Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Tree watching

View from Ekeberg with the threatened woodland in foreground and Oslofjord in background
A planned development of a part of the Ekeberg area of Oslo has been met with much criticism as it will negatively impact one of the few areas of undeveloped woodland in the city. The local bird club, NOFOA, has been asked to carry out a survey to plot trees of interest such that these can hopefully be preserved. I have been asked to do the survey and today I was out tree watching. The area has a few old and dead trees and a number of these bore evidence of woodpeckers including the rings left by Three-toed Woodpecker but I only heard a single Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker. Otherwsie numerous Blue and Great Tits, a few Crested Tits and many Siskin and Bullfinch. A couple of overflying Crossbills were the avian highlights.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Swanning around waiting for Spring

The sun finally defeats the mist
 Yesterday it snowed for half the day and the other half was decked in mist. Today after the mist lifted the skies were blue and temperatures inched towards double figures (positive). There was a definite feeling of spring in the air although my trip around northern Akershus and southern Oppland county with Rune Z revealed no real signs of spring on the avian front with very little open water to attract migrant waterbirds and fields still mostly covered in snow. With a strong sun and snow decked fields the light was incredibly strong today and with no sunglasses I was squinting the whole time.
The near low point of the day was when I slipped on some snow covered ice, badly banging my elbow and also crashing bins, scope and camera hard onto the ground. All of the optics appear have survived the ordeal although my body again revealed how lamely it tackles pain with me coming close to blacking out.
The highlight of the day was 2 Little Grebes from the bridge at Minesund but other than this we had to content ourselves with a few Mute Swans, 3 Whooper Swans, a Coot, Collared Dove and a Goldfinch which is apparently a scarce species in Oppland.
With so little to see I paid more attention to the swans than o would normally do and realised that you can easily differentiate between up-ending Mute and Whooper Swans due to different shaped tails. Can you tell which is which?

Mute or Whooper Swan?

Whooper or Mute Swan?

Monday, 27 February 2012


A quick stop at Sandvika today turned up the Little Grebe after a lot of effort but it immediately disappeared in a stretch of river where there was no place to hide - no wonder it is very infrequently reported. The Bean Goose was also not present - it obviously has another favoured location as two of the teams failed to see it early on yesterday.
A couple of pictures:
Male Goosander

A family of Mute Swans showing a bit of attitude

Bird race pics

Some Bird Race pictures courtesy of Rune Z

Trying to summon up an Iceland Gull at Drøbak 0749

Our first Great Grey Shrike dip Vestby 0901

A near fruitless spell of sea gazing at Krokstrand 1056

Sunday, 26 February 2012

And The Gull Team……

 ….won!!  We were not at all confident that our 65 species would be enough and kept on discussing the species we had missed but in the end we won by the narrow margin of 2 species!
The day ended at a pizza restaurant with strict instructions not to reveal our total before the official registration began. The registration was done in a very exciting manner with each team calling a species they had seen and the other teams  saying whether they had seen it or not. This kept the suspense high until the end when each team turn by turn had no more species to add.
Our 65 species included only one national rarity (The Med Gull) and really no other species of any scarcity but we were rewarded through hard work and probably an extra pair of eyes (2 of the other teams consisted only of 2 members whilst the third team had 3). We saw 6 species not seen by any other team but also missed 14 species as the total number of species seen was 79.
Our 6 “aces” were Long-tailed Duck, Canada Goose (very surprising as every team visited Østensjøvannet where we saw them but they were feeding in an obscure area which we luckily saw from our viewpoint), Common Scoter, Waxwing, Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker  (we had at least 3 different birds) and one other which escapes me at the moment (update: it was believe it or not Sparrowhawk)
The biggest misses we had were Treecreeper (seen by only myself and not 3 team members as was required), Wren, Pygmy Owl (we ran out of time to visit Maridalen), Crested Tit, Razorbill, Grey-headed Woodpecker (not seen by any of the teams but seen by others today at the site we visited) and Great Grey Shrike (again not seen by any other team but we tried 4 sites so should have scored). Other species seen but not by us were Hawfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Peregrine, Whooper Swan, Short-eared Owl, Blackcap, Chaffinch, Lesser Redpoll and Nutcracker.

