Thursday, 28 November 2013

Guess what?

Well I’m nothing if not predictable so after a fairly fruitless trip around Maridalen I found myself at the Botanical Gardens again. There was a bitter North West wind today but with glorious sunshine from a cloud free sky I hoped that there might be the chance for some marginally better pictures. As I was meeting James for some filming at Østensjøvannet at 1130 I left before the sun was at its highest but it is doubtful that the favoured fruit tree gets that much direct sunlight.

There were only four birds in the hour I was there and it was the reddest male who was missing. Given their tameness they must be easy prey for a Sparrowhawk or cat so it isn’t surprising their numbers have been depleted. With the warmer weather (once out of the wind) the frost that they had been eating has now disappeared although they did drop down onto the grass for a short period. I couldn’t really work out what they were eating/drinking from the grass but they quickly moved to the nearby path where it looked like they were digesting grit which is a well known for crossbills presumably as a help for digestion. Two of the birds - a male and a female - interacted by touching bills and it looked like they may have passed food between themselves. Although suggesting an adult feeding a youngster, the age of the birds (both 1cy) and time of the year means it must be some other type of behaviour. These two birds were often together and I believe are actually pair forming and that what I witnessed was courtship feeding. See for yourself in this video from today (I am still working on another video from the previous 3 days footage).

Otherwise I did get some pictures which may be better than the previous days efforts but I’m not sure I’m the best judge.

the first birds I saw in the berry tree were these Waxwings which are far more efficient than the Crossbills and just eat the whole berry

here are the Two-barred Crossbills (båndkorsnebb) eating grit

pretty happy with this one

the same bird in all four pictures - note how the perception of colours changes depending on the lighting

At Østensjøvannet the birds were a bit wary of the underwater camera we tried to use but the light was very good and there were some good shots. There are just two very small patches of open water left and amongst the hundreds of Mallards the young male Pintail made a good subject.
the Pintail was often on the receiving end of a lot of Mallard abuse

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

It's getting hot

guess what I went looking for today

half my bill seems to be missing

The day started at Fornebu in gorgeous sunlight and freezing temperatures. At about 10am though a warm front suddenly arrived (as forecast). I cannot remember ever experiencing anything similar: there was suddenly a fresh breeze and with it came warm air. I guess it went from -3C to +7C in the space of a minute.

Fornebu had a few good birds to offer but was relatively quiet otherwise. Five Bearded Tits (skjeggmeis) and five Hawfinches (kjernebiter) were the scarcest whilst the male Kestrel (tårnfalk) was the most photogenic and gave me my best ever pictures of the species.

male Kestrel hovering directly over me

when it first appeared it was mobbed by some Redpolls one of which I captured in this picture. Look at that large white rump - looks like I should have grilled the Redpolls!

some distant reeds and for those with good imagination 5 Bearded Tits

this Redpoll did allow itself to be grilled but I am not completely wise to whether it is a Common Redpoll (gråsisik) or a Lesser Redpoll (brunsisik) but favour the latter.

5 Hawfinches were feeding on some sort of berry that appeared to be quite difficult to swallow!

I was however feeling a call and made my way into town. I stopped at Kongshavn where there were few duck although alongside 30 Tufted Ducks (toppand) were the two Velvet Scoters (sjøorre). Interestingly whilst I was watching them diving they were visibly spooked by a large fish and both popped out of the water like a cork and flapped away.

tail of fish beside female Velvet Scoter

a young male Velvet Scoter running away from the scary fish

For the third day running I made my way to the Botanical Gardens and the crossbills were performing in an exemplary fashion (this risks becoming my new addiction). They are not at all fussed by people and nearly landed at one person’s feet. I also had them feeding above me in the berry tree within the 2.2m focusing limit of my lens!

I know that I have bored the majority of the people who read this blog with my thoughts on aging and moult progression of these birds but I did notice one more interesting thing today. The greyer of the two females and the one that I have previously considered to be the youngest actually has come further in the moult of its tertials and has adult like tertials appearing whilst the other bird which has much greener (and therefore adult like) body feathers still has its juvenile tertials (see pictures below). Both would therefore appear to be 1st calendar year birds.

