Sunday, 31 January 2016

In the papers

My sightings and photos of the White-beaked Dolphin (kvitnos) attracted the attention of the local newspaper who printed this article that also talks very nicely about your truly.
the article

I took the family down to Drøbak today and we saw Flipper although again he was not in a playful mood so our views were limited to him surfacing but it was nice to share this wonderful creature. There were quite a few people with big lenses down there including a couple out on a boat but it looked like it was very difficult for them to take pictures as he was quite close to the boar and without knowing exactly where he would surface it is very difficult to react in time and get the camera on him before he dives again. It will be interesting to see though if any pictures from today surface on the web.
photographing the dolphin from the boat. As you see the photographers haven't raised their cameras to their eyes as I don't think they were able to react quickly enough when the dolphin breached just metres from them

blowing off some steam

a gorgeous photo taken by oldest daughter

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Camera Equipment

I am often been asked what camera equipment I use so thought I would mention it here hopefully as an inspiration to others. It seems all the rage to invest in new and expensive equipment and I read on Facebook the excitement that people have when Canon or Nikon launches a new camera or lens. Me though, I have a camera I bought in February 2011 and a lens bought in August 2012. The camera is a Cannon 550D and the lens a Sigma 150-500mm which in total cost less than 10,000kr (£800) new and both would definitely not be classified as anything other than mid-range equipment even when I bought them.

I do notice the shortcomings of my set up when it is bad light or with birds in flight when more expensive equipment would undoubtedly have resulted in noticeably better pictures. Otherwise though I often have to smile when I compare my pictures with those of someone who was standing close to me and had equipment maybe 10x as expensive as mine. Camera and lenses are a very good proof of the law of diminishing returns where after a certain point every extra £1000 spent probably results in just 1-2% better results.

My value for money equipment should also handle less abuse than the more expensive kit but after 4 years of near daily use, countless knocks and being frequently soaked in rainwater they are still going strong.

I also do NOT take photos in RAW format. I had always understood that is what one “had to do” but after advice from two of my guiding customers, one of whom was a professional photographer and the other a prize-winning amateur I understood that was not the case at all. Neither of these took in RAW due to the size of the files and extra work involved afterwards and their experience was that the benefits were not great enough. RAW allows you to fiddle more with a picture on the computer than is possible with a JPEG but for my purposes I find that I can still do an awful lot of improvement work with my JPEG files using Photoshop Elements. Basically for 90% of my shots I press Auto Smart Fix and then Adjust Lighting/Shadows/Highlights and voila….

So, my advice is that good results can be achieved with relatively cheap equipment. Just make sure you get to know your equipment’s sweet spots (with my lens for example picture quality is best at f9.) but most importantly get to know the birds you are hoping to photograph so you can be in the right place to take the photo in the first place.

the kit responsible for all the pictures on this blog

and here an example of what can be achieved from a JPEG file in Photoshop Elements V.8 (so an old verson to boot)

Tengmalm's Owl. Original JPEG picture left and after being lightened up in PEv.8

Friday, 29 January 2016

Tor disappoints

Well, that was four hours of my life that I will never get back…. And what did I learn? That Tor has no really pulling power with the birds.

The hurricane hitting Norway has been given the name Tor and for four hours I waited to see what he would bring. My wait began at 10am before the winds had really picked up and all I had was a few Common Gulls feeding over the water. After 11am the winds started building up but there were still no birds, not even a single auk. Then at 11:25 came a Fulmar heading north, at 12:24 an adult Gannet headed north (very fast) and at 13:23 a Kittiwake flashed by heading north – so every 59 minutes there was a bird of note! Between these sightings there was hardly a single other bird to see although I did end up with three Guillemots and after the first Kittiwake there were two more before I called it a day at 2pm.

A mixed tit flock in the trees behind me nearly contained more birds than I saw on the sea…..
the sea at Krokstrand at 10:34 - quite calm and no birds
and again at 11:48 when there were a few white tops to the waves but still no birds


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Lull before the storm

I am nothing if not a man of habit and with today offering blue skies and relatively wind I headed for the Drøbak area. I searched quite diligently for the Hawk Owl but couldn’t find it and only had the northern most Great Grey Shrike. I met up with Per Buertange who was on a dolphin hunt at Drøbak. He had been there an hour and hadn’t seen Flipper but had found a Purple Sandpiper on an island which I have always checked without success for just this species. Just then a boat headed into view and I picked out Flipper riding the bow wave and I then rushed off to look at the island and year tick a very good Akershus bird. I located two Purple Sands but at a range of 1.9km they were really just a couple of small, dark waders standing on a wave washed rock. Back with Per we then enjoyed Flipper for over an hour at closer range and in better light than I have previously experienced but unfortunately he was not in a playful mood and did not jump at all.

We did witness one very interesting interaction though. I saw something jumping out of the water where Flipper was and in the scope saw that it was a Guillemot that was barrelling out of the water like a penguin. It kept doing this and Flipper would surface just behind. The bird looked seriously stressed and they covered a couple of hundred metres before Flipper moved off and the Guillemot sat and preened on the waters surface. I believe that the dolphin was playing with the Guillemot rather than truly hunting it for food but of course cannot know for sure and did not capture it digitally.

One thing that has surprised me is that despite being in the Drøbak area so often the last week and looking over towards Håøya that I have not seen the White-tailed Eagle pair that breeds here but maybe they are not yet on their breeding territory.