We began the day at 6am when the other 3 arrived at my house. Whilst they were waiting for me to appear they heard a Robin singing which I did not hear. We then drove to the Drøbak area for dawn where we did not score with all the species we had hoped, noticeably not seeing Iceland Gull but this area proved to be very good for woodpeckers with Green, Black, Great and Lesser Spotted. We also had a single Waxwing in a garden here. Marsh Tits proved to be common which teams staying closer to Oslo failed to see. Seawatching from Hulvik and Krokstrand provided very little although it was here we saw our Common Scoters. The drive along the E6 drew a blank for Great Grey Shrike although we picked up Dipper at Årungen and our stop at Fløisbonn also drew a blank for Grey-headed Woodpecker but we did get Sparrowhawk and Common Crossbill.  Østensjøvannet provided the expected 3 species of geese and Coot and the docks gave up the wintering Kestrel from the car. The Med Gull fell at Marienlyst fairly quickly although luck was on our side as there were only a handful of gulls and they were not interested in bread. A run through a people-packed Frognerparken gave us Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Black-headed Gull and the Tawny Owl was seen from the car. By now it was approaching 3pm and time was running out. Fornebu was next on the cards and some gazing from Rolfstangen gave us Guillemot and a very distant Long-tailed Duck but precious little else.
Sandvika turned up trumps with Bean Goose and Little Grebe which some of the other teams missed and then we had our last 45 minutes walking through the woodland around Dælivannet. Here we hoped for amongst others Three-toed Woodpecker but we failed on this score although did have a strong finish with Goshawk, Brambling and Redpoll and fine views of a male Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker.
All-in-all a great day and thanks to Bjørn Olav, Per Christian and especially Rune who drove, for a lot of fun and the 2 Andreas’s for organising the day.

No real time for pictures today although I hope to add some pictures of the team later. Here are the Tawny Owl and Little Grebe doing a good job of hiding) though :

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Eve of the bird race

Just a few hours left until the official start of the bird race and the bag is packed and the plans are made. No chance for any last minute recce today due to my parents visiting but a quick drive around Maridalen at dusk did allow me to give them very unsatisfactory views of two Moose and the Pygmy Owl.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Short-eared Owl

Just incidental birding today. I took the girls swimming at the nice new pool at Fornebu and on the way back i noticed a bird circling and being mobbed by two crows. After stopping as soon as possible and jumping out of the car with binoculars in hand it turned out to be a Short-eared Owl. In beautiful sunshine it would have made for a great, if distant, photo subject if only I had my camera with me. The last week of mild weather has resulted in large areas of snow free ground at Fornebu just waiting for the first spring migrants. Spring seems to have arrived very early this year and it will be interesting to see if the birds also arrive early. Driving down to Rygge airport in the afternoon i had one of the five possible Great Grey Shrikes along the road. Hopefully it will be as easy during Sunday's bird race.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Pygmy Owl again

It is the winter half-term holiday (vinterferie) which rather curtails my birding opportunities but I did manage a drive around Maridalen with the girls in the back of the car and for once they both seemed interested in birds. We had the Pygmy Owl atop a roadside tree although on looking at it through the bins Emily’s only comment was that it looked like a “pear, or maybe an apple”. At one of the feeding stations we had a Jay and 4 Bullfinches alongside the Tits and these were very popular especially after they were located in the bird book.