I succeeded in recording the calls today so now have a job to do in editing all the short video clips I have taken. Of course I took a few more (everything is relative) pictures of the 2BCs today and can’t resist publishing a few more. I have tried to focus on pictures showing their interesting feeding behaviour and exceptional dexterity. Note how they hold the berry stems in their feet whilst cutting through the flesh.
The two female Two-barred Crossbills. The bird on the left is far more advanced with its body moult with a lot of yellow/green feathers yet still has juvenile tertials (with very thin white edges). The bird on the left still has grey juvenile body feathers but note that it is growing adult like tertials with broad white edges. Clearly moult varies greatly with this species.

a less advanced male with juvenile tertials
the most advanced male showing his growing adult like tertials
the greyer female opening a berry

holding the berry with its feet

berry opened to allow access to the seeds

one of the males holding a berry with its feet by the stalk

here holding a berry with its claws

note how this berry has been very symetricaly sliced into by the crossed mandibles of a Two-barred Crossbill

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Oslo Botanisk Garden shines

female Two-barred Crossbill (båndkorsnebb)

male Two-barred Crossbill

Well it would have been silly not to go back to and enjoy the 2BCs again, wouldn't it? The light was marginally better at times (although could be even better as it was still cloudy today) but I was also better with the camera settings so managed some better quality photos today. I was on site close to 4 hours and during that time observed a steady stream of admirers (at least another 10 birders!) as well as a very rich and varied bird life in the gardens.

Biggest surprise was a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (dvergspett) which suddenly appeared in the same tree as the crossbills. Three separate Goshawks (hønsehauk) including 2 youngsters which flew around together were good at flushing all the birds in the park. I noted at least 12 Hawfinches (kjernebiter), 3 Waxwings (sidensvans), 2 Chaffinch (bokfink), a Brambling (bjørkefink) and 8 Common Crossbills (grankorsnebb). Along with Greenfinch (grønnfink), Bullfinch (dompap), Redpoll (gråsisik) and Siskin (grønnsisik) there were an impressive 9 species of finch in the park today.

The 2BCs followed the same routine as yesterday although today spent longer feeding in the larch tree (always the same one). I watched them feeding high up in the larch where they were incredibly hard to locate and as usual nearly completely silent except before flying off.
not so easy to see high up in a larch tree - note how many cones there are
The birds were the same 5 as yesterday: 3 males and 2 females.  I see now that the males are all 1cy birds but in differing degrees of maturity (although the reddest male does have particularly wide white tips to the (growing) tertials suggesting it may be older although its body plumage shouts 1K). This link shows a fully adult male which has a MUCH redder plumage. Looking at the tertials also suggests that both females are 1K but that one has come much further in moulting its body feathers. Interestingly the "leader" of the flock is the young(est) female who both yesterday and today has been the first bird to move on and bring the others with her. I spent quite a bit of time trying to record the calls but due to their quietness I found this to be a difficult, frustrating and nearly fruitless task.
the three males in the same shot

The Common Crossbills yet again did not mix with their rarer cousins and fed exclusively in another larch tree with the odd visit to the stream to drink. They did once fly towards the berry tree when the 2BCs were in their larch and a couple landed in it but did not stay long and I did not see them feeding on the berries.

So what do you think of today's pictures? They are better I think as I forced down the ISO to 1600. Only problem was that the shutter speed was a lot lower which caused me to suffer when I was taking pictures of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers as the shutter speed was too slow for sharp pictures so I didn't get anything like the pictures I should have.

obvious 1cy male with only very narrow white edges to the tertials
The redder male. A close up showing the still growing tertials - the three white tipped feathers growing on the top of the wing. When fully grown then the longest one will cover (and protect) the feathers beneath. This bird is I believe a well advanced 1cy male but could perhaps be a 2cy?

the colourful female which I yesterday assumed to be an adult. Here though we see it lacks the large white tips to the tertials so is also most likely a 1cy that has come a long way in its body moult

splitting open the berry to get to the seeds

eating frost in a flower bead

a 1cy Goshawk (hønsehauk)

an adult Goshawk

a Hawfinch (kjernebiter) coming down for a drink

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (dvergspett)

the sharpest pictures were when it was looking away...

and again,,,

Monday, 25 November 2013

Oslo's finest

1cy female Two-barred Crossbill (båndkorsnebb) in Oslo today

After all my attempts to find some stationary Two-barred Crossbills (båndkorsnebb) in Oslo have failed it was exciting when a small group was reported from the Botanical Gardens yesterday and the pictures suggested they were, as is often the case, quite trusting birds. I have had a couple of local 2BC records but they have been fly-overs and I have been regularly checking the berry trees I know of so I had hoped to be the one to find the photogenic birds but at least they got reported.

