Friday, 29 September 2017

Bar-tailed Godwits

We had fantastic weather on Værøy, or at least weather that the 99.9% of the population who are not birders would describe as fantastic. For us it was far too sunny though and we would have preferred a bit more cloud cover and early morning rain. On my last day on the island though I enjoyed the early morning sun on a white sand beach in the company of a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits. They fed very close to me and allowed me to take far too many photos and videos. Here are the edited highlights:

Bar-tailed Godwits (lappspove)

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Ticking dilemmas

Today I would like to take up one of the greatest ethical dilemmas of our age and one that I am surprised the Donald has not tweeted about more regularly.

I consider myself a man of good ethics and solid principles and these have been put to the test over the last few days with regards to what can be “ticked” or not.

The first dilemma concerns “tickable views”. This is a common dilemma for a birder or twitcher and many a birder has scoffed over what they know (or at least think) others have ticked based on (very) poor views. I had this dilemma twice on Værøy last year with PG Tips and Pechora Pipit where the identification of the bird was not in doubt but my views were poor. This year I had the same dilemma with the Savi’s Warbler which was a Norwegian tick although not a lifer. Kjell, the finder, had seen the bird very well and the ID was secured but my views were very brief. I did see it was grey/brown and unstreaked on the back and undertail coverts (it had its tail cocked) and that its jizz and behaviour were typical acro but is that enough for a Norwegian tick? I think so…

The second dilemma occurred yesterday when I saw a Red-crested Pochard that had been found near Oslo.
eclipse male Red-crested Pochard
This species is the classic plastic wildfowl with it being a very popular bird in captivity and also one that has established feral populations many places. So, the question is whether this is a wild bird and therefore “tickable” or an escaped bird and therefore “plastic” and untickable on official lists. I have always been very sceptical of other records of this species in Norway with the species often turning up with Mallards and some being very photogenic. The bird in question is also with Mallards (a particularly large flock which today numbered 400 but was over 1000 at the weekend). All photos have been long range so no suggestions of it being tame (yet) but was doesn’t do this bird any favours is that what must be the same bird was seen very close by on 21 July which is not a particularly promising date for wild vagrancy and begs the question as to where it has been in the meantime. Here the decision of the national rarities committee (where I sit) will determine this birds fate although based on precedence I would expect it go into Category A (wild bird).

The third dilemma is one that perhaps fewer people will understand and concerns ticking a bird in the hand. The Siberian Thrush on Værøy was not surprisingly a lifer for me but is it really tickable? It is my understanding that Dutch listing rules do not allow ringed birds to be ticked (even after they have been released) but I do not know the reasoning behind this. For me though it is a matter of ethics in so far as I do not think ringing purely in the pursuit of a rare bird (and tick) should be allowed. This is because trapping/ringing is an activity that is intrinsically bad for the bird and can only be justified (in my mind) where the ringing will potentially give data that can be helped in conservation – potentially sacrificing one bird for the good of many.

Trapping that is solely focused on the hope of finding a rarity is not good as there is no conservation value in the trapping of the single vagrant although if other birds are regularly trapped, processed and ringed in the process then it can be argued that some useful data is being collected. The intentional trapping of a bird that has already been found and documented in the field and which is usually stressed into the net can in no way be justified though and is done purely to satisfy individual peoples desires with no thought given to the bird. In some countries this isn’t allowed and from what I read the BTO in the UK is cracking down on this type of trapping with people losing their licences. In Norway however I would go as far as saying that the main motivation for the majority of ringing is to find a rarity. It is also allowed under “self-found” rules in Norway to include birds that you have pulled out of a net which is just an absurdity and undermines the perceived value of the list as a proxy for how good you are as a field birder.

The pictures I have posted of me and the Siberian Thrush tell their own tale and I was clearly mighty happy to see the bird and be photographed with it. The extreme rarity of the species in Europe and its mythical status amongst birders  clearly got the better of me and principles seem to have been forgotten for a moment. For someone who is anti rarity ringing I did get rather carried away although I do envy John the honour of trapping the bird. He had been out patrolling the nets for 11 hours ringing large numbers of Redpolls and Yellow-browed Warblers (30!) and on the last round of the day the bird was hanging in the net all of its own accord. But should I tick it? It is not a question of self-found tick as I was not at the net when it was discovered but should I refuse to tick a ringed bird out of principle? I was sat in the house cracking open a can of IPA after having given up birding for the day and had already done the washing up that was overflowing in the sink. I didn’t even have to move more than 10 meters to see the bird – it was driven to me in a bag! Seeing it in the field after release did ease my conscience a tiny bit.

I’m sure that you are glad to see that I have chosen to address ethics and principles that are of utmost importance to the world we live in ;-)

Wednesday, 27 September 2017


It was unlikely that my last day of Værøy 2017 could beat my second to last day but a good day it was. It started a bit too windy (but from the east) but soon calmed down however it was pretty much a cloudless day and many birds had cleared out. I only saw 10 Yellow-browed Warblers although I do realise that for anywhere in Europe the word “only” would be replaced by “an amazing” ;-) I heard an Olive-backed Pipit and Tree Pipit and for the first time believed that even I can tell them apart on call. Neither was seen though and surprisingly the Tree Pipit is my first for both Værøy and Nordland county.

We had a couple of Hawk Owls including one which was delivered to us after having hit a window and didn’t look like it would recover, I enjoyed myself with a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits (will get their own posting) and 4 Blackcaps doubled my sightings of sylvia warblers for the whole trip.

These though were only the sideshow for the day’s highlight which as usual was found by Kjell. A Siberian Stonechat was my third Norwegian and second Værøy record of this species whilst I have still to see its European cousin which evens breeds occasionally in Norway. This bird showed quite well although not in the same league as the bird I saw here in 2012. I’ll only post pictures and a video of this species now and will come back with more later.

