be very early especially as there have been few other records. I guess with the fantastic weather we have had they have been able to come straight to the breeding grounds without having to search for food at wetlands. If this hot weather continues I think they will really struggle to collect mud for their nests so we need some rain soon.
A trip around Maridalen produced my first Common Sandpiper of the year plus pairs ot Tufted Duck and Teal but no sign of Black throated Diver or Whooper Swans.

Today I cycled to Fornebu hoping for some signs of migration but little was happening. A singing Whitethroat was new for the year and a group of 5 Ringed Plovers were probably migrants. A male Kestrel sat close to a nest box where I assume the female was sitting on eggs. Highlight was my first Sand Martin for the year which was inspecting the nest site of the last few years which is a not particularly large pile of earth. The area of land where it is is to be developed and a new nesting site is being created a couple of hundred metres away whilst they flatten the old. A JCB was flattening the the old site whilst the Sand Martin flew around and actually landed on the remaining vertical areas (which will be gone by the end of the day). It will be interesting to see whether they find the new nesting site to their liking.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Stretching my wings

Each spring I feel a need to stretch my wings and leave my home territory to check the lie of the land. So I packed my passport and provisions and set out for the wind hinterlands of Østfold.
First stop was the estuary at Kurefjorden with its extensive mudflats and ideal habitat for migrating waders. Or that at least is what the books say. Excluding a handful of Oystercathers and Lapwings I was able to count the waders with my fingers: 4 Redshank, 2 Greenshank and a Curlew. Maybe it will be better in a couple of weeks time (it is a regular spot for Broad Billed Sandpiper at the end of May and hosted a pair of White Rumped Sandpipers last weekend so there must be some potential). Otherwise a pair of Shoveler were the only dabbling ducks and there were a few Shelducks and many Eiders and Red Breasted Mergansers. 6 Common Terns, 4 Swallows and an Osprey were also added to the list.
Second stop was Brentetangen which is a famed seawatching site on the Oslofjord. In my 45 minutes of watching from 11am (which I admit is not a particularly good time of the day) I notched up 2 Red Throated Divers with one going north and 2 going south plus a couple of Common Terns. Exciting stuff! There was some interest in the form of a couple of dolphins or porpoises but they were too distant for me to attempt to ID them.
A long drive to my third Østfold site of Kallaksjøen was punctuated by a stop at a promising looking wetland by the road which produced my first 4 House Martins of the year aswell as 3 Whoopers Swans and a Green Sandpiper. Kallaksjøen which is a small, shallow lake surrounded by farmland was the most productive site of the day. Amongst about 20 Teal were 3 Garganey, a pair and another male which you can just about make out in this picure appalling if you squint your eyes

Also 4 Wigeon, 7 Whoopers Swans, a Coot, a Little Ringed Plover, 25 Golden Plover over and Cranes calling in the distance. A pair of Hobbies were feeding quite actively although I could not make out what they were catching. Both Garganey and Hobby are good birds in Norway and were welcome additions to the year list.
For my next destination I crossed the border back into Akershus county and visited Hemnesjøvannet. This is a long lake which is particularly attractive to Red Throated Divers of which I saw 13 along with 1 Black Throated Diver and 6 Great Crested Grebes. 21 Pink-footed Geese were feeding by the lake and one had a particularly large white patch around the bill almost as large as on a White-fronted Goose.
I was running short of time now as I needed to head back to Oslo to pick up my daughter from after school club before it closed but managed a quick stop at Hellesjøvannet where the breeding pair of Marsh Harriers put on a nice show. Little else of note here.

In the evening I also managed a quick trip around Maridalen where the 3 Whooper Swans were still present alongside 4 Teal. A pair of Green Sandpipers were mating with the male displaying to the female with a raised tail and much calling before hopping on top of the female for over 10 second. Also a Wood Sandpiper which was my first of the year. The lake is now completely free of ice and only one pair of Black Throated Divers remains.

A long day with 10 year ticks taking me 128 for the year.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Finally a Wren

