Saturday, 30 April 2016

And more snow. Tomorrow it's May!

I awoke at 0530 to sleet outside of the window and by the time I entered Maridalen at 0600 I was watching a wintery white landscape. The field that had held all the Rouzels yesterday was white and thrush free. Driving over the bridge at Hammeren I saw something in the water and backed up and had a beaver at quite close range that I also saw swimming underwater. My attempts to take pictures in the relative dark were futile and it was very difficult to focus but switching to video and everything became light and the automatic focusing had no problems – why is that???

All the action today was at Kirkeby where I was briefly joined by Halvard H before he had to return as it was his daughter’s birthday and an SMS told him she had awoken much earlier than was the plan…

There were shed loads of birds! Just around Kirkeby there were at least 400 each of Fieldfares and Bramblings plus 100 Mipits and amongst them at least 12 Rouzels. Yet again though there was nothing scarce and I think many of the birds were the same as yesterday except maybe for the Bramblings which I hardly noticed yesterday. In the whole valley there were easily 1000+ of both Brambling and Fieldfare.

The main action was on the lake. As I have noticed before in similar conditions – lots of precipitation at the end of April – there was a good arrival of ducks. I had 81 Teal, 5 Wigeon, 31 Tufted and 20 Goldeneyes. Unlike previous years there were few waders (still too cold) but my first four Greenshank of the year rested briefly on a rock in the lake. Both Pink-footed Geese were present today with one obviously injured – how long will they stay?

With the snow falling all the time it was cold but especially on my hands where my gloves got soaked through but luckily today there was hardly any wind otherwise it could have been much worse.

The forecast for tomorrow morning is for it to be overcast until around 11am with some precipitation around 3am and warmer temperatures than today. I think that could make for very good conditions and there are southerly winds forecast all next week so it will be exciting times.
Greenshanks (gluttnsipe) - honestly!
2 Snipe (enkeltbekkasin) and a Mipit (heipiplerke) where I had the Shore Larks on Tuesday

entering Maridalen at 0600

THE fields at Kirkeby 0700
the view over the lake from the north at 0818

In the lack of any decent picture here are videos from Tuesday of the Kingfisher and Shore Lark



Friday, 29 April 2016

Snow.....and birds!

It was even colder today but the weather did change and suddenly there were lots and lots of birds. We had a very thin layer of snow in the garden but some cars driving past the house had a thick layer on the roof meaning that just a little bit higher up there was going to be a lot of snow. This was exciting – what would snow and (now) southerly winds at the very end of April turn up in Maridalen?

The very first field in the valley had loads of thrushes and this is always a good sign. They were mostly Fieldfare and it was difficult to know if these were local birds that were making use of a wet field and abundant worms or weather they were new arrivals. Just a kilometre further on though the sheer number of thrushes made it clear there were new arrivals and all through the morning there were many in the air. Amongst 500 Fieldfares I had 28 Ring Ouzels including at one point 12 sitting together in a tree. I have never had anything like this many before. Looking over to the other side of the lake in the ‘scope I could see there were lots of birds at Kirkeby.

Only one Ring Ouzel with a smaller number of thrushes here but 90 odd Mipits. Amazingly enough there was not a single scarce lark, finch or bunting here – they clearly only turn up when there is little else to go through. But good birds were to be seen. First I heard Red-throated Divers and looked up and had an enormous flock of 32 birds which flew around and around the valley clearly unsure of what to do for over 15 minutes. Whilst watching them I had another flock of 5 that did migrate north high up. A Rough-legged Buzzard headed north west and I thought this would be the start of a good passage but unfortunately not.

I scanned the fields hoping to find Golden Plover and quite amazingly found a pair of Little Ringed Plovers instead which is only the sixth record in Maridalen and not a species I see annually in Oslo (although they probably do breed in the industrial areas). Surprisingly there were no other passage waders and no numbers of duck on the lake which I thought the snow may have caused.

The thrushes and Mipits kept flying up and reacting as though there was a raptor in the area but it wasn’t until the LRPs also flew up that I found one with an adult Peregrine flying aggressively over the area. After this I had a female Kestrel that hung around for a while and she was also joined briefly by another female but no Pallid Harrier today…

By 1130 the southerly wind had become so strong (must have been gusting over 15m/s) that I thought it would be good to check out the fjord. Lots of wind and waves but no indication of any birds having been blown in (I had hoped for at least a tern of some variety).

