Friday, 30 September 2016

Lots of ducks....relatively

I decided to head out east in Aurskog Høland today and Hellesjøvannet where I hoped for some raptors and an interesting duck or two. After all the Rough-legged Buzzards I had seen at the Bean Goose site a few days ago I was expecting to see many today but didn’t have a single one. Common Buzzards were around with 8 in total but 2 Kestrels and best of all a young Hen Harrier were the only other raptors I saw. I had a hope to have close and prolonged views of Hen (or Pallid) Harrier to day but the Hen was flying over at some height.

I was a bit more successful with ducks. Incredibly I recorded two max counts for the whole of Norway so far in 2016. At Hellesjøvannet 135 Pochard outnumbered all other ducks combined and at Merkja 18 Shoveler were also a max high. It is quite interesting that Akershus hosts such large numbers of these species and that they don’t have higher numbers in Jæren which generally has much higher numbers of wildfowl but both of these species have only a tiny breeding population in Norway so the birds I am seeing are coming from further east and perhaps never make it to Jæren. One species they definitely see more of in Jæren is Scaup but I had one at Hellesjøvannet today which is the most reliable site in Akershus for both this species and Smew with normally of a few of each later in October and November.

Summer migrants are now getting thin on the ground and I recorded no warblers or swallows today but did have a single Wheatear.
This Hen Harrier (myrhauk) looks to have unstreaked reddy cooured underparts plus a dark boa and pale neck collar which are considered the classic plumage features for Pallid. However note the broad wing with 5 "fingers" shows this is a Hen Harrier. The dark secondaries help age this bird as a bird of the year (1cy)

3 Shoveler (skjeand)

6 Shovelers

here the blue forewing and green speculum of Shoveler can be seen

Teal (krikkand) left with 3 Shovelers

a male Wheatear (steinskvett). My last of the year?

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Norway in the birding limelight

I decided not to go birding today (other than a lightening trip into Maridalen to see if I could see a Yb Warbler that was reported there yesterday, argh!). There were still strong winds today but they had shifted more to the SW so I thought the chance of any seabirds in the inner Oslo fjord would be even less than yesterday so discounted the thought of another day’s sea gazing. Turns out that was a bad idea as an albatross (presumably Black-browed) was seen heading north in the middle of the day past Horten and would then most likely have been visible from where I was watching yesterday…….

Norway is having a great autumn for birds. In addition to all the goodies on Værøy, there have been another THREE White’s Thrushes this week, the (presumed) Alder Flycatcher that Tor found, a Western Bonelli’s also found by Tor and now a Red-necked Stint which was initially identified as a palmated-less Semi-P but then magnificently correctly identified as Europe’s first (live) 1cy Red-necked Stint by Tor (I want his babies!). Yoav Perlman has for some reason written an article on the Birding Frontiers website on this bird which rightly gives credit where it’s due but also doles out credit where it isn’t due such as to myself who I can safely say had no input into the correct ID of the bird other than perhaps liking a comment or two ;-)

Wednesday, 28 September 2016


I started yesterday’s post by mentioning how everything is relative in birding and today I had an experience that exceeds twitching anything that others may have found on Værøy – forget Stars n Stripes, forget even White’s Thrush – I found a Yellow-browed Warbler in Akershus!! OK it wasn’t in Oslo which would have been almost unbelievable (although it has happened before) but from what I can see this is only the 5th record in Akershus. Every September when I have come home from Værøy my senses have been honed for Yb Warblers and I’m sure I heard one in the garden one year but with the possibility of confusion with Coal Tit that record was never more than a possible. Indeed, yesterday I heard Coal Tits and had to listen twice to convince myself that that was indeed all I was hearing.

This year I did find one and it wasn’t because of call. I went to Krokstrand this morning with a slight hope that very strong overnight southerly winds may have brought something in but as feared they were too brief to have pushed anything this far into the fjord. After 35 minutes 2 Black-headed Gulls were the undoubted highlight….. and I if I had checked my phone 5 minutes earlier I would have stopped but being a but obsessive and wanting to have watched for a round number I decided to stay another 25 minutes to make it a round hour. Just before the hour was up a guillemot flew through going north making it the bird of the watch and making me wonder whether I should stay a bit longer. Luckily I was sensible enough to cut my losses and made me way back to the car. When I reached the car I heard a Chiffchaff calling and as I looked around saw a small bird fly into a nearby tree. But this didn’t look like a Chiffchaff and as I raised my bins I expected to see a Goldcrest but it was green and yes it was a species that I had seen loads of just a few days earlier but this was awesome! Panic ensued! My camera was of course in my bag and the bird was flitting about in the canopy but by switching to manual focus I eventually managed some record shots. I tried playing the call but the bird wasn’t interested and did not call itself.

