Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Oslo Glaucous!

I was brought up to understand that a yellow circle in a weather forecast implied that one would see the sun. I have over years realised that this might be the case with weather forecasts in England but that in Norway it has a completely different meaning – in fact it generally means we don’t have a clue what tomorrows weather will be (and therefore has the same meaning as the symbol with a few drops of water, or the symbol with a few white “snow” crystals or the symbols with either light or dark grey cotton wool). Therefore, I shouldn’t have been surprised or disappointed when today turned out to be cloudy although I would have preferred to see that yellow disc.

I took a tour to the far north of Akershus to see what the Minnesund area had to offer. With the mild weather there were fewer waterfowl than I had hoped but a vigorously singing Dipper was obviously happy with the conditions. The mild weather meant that there was no ice mist hanging over Mjøsa and I was able to pick out 3 Slavonian Grebes and a Long-tailed Duck at some distance. Whilst watching these a few gulls flew up calling and I suspected a raptor but it wasn’t until a couple of minutes later that I noticed a White-tailed Eagle flying away from me (would have passed quite low of my head if I had been looking in the right direction). Despite these good species the undoubted highlight was a flock of Waxwings feeding on apples. I estimated 30 birds but a check of my photos revealed there were twice as many! They were very confiding and in better light I could have got some great photos as there was lots of interaction between the birds as they quarrelled over feeding rights to the juiciest apples. As it was though I had to use high ISO and low shutter speed so didn’t manage any sharp action shots but video worked better.

I worked my way south along the Vorma and Glomma rivers but found no geese or any large numbers of swans. There were zero gulls at Langvannet (where the Iceland Gull was seen on Saturday) and this led me to hope that there would be god numbers at the tip at Alna. As I drove up there 10 minutes later I could see there were indeed good numbers (well in excess of 200) and nearly the first bird I focused my bins on was a stonking 1st winter Glaucous! It was looking straight towards me and was a dark bird so I waited until I saw it sideways on (to eliminate possibility of a hybrid) before celebrating this surprisingly rare Oslo bird (not quite annual) and sharing the news. I got a phone call from Stig Kalvatn a bit later and it turned out he was there at exactly the same time as me but viewing from a different (and closer) place than me. Just need to relocate the Iceland Gull now and turn up a(nother) Caspian or Yellow-legged to give proper payback for my visits to rubbish tips this winter.

1st winter Glaucous Gull (polarmåke) at the Alna dump

much larger than the Herring Gulls 
surprisingly dark when seen head one but was very pale in flight

squabbling Waxwings (sidensvans) 

Both these Waxwings are adults (red waxy tips to the secondaries) but note how the bird on the left also has red waxy tips to the tail feathers. Both birds have a wide yellow tail band and are therefore both males I think.  I can't remember having seen red waxy tips to tail feathers and Svensson doesn't mention this at all. BWP does however mention that for adult males "shafts near tips sometimes red, occasionally extending laterally into narrow glossy waxy plates"

My only picture of he White-tailed Eagle (havørn) 
Yellowhammer (gulspurv)

Monday, 30 January 2017


I twitched at the weekend but as is usually the case when I engage in this filthy behaviour I failed. The twitch was only a 15 minute drive for an Iceland Gull and I missed it by only minutes as all the gulls flew off just before I arrived – indeed I saw them all in flight as I drove up. This bird was a 2nd winter and study of the pictures (no ring needed!) shows it to be the same bird that I also missed on the dump in Askim on Friday the 13th. Where it has been for the two intervening weeks is not known but shows that there is plenty of scope for finding (and losing) gulls in the Oslo area.

Today I tried various sights for gulls around Oslo and found nothing interesting although there were around 500 Herring Gulls in total. I also headed out east and found little of note although 5 sightings of Great Grey Shrike during the day (probably only 4 different birds) was a pretty respectable count. A small flock of Yellowhammers that I scrutinised at some distance did contain a candidate for a female Pine Bunting but I didn’t get close enough views to rule out a dull female Yellowhammer. The chances of finding Pine Bunting in Norway at the moment must be high with quite a few birds around the place – it just requires luck (some turn up in gardens) or perseverance or ideally both!

