Monday, 29 June 2015

Siberian Jay

One bird I don’t see enough of is Siberian Jay (lavskrike). It occurs in much of mid and northern Norway even occurring only an hours drive from Oslo but is never an easy bird to find, living as it does in very low densities in often remote forest areas. When you do find them though they can be very confiding, even taking food from the hand, although they often just disappear into the forest after a couple of minutes once there curiosity has been fulfilled.

The forests below Beitostølen have always looked very good for this species but when we are here in the summer my focus is normally on and above the treeline. Today however we climbed a lower peak which took us through nice forest. On the way up Redstart, Kestrel, Ring Ouzel, a high-up Lesser Whitethroat, some fly lover crossbills that sounded very much as though they should have wingbars and many Willow Warblers were the only birds we noted. On our way down though we heard a real commotion in front of us where the girls we walking and weren’t at first sure what the noise was. It soon clicked though it was a group of Sibe Jays and they were flying around the girls (who quite incredibly were unaware of this before I pointed it out to them). The birds then showed very well for about 4 minutes and responded very well to pishing before melting away.

Soon after this an angry Ring Ouzel was evidence of a nearby nest or youngsters but we had no other interesting birds to add to our exciting Siberian encounter.

I was carrying my old Sigma 70-300mm lens which I must rate as the best value lens on the market and is so easy to carry on walks.
this bird with a tatty tail is probably an adult

the fresher plumage of this bird suggests a youngster

the worn plumage suggest another adult


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Great Snipe lek - photo time

Three days after guiding to the Great Snipe lek I was back on the first day of summer holiday and this time I was focused on digital capture of these great birds. Conditions could not have been different and the cold (5C) and cloudy conditions of Wednesday night had become warm (22C during the day) and a near cloudless sky. The warmer conditions brought out the mosquitos which had been completely absent on Wednesday but they were not too much of a nuisance. When I was walking up to the lek I heard a bird displaying already at 2218 and when I sat myself down there were a couple of birds singing about 50m from the lek. I thought this would mean serious activity would start early whilst there was still good light but it was not until after 2330 that regular display started on the lek and not until 0030 that there was constant action. There were a minimum of 6 displaying males but could easily have been 9 or more. There was also a calling Willow Grouse close by.

I chose to sit close to where the main action had been on Wednesday and although the initial action occurred away from me eventually I had birds less than 5 metres away. At this distance you would have thought I would have got great photos but it is so dark that autofocus doesn’t work and trying to get manual focus plus a fast enough shutter speed is not that easy. If I had invested another $10,000 in my equipment I may have got better shots though…


Friday, 26 June 2015

The nest

A variation on the theme today with guiding in the middle of the day and then a check on the Red-breasted Flys in the afternoon.

I was guiding Russ and Gail from Florida who were in Oslo for the day on a cruise. I guided them for a few hours around lunch and we visited Østensjøvannet and Maridalen where the usual species showed well. There is little song at this time of the year especially in the middle of the day but there are many young birds begging to be fed which makes finding them easy. Østensjøvannet is full of life at the moment with young of many species and literally thousands of birds to be seen. An overflying Peregrine looked like he was viewing the lake as an appetizing buffet table.

I managed finally to find the Red-breasted Flycatcher nest which was as predicted just a few metres from the Robin’s nest and I had probably stood under it yesterday. It was about 4 metres up and in a very old woodpecker hole which had gone through the tree so had openings on two sides. The female was sitting in the nest when I arrived and it was half an hour before the male brought food. I think that my presence, even though I thought I was as a safe distance, prevented the male coming earlier as I had seen him in the area with a beak full of insects soon after I arrived so I left straight after witnessing the food drop. When the male arrived the female then flew off the nest and the male fed the young. I was unable to see how many young there were and the fact that the female had been brooding them means they can only be a few days old. In a weeks time the young should be visible in the nest begging for food.
the Robins nest on the left and the Red-breasted Flycatcher on the right

the tree

the female brooding the young
a blurred male in a dark forest with a mouthful of food

three shots showing feeding time. On the left the female is sitting on the nest and the hole on the other side can be seen. In the middle the male arrives and the female is still on the nest. On the right the female has flown off and the male is in charge

this Moorhens nest at Østensjøvannet was a couple of metres up in a tree. Two youngsters had clearly just hatched and it appeared there were still unhatched eggs in the nest. One youngster jumped out of the nest and was perched 30 cm below the nest.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Great Snipe lek guiding

