Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Return of the Birder - 2015 the year that was Part III

The start of July usually sees us in the mountains around Beitostølen 4 hours north of Oslo and this year was no different. There was an awful lot of snow at higher levels - more than we have ever seen at this time of the year before but lower down it was nice and green.
Cuckoo in the mountains near Beitostølen where the species seems to still be doing well

male Lapland Bunting near Beitostølen
In the middle of July we move north of the Arctic Circle and this year I drove with the intention of birding along the way. Crossing the Arctic Circle at Saltfjellet is always exciting as the mountains here are particularly bird rich.
male Bluethroat onSaltfjellet
There were a number of territorial Long-tailed Skuas on Saltfjellet which allowed close approach although yet you know when it was close enough

This summer saw me find my rarest bird to date with a male White-winged/Stejnegers Scoter close to our cabin near Bodø. This was only the third Norwegian record (only one of the others has been accepted so far) and was twitched from across the country.

Black Guillemot

Back in Oslo August saw regular encounters with multiple Honey Buzzards in Maridalen. I have never experienced this before but 2015 was a very poor year for wasps and the birds may have been forced to travel further afield to find food. This male is carrying a wasps nest back to the nest and I did see young birds on the wing later in the autumn.

I had few encounters with Red-backed Shrikes in the breeding season but in August there were lots of youngsters to see both at Maridalen and Fornebu
The poor summer hit warblers exceptionally hard and they were hardly to see on autumn migrations although this Willow Warbler did pose well
The middle of September finds me on Værøy hoping to find rarities. This year was no so rewarding for me but birds such as Yellow-browed Warbler, Citrine Wagtail, Barred Warbler and Arctic Redpoll mean I will of course be going back

Arctic Redpoll

Citrine Wagtal

Yellow-browed Warbler

White-tailed Eagle
Back in Oslo I sneaked in an Oslo tick in the form of a Red-necked Grebe

Monday, 28 December 2015

The Birder Strikes Back - 2015 the year that was part II

After a generally mild winter April started with a heavy dump of fresh snow that rather surprised newly arrived migrants but gave some good photo opportunities.

Greylag Geese

Black-headed Gull
 Jack Snipes are never easy to see but this bird in Maridalen was an exception and was even twitchable

Cranes are becoming commoner and in April can be seen in quite large numbers around Oslo. This year I also had birds on the deck in Maridalen for the first time

This Black Redstart in Maridalen was unsurprisingly the first record for the area and hung around a few days

Maridalen experiences a small raptor passage in the spring and this pale Buzzard flew low over my head one day

I found two Black Woodpecker nests in Maridalen which made finding this sought after species easy

Ring Ouzels are regular migrants in Maridalen in April but are always shy

At the beginning of the year there were no cones on spruce trees and hardly any crossbills to see. A good crop of cones on pine trees though attracted Parrot Crossbills and they most likely bred. Bill sizes were variable and not all birds were easy to place but this bird shouldn't be a problem to call a Parrot

Ospreys do not breed in Maridalen but frequently use the lake for feeding

Black-throated Divers do breed though and can show very well

I visited Jæren in the west of Norway at the end of April and saw some of the few remaining breeding Black-tailed Godwits

I've never seen and doubt I ever will see a godwit in Maridalen but waders do pass through on migration and also breed there. Here a migrant Wood Sandpiper and breeding Lapwing

Wood Warblers were easy to find this year

The Black Woodpeckers bred succesfully

As did Dippers on Akerselva which runs through Oslo
Finding Tawny Owl youngsters is a real highlight every year but timing is important as they melt away into the forest just a couple of days after climbing out of the nest

A trip to Hedmark at the end of May always has lots to offer. This year there were no large owls breeding but I did find Hawk Owl.

This female Capercaillie walked along the road in front of me
 Ortolan Buntings are on the verge of disappearing from Norway but are not difficult to find if you know where to look.

Rustic Buntings are even rarer and even if you know where to look are very difficult to find but with such a special bird it is worth the effort
Red-necked  Phalaropes are scarce in the mountains of Southern Norway but are also well worth the effort

Around Oslo there were number of good breeding records this year. Corncrakes sang and probably bred at both Østensjøvannet and Maridalen and could also be glimpsed every now and again

Common Rosefinches arrive late but have become fairly common around Oslo and I even had a bird in the garden
 Slavonian Grebes are declining globally but are becoming commoner around Oslo
 Whooper Swans are also increasing and bred successfully in Maridalen
 In addition to Corncrake there was also singing Quail and both Blyth's Reed and Marsh Warbler bred. This picture shows the Blyths on the left and a Marsh on the right

 But it wasn't just Maridalen that had good birds. Sørkedalen which is the neighbouring valley to the west had a singing Grasshopper Warbler
 and best of all breeding Red-breasted Flycatchers
 Whinchats breed in small numbers around Oslo

 But for some species a trip to Oppland is required. Lekking Great Snipe
 and Siberian Jay

Friday, 25 December 2015

The Birder Awakens - 2015 the year that was Part I

In these festive times when birding takes a definite back seat here are some highlights from 2015.

January started with year ticking the Caspian Gull

But otherwise was a quiet month with just usual resident species to enjoy with no invasions or influxes of more exotic northern guests and I ended up getting far too excited working out the number of individual Blackbirds visiting the garden and in the end worked out there were at least 18 different individuals.

northern Long-tailed Tits are always a delight
2015 was a terrible owl year in the south of Norway with a crash in the rodent population that occurred around February. An owling trip on 7 Feb only revealed any owls by using play back- One Tengmalms showed really well though I nearly lost my fingers to frost bite whilst trying to photograph it.

I of course could not let the chance of a Hawk Owl slip by and in the middle of Feb had a great trip upto Hedmark where in picture postcard winter conditions I scored a couple of doses of Hawkie plus Pine Grosbeak, Two-barred Crossbill and Sibe Jay.

I had an unbeatable encounter with 2BCs when a half term break skiing trip was initially ruined for m by a doctors note telling me to rest an injured knee. Whilst the others enjoyed themselves on the slopes I wandered around the area and found 2BCs singing and displaying!

The spring came early and Snow Buntings turned up in Maridalen already at the end of Feb.

The rarest bird though in Oslo at this time was also an intial controversy. I followed up a report of a grouse in an urban area of Oslo and found the bird exactly where it had been reported. I had no doubt that this bird was a Willow Grouse/Ptarmigan as the thought of a (Rock) Ptarmigan at sea level in a semi wooded habitat just did not cross my mind. Other birders were more on the ball than me though and realised that this was a (Rock) Ptarmigan which I eventually also realised..... DNA from it droppings also later confirmed this.

Moose were a feature of Maridalen in the late winter and were easy to see around the feeding stations hat have been established to stop them wandering into town

For me one of the major highlights of early spring is the return of the Bean Geese that stop off close to Oslo each spring and autumn on their migration between wintering grounds in Scotland and breeding grounds in Sweden. This year I was fortunate to get incredibly close views of some of the birds when I was able to sit unobserved and they swan right post me.

Trips with Rune Z are always a joy and we cover a lot of ground. One trip we had in the middle of March gave us a nice trio of typical if not always easy to find Scandinavian specialities but this is the best time of the year to find them.
Pygmy Owl

Three-toed Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker

A had a couple of nice sessions with roosting Long-eared Owls at the end of March

and the month ended with a White-fronted Goose showing well at the Kings farm on Bygdøy in Oslo.