Thursday, 27 December 2012

Winter wonderland

Today was one of those magical winter days and Maridalen was a true winter wonderland. Yesterday’s snow hung heavily on all trees, there was no wind and the sky was blue. I enjoyed Maridalen with a family ski trip whilst others enjoyed record numbers of Pine Grosbeaks.
Per Christian sent me a message to say he had 26 in the same area where I had my first birds back in October. I relayed the message to Håkan Billing who I knew was leading a local bird club (NOFOA) trip in Maridalen today. They went straight there and had a flock of 45 flying over!! There can be no doubt that Maridalen is the best place in Norway this winter for this enigmatic species. I wonder how many birds there are actually here? When I had a flock of 26 a couple of weeks ago I assumed this was all the local birds coming together in one flock but now I reckon there are a number of flocks and there could easily be 100+ birds in the area.
The nature highlight for me today was my first moose of the winter in Maridalen, a species which should become easier to find as the winter progresses.

Edit: a (singing) Hawk Owl was also reported today in Maridalen so both Grosbeak and the owl on the same day (although neither by me). Maybe that dreamed of picture could still happen...

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

He who dares wins

Alternate title: Luck favours the ill prepared.

After a couple of hours of building snow holes and snowmen I thought I would pop up to Maridalen. As I had all my outdoor clothing on I could not be bothered to go in and get my camera (I would also have needed to change lenses) – after all it was bad light, there was snow in the air and I hadn’t seen too much on my last Maridalen visits, so no need for a camera then. As a back-up I could always take pictures with the phone through my bins.

With it being +1C and lots of fresh snow driving was not easy and I seriously thought about turning round on at least three occasions but I saw there were enough other people on the roads that surely it would be OK. There was nothing to see in Maridalen as I drove up to Skar and two stops failed to produce any Pine Grosbeaks. I did not dare drive to the feeding station where “anonymous” wrote on my blog that they had seen a Goshawk eating the side of pork yesterday as I feared I would not make one steep section of road. Deciding it was best to head home in one piece what flew over the road? Of course it was a flock of 12 Pine Grosbeaks. As is well known the best way to find this otherwise unobtrusive species is to drive well-trafficked roads and wait for them. It really is an enigma how I fail to find them when I go walking in the forest but I manage to find them from the road. For a species that can stay in the same tree for 10 minutes before flying to the neighbouring tree, the chances of discovering them from the car must be minimal but I have now done so six times in Maridalen this winter!

I had to drive a bit before I could turn the car round and then had to drive back past where I had seen the birds for a few hundred metres before I could park safely. I then had to walk back but they were exactly where I had seen them fly in. All 12 birds in the same spruce tree, feeding and occasionally calling quietly. Of course as I had no camera, they gave the best views I have had in Maridalen as they fed halfway down the tree. There were also a number of males. My attempts at taking pictures with the iphone through my old Zeiss bins was a fiasco as I had not tried to do so before with this combo and practice is needed and also the phone didn’t want to record as there was no memory left! Great views but no photos...oh well. Jarl Nystrøm drove past and was able to enjoy the Grosbeaks and also tell me that both an adult and a young Goshawk (hønsehauk) had been feeding on the pork! What the hell I thought, I’ll give it a go. Enormous amounts of wheel spinning, burning clutch and high pulse got me there but the birds didn’t show for me and I was keen to drive home whilst it was still light. There will always be a tomorrow but as long as I survive the journey.....

I did manage this video which shows nothing more that the tree they were in, a second long sequence where you can see them in flight and those with exceptionally good hearing can, in addition to a passing car, hear the Grosbeaks calling. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Maridalen - the year that (nearly) was

Red Kite (glente) - one of the year's highlights in Maridalen

With the year rapidly coming to an end I thought I would write some posts summarising the year’s highlights starting with the year in Maridalen.

Maridalen is my local patch and is a broad, shallow valley directly north of Oslo City. The valley is a cul-de-sac meaning there is limited car traffic although it is very popular with cyclists and skiers. The focal point in Maridalen is the large lake, Maridalsvannet, which is the source of Oslo's drinking water. To avoid pollution of the water there is no access to the lake or fishing allowed which makes it undisturbed thereby increasing its attractiveness to birds. The rest of the valley consists of a mosaic of farmland and mixed woodland with the valley edges being mixed spruce and pine forest. This rich mix of habitats plus its position at the head of the Oslofjord makes Maridalen a very attractive area for birds and especially in April and May during spring migration.

2012 has undoubtedly been my best year in Maridalen and the only thing lacking was low water levels in May which meant that there were few waders recorded.

