Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Ultimate Oslo birding

Back in the winter of 2012/13 when there was an invasion of both Hawkie and Piney to the Oslo area I had a birders wet dream that involved seeing a Hawk Owl eating a Grosbeak. This rather gruesome bringing together of my two favourite birds was always very unlikely to happen given that Hawk Owl very rarely eats birds but I did have one occasion when I saw (and filmed) bothspecies from the same spot at the same time and it was to be honest a ratherorgasmic experience.

I wanted to come as close as possible to recreating that feeling today although the only realistic plan was only to see both species in Oslo on the same day. I started with the Grosbeaks first and when I parked the car saw that Zak clearly had the same intention as me. He was already a long way into the forest and had not had sight nor sound of Piney. I was not to be deterred though. It was once again very quiet in the forest and a single female Capercaille flying out of a pine tree above me was the highlight for the first hour and a half.

My last two walks in the forest have surprisingly not revealed a single crossbill although I have had the occasional bird flying over in Maridalen recently. There are still lots of cones on both spruce and pine trees but they are clearly not at the right stage in their development for crossbills. Both Parrot and Common Crossbill are nomadic in their search for cones at just the right stage of development for them to breed in the late winter. Last winter spruce cones were right in southern Norway and we had huge numbers of Common Crossbills that bred but these birds started to vanish during the summer and there are now just stragglers left (where the others have gone I do not know). The previous winter we had no spruce cones and no Common Crossbills but there was a good crop of pine cones and suddenly there were small numbers of Parrot Crossbills which otherwise are very uncommon around Oslo. When I heard a crossbill today I was keen to get an eye on it and it was a male Common Crossbill flying over. As I stood there wondering where all its kin had disappeared to I heard a short whistling call close by. I looked up and saw a Blue Tit but thought that the call surely was from something far more interesting….. and then suddenly three Pine Grosbeaks flew into a tree 40m away and started calling. They had the sun behind them and when I finally pulled the camera out of the bag I didn’t check the settings but after three poor photos they just vanished. I played the call but this had no effect today (because they were already in a flock). Over the course of the next 15 minutes I heard them call twice again somewhere nearby but never manged to see them again. Guess I’ll have to search for them another day because they are incredible birds and deserve to be enjoyed and studied when one has the chance.

So one target down (if only just) I then went to see if nearby Maridalen had a Hawkie for me but had to be content with one of the Great Grey Shrikes.

A visit to Sørkedalen was therefore necessary for Hawkie. As I passed Bogstadvannet I saw there were a few ducks waiting for bread and amongst them was the Pintail which has not been seen for a week or so. Frustratingly when I went down with the camera it walked away from me and clearly didn’t want to be photographed – I’ll have to remember bread next time.

I drove further into the valley but had only driven a minute and reached the northern end of the lake when I saw a bird perched half way up a birch tree (it was a good 300m away). I stopped the car and was expecting to find a Sparrowhawk in the bins but was more than happy to see a Hawk Owl. It soon flew up onto the top of a relatively low spruce tree and I was then able to walk out to it and really enjoy it although the light wasn’t so good. I was keen to find out if it was a new bird so ran back to the car and continued driving. Quite soon the sun broke though and I regretted not staying with the bird in the hand. 4km away there was no sign of birds in the bush although there were forlorn photographers who had been searching for a while. I headed back as quickly as I could and the light was fantastic but the only problem was that the bird had moved to the very highest spruce he could find…..although a couple of photographers were no longer forlorn.

But who cares Hawk Owl and Pine Grosbeak in the same day and within sight of Oslo city – it’s what birding is all about J
Hawkie looking in every direction but at me

as can be seen here there are still lots of cones on the spruce trees - and a Hawk Owl

here when I first had Hawkie relatively low down but poor light

and here fantastic light but too high up

au revoir min cherie

just about recognisable - Pine Grosbeak (konglebit)
Great Grey Shrike (varsler) in Maridalen - the southern bird

1st winter male Pintail (stjertand) Bogstadvannet - what no bling?

