Friday, 28 November 2014

Chaffing chiffs

My Chiffchaff puzzle may have become a bit clearer today. With only a short period of time available for birding I headed to Bygdøy just before 2pm. I tried playing the songs of Common and Siberian Chiffchaff (gransanger) from the car hoping this would attract the birds and give me good views. It didn't!

Switching to plan B I got out of the car. A few Blue Tits (blåmeis) and Wrens (gjerdesmett) made their presence known so I concentrated on them knowing that the Chiffchaffs have often been with these birds. And sure enough there was a Chiffchaff there, and it was brown. This bird was a classic tristis with tobacco brown ear coverts, brown mantle and just some olive edging to the wing feathers. It was quite close but amongst the grass and gave good but brief views through the bins but no chance of pictures. It moved off into the reeds and then a tristis call came from where it was but without me seeing who gave it. This might help explain my experiences of the last two days if the tristis has been present all the time and calling but I just haven't seen it. I recorded this call and the sonogram is a bit clearer than previous ones and just shows a flat line which is a good match for tristis. I see though that I still have work to do: I need to record the call of a bird (ideally all of them that have been present) I see calling and capture it all on video auch that the bird and its call can be linked.

Two Sparrowhawks flew in and took prey (one being most likely a Blue Tit) whilst I was there so the Chiffchaffs have more than just the weather to contend with.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Confusion and some ducks

ducktastic at Østensjøvannet

Still cold today but the blue skies have been replaced by clouds although they are not the dark, thick, low clouds we have had most of November such that there was proper daylight. I headed for Bygdøy again. Nothing of note on the sea but the two refugees are still present finding enough grass to eat. It will be interesting to see what they do when the snows come.

At Hengsenga again one, possibly two, Chiffchaffs (gransanger). One that I managed some pictures of was a green bird and this didn't call. A bird that did call and which I managed to record a single contact call from wasn't necessarily the same bird and in the brief view I saw of it was perhaps browner (although definitely not the bird of 2 days ago) but the views weren't good enough. The call was just like yesterdays and the sonogram is much better than yesterday and is I think useable but does not fit anything I’ve seen before with the fall off at the end being unexpected. In the frost covered chest high vegetation it was very difficult keeping track of the bird(s) especially as they called very little and were not responsive to me pishing or playing various calls/song.

Chiffchaff from the west of Siberia

I eventually lost track of them and it started snowing so I gave up (for today).

These Chiffchaffs are perplexing and just when you think you have got it then you realise the whole species complex is still a mess.

I thought it would be worth checking the docks as inland waterd are now freezing over. At Kongshavn there were a couple hundred each of Mallard (stokkand) and Goldeneye (kvinand) and with 14 Tufteds (toppand) a 1cy male Scaup (bergand).

At Østenjøvannet the lake is 99% frozen but 45 Mute swans (knoppsvane) were still present. Maybe the young birds are still not feeling ready to migrate? Family groups were flying around but kept returning to the small patch of open water. Still 5 each of Wigeon (brunnakke) and Teal (krikkand) and a few geese. The male Pintail (stjertand) is now looking splendid with a proper tail and the plastic shelduck provided colour. Very durprisingly there were only 2 Coot (sothøne) yet 3 Moorhen (sivhøne). Normally around 10 Coot overwinter here but the Moorhens disappear completely as soon as the first ice comes (edit: it turns out there were 220 Coot on a small patch of ice free water at the other end of the lake...oops!). Both these species migrate at night and must have left enmasse two nights ago. But to where and why do we never see them migrating in daytime?

Østensjøvannets returning male Pintail now has a proper tail. Last year when it was a 1cy the tail was quite short

a variety of widlfowl

the young male Scaup at distance

more wildfowl variety including Wigeon
it was getting quite crowded for the Mute Swans and the pair on the right were still being territorial

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

More chaffy chiffs

Another day of sun and fantastic weather with no wind and a heavy frost. I thought a walk in the forest would pay off with sounds travelling but after 2 and a half hours I realised that sounds may travel but only if there is anything making a sound. The forest was dead quiet. I checked four Hazel Grouse (jerpe) sites using sound and got no response although I did scare up one bird.
I also played Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)calls. In areas where there are Pygmy Owls then the passerines respond to the call and come to investigate and mob the owl. Therefore if you get a passerine response then you know that there are owls in the area. Well the passerines confirmed what I already knew but no owls responded or showed themselves. The passerines in question were a few tits and Goldcrests (fuglekonge) but I had no finches and the only woodpecker in the whole walk was a single Black. Definitely not a successful trip.

Maridalsvannet was without a ripple except for those made by a calling party of three Whooper Swans (sangsvane) which looked very majestic.

Heading to Fornebu I discovered that the sheltered waters were already frozen and this gave me a belief that there would be good numbers of ducks on the main fjord. Think again! I did have a few Velvet (sjøorre) and Common Scoter (svartand) but best birds were 2 Little Auks (alkekonge) and 4 Guillemots (lomvi). No divers.