Tomorrow the remains of the storm that hit the East Coast of the States will hit Norway after having crossed the Northern Atlantic. This may turn up some seabirds and with luck an influx of Iceland Gulls so I will be braving the elements on a headland near you tomorrow.
This video gives an idea of how frustrating it was trying to take pictures/film Flipper today.

I chanced upon a flock of 40 Bramblings (bjørkefink) today which is a high mid winter count

Two Purple Sands (fjæreplytt) at 1.9km range!


here he was quite close but refused to do anything intersting
the forecast winds tomorrow afternoon with hurricane force heading across the North Sea over the Shetland Islands and storm force winds heading up the Oslo Fjord

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Maridalen in the fog

After having a couple of good drive-by birds in Maridalen yesterday I decided to invest a bit more time on the patch and do a walk-by. It would probably have been a good idea to wait for a day without fog and visibility over 100 metres but He Who Dares Wins….

There was predictably little to see and also little to hear. Common Crossbills were to be heard all the time although little song in the dull conditions today. This winter must be the best I have experienced for Common Crossbills and I would imagine that most of the Fenno Scandinavian population will breed in Southern Norway this year.

I came across a flock of 12 Long-tailed Tits in a dark forest which lightened things up a bit and the Great Grey Shrike was searching for rodents from the telegraph wires that it favoured earlier in the winter but on which I have not seen it since long before xmas (the snow has melted away in many places so it may mean that old hunting grounds have again become favourable).

The garden is now almost completely devoid of birds which must have other causes than simply the occasional fatal visit from a Sparrowhawk.
looking south towards Maridalsvannet in the fog today at 11:44
do you see the Great Grey Shrike?
Great Grey Shrike (varsler)

Two Long-tailed Tits (stjertmeis)

searching desperately for something to eat


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Pygmy Owl

With rising temperatures fog is a problem and it was lying heavily over Oslo this morning. Thankfully it was a local problem and as I headed out towards Drøbak the blue skies that had been forecast appeared. I was hoping to relive some of Friday’s exciting birds and animals in better light and did quite well on that score although the Hawk Owl was not to be found. I found two of the three overwintering Great Grey Shrikes and today had the northern bird but not the southern bird (the opposite on Friday). Otherwise there was little bird life in these areas.

On the sea at Drøbak there were a few auks including a single Little Auk and the White-beaked Dolphin and two Common Seals were present. The dolphin put on one short display of jumping but otherwise was just swimming slowly around showing only its back. On two occasions it rode the bow wave of boats but was mostly underwater with no spectacular jumping. None the less a mighty experience to watch this animal.

Back in Oslo I put out food in Maridalen and was rewarded by the Great Grey Shrike here and best of all a Pygmy Owl which showed well and tried unsuccessfully to catch a Redpoll whilst I was watching.
Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)


White-beaked Dolphin (kvitnos) Drøbak

the days three Great Grey Shrikes (varsler). Left the bird from the northern Drøbak territory, middle bird from the middle Drøbak territory and on the right the Maridalen bird

a wing drying Cormorant (storskarv) at Drøbak


Monday, 25 January 2016

Twite - thanks Jules!

A bit of a dull day weather wise with temperatures around zero and low cloud but the birding day ended with a nice surprise. In the garden there are still very low numbers of birds but a Waxwing eating apples on the ground was a welcome surprise and I hope he survived the day!

I put out food in Maridalen and noted a further increase in song from the Common Crossbills – I look forward to seeing if I can follow any breeding attempts - but otherwise there was little of note.

At Bygdøy the ice on the fjord has started breaking up and a couple of Velvet Scoters were close in. Further out me could see a flock of geese on the water off Fornebu. Geese in January are very unusual here and I decided to make my way to Fornebu to find out what they were. As I had expected they were “only” Canada Geese but this could well be a record midwinter count in these parts. They looked very out of place sitting in the middle of the fjord and are obviously fleeing the winter somewhere else but haven’t quite worked out where they are going.

Birding was quite depressing at Koksa. I met Julian Bell here and we witnessed a gang of photo terrorists (or as they would call themselves Wildlife Photographers) pursuing the Bearded Tits through the reeds and trampling the birds habitat in the process. I vented my anger with a couple of them that I met later and have addressed the problem on the local FB group but this sort of problem is all too common with some photographers who have no real interest or knowledge of what they are taking pictures of and would be better off taking pictures of planes or trains.

The surprise of the day though was when Jules found a flock of Twite which allowed themselves to be admired against an all-white background. There were some Common Redpolls in them with a variety of plumages but I couldn’t turn any of them into anything rarer.
Twite (bergirisk) left with Common Redpoll (gråsisik)
Twite and Common Redpolls
Two Redpolls with a partially concealed Twite

single Twite
flock of Twite. Note the bird on the right has a pink rump making it a male

lots of seeds fall onto the ground with birds then picking these up

the garden Waxwing (sidensvans)

surprise of the day - a flock of Canada Geese
bread eating Crested Tit (toppmeis) in Maridalen
belly of pork eating Great and Coal Tits
Mute Swans - the lower pair postured and the upper pair moved off sharpish

Velvet Scoters (sjøorre) in the icy water
this Wren (gjerdesmett) was going under the snow whilst searching for food which is a habit I have often noted before