The list of species was not that long and still no hirundines, warblers or Wheatears but there were so many birds in the air today that it was very exciting! And tomorrow might be even better as long as there are some breaks in the rain/snow.

Little Ringed Plover (dverglo) in Maridalen on the same field that in the last week has also held Short-toed Lark, Med Gull, Lapland Bunting and Shore Lark. Quite possibly the best field in the world?

size comparison with a Lapwing (vipe)

Here is a video of the LRPs

the snowy scene in Maridalen this morning. The field in the middle held 28 Ring Ouzels (ringtrost) and the stubble field middle left held most of the 500 Fieldfares (interesting habitat differences)

at least 12 Ring Ouzels in this shot most of them at the back

and here 12 in a tree

adult Peregrine (vandrefalk). Nesting somewhere closeby?
32 Red-throated Divers (smålom) attempting to migrate

close up of some of them

Rough-legged Buzzard (fjelvåk)

And here a video of the Kestrels making use of the wind to hover in search of food. Includes a slow motion sequence.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Green-winged Teal ++

It will be May in just three days but at the moment it feels like winter. The continuing cold northerly wind has caused an almost complete stop in spring migration and a lack of rain has left fields dry and unappealing to birds. This means that a big backlog of birds is building up somewhere to the south of us and when the cork is removed we could be in for a real rush. Things might change quite soon as well with rain and a change to southerly winds forecast already this weekend although it will still be cold. Next week though there is forecast more southerlies and sun so there could also be a burst of insects and then loads more birds. Another upside from the current weather is that Svellet is almost dry so should be in prime condition in the next two weeks....

To highlight how late things are, during today's Aurskog-Høland trip I didn't have a single hirundine, only one (my first) Willow Warbler, one Wheatear and only a single Golden Plover. Also not a single tringa wader other than Green Sands. That's not to say the trip was not a success - far from it. One of my target birds on my two previous trips out east this spring was Green-winged Teal. I didn't find one (finding multiple Garganey instead) but two days ago one was found at Hærsetersjøen which is one of the sites I always visit. At 0645 I was there and so was the teal! This is most likely the same returning male I found in 2013 at Kjelle and 2014 at Hellesjøvannet (and which was seen in 2015 at Hemnessjøen). It was together with 107 Teal and very easy to find. Otherwise, the lake and its muddy margins held two Lapwing and a Snipe and that’s it.

Hærsetersjøen and Kallaksjøen are just over an hour’s drive Oslo and these were my first stops before slowly heading back to Oslo. I did have one roadside stop though in an area where Rune and I once had a chance meeting with a Capercaille. This time I was fortuitous enough to hear displaying Black Grouse and drumming Three-toed Woodpecker!

Hemnessjøen was very quiet and I didn't see a single diver! A small flock of Greylags though contained three Pink-feets, two Canadas and most unexpectedly a Tundra (rossicus) Bean Goose.
Hellesjøvannet was also very quiet on the wildfowl and wader front. Lapwings here (as in Maridalen and other places today) had clearly had their first breeding attempt ruined by ploughing but should hopefully try again (I think farmers are ploughing late this year due to the (dry?) weather). The two male Marsh Harriers were still present and the younger male has attracted a mate who was putting the finishing touched to the nest he had made. At one time the older male flew over the nest and was seen off by his younger and clearly more successful rival. I also heard a Grey-headed Woodpecker both calling and drumming but didn’t see it – not a species I see annually in Akershus.

At the northern end of Bjørkelangen the flooded field was no longer flooded but a small group of geese contained yet another Tundra Bean Goose – what’s going on?

At Kjelle there is very little water left and only 11 Teal. The rain at the weekend though should hopefully improve conditions for next week. The valley around Haugrim and Haneborg gave the most frustrating bird of the day with a distant ringtail harrier glimpsed briefly in the bins and she had a Pallid reek about her but I never got her in the scope and will have to let her go. A Perched Merlin was little compensation.

Svellet has too little water!! although the weekend rains will probably change that. 103 Curlew and 8 Oystercatcher were the only waders and there was not a single duck!