A family walk was on the agenda for today and we agreed on a walk in the forest north of Maridalen heading for Mellomkollen where we would be able to eat our lunch looking out over the forest with a view to Oslo. Coincidentally this is also an area of old forest with the chance of some good birds.
On the drive up we passed Maridalsvannet and could see that the ice is now fast disappearing with perhaps only 10% remaining. We noted 3 Whooper Swans (2 adults and a 1st summer) which I assume are the same birds from over a week ago and also last years breeding birds. Just as when they were breeding they seem to have a habit of going missing for days if not weeks on end which seems a pretty difficuly feat for such obvious birds on a relatively well watched site. We also had a flock of 80 Geese fly north over the car. I could not identify them although they are most likely Pink Footed although they did seem a touch large - it is not easy identifying birds whilst driving! I was driving at 60km/h and the geese were easily flying faster.
The first bird we saw as we headed off from the car was a Hazel Grouse which we flushed from by the path but unfortunately could not relocate and we also heard another singing later in the day. In some large puddles by the track were a number of frogs croaking and getting amorous although as yet no spawn had been laid. There were not many birds in the forest with Robin being the commonest followed by Chaffinch and then Coal Tit. There were a few Willow Warblers back on territory aswell as Dunnocks and a couple of Goldcrests. We found a pair of Willow Tits excavating their nest hole in a rotten tree - perhaps the easiest way to separate them from Marsh Tits which use existing holes. The pair were removing a lot of rotten wood which they deposited a few metres from the tree before quickly returning for more. Highlight of the walk though was my first Wren of the year. I had 2 birds singing and another sight record. They were quite a way into the forest in an area which I would have considered less than optimal although I have to assume that this was prime habitat as with so few birds around this year the remaining ones must be choosing the best territories available. A singing Tree Pipit was also a first for the year.
We had 5 species of butterly: Brimstone, Peacock, Comma, Green Hairstreak and Camberwell Beauty. We watched a pair of the later in a courtship flight which saw them flying to tree top height together before plummeting down and then repeating.
We also came across the hair of a large animal (probably an elk) that was spread over a large area suggesting that it had been killed and eaten but there were no bones to be found.
No bird or butterfly pictures but I did manage these flowers which in Norwegian are called blåweis.
Interestingly we counted anything between 6 and 10 petals on a flower. In the picture you can see the flower in the foreground has 8 petals whereas the one behind to the left has only 6. i had assumed that number of petals was a constant for a single species of flower but seemingly not.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Sanity restored

Black-throated Diver

I needed a good days birding to restore my sanity (I'm sure I would make a good case study) and was up at 6am for a trip around Maridalen. Almost the first bird I saw was a Ring Ouzel and I felt a feeling of well beeing saturate my body. This is always a bird I struggle with each spring but seem to pull one out of the hat at the end of April and luckily this year was no exception. The lake is still 95% frozen although the ice looks very thin so I am confident it will be ice free by 1 May. 2 pairs of Black Throated Divers were on the open water at Hammeren and were calling which must be one of the most atmospheric calls of the birding world. A single bird was seen on another open patch and later heading north making five birds in total.
An Osprey searched for fish around the ice free edges before gaining height and heading south presumably to the fjord. My first Willow Warbler of the year sang once the sun came out and in total I had 6 birds alongside an equal number of Chiffchaffs. 3 male Blackcaps were too busy feeding to sing. I had Green Woodpeckers in 2 localities including a pair excavating a nest hole and also had 2 Snipe including 1 displaying bird in area where they are present every April. I have never noted their presence beyonf the beginning of May so don't know if they breed here. Otherwise good numbers of Wood Pigeons and Fieldfares in the fields and 4 Mistle Thrushes. Visibile migration was represented by a group of 6 Cormorants and small numbers of finches and Meadow Pipits heading north.
A Coot was only the second I have had here. There were also good numbers of frogs in most areas of shallow water with some spawn already laid and lots of croaking.
A family trip to Fornebu in the afternoon allowed me to do some incidental birding and I heard the Wryneck that was found yesterday and also noted Little Ringed Plover, Osprey, Stock Dove, Wheatear and Linnet. (I later found out that a pair of Garganey were also present which would have been nice to see but I guess have to be thankful I managed 2 birding trips today).
When we got home I checked out the nesting box on the veranda and found that the Great Tits have already constructed a nest! I quickly put the box up on the tree and later saw the tits checking it out although they did appear quite confused.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Signs of Improvement

We spent the night with my brother-in-law in Tønsberg which gave us the chance for a walk around Ilene which is another shallow bay area. Lots of gulls loafing around on the mud flats at low tide and amongst them my first Redshank of the year although there were surprisingly few waders with just 4 Redshank and a handful of Lapwing and Oystercatcher. I have still to see a Snipe or Curlew this year! The tringa waders should start appearing next week and with peak numbers in the second week of May.
Also to be seen was a fine Osprey which slowly drifted over our heads causing mayhem amongst the gulls. Ducks were in short supply but a pair of Pintail were a nice addition to the year list and on the passerine front a pair of Wheatear were also new for the year.

