Thursday, 31 January 2019

Water Rail Bonus Material

The Water Rail at Østensjøvannet was discovered (or at least first reported) by Conor C on 11 December. Given concerns about how vulnerable the bird might be to disturbance attempts were made to not publish too widely the exact location of the bird. News spread though, and the bird has since become a popular photo subject. The attention it received also revealed the brief presence of two birds but the long staying bird apparently did not tolerate the presence of the other bird and as it got colder and colder and the snow and ice free area shrunk and shrunk the second bird disappeared. It would be nice to think it flew to warmer climes but so late in the year it is more likely it perished which is the fate of many Water Rails that take the risk of spending the winter so far north.

When I first visited the bird on 12 December I threw out some porridge oats (havregryn) and myself and others have done so since. Some people view this as being wrong but I really do not see the difference in feeding the birds in your garden, the birds at a feeding station in the forest, the ducks in the park, the gulls by the river, Cranes and swans on an industrial scale at some nature reserves elsewhere in Europe or a Water Rail on a stream. We humans have done so much to destroy habitats, and especially wetlands, that it is almost our duty to feed all types of birds. The risks come where we upset the natural balance. Too much feeding of raptors (usually for photography purposes) can cause too many raptors in one place and if these places are also important for other species it can mean that the other species are stressed too much by the constant presence of the raptors. Feeding for the start of the winter and causing birds that would otherwise have migrated to stay and then stopping feeding is also wrong as many of the birds will not be able to migrate away so late in the season and risk perishing.

The Water Rail has been almost a text book example of a vulnerable bird being enjoyed whilst NOT being disturbed. The photographers have (with just a couple of exceptions) kept on the path and the bird right from the very beginning has not been particularly scared of people. The food put out for it has brought it a bit closer and made for better photos and I would just view this as a win win situation. With the ice and snow free area now being so small I also cannot believe that there is enough natural food (although it is clearly finding some) so the extra human provided food is I believe vital for this bird to survive. It is not uncommon that Water Rails come to feeding stations and the species is clearly very adaptable even though it is usually very shy and difficult to see.

I very well remember as a teenager wanting to see Water Rail and being absolutely gutted every time I read about a feeding station at for example Slimbridge where people were having great views. I am therefore very happy for all the people who have got their first ever or best ever views of this species and trust that most of them were as  blown away with the experience as I have been.

I was back there today with tripod and filmed the bird with both the bazooka and superzoom. In the poor light the bazooka was the clear winner although I took at 25 fps on the bazooka (rather than the max of 50 fps) and 60 fps on the superzoom which may contribute to the difference. I had pushed up the exposure on the bazooka but not on the superzoom which may explain the brighter shots on the superzoom. So not really a like for like comparison then…..

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

More of the expected

At -10C It was slightly warmer today. Strangely enough this was the temperature no matter where I was today unless of course the thermometer in the car is up the creek.

At breakfast I could tell that the big garden still hadn’t food in its feeders as I had 40 House/Tree Sparrows and 3 Blackbirds in my garden. By lunchtime though they there were fewer birds and when I later allowed the Beast to sniff outside the fence of the big garden I could see that the feeders had just been filled and birds were coming back. I had the female Blackcap again and a pair of Collared Doves on my travels.

Elsewhere, at Østensjøvannet I had excellent views of the Water Rail which is eating food put out for it just a couple of metres from the path. A huge (ca.400) flock of Redpolls on a couple of feeders on a balcony(!) contained at least two arctic – what I would give for that balcony…

The Little Grebe was still going strong in Oslo Harbour and in Maridalen I spent some time photographing the birds at one of the feeders.

Blue Tit (blåmeis)

Coal Tit (svartmeis)

Great Tit (kjøttmeis)

the Maridalen Marsh Tit (løvmeis)
Willow Tit (granmeis)

Nuthatch (spettmeis)

arctic Redpoll (polarsisik) at Østensjøvannet

the same arctic on a feeder

a different arctic

just look at all those redpolls (there were 400 in total!)
Little Grebe (dvergdykker)

there is only a tiny area of open water left at Østensjøvannet and it was stuffed with 200 Mallards (stokkand) all hoping I had some bread

I tried to get arty by lowering the shutter speed

this Robin (rødstrupe) was eating a maggot that had been thrown out for the Water Rail

Water Rail (vannrikse)

here with a maggot

here eating porridge oats that I had thrown out

Tuesday, 29 January 2019


Today was an absolutely fabulous day or was weather wise at least. Blue skies, thick snow everywhere, no wind and -13C at home and -19C in Maridalen. I always expect that when it gets so cold that there will be more birds at the feeders but today as so often in the past there was less activity than usual.