A phone call threatened to turn the day into a big success. What appeared to be a Gyr Falcon was being observed on an island off Fornebu and I was only 15 minutes drive away. Apparently a Gyr had been reported from here yesterday (but on a website that only a handful of people use - why can’t people report on ArtsObservasjoner?) and it looked like the same bird was present again today. It remained in place until I arrived but turned out as I feared to be an adult Goshawk. This species along with large female Peregrines are probably the true identity of a number of undocumented Gyr Falcons in south east Norway where this species is a true rarity.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Little Grebe

Fog hung over Oslo again today and looking at the weather forecast might do so for the next week (we are forecast to have plus temperatures and rain next week – winter my *rse!). In Østfold though there was no fog but it wasn’t exactly bright and sunny either. I paid my first visit of the year to Kurefjorden and although there was only ice in the bay at Rosnesbukta there were fewer birds than I had hoped for. There were good numbers of Velvet Scoters and Goldeneye but the scarcest (winter) birds I had were a couple of Red-throated Divers and 7 Great Crested Grebes. A Peregrine was the only raptor with no over wintering Rough-legged Buzzards in their usual place.

Heading back towards home I had two Great Grey Shrikes less than 800 metres from each other in the exact same place as I also had two separate wintering birds last year (without seeing them immediately after each other one would assume that it was the same bird moving around). A Little Grebe in Drøbak showed very well from the car but the light left a lot to be desired for photos. The Kingfisher also showed very briefly and a flock of 120 Waxwings feeding on apples by the road in Oslo was a good mid winter count.

Little Grebe (dvergdykker)

Spot the Kingfisher 

The Maridalen Great Grey Shrike (varsler). My assumption is that this is the same bird that over-wintered in Maridalen last year. However this bird seems to have a much less prominent white bar on the secondaries than last years individual although this picture is not particularly good (and therefore not show it properly) and it might also be that this is a feature that changes with age.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Still dire

The last two days have been rather dire on the bird front due to fog. Yesterday I tried the Askim dump again and had an increase in gulls compared to Monday with about 110 Herring present but nothing more interesting and again no activity in the dump (I had visited on a Wednesday before and there was loads of activity so don’t understand the rubbish collecting schedules in this part of the world…). The very much larger numbers of gulls that were present when the scarcer gulls were found 2 weeks ago could be a result of the southerly storms at that time which had pushed a lot of gulls into the Oslo fjord and then away from the sea to look for food?

Today I went to Fornebu in fog (although visibility was ca.100m) and, I kid you not, the only birds I SAW were 3 Hooded Crows! I did HEAR another 5 species but no doubting how dire things were. One of the birds I heard was a Water Rail which is the first reported here for a long time and presumably a bird that has relocated here from somewhere else which is now frozen. I had feared that the continued human encroachment at Fornebu along with more cats and dogs had spelt an end for Water Rails here but hopefully I am wrong and they will continue to be a regular (and breeding) bird. I also heard at least one Bearded Tit which I think was quite close to where I was standing but 30 minutes of waiting didn’t result in seeing it or hearing it again and the reedbed was otherwise nearly devoid of birds in stark contrast to last week.

In the lack of any photos from yours truly I will share a fantastic video of a Hawk Owl that has been “trained” to take dead mice from the hand. The action starts at around 40 seconds.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017


Yesterday’s fog vanished overnight and we awoke to a crisp -7C, a continued thick frost that looks like snow on the ground and trees and no wind. Sounded like a good day for a trip into the forest. Despite it still being very early in the year I was hoping that woodpeckers may have started drumming as there have been reports from other places of drumming Three-toes. Woodpeckers did not really feature today but tits were very obvious deep into the forest indicating they are having no problems finding food and which would also explain why there are not that many birds using the feeding stations in Maridalen. Undoubted highlight was three female Capercaille which flew out of pine trees very close to each other and two Hazel Grouse which flew out of some alders. There were good amounts of droppings under these trees so these are clearly favoured feeding areas. The Capercailles eat pine needles which can easily be seen in their large droppings whilst the Hazel Grouse feed on the catkins of the alder trees.

Whilst up in the forest I heard a calling Goshawk distantly over Maridalen which may well have been displaying and when I later drove around Maridalen I had an adult male perched in a favoured tree. January is early to be displaying but with the weather being as it is I think a lot of birds think spring is just around the corner.

A trip down to Huk, Bygdøy revealed rather surprisingly that the fjord is starting to freeze over. Despite it not being super cold the lack of wind is obviously enough for the water to freeze. There were a few Common and Velvet Scoters close in shore and a Long-tailed Duck further out but still no auks to see.

