Sunday, 29 June 2014

Mountain Marsh Runner and more great Norwegian birds

The rare Mountain Marsh Runner is a bird that I have struggled to see on its breeding grounds in Norway but whist guiding Rob Tizard from USA c/o Myanmar over the last two days I finally got to see why its name is so appropriate. If you are struggling to know which species I am talking about then I have taken the literal (or at least my literal) translation of the Norwegian name: fjellmyrløper. In English it goes normally under the name Broad-billed Sandpiper which seems odd as I can’t say that I have ever noticed it having a particularly broad bill. I normally find Norwegian names to make little sense but in this case I will definitely say the Norwegians have chosen a completely appropriate name. This bird spent its time running half hidden running through a mountain marsh and remained invisible to us most of the time even though it was in 12cm high grass only a few metres from us. On migration I have considered it to be the size of a small Dunlin (myrsnipe) but here it appeared smaller than a stint although there were no other waders to compare it to as its choice of habitat (marshes of sodden black peat with short grass) seems to be one shunned by other birds. On our way out to the marsh we had a chorus of angry Whimbrel (småspove), Redshank (rødstilk) and Greenshank (gluttsnipe) wishing us good riddance but the Mountain Marsh Runner did anything but makes it presence known. We walked around the suitable habitat for over half an hour before I flushed up one from nearly under my which then landed less than 10 metres away and promptly disappeared to be only seen on a couple of more occasions as it scurried through the grass and on three occasions it called. It was frustrating but also very exhilarating to see this bird in its very special breeding habitat.

This guiding trip was mostly based in the county of Oppland with a diversion into Hedmark. The reason for this was that Rob wanted to see Dotterel (boltit) and Great Snipe (dobbeltbekkasin). Nearly every bird on this trip required a bit of work to find it and our first target, Dotterel, was no exception. It was cold up on the mountain, with drizzle and much snow still on the ground but eventually we found three birds and had exceptional views with Rob taking some first rate photos although mine are nothing to write home about. Strangely we had little else although three singing Shorelarks (fjellerke) were a year tick for me and a Snow Bunting (snøspurv) was perhaps surprisingly the first one I have seen despite many visits.
After a good dinner and a beer we headed up to a Great Snipe lek which I discovered a few years ago and have visited every year since. The birds took a while to get going and I feared the lek was smaller than in previous years but my midnight we had a dozen males displaying with their strange “song”, running around, jumping and fighting. As Rob said, this has to be one of nature’s greatest spectacles. Even at midnight it was still light enough to see the birds and although still photography is difficult, video (on Robs camera at least) can produce great results.

We were in bed just after 1am with the hotel receptionist giving us a very strange look as we returned to the hotel with cameras and binoculars in the middle of the night!

Day 2 begun at 7am and ended at 1am! Ring Ouzel (ringtrost) was our first target but again we had to work a but before finding a pair feeding a fledgling. Whilst searching we found Bluethroats (blåstrupe) and Redstarts (rødstjert) amongst others. Siberian Jays (lavskrike) also took a while but we had Golden Eagle (kongeørn), Wood Sandpiper (grønnstilk) with young and Crested Tit (toppmeis) as we searched. In typical fashion when the jays did turn up they gave fantastic close views and Rob revealed that he is half jay by being able to imitate their call and having them fly at him.
A good drive took us into the mountains and the marsh Mountain Marsh Runners. We drove through lots of suitable Hawkie habitat but rather surprisingly failed to see one. There was one owl I felt confident of finding though hence the detour to Hedmark. We arrived at the Great Grey sight at 9pm and although there was dampness in the air and rather more wind than I would have liked I expected to open the car doors and hear the young begging for food. This wasn’t to be though and we searched the area for 15 minutes with sight or sound of an owl. After the display less than two weeks ago I was very surprised especially when I did find a youngster high up in a tree. It appeared healthy and was stretching and standing and looking well-fed but over the course of an hour and a half it did not make a single noise nor did we see a parent. This for me was baffling given the frequency of food deliveries previously and the constant begging from the youngsters. We only found the one youngster though so maybe the parents were with the other that had managed to move further away but then surely the bird we had found would have been screaming even louder for food? Perhaps the bird is now of an age that it recognises humans as a threat and it therefore quiet but the bird was still far from fledging with down still on it underparts and far from full grown wings although the pattern of the adults wing feathers was starting to show.