I was out and about in Oslo with Anders and we started at Huk where the highlight was two different Goshawks. Both probably males and one a 2cy and the other probably a 3cy. The Wood Pigeon flock which numbered 22 today are probably attracting them.

In Maridalen there was much less activity than yesterday, but my afternoon airing of the Beast delivered a bit more. A Sparrowhawk that was hunting Blackbirds showed very well and I saw the female Blackcap again in exactly the same tree as last Wednesday (I have not had any other sightings since then despite having checked both apple trees every day). Today the Wood Pigeons only numbered 5 birds with empty feeders at the main garden probably being the cause. The feeders have been empty since Sunday and I have noticed an increase in the House Sparrow flock in my garden in that period.

2cy Goshawk (hønsehauk). Size wise it wasn't the largest of birds and was probably a male

female Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk). I am unsure of age but think it is also a 2cy (apparantly it is a 3cy)

Wood Pigeon (ringdue)

female Blackcap (munk)

Monday, 28 January 2019


We have had a good fall of snow over the last couple of days (although nothing like the 2 metres that have fallen in Lofoten). This may result in some new birds turning up although at the moment it is business as usual.

I have been continuing with my beast walking route although have not turned up any more interesting birds, yet. The Wood Pigeons are always present but in very variable numbers with a massive 41 on Saturday but only 11 on Sunday and 24 today. I have seen the birds flying off quite high and they clearly use other areas and it wouldn’t surprise me if they are some of the same birds that are at Huk.

At Huk today there were 27 Wood Pigeons but no sign of any weather driven birds. A couple of Velvet Scoters showed well and from their behaviour were, I assumed, a pair but looking at my pictures it seems like the female is actually a young male. In Maridalen there were more birds than there have been and all were associated with feeding stations. A large flock of Redpolls were mostly common/mealy but I saw at least 2 arctic and one lesser amongst them. This winter is definitely good for arctics. There were also flocks of Bullfinches, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers and a couple of Hawfinches.

arctic Redpoll (polarsisik). Even without seeing the rump it is possibl to confidently this individual. Note the small bill, hardly any streaking on the underparts and just a tiny black streak on the undertail coverts

the arctic (inset) along with a common/mealy and a lesser (right) which has rich brown tones on the flanks and also undertail coverts. Note just the single thin streak on the very white UTCs of the arctic compared to the others two birds

the/a arctic amongst mostly commons although there could have been more arctics

arctic Redpoll again

probably another arctic

a Fieldfare (gråtrost) whilst beast walking

Velvet Scoters (sjøorre). Adult male (back) with a young male (note the pale bottom part of the bill)

and a moose in Maridalen. The snow will see more of these coming out of the forest looking for food

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Walking the Beast

I might not be particularly enamoured with the addition of the Beast to the family but I have nothing against a walk and have now worked out a good route for his afternoon walk which takes in all the good gardens in the area. Armed with the superzoom I can also document what I see and dog discipline is advancing satisfyingly fast such that he stands still when I want to take a photo. He also makes it easier to stand outside a garden and stare into it as the presence of a sniffing canine makes everything explainable.

There is one particular garden which attracts enormous numbers of birds. There are upto 27 Wood Pigeon which is an enormous winter flock for Oslo (some winters none are reported at all), 60 Tree Sparrows, 20 House Sparrows, 15 each of Yellowhammer and Goldfinch, 10 or so Greenfinches, a couple of Hawfinches and Redpolls, a Robin, a Fieldfare, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Nuthatches and best of all today an Arctic Redpoll. In other gardens I have also discovered two Blackcaps eating apples that are still hanging on trees.

I also had a quick trip to the Drøbak area today and managed White-tailed Eagle, Great Grey Shrike and Pygmy Owl which was pretty good although I think that both Kingfisher and Bearded Tits have now left the building.

Arctic Redpoll (polarsisik) with a Common Redpoll (gråsisik). The pink wash to the breast shows this to be a male 
male Blackcap (munk)

Tree Sparrow (pilfink)
male Yellowhammer (gulspurv). If am really lucky I'll unearth a Pine Bunting 
Wood Pigeons (ringdue)

the Beast and Jr Jr

Great Grey Shrike (varsler)

White-tailed Eagle (havørn). This bird looked to be an adult and therefore one of the local breeding birds

a pants picture of a Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)...but the shape is still so distinctive