I have recently had the honour of becoming a member of the Norwegian Rarities Committee NSKF and have started my work of reviewing the records for 2011. Only about 500 records to go through before our first meeting in April! VERY EXCITING STUFF.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Gull is for Gold

Last night “The Gull Team” met over pizza and beer to plan our winning strategy for Sunday’s winter bird race. Our chosen name is a rather weak word play with Gull being the Norwegian word for GOLD but there is nothing feeble about our plan for the day with victory being the only acceptable outcome!
There are currently three other teams that have announced their participation but the organisers are choosing to keep the suspense factor high by not announcing who the competition is – obviously fearing sabotage and other acts unfitting of ornithologists.
My birding today was limited to the garden where the over wintering Robin burst into song, 3 Blue Tits were chasing each other and a flock of 11 Waxwings flew over. I will soon have to put up the bird box with built-in camera that I was given as a birthday present last year.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Birding was confined to a walk along the upper part of Akerselva in Oslo today. A single Dipper and a Goosander with some bread-eating Mallards were the highlights. On a warm, sunny day there was a lot of activity from the tits with song and display and much chasing of rival birds. Maybe spring is about to spring?
Female Goosander

Here you can why Goosander is one of the "sawbill" ducks along with Red-breasted Merganser and Smew

Monday, 20 February 2012

Few birds in the mountains

We were staying in a cabin this weekend near Veggli in Buskerud. The cabin was on the tree line at 1000m and would I was sure result in some good birds on the cross country skiing trips that were planned. The trip started well with both Willow and Rock Ptarmigan seen from the sofa on the first evening:
Rare view of both Willow and Rock Ptarmigan together in flight against a snow covered mountain. They are still in autumn plumage - has the mild winter caused them to delay adoption of their full white winter plumage?

It is unusual to see them so close and especially both species flying together. I noted that the Willow Ptarmigan has 4 primary fingers showing whereas the Rock has 5 - is this an identification feature?

After this great start things rather slowed down due to the strong wind that was constantly blowing. In three days all I saw was a Magpie, a Great Tit and I heard a Greenfinch. I was especially disappointed not to see Siberian Jay which must have been present in the forest.

Apolgies for the badly photoshopped imaged above. Here is the real photo :-)

Friday, 17 February 2012

Slim pickings

A short trip around Maridalen was very short on birds with no Pygmy Owl suggesting we may struggle on the bird race. Rune on the otherhand was out and about receeing for the bird race and notched up 50 species relatively easily. With 4 pairs of eyes and a whole days birding we will be hoping for 70 species

Thursday, 16 February 2012


Temperatures were above freezing today and there was a slight wind such that the ice in the main Oslo fjord has broken up but the inner half of Kurefjorden was still frozen. Due to the wind there was much less to see on the water today and I could locate no waders this time (presumably they have moved south again). I had one Great Grey Shrike by the E6 on both the outward and homeward journey plus a new bird near the village of Tomb.
Three Rough-legged Buzzards were on the islands in the mouth of Kurefjorden but the undoubted highlight was an adult or near adult White-tailed Eagle which appeared unannounced over my head before landing on an island and then later sitting on the ice before taking a tour of the fjord. It had a fine white tail and huge yellow beak but the head was perhaps not pale enough for it to be a full adult.
Krokstadfjorden was also mostly frozen with little to see but there was a flock of 100 Herring Gulls here which I went through bird by bird. No white-winged gulls to be found but two first winter gulls were very pale and one at least was a very good candidate for a Herring x Glaucous hybrid due to its large size and brutish build, two-toned bill and very pale primaries (I only saw the bird at rest through the scope and whilst I tried to get closer every bird in the area was spooked by an unseen raptor and I never picked it up again). Four fly over Common Crossbills were a long overdue year tick.
White-tailed Eagle

Great Grey Shrike

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

No owls.....unfortunately

Last night I took Madrid birder, Ricardo on a tour of the forests of Mangen in Aurskøg-Høland to listen to owls. These vast forests are the best in the area for Tengmalm's Owls with over 40 being recorded on one trip a few years ago and must have a slim chance of holding Great Grey or Ural especially after the good breeding seasons both have had recently in neighbouring county Hedmark. Wolves are also resident in the area. The middle of February is perhaps a bit early in the season but I felt completely certain that we would hear at least Tengmalm's. As it happened in 3 and a half hours driving through the forest we did not hear or see a single bird or animal. It was a cloudless night with a fantastic display of stars with little wind, both of which should be good conditions for singing owls. The only obvious negative factor was the complete absence of the moon which normally encourages owl activity. Maybe it is a very poor rodent year this year? Whatever the cause I was very disappointed to have to throw in the towel just after midnight and begin the drive home. I expect of course that in the coming weeks others will visit the area and have great success!