Day 1 was 12 hours birding and Day 2 18 hours before I got home – tiring but some absolutely great birding!

I’ll start with pictures of the Mountain Marsh Runner first. I was shocked to see that one picture was actually quite OK. The rest though were either blurd, I couldn’t find the bird or after much searching I found the tail. I’ve included some of these.

I think this picture was OK - especially when you see all the others

great camo

here I managed a bit of tail and wing

bird in habitat

a bit more wing
the bird stood like this for about 30 seconds just a shame there was all the grass in the way

Add caption

male Bluethroat - one of Norway's finest birds but sadly in decline

female Bluethroat with food for young. This is a colourful and therefore old female

Dotterel, snow and happy photographer

there were not many species to see on the mountain but here two different plovers briefly posed together

my best Dotterel shot which ain't too bad
Great Snipe at 2330 ISO 12800 1/15 sec

Great Snipe 00:30 ISO 12800 1/3 sec - not quite light enough!

the young Great Grey Owl slowly losing its down

Siberian Jay

Whimbrel. We also saw Redshank, Greenshank and Wood Sandpiper standing on top of trees - suddenly "shorebirds" seemed like the wrong name for these birds

Wood Sandpiper and tree

male Yellow Wagtail of the scandinavian race thunbergii. It has green and yellow in the grey on the head and if I had seen this in Israel this spring then I may have thought hybrid

A video as well and I stand by the title but choose to show it anyway. I had lent Rob my tripod so was handholding at midnight so I think it is amazing you can see anything!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Quail singing

Here is a video where you can HEAR the Quail (vaktel) and Blyth's Reed Warbler (busksanger) from the other night. The Quail is so close that you can hear the quiet introduction to its "song" but it refused to show itself.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Wood Warbler

Summer holidays have begun and we are enjoying the fine summer weather at a cabin at Hulvik south of Oslo. There are quite a few birds right around the cabin with amongst other singing Wood Warblers (bøksanger), a male Redstart (rødstjert) collecting food for young and a family of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (dvergspett).

I took a nocturnal tour last night and had five singing Quail (vaktel) including four very close to each other which is a very high number for Norway and a sign of the record warm spring we have had. I failed to locate any Corncrake (åkerrikse) or Nightjars (nattravn) but did have a few Marsh Warblers (myrsanger), a Blyth’s Reed Warbler (busksanger), begging Long-eared Owl (hornugle) chicks at two locations and rarest of all (for me at least) I heard a begging Tawny Owl (kattugle) which is the first time I have recorded this (common) species in Akershus!

One of the Quails was singing only 10 metres from me but remained hidden in the crops and I could also simultaneously hear Blyth’s and Marsh Warbler – quite an experience. I have recorded it on video and will upload later.
Wood Warbler

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Hawk Owl video

I currently have very poor internet connection but have been working on my Great Grey Owl videos and pictures which I will upload later. In the mean time, here is a post I prepared earlier:

Here is a video of two of the Hawk Owls I have seen in the last couple of weeks. First a short snap of a singing male (the one that attacked me) and then the first bird I saw which was mostly sleeping, yawning and preening. but at least I've used a tripod. You also hear the sound of apssing cars because in typical hawkie style it chose to be close to a road!
As usual it is best to chose the highest quality (I have noticed that if watching on an ipad that this option is not available if you watch the video within the blog and you need to choose to watch in Youtube to get the quality options)

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Water Rail pictures

Here are some pictures from yesterday. I also have a good video I can't upload that on the internet connection I currently have.

