Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Rustico magico

One of the highlights of visiting Hedmark in the spring/early summer was seeing Rustic Buntings (vierspurv). I have already described finding a singing 2cy male but I was also lucky enough to see a breeding pair. Unlike the singing male these birds were (as always in my experience) exceptionally quiet and difficult to locate. It can take hours before you stumble upon them but then you can be treated to amazingly close views. Once paired up and in breeding modus the male seems to stop singing  and any contact calls between the pair are very quiet and require you to be within a few metres to hear. This all makes the searching for and eventual finding of a pair even more magical. The rarity of the species obviously adds to the allure but there is also something about its choice of habitat that makes it special. Hopefully these pictures will convey some of that magic.

female Rustic Bunting

always lots of dead spruce branches and licken

not always easy to see

an adult male in all his glory

Friday, 25 September 2015


I teamed up with Rune Z for a trip to Østfold today. We headed first today for Hvaler where we hoped we would witness some viz mig but when we arrived the wind from SW was far too strong and we should maybe have chosen seawatching but when we did gaze out over the sea there was not much happening there either. We did have one good bird though in the firm of a Lapland Bunting which unusually for this species perched up at close range for just long enough for a few photos to be taken.

With so little to see we even popped into the Great Big Dump and saw a long staying Black-tailed Godwit.

The drive back to Oslo saw us in twitching modus looking for a Norwegian X for the both of us. A juvenile Rose-coloured Starling had been found at Rygge Train Station yesterday but the only information we had was that we deduced it must have been showing well due to this photo by its finder, Arild Hansen, shows. We drove up to the station at 1pm with no information as to whether the bird had been seen today and there were no other birders present. There were however many Starlings present in small flocks feeding on berries which were available on many bushes and trees in the area. Whilst we were trying to get to grip with the flocks they all joined together and as they flew into the top of a large oak tree we saw the target bird amongst them. It took a while to find it in the oak and views (and photos) were not very good but the flock started flying down in small groups to feed and it looked like we would be treated to better views. Just then though a train pulled up though and the whole flock spooked and flew off. We did manage to relocate them again a few hundred metres away and glimpsed the Rosy but again they flew off and with a need to get back to Oslo before the early Friday rush hour started we had to leave the bird although can see that others got to enjoy them better than us later in the day.
juvenile Rose-coloured Starling (rosenstær) - the best picture I managed high up in an oak tree
and in flight

it should have been perched up here amongst all its Common cousins

Lapland Bunting (lappspurv) - its unusual to see them so well  away from their mountain breeding sites
this Guillemot (lomvi) at Øra was paddling vigorously with its feet which they did not look to be designed for (but they undoubtedly work well when it stands on a tiny ledge high up on a cliff)
a Black-tailed Godwit (svarthalespove)......


Thursday, 24 September 2015


I gave Fornebu a chance to give me a scarce migrant today but yet again I was to be disappointed. There were 9 Chiffchaffs and based on my recent statistics then there should rightly have been at least three Yellow-browed Warblers amongst them but the yellow-brows obviously hadn’t been told. Fornebu was very quiet with very few insect eaters left. There has also been a lot of earth moving activity in the last couple of weeks and two large areas of waste ground have now been flattened and all vegetation removed – there will soon be very few good areas left here.

The fjord had a bit to offer. Winds are from the south and are forecast to strengthen during the night which might mean something interesting turns up tomorrow morning. Today I had 5 Guillemots flying around, 4 Common Terns (again all juveniles) and best of all an adult male Long-tailed Duck. Over the last few winters there has been a regular group of L-t Ducks in the inner Oslofjord so it will be interesting to see if this bird stays to overwinter or is just passing through.
Male Long-tailed Duck (havelle) still in mostly summer plumage

here with one of the pale young Herring Gulls (gråmåke) that we get around Oslo

the bird was feeding amongst a flock of Eiders (ærfugl) and with a single Guillemot (lomvi)
I had a couple of Blackcaps (munk) today

a skulky Chiffchaff (gransanger)

not often that one sees colour ringed Great Black-backed Gulls around Oslo as they are not as easy to mug as the other bread eating tamer gulls. This individual (JH584) was ringed as a nestling (easier to catch) on 28 June 2011 within sight of where I saw it today making it a 5cy bird or 4th winter bird. I am surprised that there are no signs of immaturity left in the plumage. This bird has been seen in Holland both summer and winter from October 2011 until January 2015 with the only other Norwegian sighting in April this year at the same sight where I saw it today so it may well have attempted to breed this year back in its natal colony.