To bring some colour to this post, here are some pictures Rune took on our trip to Eftang last week which show a bit of light at this time of the year and the arctic conditions.

This beach held Dunnock, Meadow Pipits and Blackbirds finding food in the washed up seaweed

Birding in semi arctic conditions

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Street Walking

The Tawny Owl dozing
The car was in for repair today (following a burning seat incident last week) so I took the opportunity to tramp the streets of Oslo to see if I could locate any good species for the upcoming Bird Race. Well after 5 hours and 15 km of walking the short answer was no not really. I failed to find the Glaucous Gull which was last reported 12 days ago and found no Hawfinches or any other exciting passerines. The Med Gull was still faithful to its park although was a bit shy today (presumably meaning it was already well fed) and a female Sparrowhawk gave good views.  Highlight of the day was a Tawny Owl at its daytime roost in Frognerparken which will be a good bird for the bird race.

Female Sparrowhawk

The Tawny Owl is really well camouflaged!

Had to take another picture of the Med Gull given it is about the only national rarity around Oslo

Monday, 13 February 2012

Birds on Ice

A frozen Kurefjorden

A truly memorable day. Blue sky, no wind, great light and only a couple of degrees minus. Some good birds too. After a weekend spent in London on a stag party I needed to get out to clear the cobwebs. Intrigued by a report of 7 Purple Sandpipers yesterday I chose Kurefjorden as my destination. I was surprised by the extent of the ice with most of Kurefjorden but also much of the Oslofjord covered in ice. It is the lack of wind recently rather than extreme cold that has allowed this salt water to freeze over.
Arriving at the Larkollen side of the fjord mouth by the peninsula called Denmark I soon had the Purple Sands in the scope on a small rocky island that was surrounded by open water. I then scanned the small areas of open water hoping for some exciting divers, ducks or grebes but had to be content with a handful of Great Crested Grebes, Common and Velvet Scoters. Looking towards the Oslofjord and the Sletter islands I noticed that there were birds moving: auks, Goldeneyes, Great crested Grebes and Velvet Scoters. These were birds presumably moving due to the fjord icing over. Also a flock of 96 Common Scoters on the sea was way larger than any other flock I have seen this winter. There were also 5 Guillemots on the open water and these were at times calling loudly and frequently to each other. I picked up only 3 Rough-legged Buzzards in my first scan of the islands and then had a smaller raptor flying low and away from me which turned out to be a female Sparrowhawk. This first perched on Mellom Sletter island before heading for Store Sletter. I followed it in the scope and was amazed to see it put up a flock of waders as it reached the beach at Store Sletter.  The flock split in two with 60 heading south and 40 heading out of sight behind Store Sletter. There was a larger bird with the southbound flock which turned out to be a Grey Plover and the other birds were most likely Dunlin based on their size and how they flew as a flock although I struggled to note much in the way of plumage (I realise though that I cannot discount Purple Sandpiper due to the range so I have reported these as calidris sp). Either way this is a very exceptional record. There have been a few waders in the Oslo fjord recently including a couple of Knot but such high numbers (and possibly three separate species) is extreme. I can only think that these are birds that have been displaced by the freezing conditions in Denmark or Germany and have somehow headed north and then been funnelled up the Oslofjord. The flat Sletter Islands which were surrounded by open water were presumably one of very few suitable places for them to land although I cannot see them hanging around as food must be very scarce.
I kept scanning the islands but failed to see them again. I did get much better views of the Purple Sandpipers on their rock and then picked out a distant White-tailed Eagle perched on Søndre Sletter. This disappeared after 10 minutes although I assume it just dropped down the back side of the island. Twenty minutes later a 1st winter White Tailed Eagle flew from behind me towards Store Sletter and put up six Rough-legged Buzzards giving me 9 in total. I am certain that this eagle was a new bird as I cannot see how the other bird could have flown from its island without me seeing it.
Also 2 common seals in the water.

