Monday, 29 February 2016

Nice 'pecker

Back in business birding with a trip to Fornebu. Low cloud and freezing temperatures didn’t give much of a spring feeling for me but others who went to the right places could record the first Shelduck, Oystercatcher and Starling of the year.

I had to make do with my first Lesser Spotted Woodpecker of the year. Unlike Great Spotted Woodpeckers he has not yet started drumming or displaying and was most interested in a grub he must have detected and spent over 35 minutes digging out of a quite small branch. Bearded Tits are still present and I glimpsed one in flight although otherwise they only gave away their presence through the occasional call. I saw three different Water Rails in the reedbeds although none paused for me to take a photo.

In Maridalen I didn’t see either Willow Tit or Redpoll but the Great Grey Shrike was still present. There were lots of activity from Great Spotted Woodpeckers and I had very close views of one taking the seeds from a spruce cone.
male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (dvergspett) - this is an unusual pose as usually the tail is held flat against the tree for support
attacking the branch to get at a bug buried deep

hear the head is deep in the hole it has excavated
this was an old(er) hole on the other side of the branch
and he was also using this to try to get to the bug

in action

this hole was excavated in a minimum of 35 minutes

Great Spotted Woodpecker (flaggpett). Here it has wedged the cone in a rotten tree and is holding it with its feet whilst trying to get the seeds out

its long beak comes in useful

the cone needed rearranging
here the long (and strong) tail feathers can be seen which keep the woodpecker stable when its is hammering away

this female Green Woodpecker (grønnspett) also showed in Maridalen
the Great Grey Shrike (varsler) was of course on show

for once he looked at me

Owls save the day

Guiding is a fickle business. I learnt early on that guaranteeing a bird was a fools game but when I received a long wish list from Roberto from Spain I didn't feel I was sticking my neck too far out when I said that Willow Tit and Redpoll wouldn't be a problem. How wrong could I be?!
The feeders in Maridalen where I haven't failed to see a Willow Tit this winter were devoid of birds despite me having stocked them up with food (nobody else seems to do so anymore although many people stop to take pictures..)
The Great Grey Shrike did show well which was one target bird down but Maridalen was not very generous otherwise.
With Hawk Owl and a number of duck species also on the wish list we soon headed for Vestfold. Hawkie was showing on arrival and we met a photographer leaving the site who proudly showed the fantastic pictures that he had taken with help of the good old mouse on fishing line trick. I know that this is the trick used to get all the award winning owl pictures and I have often wondered where I can get hold of a dead mouse but I can't help but wonder about the ethics of this technique. The owl had apparently attacked the mouse three times with resulting great pictures but had not taken the mouse when the photographer discarded it as he left. A check of the mouse showed it to be dried out and presumably not particularly attractive for the owl. The owl had therefore expounded quite a bit of energy for no reward and was clearly still in hunting modus as it sat high up looking intently around.
We were lucky enough though to see it twice fly down and catch a (live and kicking) rodent. Both times it seemed to react instantaneously to the sight or sound of the mouse and it flew down without any warning or hesitation. Both times it flew over 50metres in a flat glide before dropping down unseen into long grass. The first mouse was taken to the top of the highest spruce where after ripping off a bit of flesh it swallowed the rest in one go. I thought it would then have a snooze but it remained very alert (and also looked very thin) and 20 minutes later it flew down again and took a second mouse. This one it took half way up a birch tree and swallowed it unseen. After this the owl seemed content and then returned to the top of a birch and wiped its bill and set about preening. I don't know how many mice a Hawk Owl needs in a day but two in quick succession seemed at least to be enough for breakfast.
We spent an hour with Hawkie and the weather and light were fantastic with temperatures of -10C in Maridalen rising to +6C as the day wore on in Vestfold.
After Hawkie we headed for Presterødkilen where a number of northern ducks were going to be ticked off and photographed. Disastrously though the overnight freezing temperatures and most importantly no wind had caused the whole bay to freeze over to an extent I have not seen before. One tiny area of open water held a few Tufted Ducks, Mute Swans and a rare Pochard but these were not what we were looking for. We tried to find where the other ducks had moved to but did not succeed.
With a need for something good we checked all the bays from Tønsberg to Horten but despite water with hardly a ripple disturbing it there were incredibly few birds to be seen - one of the worst experiences I have had in these parts.
Hoping to salvage the afternoon I had an idea of where we could have another go for Willow Tit and also Three-toed Woodpecker and visited a really nice area of mixed spruce woodland. Of course there were no Willow Tits or any woodpeckers but the day felt saved when we discovered a pair of Pygmy Owls. Roberto proved to be a great mimic of the male’s song which gave us prolonged and at times close views of this tiny killing machine.

I wonder whether Willow Tit and Redpoll will be the first and second or perhaps second and third species I see when I visit Maridalen next?

Hawkie where we first saw him after he had been teezed (tormented?) with a dead, dry mouse

here in the process of bringing up a pellet

it occasionally came lower down
ripping into mouse 1
about to go down the hatch - look at the talons
here it had a shake and looked quite portly
but here when perched erect it looks incredibly thin - almost as though its bone are poking out

20 minutes after devouring mouse 1, it had spied a new snack

mouse 2 safely captured
this one was eaten in private
getting ready for a post breakfast rest

the only open water in Presterødkilen with a single Pochard (taffeland) amongst commoner fare

The tiny Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)

when singing its head changes shape

flight shots never work out properly
but perched shots sometimes work out