After a while another birder turned up (Kim Hansen had also been sea gazing but from a different spot) and we both tried to find it. Kim eventually saw it and over the course of the next half an hour it called twice and showed twice. There were three Chiffchaffs and two Blackcaps in the same area which showed much better but the Yb unfortunately was incredibly difficult to pin down. There must be so many more out there just waiting to be found but luck is definitely required.
Yellow-browed Warbler (gulbrynsanger) in Akershus


Marsh Tit (løvmeis) is a very localised species in Akershus and one I have never seen in Oslo but Krokstrand is a good locality for them

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Good local birding

Birding back in the Oslo area doesn’t offer the same chance of finding rarities as Værøy did but there is still good birding to be had and everything is relative: one can still have very exciting birding experiences with unexpected birds or just noting migration and the changing of the seasons.

I chose to have a last look for the Bean Geese which will soon be off to Scotland. I knew from a plot at 8am that they were on a field viewable from a road and when I got there at 0915 they were still there although I could not see them due to fog but I could hear them! The fog quickly burnt off and I could see the flock of Beans, a large group of Canadas and a few Greylags. As usual a number of the Beans were feeding in depressions and were not always visible and my various attempts at counting the flock could vary by up to 30 birds! I spent a long time checking for collars and finished with 17 which were the same birds I had a couple of weeks ago so no new tagged birds although my counts suggested that the flock had increased. However, when I counted from a flight photo I took later there were 129 birds – exactly the same count as last time. It was disappointing that the flock was not larger as this is a smaller autumn flock than the last couple of years, which may be explained by the near absence of youngsters. It was encouraging though that the flock was the same size as I have often wondered whether they are subject to illegal hunting as the GPS data shows them often changing roosts sites and sometimes flying 70km to roost which seems to be a real waste of energy unless they are forced to move.
There was a real autumnal feeling in the air with various finches, thrushes and buntings calling and flying over. I also had a Rough-legged Buzzard which unsettled the geese and a couple of Common Buzzards as well as a Great Grey Shrike. Woodpeckers were also making a noise and I heard Black, Green and best of all a Grey-headed.

At 1030 the geese still hadn’t flown down to the river as I had hoped but I decided to move on. As I drove away from the site a flock of geese flew over me heading for the river. I suspected them to be the Canadas’s but drove to the vantage point at Udenes Church to check. The geese were indeed the Canadas and they had joined some birds already on the river. After 15 minutes though the Beans flew in from the field (this is when I got the flight shot to count them) and then stayed on the river for over an hour and a half. During this time, I scanned the skies for raptors and as the day warmed up I had a large number of Rough-legged Buzzards and Common Buzzards plus Sparrowhawk, Goshawk and a Peregrine. Some of the buzzards were moving through but a number were clearly feeding over the fields where I had seen the geese. I decided to go back to the fields to try to get some photos. Incredibly the geese were back on the fields when I arrived there and I had to check for the collars to ensure it was the same flock (which it was). I had 4 Rough-leggeds and 6 Common Buzzards in the air above just a couple of stubble fields. There was clearly a lot of food here for them and they were using the wind to hover. I have never before seen such a concentration of feeding buzzards in Norway and it will be interesting to see if they hang around into the winter.