Heading for Brentetangen to see if there was any birds moving I was very surprised to see that the fjord was over 90% frozen with 8 seals sitting on the ice as though we were in the arctic. There was some open water close to Brentetangen and this held 46 Guillemots, 6 Razorbills and a few ducks . There were also a few Guillemots sitting or standing on the ice looking very lost.

My last port of call was Moss where I hoped the harbour may hold some interesting gulls. Unfortunately I could not find anything among the couple of hundred Herring Gulls other than a few Great Black-backs and Black-headed Gulls but the ducks were more interesting. 570 Mallard, 210 Tufted and 10 Goldeneyes held a male Gadwall in their midst as well as 3 Coot.
On the drive back I had 2 Great Grey Shrikes by the motorway (the birds that hang out either side of Vestby) one of which I had also seen on the way down.

The harbour in Moss with in excess of 1000 birds

The largest bird of the day
Looking south from Brentetangen. There were 8 Common Seal hauled up on the ice in the middle of the fjord

All in all a very enjoyable day with the icing over of the Oslo fjord causing some exciting concentrations of birds.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Pygmy Owl in Maridalen

Pygmy Owl
 The inaugral Oslo and Akershus winter bird race is happening in a couple of weeks so I thought I would do a reccee of Maridalen by ski to see if there might be any reliabel sites for forest grouse or woodpeckers. Well the short answer is no but I did have a Pygmy Owl in the same place as December which is definitely a good sign for the race.
Also a young moose ran over the road in front of me.
For once the forest was not silent and I actually had good numbers of Tits with one flock containing 20 Great, 6 Coal and 4 Willow. The reason for the good numbers here is probably the close proximity of houses with feeding stations. Also 2 drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers which is a pleasant sign of spring and a single Black Woodpecker.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


When I was growing up there were only two redpoll species to worry about although there was also the subspecies Mealy Redpoll. Then some biologist provided enough proof for the splitters to create 3 species plus some unanswered questions regarding the races found in Iceland and Greenland. Now from what I understand they may all get lumped and that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.
Today I was lucky enough to find a flock of 30 redpolls of which at least one was a clear Arctic Redpoll (a snow ball with wings), one a clear Lesser Redpoll and the rest Common (Mealy) Redpolls of varying colours with some at the brown end and some at the white end of plumage variation.
The birds were by the road near Rygge and only gave good scope views so no pictures unfortunately.
Today was a crisp, cold and sunny so the destination today was Kurefjorden. No new birds to see compared with earlier visits and fewer birds generally probably as a result of an exodus as the fjord was half frozen. Five different Rough-legged Buzzards on the islands and a couple of Great Grey Shrikes were the highlights with 300 Goldeneyes and 24 Velvet Scoter on the water.
I also visited the next fjord to the south, Krokstadfjord, for the first time. This is a narrow fjord but has some mudflats and looks a good site. A Red-throated Diver, 4 Great Crested Grebes and 4 Razorbills were of note.
On the drive home I had a Grey-headed Woodpecker low over the car allowing me to see the grey undersides and lack of barring in the tail to rule out Green.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Pictures in the sun

Mute Swan

Taiga Bean Goose

Goldeneye pair

No "real" birding today but I did drop into Kadettangen at Sandvika whilst the sun was shining and managed some slightly better pictures of the Bean Goose aswell as a nice picture of a Mute Swan and a pair of Goldeneye.