Last night I had what must count as my craziest guiding assignment so far. Nick Letherby, an Englishman now domiciled in the States was landing at Oslo Airport Gardemoen at 1730 on Wednesday, had a meeting in Oslo at 0800 on Thursday and wondered if we could squeeze in lekking Great Snipes. 7 hours driving and no sleep were not an issue and I was game so we went for it.

We arrived in the area of my lek at 2130 and with the lek not normally starting until after 2300 we had time to go up on to Valdresflya. There was SO much snow - in places 2 metres along the road and hardly a bare patch to be seen - quite exceptional. Four separate Temminck's Stints were feeding along the edge of the road and looked as though they would have trouble breeding this year although we did hear one displaying. We also heard but didn't see a Dotterel and had 2 pairs of Ringed Plovers along the road and heard another displaying. Amazingly we also had Meadow Pipit and Wheatear. Lower down where there was more snow free ground which held a few displaying Golden Plovers.

In need of warming up and with the Great Snipe beckoning we headed to the lek. When we arrived at the just before 2300 it was still good light and silent! After 5 minutes though we heard the first bird but as is usual they do not show themselves early on. As the evening progressed though we had lots of activity and just before midnight birds were showing openly, fighting, making lots of noise and often less than 10 metres from us. I didn't make much of an effort with photography but will be there again in a few days when I’ll hopefully get some good footage. At 5 to midnight we had a mini dawn chorus with Ring Ouzel and Cuckoo singing.

By 0030 the cold had got the better of us but we had been enriched by one of the bird world’s greatest experiences and headed for the car and drove again up to Valdresflya for a couple of hours sleep. At 0300 we awoke and listened for displaying waders and heard both Dotterel and Purple Sandpiper although we didn't pick them out as they flew over.

It was soon time for the long drive back and I delivered Nick to his meeting on time although was feeling a bit of a wreck by this time. Foolishly instead of heading for a bed I went for another go at the Red-breasted Flys as I was close by.

It took me an hour to confirm that it was a Robin’s nest in the old woodpecker hole. Whilst waiting to see a bird go in I was hearing Robins calling but none were near the nest. The male flycatcher was however collecting food and frequently perching very close to the hole. Then the female flycatcher turned up also with a beak full of food and perched in the next door tree. Now I really begin to think it was the flycatchers nest but no birds were going in. Eventually though a Robin flew in which was a bit of an anti-climax.

So I didn't find the flycatcher nest but with both parents collecting food that is proof that there are young in the nest and it must have been close by. If I hadn't been so fixated on the old woodpecker hole then I would probably have been able to track the flycatchers to their nest but will hopefully have another chance before the young fledge.
Temmincks Stint by the roadside at Valdresflya 10pm on 24 June - look at all that snow!

flying along the road
2 metre high snow walls
3am at nearly 1400mm midsummer!

handheld pictures of Great Snipe at midnight - shutter speed 1/4 second

this hare ran through the lek without disturbing the snipe

The female Red-breasted Flycatcher with food in mouth. It appears that the nest was just metres from here but I failed to find it

 After the guiding I rejoined the family in Hulvik where a family party of Wrens made themselves very well known to us

juvenile Wren (gjerdesmett) in a bush
on a roof

in a car

on the floor

on a windowsill!