Baby Water Rail (vannrikse). Nearly impossible to believe that in a few weeks it will look like this:

adult Water Rail. The two adults seemed to have quite a job on their hands with at least 6 youngsters running around the reedbed

the red patch on the top of the head is not an injury but according to the literature they have little down on the hind crown and the red skull shines through.

Common Rosefinch (rosenfink)

Spotted Flycatcher (gråfluesnapper)

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Guiding the sequel

I guiding again today (I'm almost too busy right now!), this time with the enjoyable company of Wayne from Santa Barbara, California. We were only out for the morning which meant I chose to visit Fornebu and Maridalen.

Fornebu gave us the most of the same good birds that I saw with Jan yesterday but also a real treat. After hearing calling Water Rails (vannrikse) which sounded like both young and adults we went to a place that gives a view over a narrow channel of water and after a patient wait we saw both adults and 5 small, black downy youngsters with at least another calling. I fired off a lot of pictures and some video but haven't had a chance to see what they are like yet. This is only the second time I seen Water Rail youngsters and the first time in Norway.

In Maridalen we had four Common Rosefinches (rosefink): two unseen singing males and a pair, the male of which was a brown 2cy. I took pictures of both birds of this pair and it will be interesting to see if I can notice any differences between the sexes.

Friday, 20 June 2014


Yesterday and today I have been guiding Jan from Nashville, Tennessee. Yesterday started well when a visit to a reported Blyth's Reed Warbler (busksanger) revealed a pair nest building. This is the third time I have found pairs and although proven breeding records for this species number probably less than five I suspect that far more of the reported singing males are paired.

Continuing towards Hellesjøvannet we had a few stops and saw a hunting Peregrine (vandrefalk) take a Wood Pigeon (ringdue) in flight with a puff of feathers when the impact occurred. At Hellesjøvannet we had the Whooper Swans (sangsvane) with 6 young and singing Sedge Warbler (sivsanger) and Water Rail (vannrikse). The post breeding congregation of Pochards (taffeland) has started with 11 males present - it would be interesting to know where these birds come from as it certainly is not from elsewhere in Norway.
At Hemnessjøen we failed to hear the booming Bittern (rørdrum) but did have a male Marsh Harrier (sivhauk) performing his sky dancing display. I assumed that this bird was unpaired if it was still displaying so late in the season but then two females appeared and all three flew over a reedbed so maybe he is just a lucky chappy...

Our last stop on Thursday was Hærsetersjøen where we used the rather impressive and practical new hide. The lake and marsh had a good collection of birds and I witnessed something new for me: baby Common Snipe (enkeltbekkasin) which came out of sedge grass with an adult in close attendance. I must admit my first thoughts drifted towards a rare crake before I realised what I was looking at.
Also here a few waders including a Ruff (brushane) although unfortunately not the summer plumaged male Jan had ordered. Some very distant raptors were just identifiable as two Honey (vepsevåk) and one Common Buzzard (musvåk).

A flock of 19 non breeding Cranes (trane) included one colour ringed bird which I have since found out is also satellite tagged and was ringed in southern Sweden last summer before wintering in Spain. It took an unusual route north and flew first out into the middle of the North Sea before making landfall in west Norway 6 May and then taking a very circular route before arriving in Østfold around 5 June. Is it just coincidence that satellite tagged birds do strange things (think Bean Goose tag 06 or Tõnn the Spotted Eagle) which we would never have known about otherwise proving the value of this use of technology (which I support) or do these tags cause the birds to behave differently?

Today we started at Linesstranda then went to Fornebu, a graveyard, Sørkedalen and Maridalen. What were todays rewards?

Another hunting Peregrine, pair of Red-backed Shrikes (tornskate), Goshawk (hønsehauk), Wryneck (vendehals), Marsh Warbler (myrhauk), Common Rosefinch (rosenfink), Icterine Warbler (gulsanger), Little Ringed Plover (dverglo) and 3 Nutcrackers (nøttekråke) in the graveyard.