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

And now Hawky baby!

So, I finished yesterday’s post saying how nice it would be to see the Hawk Owl in Sørkedalen today. I was asking for trouble, wasn’t I? I arrived in the favoured area soon after 9am when the sun was just coming over the horizon and the cold air (-5C) was filled with the lovely smell of burning plastic (some farmer thought that would be the best way to quit himself with his rubbish). A couple of drive bys didn’t reveal the bird so I parked up and went on a thorough search of the area. I did turn up a Great Grey Shrike which is the first record in Sørkedalen this year but no owl which is par for the course when I go twitching. I retreated to Fornebu but despite the sun, no wind and minus temperatures there were no Bearded Tits to see or hear and little else with the bays now being frozen.

I then made tracks for Maridalen but at the last minute decided to give Sørkedalen another go and I am glad I did because this time I found Hawkie. He was a few hundred metres from where I had concentrated my earlier efforts but was sat on top of the highest tree in the area clearly visible from the road I reckon I would have noticed him earlier…. Even though he was high up, the light was fantastic so I am happy with the pictures I got and reckon he will be worth further visits as yesterday he was hunting from wires right by the road.

So Piney one day and Hawkie the next - it doesn't get much better for a Brit Birder!

A quick trip to Maridalen revealed a single Great Grey Shrike but no owls of either the pygmy or hawk variety. Interestingly Maridalsvannet was only just starting to ice over in a couple of bays, whilst Bogstadvannet in Sørkedalen is completely frozen and the bays in the salt water fjord at Fornebu are also already frozen.
Hawk Owl in Sørkedalen. It was only a couple of hundred metres from the local primary school and seemed to be enjoying the sun

Sørkedalen's Great Grey Shrike (varsler)

and Maridalen's but I guess you'll have to take my word for it ;-)

Monday, 28 November 2016

Piney Baby!

Veteran readers of this blog will know that there if there is one thing that matches my love for Hawkie then it is my love for Piney (Grosbeak). I’m sure British birders will understand this love as both species have a rather mythical status in the UK.

Pine Grosbeak is very irregularly recorded in south eastern Norway although there is undoubtedly a high degree of under recording due to it being very unobtrusive and preferring vast tracts of mature spruce forest. Every now and again though (less than once a decade) it does arrive in large numbers as the species leaves the taiga forests of Russia when there has been a failure in it favoured food (which is NOT cones but rather buds on spruce trees). There was a such invasion in winter 2012/13 and quite remarkably Maridalen briefly became the best place in the whole of Norway to see this species with flocks of upto 45 being seen. Since then though there have only been a handful of records in south east Norway and I have not seen one since in the Oslo area.

This year has had a few records of birds in the south east and although definitely not an invasion it would appear there are more birds than normal. When Stig Johan Kalvatn saw and nicely photographed five birds on Saturday at Revlikollen then my plans for today were already made. Revlikollen is part of Lillomarka which is the forest area to the east of Maridalen. I have never explored this area of forest properly as I have always thought it to be too close to the city but have recently started to understand that it does contain some very interesting forest. Revlikollen is one such area and is protected as a nature reserve due to it containing large areas of untouched old, primarily spruce, forest. It was a good half hour walk before I got to the edge of the nature reserve and there was precious little in the way of bird life on the way. Crossing into the nature reserve didn’t change that but the forest looked very impressive with large spruces, lots of fallen and rotting wood and the odd pine tree. I heard a Black Woodpecker calling but NOTHING else. Then I saw a movement in front of me and suddenly I had a Three-toed Woodpecker! This species has not been kind to me in 2016 so it was nice to see one although it kept high up in the trees such that I never saw its crown but in the photos it appears to be white without any yellow and therefore a female. My enjoyment of this bird though was rudely interrupted by a plaintive whistling call – PINEY!! It was close but I couldn’t tell if it was in flight or not. I whipped my phone out, found the call, played it and got a response! The bird then started calling continually which is in my experience very unusual. When in flocks they are normally silent until they start having a little natter before deciding it is time to move to the next tree and I have never heard such continuous calling before. When I finally (and with relief) saw the bird I quickly discovered it was a single bird which may well explain why there was so much calling. He (for it was a fine adult male) was definitely looking for company because he progressively came closer and closer to me (and my phone). Unfortunately, it was dark in the forest and I had to screw up the ISO to 6400 but what a bird!! AND he was ringed. The last report in ArtsObs of a bird being ringed in Norway is from 2012 and although there are many ringers who unfortunately have better things to do than report in Artsobs I strongly suspect that this bird received its bling in another country. Unfortunately, (but not surprisingly) my photos do not allow any detail of the ring to be discerned. The bird then proceeded to feed in the trees above me, nipping off spruce buds.