In the afternoon we visited my brother-in-law's in laws (is there an official name for them?) who live on a small farm with some ponds on the land. The ponds were full of frogs and toads although only the frogs had laid spawn yet. Incidental birding was quite productive with Raven, Buzzard and Swallow over the farm and singing and nest building Marsh Tits (I recognised the song this time), a pair of Hawfinches, Chiffchaff and Dunnock. I was told Red backed Shrikes breed by the farmhouse and Wrynecks have been present in some years. I think I will be looking for an excuse to visit later in the year!
Butterflies were also showing well with (Common?) Blue, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and a Camberwell Beauty being the ones I could identify.


Whilst others are recording migrants such as Ring Ouzel, Wheatear, Garganey and Osprey i have found things grinding to a halt on the birding front. We spent the beginning of Easter week in Kristiansand which was very enjoyable but allowed no time for birding despite its proximity to some of Norway's premium sites such as Lista.
Some mild excitement came on Wednesday as we drove north. A stop for a leg stretch revealed Buzzard and Sparrowhawk and best of all my first Swallow of the year. In Tønsberg i visited Presterødkilen which is a shallow bay surrounded by reeds and here i added Wigeon and Common Scoter to my year list. Other birds here were good numbers of Shelduck and a few Teal, Goldeneye, Eider, Goosander and Merganser.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Maridalen slowly improving

The Great Tits have clearly lost the fight with the Blue Tits but have not given up on the garden. This morning they were inspecting the second tit nesting box which has not yet been hang up as I was thinking of waiting until May when the Pied Flys are back. It actually went in so I wonder whether they will start using it?!

After dinner I took the girls up to Maridalen and met Per Christian and his daughter. We passed away nearly 2 hours in lovely sunny conditions and notched up a few birds aswell. The highlights were a singing Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which was my first for the year and showed well although only sang a couple of times - they really can be very unobtrusive. The Great Grey Shrike was also seen again and the supporting cast were 3 Whooper Swans, 3 Teal, 2 Green Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, singing Hawfinch, Goosander, Goldeneye, 3 Chiffchaff and 8 Lapwings with 2 birds displaying.

There was a lot of evidence of Beaver activity and this tree was right by the road and if it fell towards the road would not only block the road but also take down some overhead wires.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Whooper Swans
My best beaver impression

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Maridalen Great Grey Shrike

Rain and northerly winds today turned out to be good for birding. After a long spell of warm, dry weather todays rain grounded a few migrants although it is still quite hard going. A tour around Maridalen revealed a Great Grey Shrike which are pretty much annual visitors here each April. 2 Green Sandpipers feeding on the edge of a small pond formed by flood water and a numbers of Song Thrushes were year ticks and brought me up to 100 species for the year. In the stubble fields there were small groups of Fieldfare, Starlings and Chaffinches with a few Bramblings, Redwings, Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings mixed in. 4 Lapwings were in the fields at Skjervengård and 3 Skylarks were noted with 2 even singing in the rain. On the area of open water at Hammeren were 6 Goldeneye, 14 Mallard and a pair of Teal whilst a male Goosander flew around the area looking a bit lost. A quick check of the flood at Hengsenga, Bygdøy revealed little water left and just 50 Greylags and 4 Barnacle Geese. The fields at Kongsgården had around 30 Greylag, 6 Barnacle and a single Pink-footed Goose.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

