Monday, 31 October 2016

Izzy Shrke twitch...urgh

On Friday I had plans for today to get up early and drive down to Hvaler in Østfold for another Russian Dunnock hunt. Eight have now been trapped in Norway with three sites having two each and apart from Utsira it is difficult to describe these places as particularly special so it just confirms how many must be out there and how crap/lazy we birders currently are. We need to get our act together and if not for our own self-respect then for the sake of the birds so that they don’t have to be held in a bag for hours on end so car loads of twitchers to have time to get there and get a tick. I put these plans on hold during the course of the weekend though as a pain in my rump and leg that has been creeping up on me got so worse that I couldn’t bear the thought of driving for 4 hours and instead started planning a day that involved a lot of walking which seems to help.

My plan was to start at Fornebu and then go up into Sørkedalen with species such as Bearded Tit, Pine Grosbeak, Hawk Owl and Pygmy Owl on my to get list. This plan was cemented when news seeped out yesterday of an Isabelline Shrike at Fornebu. Only seen by a select few it was one of those birds that makes you wonder why you bother spreading news about birds you yourself find and why you bother creating many different communication channels when it often seems to be a one-way communication (not that I had the chance to go for it yesterday but I get easily wound up). Anyway there were lots of people hoping to see this bird this morning. Some had already given up before 8am but I arrived just before 9am and could see from the way people were standing that the bird hadn’t been seen. It also seemed in classic twitching style that all efforts had been concentrated on the exact area where the bird was seen yesterday. I therefore walked I the opposite directions to extend my search to the whole of Fornebu and spent two hours trudging around and failing to see anything exciting (not even an obvious bird like a Brent Goose) with only unusually many Blackbirds and Blue Tits to note. This sort of experience is exactly why I don’t like twitching so at 11am I headed towards Sørkedalen. Here I didn’t find anything interesting either but did get a message that someone had seen the bird (indeed the presence of the bird was reported on 4 different communication channels – marvellous that!!). I was a bit of a way from the car and still had a plan to find a Hawk Owl and continued on that quest for a bit longer but failed here and then ran (downhill) back to the car. I arrived at Fornebu just before 13:00 to find 4 birders watching where the bird had just been before disappearing. This was an area which I had checked earlier which makes this twitching thing even worse (although it must have been far worse to have walked past this area yesterday just before someone else found the bird….). After a few minutes though the bird popped up and showed quite well as it searched very actively for food before again going missing. It was refound 20 minutes later 200 metres away in some bushes by a path and then stayed here, although often difficult to see, allowing the crowds to appear which was my cue.

The bird itself was pretty neat and looks to be of the (sub)species isabellinus whereas a bird seen here in October 2009 was phoenicuroides although the differences between these two sub(species) are not great. Quite incredibly both the birds (of a still very rare species in Norway) were found by the same observer which must be pretty unique.
Isabelline Shrike Fornebu ssp isabellinus

colours looked a lot different when in a shady bush

Here are my pictures of the bird from 2009 (when I didn't have a decent camera) plus a link to some much better shots
Isabelline Shrike ssp phoenicuroides Fornebu October 2009

Friday, 28 October 2016


Glorious sun and completely blue skies today. Perfect conditions for discovering where all those Russian Dunnocks are hiding! At Fornebu I heard one calling but couldn’t find it so reluctantly let that one go as a Hedge Accentor. Then I had another one calling from an area that looked small enough for me to have a good enough chance of seeing it. I played the call of Russian Dunnock and it immediately answered from the top of a bush. It had the sun right behind it so couldn’t make out jack sh*t with regards plumage but moved closer, firing off photos and adjusting the exposure compensation to the roof. I really didn’t have a clue what it was but as I got closer and it remained in place I begun to see enough to understand that there was nothing funny about it. Surely a funny Dunnock is more likely at the moment?

Fornebu had surprisingly little else to offer with a real dearth of passerines. I put up 9 Common Snipe and a single Jack Snipe. I have really lost my knack of finding Jacks on the deck and just can’t see the anymore until they feebly rise up from under my foot.

In Maridalen there are still no sea ducks on the lake although two Wigeon were new in. The Pink-footed Goose that has been around for a month finally showed in sunlight and I finally managed a nice photo of it. I have not seen any sign of the Whooper Swan family on my latest visits so it looks like they have moved on towards their winter quarters.

I illed up the feeders a couple of days ago and four Willow Tits today were a good start for the season.
The pulse really rose with this calling dunnock in silhouette (jernspurv)

but it wasn't Russian

Pink-footed Goose (kortnebbgås) hanging on in Maridalen
my standard picture of Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin) at the moment

Common Snipe (enkeltbakkasin) left with the Jack. The larger size and longer bill of the Common are easy to see

Coal Tit (svartmeis) in Maridalen

and Willow Tit (granmeis)

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Roadside Assistance

We finally had some reasonable weather again today with the sun breaking through. I decided on a tour de Aurskog-Høland with hopes of finding scare geese, Hawk Owls and maybe Bewick’s Swan.