The distinctive shape of a Goshawk (hønsehauk) 
This bird is the male of a local breeding pair and I have taken many photos of him over the years

Goldeneye (kvinand), Common Scoter (svartand) and Velvet Scoter (sjørre) offshore Huk, Bygdøy  
and three Velvet Scoters

The light was quite fantastic today which was "enhanced" by a layer of smog 

Monday, 23 January 2017

A (near) gull less dump

After a relatively bird free weekend (although walking in Oslo did deliver my first Teal, Goshawk and Siskin of the year – all surprisingly late additions to the year list) I decided to visit a dump on Monday. Oslo was covered in fog (which remained all day) but out in Østfold the fog had lifted and I had high hopes for good views and good photos of some white wingers and maybe a Caspo. Well the gulls had other ideas. When I arrived at 0950 there were only 30 gulls and by the time I gave up half an hour later there were only 50 gulls. Why? Well whilst I was there there was no activity on the dump and therefore no food but the gulls should surely have still been here and waiting. But maybe there is never activity on Mondays and the gulls have learnt this? Alternatively, the dump would have been closed yesterday and the gulls had maybe given up and not returned today. Given that it is closed every Sunday and I have seen many hundreds of gulls here mid-week though that seems an unlikely reason as what would cause the birds to return later in the week? Well no matter the reason, 50 gulls were unlikely to hold anything too exciting and that was the case.

There was a pale Herring Gull though which is always an interesting bird to watch. It was a fairly small bird and my initial job was to satisfy myself that it wasn’t a very rare Kumleins Iceland or Thayer’s Gull. This didn’t seem to the case unfortunately but the bird was none the less vert distinctive. There is disagreement as to what these gulls are. Are they just pale Herring Gulls or are they hybrids (not necessarily 1st generation) between Herring and Glaucous Gull. One argument against the later has been the relatively high frequency of sightings of such gulls around Oslo including birds ringed as nestlings here (no known Glaucous Gulls breeding around here). A ringed Russian bird (link and link) which looked different from the majority of the pale birds we see shows that some do come from much further north but this bird was ringed as a Herring. Interestingly (?) I have not noted a similar looking bird so far this winter. A number of these birds have been trapped and samples taken but as far as I know no conclusions have been made based on DNA.

After giving up on the dump I hoped a beautiful bird would cheer me up and went to search for the Kingfisher again. Today I located it quite quickly but it was misty here and my pictures were no better. There is uncertainty as to whether this bird is a male or female but I lean towards it being a male as the red areas of the bill are very indistinct.

Pale 1st winter Herring Gull (gråmåke). Note how the plumage tones  change greatly depending on light. In the field it looked more like the left hand pictures and was a noticeably pale bird 

if this is a hybrid with Glaucous then I would prefer to see a bi coloured bill


this Muscovy Duck was a new addition. There have been a number of reports around the place of this species recently so looks like there has been a mass break out or maybe they've been released for good behaviour

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Little Grebe

I chose a visit to the Drøbak area yesterday hoping to get some control of a number of interesting species in the area. It wasn't as successful as I hoped with Hawk Owl and Kingfisher not showing but I did pin down Great Grey Shrike and Little Grebe.

I looked again for white-winged gulls without finding any and had very few Herrings Gulls either. I'm sure there used to be more Herring Gulls here and wonder if there has been a reduction in fishing activity.
There was very little else on the sea (I have to see an auk this year) but there were a couple of Harbour Seals and a cetacean that I concluded was a large Harbour Porpoise.

The Little Grebes (dvergdykker) were not easy to find and have a habit of diving and just disappearing. I wonder whether they actually come up underneath these floating pontoons. 
this second individual showed a bit better until it dived from this position and vanished. This site just north of  Drøbak is a traditional wintering location for Little Grebes. It is a bit of a mystery were they come from as breeding records in Norway are very few and far between.
This over wintering Greylag Goose has little food available but is surviving so far. The white is not snow but a heavy frost that has lain on the ground for a few days now

There is something strange about the feathering on the flanks and belly of this bird but it is not in the best condition 
Great views of two Great Grey Shrikes (varsler) today! The bird on the left was by Årungen and the right hand bird from Maridalen

Friday, 20 January 2017

Was it a Caspian afterall?

Well this is a tad embarrassing and unsatisfactory and also a good example of why I usually let others do the gull finding. Wasn’t it nice when we just had Herring Gulls? I’ve just had a nostalgic look at Peter Grants Gull book - the authorative text in the 1980’s - and cachinnans was just a subspecies which warranted 9 lines of text whereas now it warrants pages and pages and huge ID articles).