After about 20 minutes the bird vanished but left me feeling very privileged. I continued into the nature reserve and had three Capercaille (two females and a male) which I think doubled my all-time records of this species in Oslo – I will definitely visit this area again and it looks to have very good potential for breeding Tengmalm’s Owl.
Grosbeak, Three-toe and Caper were all Oslo year ticks for me and to get three in a day with only a month to go is quite extreme and tomorrow I have a chance for another one with a Hawkie having been seen the last couple of days in Sørkedalen (the two released/rehabilitated Hawk Owls I’ve seen in Maridalen are not “tickable”). It is in an area that I have checked each time I have been in Sørkedalen over the last month but clearly I wasn’t meant to be the one that found that specific bird but it would be great to see it tomorrow J

a ringed adult male Pine Grosbeak (konglebit)

Add caption

feeding on buds

about to nip off a bud/shoot

Revlikollen - habitat of Pine Grosbeak and Three-toed Woodpecker

Three-toed Woodpecker (tretåspett) my initial camera settings were hopelessly wrong but it was still possible to lighten up the picture

settings adjusted but shutter speed too low

high up in the tree there was better light. It looks like there is only white and not yellow in the crown making it a female

Friday, 25 November 2016

Pygmy Owl

I kept to Maridalen again (and why not?). Much was the same as yesterday with the Scaup and Tufteds still on the lake but in a different bay (water levels have risen quite a lot after recent rain so feeding conditions may be changing). The recent rain combined with a return to freezing temperatures left the roads very slippery and were harder to walk on than to drive on.

Both the Great Grey Shrikes were present and three flocks of Fieldfares were the most numerous bird. The undoubted highlight though was a very close encounter with a Pygmy Owl. I was made aware of its presence by a number of tits alarm calling although wasn’t quite sure what I was going to find. This is my first Pygmy Owl since the spring and I’ve had my eyes out for them recently without finding any. As the winter progresses though they should become more visible. As I tried to get closer to this bird I had a mouse run over the path in front of me so no doubt why it was where it was. I was able to get very close to it as its concentration was on the ground below it. It also called a couple of times.

I got so close that I couldn’t fit the whole bird into the 500mm and had to zoom out. Despite being so close though the light today was so bad that I was forced to have very low shutter speeds to avoid too high ISO and the pictures bear evidence of this. None the less when you burn off a couple of hundred pictures you are bound to find one or two that you are happy with J . I didn’t have the superzoom with me but took some handheld video through the bazooka and I don't think it's too sh*t but if you watch until the end you'll see the owls opinion.

Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)

It might only weigh 60g and measure 16cm from head to tail but those claws look like they could do some damage

There are still quite a few Fieldfares (gråtrost) finding food on the frosty fields but they will move on once the snow comes

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Hearing pins drop

I have had quiet walks in the forest before but today beats them all hands down. There was no wind so listening conditions were perfect but there was nothing to listen to except for running water every now and again. If I remember correctly, in the course of an hour and a half I saw a Blue Tit, heard a Jay and a Redpoll and some high pitched squeaking that was probably a Treecreeper. I saw fresh Hazel Grouse droppings under a favoured alder tree but that can’t be ticked can it? I’m not quite sure why it was so quiet today. It was cloudy but it was a high cloud base so was far from being as grey and gloomy as yesterday – just the time of the year I think.

I kept myself to Maridalen today with a quick stop at the rubbish tip at Alna (only Herring Gulls to see) on my way to Ikea. I had the Great Grey Shrike in the north of Maridalen just as I have the last two days but then surprisingly had another 3km away at Kirkeby only 8 minutes later. So it wasn’t that the shrike had moved to the north of the valley in search of better hunting grounds but there are now two birds in the valley. This is promising for the chances of a Hawk Owl turning up as there are clearly rodents to be had. The bird by the lake does seem to roam quite widely in its search for food but the bird in the north of the valley has been in a quite limited area the last three days so there would seem to be a higher density of food here which makes sense as there are more stubble fields in the north.

The Scaup and 3 Tufteds remains on the lake and there was also a single Great Crested Grebe and two distant swans turned out to be young Mute Swans rather than the expected Whoopers. It is interesting how Mute Swan parents push their young away before their first winter whilst Whooper Swan parents stay with their young until the next spring. It is presumably because Whooper Swans have long migrations which the adults need to teach their young whilst Mute Swans are far more sedentary with normally just local movements.

Tomorrow is the infamous Black Friday and I will be as far away from a shopping centre as I can manage to be.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of the shrikes which would’ve been nice to see if they had any plumage features that would allow me to follow them later in the winter. The Scaup though offered up some better photos than before.
Scaup (bergand) on Maridalsvannet

Scaup with a Tufted Duck (toppand)

Scaup (bergand). The dark (not yellow) eye and diffuse dark nail to the bill age this as a 1cy bird and the lack of grey feathers on the back shows it to be a female

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Hawkie washed down with a cold Kingfisher

Today was back to sunny(ish) weather and I decided for a trip to the Drøbak area where in previous winters I have had a number of Great Grey Shrikes plus the odd Hawk Owl. I also had hopes that the fjord off Drøbak might hold a few sea duck.

There were fewer Great Grey Shrikes than I have had in previous winters with just two birds that were only 300m apart from each other. I did have a Hawk Owl though J It was sitting on a roadside wire but it flew off just as a fired off the camera. It landed on a nearby barn roof but after I had tried to find somewhere to park the car (no more driving onto soft verges for me!) it had vanished and I couldn’t find it again in a couple of attempts later in the day.

The fjord off Drøbak had a few Common and Velvet Scoter but no Long-tailed Ducks or Scaup which I had hoped for. A Little Auk was a nice surprise though and my first of the autumn and three Red-throated Divers feeding together were a late record. After this I checked some of the lakes and farmland around Ski hoping for more shrikes or owls but they were lacking suggesting it is still poor for rodents in agricultural areas. Two Long-tailed Ducks on Årungen lake were unexpected especially as I had none on the fjord.

A stop at the southern end of Bunnefjorden gave the highlight of the day with a Kingfisher that flew very close past me on a couple of occasions. This has traditionally been the best area for over wintering Kingfishers in the Oslo area (although not annual records) and it looks like a bird will try to winter here again.

Finishing up in Maridalen I added Scaup (a single bird still with the three Tufteds) and the Great Grey Shrike which was favouring the north of the valley again today.
Kingfisher (isfugl) - the all black bill shows it to be a male

the only picture I got of Hawkie on the wire
he then flew over to this barn roof

2 Long-tailed Ducks (havelle) on Årungen

the closest of the days Great Grey Shrikes (varsler)
and the bird 300m away from it

and the Maridalen bird