I scored on the geese front with a Taiga Bean and 5 albifrons White-fronted Geese (all the Wf Geese I’ve seen recently will have been this race) and had one (only!) Hawkie but no Bewick’s and indeed not even double figures of Whoopers.

The major excitement of the day though was having to call a tow truck to remove me from a muddy field. Whilst counting geese I had wanted to get off the road so had driven onto the edge of a field. When it was time to leave though I was unable to reverse up the incline back onto the road as my front wheels (with newly mounted winter tyres) were spinning in the mud. I decided therefore to drive out into the field which was stubble to turn the car round and go forward up the incline. This nearly worked except when I had managed to turn 180 degrees I got stuck in the mud which was very wet under the thin layer of straw! My attempts to extricate myself from the embarrassing situation just involved the wheels sinking deeper into the mud. I considered walking to a nearby farm and asking for help but that was far too embarrassing so I instead rang for “roadside assistance” – well I could see the side of the road…. A most helpful assister eventually arrived and was very professional about the whole thing – no smarmy comments or looks – he just got on with his job of pulling a plonker out of a field!
Just after I took this picture, Hawkie plummeted to the ground

but flew up empty clawed onto a nearer tree

Hellesjøvannet - White-fronted Geese (tundragås), Greylag Geese (grågås), Pochard (taffeland) and Scaup (bergand)
the car stuck in the mud

Assistance arrives on the roadside

a nice man pulls me off

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Just 1 Hawkie and no funny dunnock

Another funny Dunnock was found in Norway today, the 6th of the autumn and all have been pulled from nets. At this rate we’ll soon be the laughing stock of birding Europe unless we show that we have at least one person in our midst who can actually use some good old birding skills and find one in the field.

That person wasn’t me today but I still have hopes.

I tried to get a new day record for Hawkie (by visiting a forest area NE of Oslo where a few were reported on Friday) but had to be content with just a single bird. However, the area I checked out looks to be a good and easily accessible area for Tengmalm’s Owls so will be worth a visit in the late winter.

At Nordre Øyeren the Brent Goose was still present and a few Long-tailed Duck, a single Scaup and a single Velvet Scoter were also to be seen. This year seems to have been very good for the mountain breeding seaducks such as scoters, Scaup and Lt Duck and many have been turning all over Norway but Øyeren has seemed to avoid the influx until now. I have also been hoping for some to turn up on Maridalsvannet which normally has a few Common Scoters in late autumn but there has been nothing there so far.
Hawk Owl

There are still 6 Shoveler (skjeand) on Merkja and I got quite close using some reeds as cover but the pictures weren't too good

Friday, 21 October 2016


On my way home from my Great Dunnock Hunt on Wednesday I saw, at dusk, a flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding in a roadside field close to Nordre Øyeren. I went back today hoping to find the flock and see if there was anything more exciting amongst them. The flock was on exactly the same field and close to the road. I had my mind set on finding White-fronted Goose and my first sweep through the flock of ca.200 birds revealed nothing other than Pink-foots. The birds were feeding actively with heads down so I went more methodically through the flock bird by bird. And then I suddenly started noticing orange bills and feet! In total there were 12 Tundra (rossicus) Bean Geese amongst the Pink-feet which is a very good count for this (sub) species in these parts. The birds were also quite close and offered good photo opportunities despite it being a very murky day.

Nearby Merkja still had 9 Shoveler which for once offered the chance of an OK photo. I then moved around to the other side of Svellet and first checked the river just to the north. A black bird on the far bank was not a crow and before I raised my binoculars I felt sure I was going to find a Brent Goose and indeed it was! An adult (or at least 2cy+) dark-bellied (bernicla) and a good Akershus bird. Also here a late Lapwing.

On Svellet there were still ca.400 Teal with 10 Pintail, a single late Ruff and an adult White-tailed Eagle that was plunging for fish rather than going after the ducks. All quite exciting!