Monday, 22 June 2015

Breeding time

Yesterday evening and this morning I was attempting to ascertain the breeding status of Oslo’s two rarest breeding birds. Starting in Sørkedalen I hoped to find the nest of the Red-breasted Flycatcher (dvergfluesnapper) pair and therefore prove breeding in Oslo for the first time (as far as I know). The male as usual showed well in a very small area and a couple of times gave warning calls but the female did not show. An hour and a half of waiting and I eventually located an old woodpecker hole close to where the male was frequently perching and scratching on the tree caused a small brown bird to shoot out. I saw little more than the brown colour although thought I could see a red throat/breast which seemed strange given that it is the female that sits on the eggs. Waiting and watching did not reveal a bird returning to the nest and although I felt I was a very safe distance from the nest I was worried I was putting the parents off. The male was still in the area but so were a couple of Robins one of which perched right up next to the nest hole without going in. I decided to see if I could take a picture in the nest with my mobile and the leave the area. I managed to take a blurred picture of some newly hatched young and a couple of eggs and comparing these with literature I reckon it is a Robin's nest although a further visit is clearly needed to get to the bottom of this mystery - how common is it for Robins to nest in old Woodpecker holes? It was two weeks ago that the flycatchers were discovered and behaviour already then suggested that the female was on the nest. But with a 14 day incubation period that begins when the clutch is finished it could be that she was only on egg 1 at that time. By the end of this week though the young should definitely have hatched and then finding the nest will have to be much easier.

In Maridalen only one Corncrake (åkerrikse) was singing both at 1030pm yesterday and 6am this morning and it was right out in the middle of the field. I believe this male to be unpaired but it is well possible that the other male is breeding and has gone silent.
Another species that has gone silent are the Blyth’s Reed Warblers (busksanger). It took a long time to see them this morning and apart from contact/alarm calls a couple of times they made no noise and were not interested in playback. I saw both birds together and everything suggests they are breeding. Cool and another Oslo breeding first!

The Marsh Warbler (myrsanger) at Bakken is clearly still unpaired and was singing his heart out. The Quail (vaktel) was also still singing at 7am but irregularly. At the Wryneck (vendehals) nest after a long wait one of the adults looked out of the nest and eventually flew out at which point I could hear youngsters calling in the nest. I believe them to be only recently hatched and the adult is still brooding them in the nest.
I heard a couple of singing Rosefinches, one if which showed itself. I also saw another very red finch which I initially assumed was going to be a Rosefinch but was actually a very well coloured male Lesser Redpoll (brunsisik). A good showing as usual in Maridalen J

the male Red-breasted Flycatcher (dvergfluesnapper)
the nest hole and its contents which I at first believed to be the R-b Fly but turned out to be most likely a Robin but needs following up.
Blyth's Reed Warbler - the damaged tail shows this to the male
Blyth's Reed Warbler with a full tail making this bird the female

male Common Rosefinch
male Lesser Redpoll

Spotted Flycatcher prospecting for nest site


Friday, 19 June 2015

Mari I love you!

After my unfaithful behaviour yesterday I had to show Mari how much I loved her and she in turn showed me her love. I had the company of Trond Ove from Stavanger who was in Oslo for the day and first stop was the Blyth's Reed Warbler (busksanger). Some pishing worked wonders. First a bird gave a couple of song notes, then we saw a bird and then we heard song again but not from the bird we were watching. Two birds and judging by behaviour a pair. There have only been 10 or so singing Blyth's Reeds reported so far this year in Norway so it is pretty impressive that this one has found a mate. We also saw the male in a song flight which I have not noticed before.

Both Common Rosefinch (rosenfink) and Marsh Warbler (myrsanger) sang and showed well, Willow Warblers (løvsanger) and Great Spotted Woodpeckers (flaggspett) were feeding young and there was generally lots of bird activity despite it being hot and sunny. We are also experiencing the beginnings of a Common Crossbill (grankorsnebb) invasion. After a lack of spruce cones for the last couple of years (during which the other two crossbill species have been easier to see around Oslo) there is now a bumper crop of cones and as if by magic the Common Crossbills are arriving.
Most birds are flying over but at tree top height so are clearly looking for food. There are presumably also still Parrot Crossbills (furukorsnebb) in the area but separating them on call is a risky sport.