Today was planned for filming with James but I had persuaded him that 2BCs would make a nice subject later in the day after the planned shooting was completed. We had great light for our filming and got some (hopefully) good shots of gulls amongst others. We saw that the Peregrine (vandrefalk) was on top of the hotel - after having seen the remains of its lunch (a half eaten pigeon) under the silos where we saw it hunting previously – but were not able to gain access to the roof top as we couldn’t get hold of the right person. Whilst we waited to be called back the Peregrine flew off and I received a call that the 2BCs were showing. I persuaded James that we should make tracks which James was happy to do after I had explained what a beautiful, fascinating and photogenic bird this really was! James decided to do the right thing and made a call, as we walked, to check it was OK to film in the garden. The answer was yes but it takes two days to consider a request.... WTF!!!

Well a fuming James and I parted ways and I proceeded up to the park. The birds were quite easy to find where I expected them in a large berry laden tree although if I hadn’t known they were there I could have easily walked straight past as they allowed close approach and rarely called. They then showed exceptionally well for the next 100 minutes! As with Pine Grosbeaks (konglebit) I don’t think this is a bird I can ever grow tired of.

They fed on the berries most of the time (seemingly discarding the flesh and just eating the seeds) and on a couple of occasions flew towards some larch trees laden with cones. I did not actually see them in the larch trees but they returned to the berries after around 5 minutes on both occasions. They also, on three occasions, flew down to the ground. I initially expected them to be eating fallen berries but they were actually eating snow/frost. Crossbills need to drink a lot so this was there source of water. I assumed that there was no ice free water in the area but shortly after I heard a Common Crossbill (grankorsnebb) and traced it to a small stream only 20 metres away where it, along with Fieldfares (gråtrost), Blackbirds (svarttrost) and Blue Tits (blåmeis) was drinking and bathing. Quite why the 2BCs chose snow which must be quite energy consuming rather than water I don’t know. I picked up 3 Common Crossbills in total but they fed exclusively in the larch trees and did not eat the berries. This berry tree was very popular attracting also Hawfinch (kjernebiter), Greenfinch (grønnfink) and Fieldfare.

Overhead hunting Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk) and Goshawk (hønsehauk) frightened all the birds on a couple of occasions.

As I said earlier the 2BCs were mostly quiet making them difficult to locate. However before moving (either to the larch trees or onto the ground) or when spooked by a raptor they would call. They gave the “trumpet” call and the more Common Crossbill like call but with a Redpoll (gråsisik) quality. The trumpet call is to my ears IDENTICAL with the call of eastern Bullfinches (dompap) except that it is much quieter. This confirms my previous experience and I am therefore not happy at all about ID’ing based just on the trumpet call especially from a distant bird (as I don’t believe the call of 2BC carries that far). The other crossbill/redpoll type call is fairly distinctive but for me the safest way to ID on call is if one hears both calls which is the basis of my one remaining call only observation this autumn.... It is of course a question of experience of the calls though and must become easier the more birds one sees and hears.

There were five Two-bars and they showed five different plumages. Of the three males, one was a red bird looking to be in adult plumage, one a pinker male and one a more orange male (which on a brief look resembled an adult female) – both of these two being definite 1st calendar year birds. Of the tow females, one was a fine adult looking individual and the other a more juvenile looking specimen. It may well be that all the birds are 1st calendar year (i.e born in 2013) as judging by the aging of ringed birds that I have seen pictures of it looks like 1cy birds can show plumages ranging from juvenile to bright red male which is due to birds have been born at different times in 2013 (different broods) and there also must be differences in how quickly different birds moult.

montage of all five birds as they ate snow/frost. In the middle is an adult female - note the lime green colours. Top left is a 1st cy male with pale orangy pink colours and resembling the adult female. Top right is an advanced male (adult?) with dark red colouration, bottom left another 1cy male with pink colouration and bottom righ a drabber 1cy female
I took over 300 pictures and a load of video of the birds which I need to review and edit. In the meantime here are the shots that struck me as the best on my first run through. Even though it was 1.30pm and a sunny day the light where the birds were was not the best and most of the pictures are taken with 6400 ISO which unfortunately shows. I’ll maybe try again earlier in the morning when the sun light might actually be on the tree.
pinky male

pinky orange male

red male

1cy female

one of the females - biting through the flesh of the berry to extract the seeds

one of the males (reddy?) having sliced open a berry

1 cy female Two-barred Crossbill. With their relatively small bills and small size these birds can almost appear like Greenfinches (grønnfink) on a brief view

poor picture but shows off the red male best

the 1cy female from behind. compare to the adult female below which has far more green colouration on the mantle (back) and head whereas the 1cy bird is grey in these areas

adult female

red male

red male with seeds

adult female
two of the males

adult female Common Crossbill (grankorsnebb) bathing and drinking in a small ice free stream in the garden

Hawfinches (kjernebiter) are a regular sight in the botanical gardens