An awesome weekend

I was invited on an owling trip into deepest, darkest Hedmark on Saturday night. The target was Ural Owl with Hawk Owl a good possibility and Tengmalms Owl a dead cert. The locality was 3 hours drive from Oslo and we left at 1430 so that we could do some daylight birding and recce the owl sites in daytime. Once in the car i was also given the exciting news that we had a good chance of hearing both Eagle and Great Grey Owl as well so so this was going to be a good night! With Long Eared, Pygmy and Tawny Owls also around we had a chance of scoring nearly a full suite of owls. Driving north I was surprised to see that neatly all snow was gone from agricultural land although there were no large concentrations of birds to see. We did have a migrating Crane, Lapwings and a group of 8 Whooper Swans in a flooded field but no big gatherings of thrushes or finches. As we entered the forest area where we to search for the owls we stopped at likely looking clearings to search for Hawk Owl. No luck for us unfortunately (although others saw them) but we did have 2 Rough Legged Buzzards, a Goshawk, Black Woodpecker a Chiffchaff and best of all 2 Hazel Hen right by the road although they evaded the camera. Many Siskins were singing and there were a few Mistle Thrushes and Chaffinches also in evidence. We had a couple of Common Crossbills but there were no large concentrations. The highlight was probably an adder that we narrowly avoided running over.
We stopped the car for a better look and to move it off the road. It seemed very docile until we started moving it with a stick when it suddenly snapped its body very quickly and started hissing surprisingly loudly. Once we got to the owl area we still had hours until darkness so we drove all the tracks in the area that we would be searching later in the dark.
 There were good numbers of Black Grouse to see including this one by the roadand as it got dark and we were listening to a bird which may have been a Hawk Owl (although it will have to go down as only a probable) we saw a Great Grey Shrike which flew from a tree top with a mouse in it's beak that must have been some heck of a feat given the mouse looked to be half the size of the shrike. Also a Crossbill calling from a tree top proved to be a Parrot. As it got dark we searched first for the Great Grey Owl. The forest track where our gen had told us to drive was blocked by a closed barrier so instead we walked 5km in the darkness with unfortunately no joy. 2 distant singing Tengmalms Owl were poor compensation. Next stop was a certain site to hear Ural Owl - again no luck. We tried this site and nearby sites continually between 2230 and 0330 but we had no joy. This was despite it being great conditions - no wind, minimal cloud cover, and good light from a one third moon. We even bumped into someone who had heard a female Ural Owl calling only 5 minutes previously but we couldn't locate this birds either. We did have over 10 Tengmalms Owls calling including 3different birds simultaneously on one occasion with quite different hoot frequencies noted - possibly a pair dueting?? Also 3 Long Eared Owls calling including what we assumed to be a dueting pair with slightly different calls from 2 birds very closed to each other. We kept at is until 0330 but eventually had to admit defeat on the Ural Owl. It was also too late to go for the Eagle Owl as we needed to be heading home. Despite missing out on the real star attractions it was a great experience to be out in vast forest at night and hearing at least 2 species of owl. Mammals were in short supply with a couple of elk to add to the mouse and adder. The area is home to wolf, bear and lynx but unfortunately no sight nor sound for us.

I was in bed at 0630 completely exhausted and was then woken at 1000 by a family eager to get out and enjoy the great weather. Temperatures reached 19C today although there is still snow in the garden. We drove out to Fornebu for a walk which was great for me as it is a great birding site and from the car we started seeing flocks of hundreds of migrating Pink footed Geese. During the 15 minutes drive we must have seen over 1200 birds and whilst at Fornebu there seemed to be flocks to be seen whenever one looked up. I probably notched up 5000 birds although it seems anything upto 20,000 birds were on the move today. Little else moving although a flock of about 50 Cormorant was noted. Mute Swans were very photogenic. On the ground my first Linnet of the year seen. Back home the Blue Tits seems to have won the battle of the nesting box and were taking in nesting material although the Great Tits are still hanging around. 15 Waxwings flew over the garden.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Ringed Plovers

Yet another trip to Bygdøy on the bus after work - maybe I need to change my blog to EcoBirder! A fresh westerly wind rather put a dampener on the birding and the only new species to add to those seen yesterday was a pair of Ringed Plovers feeding along the water’s edge on one of the flooded fields. The site continues to look very promising so we just need to hope that the water levels remain high and that we get some good migration in the next week or so. On the way home I stopped off at Smestaddammen which is a small lake surrounded by roads but which never-the-less proves attractive to birds especially in April when a small numbers of Goosanders stage here whilst waiting for the lakes in the forest to become ice free. There was only a small slither of open water but it held 8 Goosanders, 6 Tufted Ducks, a pair of Mute Swans and 8 Canada Geese. Also good numbers of Black-headed, Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

This picture shows the scene Feeling the urge to find something good I managed a quick drive around Maridalen after dinner. Still lots of snow here with a minimal amount of bear ground showing. This hasn’t stopped the Lapwings though with 5 now back and one engaging in a display flight. Otherwise 5 pairs of Goldeneye on the opens patches of water on the lake. Also my first butterfly sightings of the year. After seeing a small reddish butterfly on wednesday (unable to identify on the brief views I had), on thursday I saw a Peacock plus another smaller species which was mostly likely one of the larger skippers.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