A calling young Great Spotted Woodpecker had sounded like a Wryneck (vendehals) but not long after this a silent brown bird flew over and this was a Wryneck. This is the first time I have seen one in Maridalen for over three weeks and this time it led me straight to the nest. As I hadn't found the nest before and adults become almost silent after egg laying Wryneck has been a species I hadn't been able to show clients so far this spring. The really annoying thing is that the nest is in the exact same dead birch tree which I have always suspected it to be in and whose bark I have scratched on a number of occasions without a response. It is also a tree I have walked past probably three times every week. Well never mind I know where they are now. Despite having found the nest though it was no easy job seeing the birds and although one adult came with food in its beak I think this was for to feed the other adult which stack its head out of the hole rather than young as if there were young I would have expected to hear them plus a greater frequency of visits from the adult (only came once during an hour of watching).
Another pleasant surprise was seeing three young Goshawks in the nest as I previously I had noted only two. They are now large although still white and downy and the nest again had fresh green material on it - I wonder if the parents do this to cover up all the droppings that must fill the nest? There is a clear size difference between the young and the smallest bird didn’t look like it was doing too well.

presumably the male Wryeck who was bringing food to his mate who was in the nesting hole
the other adult sticking her head out of the nest hole.

the non singing and presumed female Blyth's Reed Warber. Very much a documentation picture but should do although it does also look very much like a Booted Warbler in this picture......

the young Goshawks are getting large now but still have maybe 2 months before fledging

the only picture I managed with all 3 heads showing. Judging by size they are also standing in age order

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Grasshopper Warbler

Last night I took a premidnight trip into Maridalen and heard the singing Blyth’s Reed Warbler which started singing at 2330, a Quail and only one Corncrake. I had gone up early hoping to have another chance for photos but the bird was singing in the middle of a field and was too far away to hope for anything. As I have noted before the song of Corncrake echoes very well and this time it was echoing off a farmhouse 200 metres away and making it sound like there were two birds singing.

 Today I played away from home again and visited Sørkedalen where Kjetil Johannessen found a singing Grasshopper Warbler there on Saturday night. I paid a visit on Monday night just before 11pm and didn’t hear it. I knew I may have been there a bit early but as a couple of Marsh Warblers were singing and not the Grasshopper I only waited 15 minutes before concluding it had left and was half expecting to refind it in Maridalen which was my next stop.
No other have reported this bird until it was again heard last night so I went up there this morning. It was cloudy with some rain in the air but the two Marsh Warblers were singing loudly when I arrived and I positioned myself in the middle of an area of nettles and raspberry plants which I assumed would be its favoured area and waited. I first saw it in the undergrowth before it started singing and it then showed really well and probably gave me my best ever views of this normally skulky species.

A Common Rosefinch and Whinchat also sang in the area and a couple of Mistle Thrushes were a bit out of habitat and the rattling contact call had me briefly thinking I had heard a snatch of song from a River Warbler. I decided to try to see if I could some better pictures of Marsh Warbler than I usually manage as one of the birds was singing close to the path. There were two birds moving around in the raspberry plants and I assumed it was a pair. The singing bird was very skulkly but the other bird perched up and I fired off a load of pictures. Through the view finder I thought how with its white throat it could actually be possible to confuse Marsh Warbler with Whitethroat. Whilst I was reflecting over this I looked at the rest of the bird’s plumage and realised I had done just that – I was taking pictures of a female Whitethroat!

 After pulling myself together I visited Oslo’s only nesting colony of Sand Martins. I have once before suspected breeding somewhere in Maridalen but Sørkedalen seems to have breeding every year. This year they are breeding in a sand quarry and there were at least 40 holes although I never saw more than 9 birds at one time and only 5 holes being visited. In one hole the adults were still excavating and were removing dried grass (how did this get there?) whilst I could hear a calling bird from another hole which I reckon was an adult although could I guess have been young. Photo opportunities here must be very good although it was too dark today for flight photos.
singing Grasshopper Warbler


note the long rounded tail typical of locustella warblers


singing in the rain

the Whitethroat (tornsanger) which I initially took to be a Marsh Warbler

the Sand Martin colony. There are also some holes right at the top but these were not visited when I was there

this bird was removing straw and a feather - had another species used the cavity?
a flight shot of sorts

I'm not sure if these two had thought to mate but they didn't succeed when I was watching