The undoubted highlights for me were Hawk Owl (haukugle) and multiple Pine Grosbeaks (konglebit) at the end of the year but these were not the rarest birds. Two national rarities put in an appearance: Mediterranean Gull (svartehavsmåke) and River Warbler (elvesanger) plus a former one in the form of Red Kite (glente).
The year started quietly with just regular sightings of a Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)  to liven things up. Spring came on 13 March with 5 Skylarks (sanglerke) including singing birds and less than a week later the first Lapwings (vipe) and Starlings (stær) were back. Migrating Pink-footed Geese (kortnebbgås) are a regular sight every spring and this year the first were a flock of 55 on 26 March and the last a resting flock of 450 on 2 May which also included 3 rossicus Bean Geese (sædgås).

part of a flock of 450 Pink-footed Geese (kortnebbgås) with three rossicus Bean Geese (sædgås) at the back
29 April was a very special day with at least 70 Teal (krikkand), a pair of Shoveler (skjeand), female Smew (lappfiskand), 10 Red-throated Divers (smålom) and most surprisingly a male Eider (ærfugl). Also at the end of April there were up to 11 Black-throated Diver (storlom), a male Common Scoter (svartand) and a pair of Slavonian Grebes (horndykker). Oslo’s overwintering 1st winter Med Gull put in three occurences in April/May but was probably present daily.

Overhead there was a regular raptor passage with Kestrels (tårnfalk) predominating plus Common (musvåk) and Rough-legged Buzzards (fjelvåk), Merlin (dvergfalk), Osprey (fiskeørn) and best of all a Red Kite (glente) which flew right over my head. 
Cranes (trane) were also a regular sight. Interestingly there was a noticeable southerly movement of raptors in the beginning of May which I attribute to the near complete absence of lemmings in the mountains which caused many raptors to seek out alternate breeding grounds.
In the fields there was as usual a good passage of thrushes with upto six species in a day, finches and buntings with a male Bluethroat an colourful guest.
Male Bluethroat (blåstrupe) - a scarce spring guest to Maridalen

The breeding season was very interesting with River (elvesanger), Grasshopper (gresshoppesanger), Marsh (myrsanger) and Icterine (gulsanger) Warblers, Corncrake (åkerrikse), Wryneck (vendehals), Red-backed Shrike (tornskate) and Common Rosefinch (rosenfink) in the farmland. On the water both Whooper Swan (sangsvane) and Black-throated Diver (storlom) bred succesfully.
River Warbler (elvesanger) - a proper rarity in Maridalen!

Grasshopper Warbler (gresshoppesanger) - although not a national rarity this was my first record for the patch

One of the smartest birds you'll find, a male Red-backed Shrike (tornskate). A pair bred this year

Male Common Rosefinch (rosenfink) - one of up to three birds in Maridalen this year

Wrynecks (vendehals) bred succesfully and were a constant highlight of the summer
Autumn passage is far more protracted than spring passage with fewer scarce birds but both Common (makrellterne) and Arctic Terns (rødnebbterne) were new patch ticks for me and flocks of 12 Black-throated Diver and 18 Common Scoter were high counts. There was also a number of Guillemots on the lake and this one which needed help finding the lake after ditching down on the road instead.

out of place Guillemot (lomvi)
It is the late autumn / early winter period though that I will remember for many years to come. The first Pine Grosbeaks turned up on 29 October with 5 birds and peaked with 26 in the beginning of December although they were never easy to locate as they fed unobtrusively high in spruce trees.
part of an astonishing flock of 26 Pine Grosbeaks (konglebit) and an undoubted highlight of 2012

 The Hawk Owl graced us for four days staying loyal to roadside wires although was unfortunately pushed on by the first significant snowfall.
perhaps even better than the grosbeaks? This Hawk Owl (haukugle) graced Maridalen with its presence for four days

At the beginning of December before the lake froze a mixed flock of Whooper and Mute Swans (knoppsvane) added some style. Also at this time a Great Grey Shrike (varsler) was as always a fine sight, a Grey-headed Woodpecker (gråspett) put in a fleeting appearance and a to mirror the start of the year, a Pygmy Owl proved to be a regular sighting.

The Whooper Swan (sangsvane) pair succesfully raised four young and stayed until the lake froze in the beginning of December

Tawny Owls (kattugle) breed in a number of places in Maridalen and this youngster had just jumped out of a nest box when I found him

My recorded year list was 138 species although I note I never recorded Blackbird which must be an oversight. I failed to see Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Short-eared Owl which luckier individuals recorded.

After such a great 2012, it will take something special for 2013 to top it. Great Grey Owl maybe?