Maridalen was as equally quiet as yesterday. But what will there be tomorrow???
male Green-winged Teal (amerikakrikkand) with European Teal (krikkand). It was not paired

no head but still eminently identifiable

you could still make a tentative ID based on the lack of a horizontal white bar

some of the103 Curlew (storspove) at Svellet after a Peregrine put them up

Curlews and Black-headed Gulls Svellet

a very dry Svellet

I came very close to a pair of Kestrels (tårnfalk) by the road but did not manage any good photos

Kjelle drying out

Merlin (dvergfalk). A 2cy male I believe
one of the two Tundra (rossicus) Bean Geese today

my first Willow Warbler (løvsanger) of the year

Little Ringed Plover (dverglo)

one of two Pink-footed Geese (kortnebbgås) currently at Maridalen. I believe one has problems flying

And a highlights video featuring both the Tundra Beans, Merlin, Little Ringed Plover, all three Marsh Harriers and a strange pale Teal that may have been an "intersex" bird


terrible picture of the pale Teal but you get the idea

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The inevitable downturn

It was inevitable after so many great days that today would be very quiet. With blue skies to start with and it clouding up in the afternoon I hoped for some raptors but apart from a couple of obviously migrating Kestrels during the day there was nothing special to see. In Maridalen the farmer has ploughed the main Lapwing field. This has probably ruined the initial breeding attempt of some pairs but I think they will try again as it is still early in the season (and the pair at Kirkeby are still mating and have yet to start nesting) and I also think that after it is seeded that the field will be better for them but only time will tell.

I’ve made a start on my video editing from yesterday and first out is the Steller’s Eider:


Also more pictures of said bird

the black spot is a strange plumage trait of Steller's Eider

what is the point of the green growth on the nape?

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The day of days

What day! Three great birds (well actually five birds of three species) and I didn’t find a single one of them! My daily ablutions were interrupted by a text message telling me about two Shore Larks in Maridalen (and that just after I had ruminated over what bird I had a chance of fining today and concluded with just that species). I later saw these birds really well, and then watched some bird porno when I followed up on the Kingfisher report and had them mating at close range. And then for lunch I had the male Steller’s Eider also at close range.

The Shore Larks were only Maridalen’s (and Oslo’s?) second record and to be honest if I didn’t know they were there I’m not sure I would have found them as they feeding very anonymously in furrows on the edge of the field – so a big thanks to Halvard H for his second big find in Maridalen this year.

I got to see the birds VERY well and would have been happy for the birding day to end there. Maridalen had little else to offer anyway. There was no sign today of the Med Gull. There was a report of it yesterday later afternoon. If this report is correct (many other observers were there during the day and didn’t see it) then it raises the question as to whether the bird in Hamar is the same bird. I think it could well be the same bird that has taken a day trip to Hamar, didn’t like what it saw and returned to Maridalen. I often see flocks of gulls gaining great height over Maridalen and heading north but I have also frequently seen flocks arriving from the north (also in the spring at the same time other flocks are heading north) and it could well be that these gulls make long distance feeding/reconnaissance trips during the course of a day.

 I took the trip down to look for the Kingfishers not quite sure what I would find. I arrived at the footbridge where the instructions were to watch from (and not from anywhere else to avoid disturbance) and expected to see flocks of photographers but was all alone. I did see the bird flying along the river almost immediately though. Another couple of birders/photographers arrived and we had to wait over 40 minutes but then a bird flew noisily in. Incredibly it landed very close to us on the bridge rather than further upstream which is where the nest was supposed to be. It then did fly upstream with a fish in its bill before turning and landing again only 20 metres from us and there were two birds!! This was clearly the nest sight on a small vertical bit of the river bank under a fallen tree. I couldn’t see the actual nest but the male disappeared a couple of times under the overturned tree roots and my pictures show he had a muddy bill when he returned so was clearly excavating the nest. The two birds then sat on branches by the nesting bank and showed incredibly well. I was torn between taking pictures and video and this is when I really c*cked up. I had just finished a video sequence by panning out to show the surroundings and was changing back to still pictures when one of my co-observers shouted that they were mating. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to capture it though. Hanging around another hour a lot of people walked past us on the bridge and wondered what we were watching and showed a lot of interest. One interesting thing was that few knew what “isfugl” was but many knew what a “Kingfisher” was.