the Little Grebe (dvergdykker) is still in Storøykilen and has now attained winter plumage

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Oslo's own island birding

I found out this morning that the best way to deal with the Værøy blues was to visit Oslo’s own little Værøy (I exaggerate a tad) so I took the boat out to Gressholmen and transferred myself back to the small of salt water and windswept landscapes. I was hoping that by visiting Oslo’s best wader locality that I would have a chance of filling some of the gaping holes in my Oslo list – yesterday Rune had seen 2 Dunlin at Huk and on Monday there was an interesting record of a Grey Plover heard flying over a house at 0530 – not sure I would be brave enough to make a call like that. I also had a hope (dream) that I could unearth a bird like Yellow-browed Warbler, Barred Warbler or Dick’s Pipit.

Well the muddy bay contained a single Oystercatcher and that was it for waders. The bushes did have a few birds with 3 Blackcap and a Whitethroat the highlights (no phyllosc warblers) but nothing rare. I gave the sea a thorough scan and voila here was something – a grebe. My first impression was Red-necked and as I got closer it was indeed a Red-necked Grebe and an Oslo tick for me. From what I can see this is only the 5th record for Oslo with three of them now coming from Gressholmen.

I spent some time trying to get some good photos but it never came that close. As I sat there though I heard small numbers of Meadow Pipits flying over and amongst them the sharp call of a Red-throated Pipit (lappiplerke). This wasn’t too bad at all.

There were a number of terns offshore and from the boat I got to see them better and counted 15 juvenile Common Terns. No adults or Arctic Terns amongst them as far as I could see but to see so many here so late in the year is an interesting sighting and I guess these are local bred birds that hatched late.

The boat offers the opportunity to see small islands that one doesn’t normally get to check out and two of these small islands offered up another Oslo tick for me – finally I have seen Dunlin in Norway’s capital, and long overdue the sighting was…
Red-necked Grebe (gråstrupedykker) or grey-throated grebe as they say in Norwegian
it spent a lot of time preening but I could see no sign that it as oiled
the grebe and a male Eider (ærfugl) on a very calm sea


juvenile Common Tern (rødnebbterne) - note the dark bar on the rear of the secondaries that helps separate from Arctic Tern

a montage showing another 13 juvenile Common Terns resting on four different islands

Another Oslo tick - Dunlin (myrsnipe) on Galteskjær
and like London buses - another Dunlin on Kavringen
9 Velvet Scoter (sjøorre) and the Nesodden ferry
this Oystercatcher (tjeld) should have already migrated. It will be interesting to see if it tries to overwinter in Oslo like a couple of birds did last year for only the second ever time

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Hybrid blues

Feeling some post-Værøy blues I visited Årnestangen today and saw hundreds if not thousands of birds which was a bit of a contrast to Værøy’s meagre pickings. There were many, many thrushes, mostly Fieldfares feeding on rowan berries but also Yellow Wagtail and Chiffchaff. The water level is high with no mud banks left and some of the fields flooded and the wildfowl are concentrated on Fautøya. Here among hundreds of Mallard, Wigeon and Teal were three Shoveler and two Pintail. Amongst a small flock of Canada Geese was a single Greylag Goose and 5 juvenile hybrids between the two species.

I had my first migrating flock of Pink-footed Geese for the autumn with a flock of 200 heading south of which a group of 20 broke off and flew around the area seemingly looking for somewhere to feed. When I first heard the flock I thought they were Bean Geese and realised that I cannot separate them on call. I also find it to be far from straightforward to separate these two species in flight if one doesn't see the overwing and it is clear from the number of records of migrating Bean Geese from certain areas of the country that others have similar difficulties. Bean Goose is a truly scarce species in Norway which we now know to have very traditional migration routes yet the number of records from some areas would have you believe it to be much more regular…..