Saturday, 22 December 2012


Yesterday I went looking for the hard stuff: Hawk Owl (haukugle) and Great Grey Owl (lappugle) in Nesodden but without luck. A Great Grey Shrike (varsler) was the best I could turn up.
I was getting a bit worried that Hawk Owls have moved on as there seemed to be a marked reduction in the number of records around Oslo last week but it was good to see that there were three separate birds reported today. I think that birds have just been searching out new hunting grounds as a bird that stays loyal to the same spot for anything over a week must make a serious dent in the local rodent population and it will be a matter of time before it is time to fly to pastures new.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Slab of meat

-11C in Maridalen today and treacherously icy roads - I saw one car being pulled out of snow from the side of a perfectly straight stretch of road after the driver presumably pressed too hard on the brakes and skidded off.
I tried for the Grosbeaks on foot without luck but this could have been my mistake - I seem to have far more luck finding them from a moving car!
At one of the feeding stations someone has hung up side of pork. This is what I will be eating on 24 December when we celebrate Christmas in Norway and I will be crunching my way through crispy crackling. This particular slab of frozen meat though, which must have been rock hard, had the attention of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker which was stabbing furiously at the meat to try to chip off a bit. People often hang up the fat which is very popular with birds but this particular bit had been hung up meat and all and with the fat against the tree – maybe it will prove tempting to a lynx ;-)
male Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding on pork

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


I haven't had too much time for birding the last couple of days so whilst Rune was getting his shot of Hawk Owl near Tønsberg today I was being a stand in responsible adult on a kindergarten xmas theatre trip. I did manage to race around Maridalen before it got dark and briefly had a Pygmy Owl for my troubles.

Otherwise, there are still small numbers of Waxwings and Fieldfares hanging around the few apple trees that still bear fruit in the local neighbourhood

Monday, 17 December 2012


Having gone over three days without the hard stuff or the soft stuff I could have been forgiven for thinking that I was on my way to being cured of my addiction but that would just have been fooling myself. On the pretence of looking, again, for the Halden Kingfisher (isfugl) I ventured into deepest Østfold again today. This time the Kingfisher gave itself up straight away. I had agreed to meet Per Buertange in Halden at the Kingfishers favourite place. Per arrived 10 minutes before me and the gentleman that he is didn’t leave his car before I arrived in case the bird was there and he scared it off. This allowed me to get out of my car, raise my bins and literally the first thing I saw was the Kingfisher sitting on a branch on the opposite bank. We were able to watch it for 5 minutes or so before it silently disappeared without us noticing. This is only my second Kingfisher in Norway and as always they are fantastic birds to watch. The photos were nothing special as today was another of those December days when it never gets light and I couldn’t manage any photos at less than ISO 6400.
only my second Kingfisher (isfugl) in Norway and only the 5th reported this year. The all black bill shows this to be a male

With the Kingfisher safely under my belt my mind drifted and I realised I needed to get a dose. I set off on incredibly slippery roads (after weeks of freezing temperatures we have had two days with temperatures of +2C and rain which has turned less trafficked roads into ice rinks) but even though I put my life on the line I couldn’t find what my body craved today. Two Great Grey Shrikes (varlser) were small compensation. 
one of two Great Grey Shrikes (varsler) I saw today but for once no Hawk Owls

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The treatment starts

When one is trying to overcome an addiction there are two types of treatment. The most brutal is cold turkey and is perhaps the most effective but there is a less harsh alternative. One can swap the hard stuff for something softer and then reduce the daily dose until one manages to wean oneself off. It has been suggested that I should swap my Hawk Owls for Gulls, with Gulls even being described as a “medicine” but I see this just as the words of a persuasive dealer. I’m sure that I will be offered a free Iceland Gull but then soon I’ll be trawling the docks for Caspian Gulls or even hybrids. I am strong enough to avoid that stuff!
What I need, is to swap the Owls for something small and colourful that I can find more easily and enjoy in larger quantities but which will be easier to stop with over time. Something like Pine Grosbeaks and I know exactly where to find them!
I took it upon myself to stop Rune following me down the Hawk Owl high so took him with me to trawl Maridalen today looking for our soft Grosbeak high. My usual dealer was not hanging out in his usual place at Hauger so we drove slowly around looking for more. At Sandermosen we found what we were looking for. Sitting on top of a spruce having a preen were four males and a female Pine Grosbeak. I really don’t know if they are less addictive!
Although, as usual, the tree was high and the lighting poor (it was also snowing) they showed themselves off and also called softly occasionally. It is strange that this group of five contained four adult males whereas the group of 11 in Oppland didn’t contain a single adult (red) male.
There was lots of stretching and preening. In this flock of four males and one female these two males seemed good buddies

The female has a stretch but gets little attention from these two guys

Rune got his high but looked to be in control of himself and had to return to work. I however had more time. I tried to find the Grey-headed Woodpecker at the feeding station but without luck although a rare winter Chaffinch was a good find. I did need another hit though so went back to Hauger and, what do you know, they were back. This time a flock of 17. They also called only occasionally but moved from tree to tree every couple of minutes. Given how thorough they seem to be in each tree there can’t be much food left for them in this particular area. The whole flock moved together and I have two pictures of tree tops which contain all 17 birds but if you can only see a couple of them if you are lucky – as I have said before they are an incredibly unobtrusive bird!
Believe it or not there are 17 Pine Grosbeaks in this tree - I know because I counted them when they flew out

And 17 in this tree.....
I managed to see 7 in the picture

Some other photo opportunities presented themselves today:
Jay (nøttseskrike)

Tree Sparrow (pilfink)

young roe deer (rådyr)