Geese in the mist

Taiga Bean Geese (sædgås)

four tagged geese including 30

seen from another angle

flying down to the river
Rough-legged Buzzard (fjellvåk). Not entirely sure of age and sex but the double tail band shows it to be 2cy + 

same bird as above

hunting - probably a juvenile

a 2y ?
the upper bird is the same as in the first 2 pictures. The lower bird may be an adult male?
the same 2 birds
Rough-legged Buzzard with Common Buzzard (musvåk) note the smaller size of the Common
a juvenile Common Buzzard
another juvenile Common Buzzard with a pale plumage
and another juvenile Common Buzzard with a fairly typical plumage
and an extremely pale Common Buzzard
probably also a juvenile
same bird. In this plumage they are often mistaken for Rl Buzzards or even rarer species
a rather dark Common Buzzard hovering for food
a dainty juvenile male Goshawk (hønsehauk)
a Great Grey Shrike (varsler). It has some food in its bill which makes it look rather crow like in silhouette

Monday, 26 September 2016

Værøy 2016 - final pictures

This year’s trip to Værøy didn’t feel that great but I actually had more Norwegian ticks (Turtle Dove, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and Pechora Pipit) than I have ever had before and the last two were also lifers so it is clearly my most successful trip in terms of quantity. The reason for this year not feeling so special was that the best birds were very frustrating with no chance to enjoy them plus the fact that I wasn’t the finder made them less rewarding. There were also fewer birds generally than there have been the other years with therefore less to go through and keep your interest up. When you check out 10 gardens in a row without a bird then it does get quite hard going.

My leaving the day before the 2 big birds (White’s Thrush and Lanceolated Warbler) also left a bad taste but I know it will soon pass and I am already looking forward to next years trip J

Here are my reminaing pictures and a couple of videos.


The Pechora Pipit was not much fun. Kjell had heard it flying over and was pretty confident that it had to be a Pechora which he confirmed after I played him the call 10 minutes later. We then went about searching where it may have gone down (over 500 m). It incredibly flew up from some long grass at our feet and Kjell saw enough on it to proclaim “that’s it”. It flew up silently (as is their habit) and started flying around in circles gaining height before it started calling – a buzzy call superficially similar to Little/Rustic Bunting and then landed again over 500m away. I managed some dot in the sky pictures at this point. We walked towards it without knowing exactly where it had gone down. A Merlin shot through the area and suddenly there were a number of small birds in the air and we heard it again. I had by this point got my phone out and was ready to press the record button to record the call. Incredibly I did actually record it calling twice although you really have to strain to hear it. Not quite as good as this recording made by TerjeKolaas on the same day on the island of Husøy (also in Nordland county).

This video has my recording of the call.

the photograhic evidence of Pechora Pipit (tundrapiplerke)........

The photographic evidence of Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (starrsanger).........

The photographic evidence of Little Bunting (dvergspurv)

a more obliging Golden Plover (heilo)

I only saw Hawk Owl (haukugle) once. The bird was looking very unwell with drooping wings and could hardly keep its eyes open but it was clearly finding food as a dead bird can be seen cached just above it s head

Pied Flycatcher (svarthvt fluesnapper)

a juvenile Ring Ouzel (ringtrost) which had me thinking Starling (Stær) at first
an adult Ring Ouzel
Rook (kornkråke)
looking North from Værøy with the island of Mosken and behind the Lofotens

Yellow-browed Warbler (gulbrynsanger)
never easy to get a good photo of this species in the field
but a bit easier in the hand

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Værøy - after I left....

Before I post any of my own none to impressive pictures I can update on the birds I didn’t see on Værøy because I clearly left too early…...

I have already mentioned the Olive Backed Pipit that Kjell found whilst I was waiting for my helicopter off the island, well here is the back of camera picture.
Olive-backed Pipit (sibirpiplerke). Photo: Klell Mjølsnes

This morning things got much worse though when I first got a message from Kjell that he had found a Lanceolated Warbler and then I later got a picture of it in the hand after it had the misfortune to be flushed into a net erected just for its pleasure. After Kjell had found the PGTips (Starrsanger in Norwegian) he had started to talk about finding Stars & Stripes with the Stripes being Stripesanger (Lanceolated in Norwegian). Well his dream was fulfilled and well deserved too.

Lanceolated Warbler (stripesanger). Photo: Kjell Mjølsnes

And then I’ve just got a message saying a White’s Thrush (gultrost) has been seen although so far only by one observer. This is a notoriously difficult species to get past the bitter soles in the Rarities Committee though and I would know ;-).
Værøy has now, and finally, more than lived up to expectations!


it seems the White's Thrush was seen by all birders who were (still) the island. This pictures was sent to me by Egil Ween but was I believe taken by Håvard Eggen. My only consolation was that it would appear to have been another frustrating, skulky bird (I'm stuggling here.)