The gull which I featured in yesterdays post after the Glaucous Gulls was clearly strange enough to get my attention and document it and although it was Caspian Gull that was going through my mind the bird didn't match my own mental picture of what a 1st winter Caspian should look like – an image formed by pictures of “classic” birds on the web plus this well watched 1st winter from 2 winters ago (Caspian Gulls are still rare bird in Norway with few oppurtunities to study them around Oslo). When I got home I therefore was more interested in deciding whether the second Glaucous was a hybrid or not and didn’t spend too much time on the Caspo like creature. When I eventually did look at it my interest was again aroused although I was thinking more along the lines of a hybrid and I sent some pictures to Sindre M who agreed that it could be (probably was) a hybrid and I may have left it that but felt it was interesting enough to put it out on the Facebook group Western Palearctic Gulls asking whether there were others who thought it contained Capsian genes. The answers didn’t take long to arrive (despite the late hour) and there were immediate comments that it was a pure Caspian. This was a surprise as I had half expected comments along the lines of strange Herring Gull but the general consensus (with the excpetion of half of the Norwegian and Finnish commentators who prefer hybrid) was that it was a Caspian and Lou Bertalan even went to the trouble of scoring it on the Gibbons et al scoring system from a British Birds Article and placed it right on the Caspian side of the Caspian/hybrid threshold. Now I will be honest and not claim to fully understand how he has scored the bird (requires more experience of this field than I can claim to have) but based on this feedback then it would seem that the bird may be good! In an out of range context it might not be the classic looking bird we would want to find in Norway but equally it isn’t a Herring either and all these LWHG have enormous variation in plumage and structure such that where the lines are drawn are sometimes quite arbitrary and DNA apparently doesn’t always help either…..

I have posted the pictures on the Norwegian reporting system asking for comments but do not expect to receive any. The Norwegian birding community which is always shy/apathetic/worried about reputation (delete based on personal opinion) is currently going through a cyclical low in engagement  and I think at the moment you could post a picture of a Peacock labelled as a Blue Tit and nobody (OK there are a couple of people who care) would be arsed to comment.

So we will see where this gull ends up. At the end of the day it will be my fellow NSKF members who will be responsible for making judgement on the bird (unless the species gets removed as a national rarity before then.…)

Here are my pictures of the bird (yesterday’s plus a couple more) plus the scoring done by Lou Bertalan on FB based on the first 2 pictures.

And Lou Bertalan's scoring (from Facebook):

Extent of scapular moult
1 a small number (less than 1/3) of first-generation feathers remaining

Greater-covert pattern
1 white edges with delicate notches or vermiculation; or dark brown centre with white tip to 1/3 of length (i.e. white restricted to tip or distal third)

Bill shape
1 Slim, slight gonydeal angle (ratio 2.87, so actually >2,8 but there is a slight gonys angle visible)

Leg length
1 Moderately long

Ventral bulge
0,5 - there is a very slight bulge visible but note especially the flat belly in front of it!

Primary projection
1 moderately long (ratio 0.5

Moult: greater coverts
5 no moult

Moult: median coverts
4 one or two feathers moulted

Moult: tertials
3 all old

Darkness of head and body
1 reduced grey wash or streaking (confined to flanks and/or single streaks around nape)

First-generation tertial pattern
1 fine pale fringe around distal portion (like classic michahellis), possibly also with some vermiculations

Second-generation scapular pattern
2 strong, contrasting shaft-streaks, anchors and/or dark central diamonds, but these more patterned feathers are less than 1/2 of all; ground colour creamy or silvery-grey, possibly with some grey feathers mixed in.

so this makes a score of 21,5 which is still within cachinnans, close to the border to hybrids. but it also illustrates some weakness of this scoring system. covert moult weighs too much, imo (5 points for no replaced GC!), there is no criteria for rectrices pattern which personally i give a lot of weight, and it simplifies matters of 2nd gen. scpaular pattern: there are certain types of scapular patterns and each one should be scritinized separately.

what i'd still discuss in this bird is: head jizz (mentioned as not good for caspian gulls) - yes, could sit on a weak female YLG too, especially with the slight eye smudge, but caspians can show even more dark striation around eye than this. scapular pattern is of the shaggy type with one central transversal mark and only a weak thin (or absent) subterminal band. this is a common type in caspian, can appear in other taxons too but usually more bold (double anchor in YLG, bold subterminal bar giving a scaly look in HG), which i think is often underestimated because one likes to have the nice diamond shapes or just shaft streaks as typical cachinnans pattern - but this distorts reality since at least half of all 1st winter caspians don't show this kind of expected pattern but the one more similar with the other taxons. tail in this bird is very good for cachinnans, inner wings shows the nice venetian blind with p2-4 showing pale lozenges etc...

With regards the score of 21.5 (which is a bit cheeky as I don't think the system was meant to allow half points) the range for Caspian is 12-25 and the range for hybrid 22-32 so as you see right on the (edge of) the border.

Today I went birding at Fornebu. I didn’t find any pipits (had been talk of something possibly rare there yesterday) but the reedbed at Koksa was positively hopping with birds. A flock of Long-tailed Tits were feeding in the reeds along with good numbers of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Wrens, a Robin and surprisingly 5 Goldcrests. Best of all though was hearing at least a couple of Bearded Tits which wouldn’t show themselves but at least dispels my previous conclusion that they had moved on/perished.
A Long-tail where there should have been a Beard