When guiding I find it best not to have my camera as that seems to increase the chance of finding something so this post will have little decoration.
a Crane with colour rings and an unseen satellite sender

baby Snipe running along the waters edge. Poor picture I know but the first time I've seen a Snipe this young

male Red-breasted Merganser (siland) displaying

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

OsloBirder 2 - Finnature 0

On Monday and Tuesday I had the company of my old birding mate Will who I have known since our days in the Cambridge University Bird Club and subsequent birding trips to Eilat, Spain and Tunisia. Will had used Finnature whilst on a family holiday last year to Finland and at a cost of €220 pp (begins to be quite a lot for a family of 4....) had seen a few species but not Hawkie or the Great Grey. Well I course can help with that and am a heck of lot cheaper - even before friends discount ;-)

During the course of 26 hours (including 5 hours sleep in the car) with pick-up and delivery at Oslo airport  we saw a pair of Great Grey Owls delivering food to two young, a pair of Hawk Owls with four young, Siberian Jay, Rough-legged Buzzard, Three-toed and Black Woodpeckers, Ortolan and Rustic Buntings , Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes and Marsh Warbler plus loads of other typical Scandinavian birds. Now don't try telling me that isn't a good trip!!

PLEASE CONTACT ME IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THESE SPECIES and would prefer a short and easy trip to Oslo rather than making your way up to the north of Finland.

The owls were the main target and undoubted highlight of the trip especially as we got close and saw real action. "My" Great Greys turned out to be not as exclusive as I hoped as there was a Norwegian and a Dutch photographer already there when we arrived plus at least one of the youngsters carried a metal foot ring so they are clearly one of the “known” pairs. Between 2030 and 2130 we watched the adults come in four times to deliver voles to the youngsters who were sitting together only 20m from us. The birds seem unaffected by our presence and the youngsters made a real racket begging for food such that they would make an easy target for a Goshawk but that is the risk that they run when their strategy is to make so much noise that their parents keep bringing them food to shut them up.

The three food deliveries we saw (the fourth occurred as we were leaving the area) all went to the same youngster which seemed to be poor parenting and the other one started really screaming for food. When we went back the next morning the youngsters were in the same place but the one who hadn't received any food was lying down on the branch and we initially thought it to be an ex owl but it soon became apparent he was just sleeping in the heat of the day as was an adult nearby who could hardly keep its eyes open. The youngsters looked far from capable of long flight but a search of the area failed to find the nest within a ca.120 m radius so they are clearly, as I also experienced at the other nest and with the Tawny Owls, able to move relatively long distances despite not being fully able to fly.

The Hawk Owls that we saw initially eluded us but as we walked a circle around the nesting area we found them just metres from our start point. They started hissing at us before we saw them and then we came across two angry adults and four young of various sizes all of which could fly, and perhaps most importantly land, capably over short distances at least.

We had some good luck with the Siberian Jays who appeared from nowhere as we investigated a roadside nest box and then as we watched them a Three-toed Woodpecker flew into view.

An unforgettable trip!

I have a lot of video and pictures to process so will decorate this post with a few (well OK rather a lot) of the best pics and come back with more at a later date.

I'll start with the non owl pics first....
Siberian Jay (lavskrike)

male Rustic Bunting (vierspurv) with food for young

male Ortolan Bunting (hortulan)

female Three-toed Woodpecker (tretåspett)

male Red-backled Shrike (tornskate) and spiders web
 And now for some owls, with the big grey one first

give me some food NOW!  Great Grey Owl youngster. Great enough to have moved at least 120m from the nest but far from great enough to fend for itself

one of the parents with a vole

the lower youngster carries a visible ring
food being delivered

food being devoured
having a mid morning nap
 And now for Hawkie which gave a big dose

youngsters are just as addictive as the adults

young Hawk Owl
adult Hawk Owl
Hawk Owl babies can also scream for food

its never to early to leanr how to sit on a telegraph pole which is the natural habitat for this species