After this the pair sat together for a long time, the male disappeared into the nest and the female called quite excitedly so I expected we would see more mating but it didn’t happen and then the male flew off. The female remained for a long time before herself flying up river. When the male returned calling with a fish in his beak he was clearly confused that his mate was not there and flew around calling for about 5 minutes before she flew in. I was ready to film them getting it on but it didn’t happen. They sat together, he gave her the fish, they called a lot but unless they mated during a short period when they moved and I lost sight of them then I don’t think he got his regard that time. News spread whilst I was there with people phoning others and I expect that in the days to come these birds will become a media sensation.

Leaving with many memories recorded digitally I went looking for the Steller’s Eider. With the initial interest having died down he is not reported very regularly but seems to have settled down in a small bay/marina with a pair of Common Eiders. He was there when I arrived and I was able to watch the three birds closely. There might be a male and a female Common Eider but the dynamics of the three birds suggest that the male Steller’s is the one who has pulled the female Common. I saw him trying to chase away the male Common Eider and it was him who swam closest to the female. She however showed no particular interest in either of them.

 I took loads of video and photos today but that will just show off a few shots now and will have to come back with more later.
Shore Larks (fjelllerke)

male Stellers Eider (stellerand) with male Common Eider (ærfgul)

pair of Kingfishers (isfugl). Female on left with red on her lower mandible


Monday, 25 April 2016

Lapland Bunting and raptors in Maridalen

When I popped in to Maridalen yesterday to see if the Med Gull was still there (and to see how many were twitching it) I thought I heard a Lapland Bunting. A quick scan revealed only Mipits so I dismissed it. I was a little annoyed then when I saw that three birds were discovered there later and a great shot was taken of a male by Eric Roualet. Luckily though the three birds were still present today. They flew up from the pathway and flew to one of the “islands” within the field where there are large rocks that stop the farmer ploughing (these islands are always good for birds). In flight there was one cracking male, a very drab female and a third bird which was reported as a male but could well have been a female in summer plumage. When they landed the drab female showed briefly and the cracking male stayed on view whilst the third bird vanished in the grass. It was a bit long range (50m) but great to see these birds on the deck (I normally only see them in flight in Maridalen).

There wasn’t much else initially although I did have a low overflying Crane when I got out of the car – still no arrival of Wheatears or Willow Warblers but a skein of Pink-footed Geese at 09:17 gave me some hope. Around this time the wind dropped and the sun shone (otherwise it was cold with a continued northerly wind) and suddenly there were raptors. During the course of around 40 minutes I had a Rough-legged Buzzard, an Osprey, 2 Goshawks, a Peregrine, a Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel. It then just dried up again though.

I couldn’t find the Med Gull and there were fewer gulls on the lake and following the plough so she might have moved on (edit: indeed it has as what looks to be the same bird was seen in Hamar 80 km to the north at 1pm today). That these birds can move large distances relatively quickly has been shown with the ringed bird from Østensjøvannet which after last being seen there on 16 April turned up 300km away on the west coast on 21 April.

Deciding that Maridalen had no more to offer me (always a difficult decision to make) I headed for Nordre Øyeren. After my comments about the disastrous increase in water levels last week they have now fallen by 43cm since peaking on Thursday and things are once again looking rosy. I could only find 78 Curlew in Svellet today but I am so excited thinking about what may turn up over the next couple of weeks. Around Øyeren today I had 6 species of waders so things are warming up (Lapwing, Curlew, Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover).

The Garganey pair is still on its favoured pond and I had 4 Swallows including one bird with particularly red underparts (no useful pictures though) which I can’t remember having seen in Norway before.

Exciting news has emerged of a pair of Kingfishers that have seemingly gone under the radar of birders and are visiting a nest hole in the centre of Sandvika just west of Oslo. These birds could very well be the ones seen at Fornebu (where both male and female were seen although not together) and will undoubtedly become popular.
Crane (trane) low over Maridalen

same bird - an arty shot?
female Lapland Bunting (lappspurv)

male Lapland Bunting

female Lapwing (vipe)

a selection of very poorly photographed . Iraptors from Maridalen. Clockwise from top left: 2cy Peregine (vandrefalk), Rough-legged Buzzard (fjellvåk),  male Sparrowhawk (survehauk), Osprey (fiskeørn) with som strange notches in its feathers, an male Kestrel. I also had Goshawk.