I had pretty good views of 2 Hen Harriers both of which were 1cy birds but taking good photos of them remains a challenge for me. Driving up to the main road a spotted what looked like a Carrion Crow but suspected it would turn out to be the hybrid that has been reported a few times here recently. At some range in the bins it looked very black and pure and it was only by studying the photos I managed to take that evidence that it is a hybrid were evident. Compared to the two hybrids I have seen before this bird was much, much blacker and is I suspect a second or third generation hybrid with just a single Hooded Crow ancestor. It may also be a pure Carrion Crow that has a few dark grey feathers although a quick google search failed to find any pictures of similar birds. It also raises the question (as the Black Duck hybrid and various gulls do) as to where one draws the line between a hybrid and what can be called a pure bird.
five Canada x Greylag Goose hybrids

Carrion Crow x Hooded Crow hybrid but a bird at the Carrion Crow end of the hybrid spectrum

no grey to see in this photo though

this picture isa bit to grainy to make much of but there appear to be a few grey feathers amongst the black. Then again though it looks like there is grey on the upper breast where both species are black so maybe the grey feathers are not because of a hybrid influence?

1cy Hen Harrier - looks to have a dark eye and is therefore a female

same bird

2 juvenile/1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gulls showing a bit of the variation in this species

here when the pale grey upperwing I visible then Pink-footed Geese are easy but depending on light conditions and the height the geese are flying then geese can be difficult

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Værøy over and out

Well that’s Værøy over for another year (my fourth September trip in a row) and although there was not a single national rarity you’ll have trouble stopping me coming back again. The island and its residents are very welcoming and it deserves the attention of more birders which would undoubtedly result in more being seen as there is a lot of good habitat to cover. This year I stayed in the extremely pleasant and good vale guesthouse at Gamle Prestegården and this makes a great base for birders as well as serving fantastic food in huge quantities. My trip this year was earlier than previously but yet again I still got the feeling that there had been more birds present before I arrived and that numbers were falling awawy during my stay.
So how did the last day go? I slept in until 0730 as I was expecting strong northerly winds and rain but the wind wasn’t too bad and there was in fact sun at times. Although there was not a lot of birds on my pre-breakfast round of Nordland two Willow Warblers and a Woodcock were new arrivals and a Wood Warbler may have been new or just the bird I had earlier. I therefore attacked Sørlandet with high hopes (one has to be optimistic) and after sitting in the living room of my wife’s aunt and seeing a Blackcap feeding on redcurrants I definitely thought there might be hope (I had afterall only seen 3 other Blackcaps so far this trip). When the first bird I saw in the next garden was a Barred Warbler then there could be no doubt something was afoot. A calling Yellow-browed Warbler a few gardens along and there was no limits to the birds I was thinking of finding. But then things sort of fizzled out. I tried to turn a sandy coloured Wheatear that was feeding in a garden into something rare but failed to and then things returned to usual. I pulled out three Yellow-broweds in the plantation and had good views of the Hawk Owl who was intently looking for rodents but seems not to know there are no mice on Værøy just big rats.
A couple of Merlins included a very fine, blue male and a large Sparrowhawk had me scratching my head for a bit. A high flying flock of waders which disappeared into the cloud were Golden Plovers with one smaller species amongst them which I failed to ID but had the feeling may have been a good’n. The Citrine Wags appeared to have moved on and my day fizzled out with me looking at the weather forecast and wishing I could be here a week more!
finally a Barred Warbler (hauksanger) and as usual difficult to photograph
Arctic redpoll  a too close encounter with a fluffy snowball

Chiffchaff – another dodgy Chiffchaff on Værøy. In this photo the pale outer-taile feathers, pale underparts and pale bill might have you think hippolais/iduna

Coal Tit (svartmeis) one of 19 I recorded today


this birds large size especially in comparison to a Merlin that was mobbing it had me tconsidering Goshawk but it looks like a large female sprogger

Wader – what the small wader is I really don’t know. The slightly long and thin bill plus strong breast band could lead thoughts to Pec Sand but it doesn’t extend far enough down the chest and the wing bar is too extensive. Maybe just a Dunlin?

Wheatear – this bird which was feeding on a lawn was very sandy coloured but on jizz I took it to be a Common Wheatear. Looking at my pictures I have a slightly worrying feeling that I should have spent a bit more time with it.

. After not having seen a single bird in the rain yesterday White-tailed Eagles were out in force today including a flyby from this immature bird.

another phyllosc with a defect – this one a Willow Warbler (løvsanger) with a hanging wing

Yellow-browed Warbler – a post from Værøy would hardly be complete with out a shot of one of these