I visited Hengsenga again hoping to refind the Chiffchaffs (gransanger) and record their calls. It was very frosty there but the Chiffhcaffs were still present. I had three birds (possibly four) and all were green seemingly western birds today although I only saw two well as they were feeding low in the grass. They were also quite quiet although I did hear a few “sweeo” calls indicating an eastern (abietinus?) origin. Interestingly one had a call that was (very) similar to tristis. I didn’t see the bird making the sound particularly well as it stayed in the grass nearly continually but it definitely wasn’t the grey/brown bird from yesterday and looked to have  green tones in its plumage on the back/mantle and also on the breast. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs where the calling bird was and I took a picture of the bird that I think was calling but cannot be 100% sure it is the same bird. Never-the-less the bird that was giving the tristis like call was far from what I would expect a classic tristis to look like.
I was able to record the call by taking a video. You will need to turn the sound up a lot to hear it.

I’ve made my first attempt at making a sonogram using the Raven Lite software from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. As the recording was so poor (and I have extracted the sound rather inneficiently by using the record function on my phone) the sonogram is not, I think, good enough to tell us anything conclusive. What it does show is a pretty straightline at a frequency of around 4250Hz. 

What does this mean? Well I’m not really sure and think a better recording is needed. To my ears the sound was not quite as “sad” as a normal tristis but then again my ears are not famed for hearing subtle differences. I try to work more with these birds and my sound recording abilities. It will be very interesting to see how long they survive here. There are a few Wrens aswell in the grass and reeds so presumably there is a good supply of insects but prolonged minus temperatures will surely spell the end of them either by killing them or forcing them to move south.

This is the bird I believe was giving the tristis like call and if it wasn't then has the same look. This bird has too many green tones on the back and especially the breast sides to go down as a tristis

no obvious green or yellow under the wings but then again we don't see too much. You can see how frosty it was today
a different bird which gave a "sweeo" call but looked pretty much the same as the bird with the tristis like call. Confused? I am

Whooper Swan take off


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Chiffy chaffs

For the first time in living memory the sun shone in Oslo today and people were literally throwing their clothes off.

A trip out to Huk, Bygdøy to try, again, to find the White-billed Diver (gulnebblom) failed, again, in that respect. The refugees were still present though this time feeding in a fenced off garden by the nudist beach. Walking across a nudist beach with binoculars and camera feels a bit on the uncomfortable side but at the end of November in Oslo there shouldn’t be too many naturists to worry about, should there? Well the weather had brought them out today but we managed to avoid any confrontation. The refugees looked very comfortable in the garden and I feared that I was going to see someone appear and start throwing corn to his pets but luckily that didn’t occur......

Walking around Bygdøy was a relatively birdless experience until I arrived at the small marsh and reedbed at Hengsenga. I had a vain hope of finding Bearded Tit (skjeggmeis) or a Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin) but that hope was indeed in vain. As I was leaving though a Chiffchaff (gransanger) called probably my latest ever in Norway. It was a fairly typical call and when I found the bird it looked fairly “normal” with green hues. I played the call of Chiffchaff at some distance which didn’t seem to invoke any interest and then moved closer and played the song which caused the bird to come very close in the dead grass (although remain silent). I then played the call of Siberian Chiffchaff which the bird wasn’t interested in and then the call of the eastern abietinus race of Chiffchaff which again brought the bird in close. So the bird may well be abietinus but then again what is actually abietinus? The literature doesn’t seem clear to me and with recent research possibly even questioning the validity of the form. The recording of the call of abietinus that I have is to my ears pretty similar to our normal Chiffchaffs so I don’t really know how one goes about IDing abietinus in the field anyway.

Whilst working on this bird a couple of Wrens (gjerdesmett) started making a noise and as I looked at them I saw another Chiffchaff. This was a much browner, colder coloured bird with really contrasting jet black legs and bill. It didn’t call and also did not respond in any way to any of the calls I played. It was much more difficult to take photos of this bird but it did eventually call a few times and the call was the classic chicken call of a Siberian Chiffcaff tristis which confirmed what I had assumed from the birds plumage. Would have been nicer with something with wingbars though...

(Siberian) Chiffchaff tristis

the pictures are poor but here you can just make out the brown tinge to the cheek

a more normal Chiffchaff with green hues

note especially the green on the breast at the bend of the wing

the sort primary projection typical of a Chiffchaff

refugee enjoying the sun

Monday, 24 November 2014

Israel IV - an infusion of colour

With the terribly gloomy weather continuing (although tomorrow is forecast to be a rare exception) and temperatures hovering just over zero it is probably a good time to inject a touch of colour into our birding lives. Here, in the fourth installment of the irregular Israel series, are some of the more exotic species that ended up on hard drive.

Little Green Bee-eater (beryllbieter) - a resident in the Arava valley and a very cool bird
European Bee-eater (bieter) - we had a few migrating birds including a small group in the grounds of the Kibbutz but they were not easy to photograph
even more difficult to photograph was this much rarer Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (blåkinnbieter) which unfortunately only showed in flight for me
You don't get much more exotic than Flamingoes

and finally a Woodchat Shrike (rødhodevarsler)