Siberian Stonechat (asiasvartstrupe) - next stop that way is the North Pole

Monday, 25 September 2017

Værøy 2017 Day 5 - SIBERIAN THRUSH

Today ended up being THE day but it took a bit of time. There were no birds in the air in the morning but we slowly started realising that a lot of Yellow-browed Warblers had arrived. Six here, 10 there, 30 in the nests gave a day total of over 70. But where were the other birds? An OBP that had been ringed two days ago fell into a net again but was not seen or heard in the field and otherwise there was just a couple of Redstarts and Garden Warblers that were new. A flyover Common Buzzard that was later seen on Røst looked like it was going to be bird of the day (less than annual in Nordland and a new species for Værøy) but things changed after I had given up for the day.

It had gone 6pm and after 11 hours in the field I was already in the house and washing up (I am VERY domesticated) when Kjell came in, changed the lens on his camera to 50mm and said “I know something you don’t know” or words to that effect. Geir also came with a smile on his face and I worked out that John had apparently caught something and was bringing it back to the house but they wouldn’t tell me what it was and made me guess. I eventually came to Siberian Thrush after a game of rarer/commoner but they then told me it was a joke and went outside. When I heard the car pull up I looked out the window and Kjell and Geirs actions made it clear that it was no joke! John had indeed caught a SIBERIAN THRUSH!

After that it was all a bit exciting with us fighting for the best photos and selfies but the bird was quickly ringed and released and flew straight into the closest tree where it then sat motionless high in a tree did its best Jack Snipe impression and was still there when we went inside (maybe we will find it again tomorrow).
What a bird and one that qualifies for the good old tag of Cosmic Mind F*cker and so good that I will temporarily put my ringing scruples (and principles) to one side. The ringing that the guys have carried out on Værøy the last few years has revealed few surprises in terms of rare birds (just about all the real rarities such as White’ Thrush, PGT Tips, Lancy and Pechora have been found in the field) but the information on Yellow-browed Warblers has been very interesting with hardly any retraps of birds both within the same and on subsequent days and also very few field sightings of ringed birds showing that there is very high turnover of this species but also begging the question as to where they go right after they are ringed (is there a rare bird paradise on the island that we haven’t found?).

I’ve spent enough time blogging now so enjoy the pictures whilst we celebrate and look forward to what tomorrow (my last day) will bring J

Siberian Thrush Værøy!

Kjell hardly had time to enjoy the bird with all the messages that needed sending!
after release - I resorted to flash on the superzoom

with blue eye

pre release

and the only flight shot I managed

post release with the bazooka - it was already quite dark

selfie 1

selfie 2

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Værøy 2017 day 4

Today was rather a disappointment especially as there were things happening south of us although a similar lack of birds on neighbouring island of Røst suggests that the favourable winds/weather are lying just a bit too far south.
There was some arrival of birds with more Yellow-browed Warblers than before with perhaps 20 on the island of which I saw 6. There were also sightings of Olive-backed Pipit and Little Bunting.

I got to enjoy a couple of the Yellow-broweds in nice sunshine but as usual they are difficult to get good photos of. The Jack Snipe that the others enjoyed whilst I was cooking yesterday was still present today in a tiny ditch and gave ridiculously close views. I resorted to using flash due to poor light which has given the bird a bit of a devilish look.

A Hawk Owl was the other highlight in addition to my first trip sightings of Blackcap and Goldcrest which gives an indication of the state of play.

Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin) with red eye

finally some OK views and photos of Yellow-browed Warbler (gulbrynsanger)

a Hawk Owl is still surviving

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Værøy 2017 day 3

My hopes for today were met (although one can always hope for a bit more…)

The day started with an Olive-backed Pipit that for once showed well and allowed itself to be photographed. This was just the first of a number of encounters with the species during the morning with two overflying birds calling a lot and another bird being caught and ringed.

After yesterday’s dead Jack Snipe I was not quite sure what to feel when I found a dead Hawkie. As the pictures show I was quite happy to be holding my favourite bird (despite my trying to look sad due to the gravity of the situation). I found it dead face down in a field and like the Jack Snipe had no body fat and had probably just died of hunger. Judging by the location it had probably been flying and then just dropped dead – obviously pining for the fjords! Hawk Owls can look quite large birds when perched on top of a telegraph pole but in the hand they are surprisingly small.

After this we located a calling Little Bunting but views were brief and photos nothing to write home about. A Common Rosefinch was trapped and ringed, a Short-eared flew past, I finally saw the very rare Carrion Crow that has been around a week or so, I saw a single Arctic Redpoll, 25 Parrot Crossbills flew over and a few (but not many) Yellow-browed Warblers revealed themselves including my first calling bird. An adult Glaucous Gull was unexpected and a couple of juvenile Peregrines that flew around making a hell of noise were the noisiest species of the day.
Apart from very brief views of a Garden Warbler yesterday I have not seen a single Sylvia warbler and there is very visual evidence of the lack of this family on the island – all the redcurrant bushes in the gardens are still full of berries whereas normally there are very few again.

The only bird I missed today was two Jack Snipes which were seen very close to our house but I was on food duty (I had foolishly started cooking whilst it was still light outside).

Olive-backed Pipit (sibirpiplerke)
same bird
dead Hawk Owl

looking far too happy
adult Glaucous Gull (polarmåke) with Herring Gulls

an obscured Arctic Redpoll (polarsisik)

Carrion Crow (svartkråke)

a Little Bunting (dvergspurv) - honest
Common Rosefinch (rosenfink)
Short-eared Owl (jordugle)

Værøy harbour
Yellow-browed Warbler (gulbrynsanger)