Nearby Snekkervika had lots of ducks at range and they kept taking off and flying around as though there was a raptor spooking them but I never found it. Autumn is not yet over and maybe next week will offer up a rare Siberian passerine – here’s hoping J
Dark-bellied Brent Goose (ringgås)

Two Tundra Bean Geese (sædgås) closest with Pink-footed Geese (kortnebbgås) in the background and it looks like also a couple of other Beans

here there was a bit of a stand off between a Pink-foot (left) and a Bean

Bean (left) and Pink-foot. Note the different colours of the back

Amongst a flock of Pink-footed Geese there are often quite different plumages but I don't remember ever having seen a bird so dark (and Bean Goose like) as this before
Shovelers (skjeand)

a late Ruff (brushane) that wasn't looking too happy

adult White-tailed Eagle about to plunge, unsuccessfully, for a fish

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

I'm going on a Sibe Acc Hunt

Today was the day for the big Siberian Accentor Hunt. I had delegated all family responsibilities to Mrs.OB, was up at 5am and out of the house for 13 hours. Did I find one? Of course not but I did hear a number of unidentified accentors and when I played Sibe Acc call to a couple of them they responded…….but they turned out to be of the Hedge variety. I heard the first calls when it was still dark (could well have slept 45 minutes more) and I did get myself well and truly excited thinking that I had flocks of Sibes flying over but will never know. I could actually see the site in Sweden where there has been a Sibe Acc the last few days and took a picture at 12km range which I’m sure if I blow up enough will reveal my target ;-)

So I didn’t succeed in my main target but I did find a pretty damn good bird for the parts in the form of a Little Bunting. I was riding quite high off this but felt that some of the air leaked out of the balloon when I got messages that a Desert Wheatear was at Fiskumvannet (where I was yesterday…), then a picture from Kjell M who had found a Tawny Pipit (but then again I have no chance of competing against him due to geography), then another Sibe Acc was pulled out of a net on the west coast (it is pretty embarrassing collectively for us Norwegian birders that we can’t find one in the field) and the last message was of an unidentified swift in Oslo from a birder without bins needing assistance (do any self-respecting birders ever go out without bins, or at least a superzoom in their pocket? I can see the makings of a joke there..).

So the day’s plan was to head to the island of Søndre Asmaløy right in the south east of Norway and an area which has good viz mig and a history of scarce and rare birds. I started at Håbu from 0720 to 0910 but it wasn’t until 0800 that I could see anything. There was lots to hear though from the moment I left the car with a steady, if light, passage of finches, thrushes and tits (including Long-tailed of which I must have had over 100 in the day).  Nothing too scarce here though so I headed for the area around Vikerkilen and Skipstadkilen. Here I worked hard but for a long time three Wheatears were all I had of interest. A Lapland Bunting flew over and finally I felt I had found something worthy of an October day.

Shortly after a migrating flock of Blue Tits was buzzing around in low vegetation and whilst watching them I thought I saw a small warbler fly into a bush (was probably a Goldcrest). As I raised my bins to the bush I saw a bird I immediately realised was a Little Bunting! I panicked a bit as I got my camera out of my bag and then couldn’t the bird again. I searched and searched and then decided to follow the Blue Tit flock as they were the only other birds in the area and maybe it was associating with them. A bunting flew up and away and then turned round and came back and landed in a bush where the tits were. The Blue Tits were flying out and feeding on the ground and thankfully the bunting did the same and I got really rather good views!!! It interestingly did not call once. After it flew into some bushes I retreated to send out the news and then just waited as I didn’t want to risk scaring it. The first birder arrived after about an hour and a few more after that but I left them to look (unfortunately in vain) as I was by now starving. On the way back to the car I put up two Short-eared Owls and had another Lap Bunting. Nice!

It was now 1330 and I felt I had used my luck up so instead of searching other places for Sibe Acc I decided to work my way home via a number of previously reported birds. At the Great Big Dump, Øra I had Brent and  White-fronted Goose. At Lysakermoa I had Bewick’s Swan (becoming very rare in Norway) and more White-fronts. There have been a lot of White-fronts in Norway the last few days and the ones at Lysakermoa were two juveniles. It is interesting that they had already managed to lose their parents as the Taiga Bean Geese seem to keep together as a family group until the next spring. Continuing into Akershus I had a large flock of Greylags at Hemnesjøen. I couldn’t find any Beans here (had them last week) but did find a family party of 5 White-fronts. Then at Hellesjøvannet I had a single juv White-front with Greylags. I first saw this bird in flight and it was tiny such that I got quite excited until I got to see it properly on the water. So White-fronts at four locations is certainly not something I have ever experienced before.

A very good day!
The day's undoubted highlight a momentarily photogenic Little Bunting (dvergspurv)

here in the unlikely company of Blue and Great Tit

Short-eared Owl (jordugle)

Bewick Swans (dvergsvane). The inset show an adult pair with a juvenile. To the right of the picture is the fourth bird which was a 2cy

Brent Geese (ringgås) at Øra
Scaup (bergand) at Øra. Note the left hand bird is a 1cy male (grey feathers on back)

15 White-fronted Geese (tundragås) at Øra

juv White-front with Greylags at Hellesjøvannet

family of 5 White-fronts at Hemnesjøen

2 juv White-fronts at Lysakermoa

The cloest I got (12km or so) to a Siberian Accentor although surely I must have heard one (there must thousands of them out there!)