I feel I have to squeeze in some birding every day at the moment. In the same way that birds are mysteriously drawn to migrate in the spring so are birders mysteriously drawn out into the field at every opportunity. Yesterday again saw me taking the bus out to Bygdøy after work in the hope of discovering flocks of migrating geese and you name it. My expectations do seem to be a bit high at the moment though because despite southerly winds and the thaw setting it in for full, it is obviously still a bit early for the birds. Presumably there is not yet enough insect food and the birds can just sense this. Greylag Geese numbers were halved from Monday with the birds having moved onto other sites such as Østensjøvannet. Canada Geese had increased to 8 though with a Canada x Greylag hybrid which has to be one of the most ugly creatures in existence – surely god/evolution never intended these 2 species to be able to combine in this way. The flood waters continue to rise but there were no interesting ducks, geese or waders to be found –yet. Over the course of 2 hours, 4 Lapwing and an Oystercatcher came and went, a pair of Shelduck flew over, a Buzzard migrated north, 3 Chiffchaffs revealed themselves including one singing, 9 White Wagtails were around the margins of the lake (favouring areas of ice), 2 Grey Wagtails and best of all 2 Rock Pipits. The Rock Pipits were very inconspicuous and were feeding around an area of reeds. We studied them carefully hoping to turn them into Water Pipits but were unable to but never mind Rock Pipit is also a local rarity and this was a good record. They were of the Scandinavian race and were coming into summer plumage . This picture shows Hengsenga, the area of Bygdøy that I focusing my attentions on at the moment.

And here a picture of a bush, blue sky and my first warbler of the year.The year list is now at 90 species with I think 19 additions in the last 4 days.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Crane in the Mist

I recorded the Cranes calling the mist at the weekend using my phone and have finally discovered a way to upload onto the blog...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Easily pleased

I left the house to low cloud this morning and immediately noticed that a number of new birds had arrived. Chaffinches were singing, Redwings calling and as I waited for the underground a Woodcock flew over the station. When I arrived in the centre of town I immediately heard a Hawfinch singing and located it sitting in the top of a tree over the heads of people rushing to work. Then I notched up my first migrating cormorants of the year as a flock of 11 circled over the parliament before heading off in a roughly northerly direction. The thought of spring migration keeps me going through the desparately bird free norwegian winter and now that it is finally in motion it feels fantastic! I am a man who is easily pleased.

Migration finally starts

Yesterday whilst sitting at my desk I passed the time gazing skywards. There wasn't much to see against the blue sky but I did see my first White Wagtail of the year flying purposefully north and also small groups of Wood Pigeons flying both east and west. These were the first flocks I had seen migrating this year so even though it wasn't much it made me feel that things were finally starting to happen. I also saw that other observers had reported that flocks of Pink-footed Geese were beginning to be seen further south in the Oslo fjord and Chaffinch migration has started with over 1000 counted from Nesodden heading over the fjord to Oslo. I took the bus after work out to Bygdøy which is a penisula just 15 minutes from Oslo centre with open fields. In the spring the melting snow always causes flooding which lasts no more than a week or so but can be very attractive to migrating waterfowl. The snow has started to melt now but the floodwaters are only just beginning to form. Never-the-less there were birds to be seen. Over 200 Grelyag Geese and 8 Canada Geese were in the fields and small groups of Grelyags kept flying in suggesting they were newly arrived. Amongst 21 Mallard were a pair of Teal and 15 White Wagtails and 4 Meadow Pipits seemed to be finding some insects to eat. 4 Stock Doves were flying around and a couple of Reed Buntings singing. The fjord is still mostly frozen but this hasn't deterred the Black headed Gulls. They only started arriving a week ago but they were already establishing themselves on a breeding island alongside Common Gulls and Oystercatchers. As I left Bygdøy on the bus a Kestrel flew over. 5 new birds for year today so they keep roling in. In the evening the local Waxwing flock flew over the house with 35 birds still present. It will be interesting to see how long they hang arond.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Peering through the fog

This weekend was the AGM for the Norsk Ornithologisk Forening (Norwegian version of RSPB although a lot smaller with only around 10,000 members). It was being held in Oslo this year so I attended the formal meeting yesterday which turned into an 8 hour marathon session due to some rather contentious issues that were to de voted on. Today though was time for a field trip and I was a nominated driver. We visited a number of sites in Aurskøg Høland which should have been teeming with water birds (this time last year there were already hundreds of Whooper Swans and Cranes). However due to this years late spring many birds have not yet arrived due to there still being snow on the fields and ice on the lakes and to make matters worse we were cursed with thick fog all morning which meant we heard far more birds than we saw. We did hear Cranes and Whooper Swans calling in the fog, plus a couple of other new birds for the year: Mistle Thrush, Golden Plover. Birds seen which were also new for the year were Dunnock, Buzzard, Merlin, Redwing, Grey Heron, Grey Wagtail, Reed Bunting and a group of 5 Pink Footed Geese flying over and looking very lost. Otherwise there were small numbers of Lapwing, Fieldfare, Starling, Chaffinch, Brambling and Yellowhammer in the fields were there was some bare ground. Year list is now upto 80 - last year I had seen 96 species by 4 April. The hope is that when the thaw does set in that we will have a very intense migration with large flocks of many species moving through.