Thursday, 25 February 2021

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin) has been a bit of an obsession for me at various times over the last decade. My first goal was to find one before nearly stepping on it and flushing it. This I have succeeded with a handful of times now although  seem to have lost my touch in the last few years. I see that thermal cameras are being used to great effect in the UK to find species like Jack Snipe and I am now seriously considering the purchase of one. Although it might feel like cheating it would mean I wouldn’t inadvertently flush birds in my quest to see them and the possibilities must be endless – imagine scanning the high grass on a wind blown island (read Værøy) and seeing where all the Lanceolated Warblers are hiding 😊

My ultimate Jack Snipe goal though is to see one in the open and feeding and at fairly close range. I have a recollection that I must have witnessed this as a teenager in the UK at Weirwood Reservoir and on St.Mary’s, Scilly but that is now so long ago that my memories have faded. This autumn I did get to see and record a Jack Snipe bobbing at Fornebu but it was a great range and I yearned for something much closer. I got to see a Jack Snipe out in the open a few weeks ago at Østensjøvannet (I was kindly messaged about the bird and didn’t find it myself) but this bird had just frozen in response to our presence (they have a nearly limitless faith in the camouflage abilities their plumage gives them such they can almost be trodden on before they fly up) and we soon left the area to allow it to continue feeding or seek cover (they normally feed at night and roost during the day although when it is icy and food is difficult to find then they become far more active in the day).

Since that initial sighting at Østensjøvannet I have been lucky enough to find Jack Snipe there again four times and at three different locations (up to 2km apart) so the possibility of there having been more than one individual must be considered.

When I (re)found the bird the first time it was in a stream and in the open. However, my presence caused it to freeze and I decided to move away and out of its sight. I found a spot where I could see its body but not its head meaning I was out of eyesight for the bird. After about 5 minutes its body started bobbing and I then inched forward to allow me to see the whole bird. I had just set up the camera to record when all hell broke loose. A Water Rail appeared and then ran at the snipe. This caused the snipe to rise vertically before landing on the land a few meters away and it then ran into some reeds. This is where it remained for the next two hours I was on site and it was quite well hidden and amongst the reeds its plumage was indeed a fantastic camouflage. I was however able to find an angle where I could see it relatively well and when it did occasionally become active I got to film it bobbing 😊

Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin). When I found the bird it was feeding in a stream and here its plumage was not very good camouflage but this didn't stop the bird just freezing and hoping not to be see

amongst the reeds though it is well camouflaged

always something in the way

a Wren (gjerdesmett) walking by

My second encounter was quite absurd in that the bird was in a ditch less than 30cm wide and only a couple of metres from the main path around Østensjøvannet. People and dogs walked past without the bird moving a millimetre. One does have to wonder why it didn’t choose to fly to another site – even though open water is at a premium there were a couple of streams with open water nearby.

the location of the bird showing how tiny the ditch was, how close it was to the path and how it didn't move even when people walked past

The third encounter was two days after the second and was in exactly the same ditch. There had been a lot of snow overnight which made picking out the bird a bit easier and also meant for some nice photos. Every time I saw the bird he was “frozen” but clearly was moving about a bit when I wasn’t watching. At one stage a Moorhen walking along the ditch spooked him but I was too busy looking at the back of my camera checking my settings to record it. As I left a dog being walked on a lead managed to spook the bird which flew just 10 metres and pitched down in the ditch again. The dog had clearly noticed the bird but its owner kept it on a short leash and walked by without the bird flying up again.

and a video taken on my phone showing the bird in habitat:

The weather changed from Saturday 20th February with double digit minus temperatures being replaced by plus temperatures (without even an overnight frost) and rain and this resulted in a lot of new areas to become available for this bird which is of course good for it but will likely mean it will not be so easy to find it again. I did manage to refind it once though. I saw a suitable area of muddy ground and approached it. I saw no bird but saw droppings and beak marks in the ground. I had the Beast with me and we eventually stood right by this tiny area of mud (no more than 3 square metres) and I thought I had scanned it thoroughly. As we turned to leave the Jack Snipe flew up less than 50cm from us and where I had just been looking! This proves that:

1. They have amazing camouflage when in mud and grass and they trust it (I did afterall also have the dog with me), and

2. That I have really lost my touch…

That same day I also found a Common Snipe which judging by the amount of droppings in the area had been around a while (the area was one I had not considered searching when it was very cold but judging by the conditions there may well have been open water (and mud) all the time). While the Jack Snipe is the first record in Oslo for the months of Jan-Feb the Common Snipe is surprisingly only the third record.

Sunday, 21 February 2021


On Friday I received some pictures from SteinarAndersen asking for confirmation as to what type of bread eating hybrid duck he had found in suburban Oslo. It is not always easy to work out the parents of hybrids with the Wigeon x Mallard hybrid at Østensjøvannet being a difficult combo (see picture in previous post) but this particular hybrid was a clear 50:50 mixture of its parents: it was a Pintard – Pintail x Mallard (in Norwegian a Stjokkand – stjertand x stokkand).

The head, neck, tail and bill showed the clear influence of the Pintail while the body was Mallard.

I visited the bird yesterday and found it easily where a smelly, dirty stream plunged out of pipe and people clearly fed this bird and the 30 or so Mallards it kept company with.

I found another male of this hybrid combo in early2019 but that bird later suffered the ignominy of being blinged whereas this bird was blingless so is presumably a new bird (bling can fall off). A female Pintail spent 5? winters at Østensjøvannet (although has not returned this winter) and it tempting to think that these hybrids are the result of her pairing with one of the male Mallards that often showed her attention.

Pintail x Mallard hybrid (stjertand x stokkand)

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

This week it has clouded over and has snowed most days. Birding has been much less productive and walks in the forest have revealed little. In Maridalen I have sighted both Buzzards which was a welcome surprise although I am sure they are really struggling to find food now. The Great Grey Shrike is also hanging on.

From next week the weather is supposed to change big time with temperatures forecast to be above zero and without even overnight frosts. Combined with southerly winds I wouldn’t be surprised if the first spring migrants turn up.

I have also visited Østensjøvannet a few times where the birdlife doesn’t change much from day to day but it has never the less been exciting.

A dog walk today resulted in a new species for the year list in the form of a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker ( I have subsequently remembered it is my second for the year as I saw one flying along by the car in Maridalen a couple of weeks ago). She showed well hammering away on thin branches on an old spruce tree and allowed herself to be filmed on the superzoom which always accompanies me. I have now seen six species of woodpecker in Oslo so far this year which is a full sweep in so far that White-backed is unrealistic here and Wryneck won’t turn up for a couple of months.

female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (dvergspett). Note that its tongue is out.

Water Rail (vannrikse) in the snow today at Østenjøvannet. There are still two birds present but they have become very shy. This one did venture out to search for food that was under the snow

the white background is straight off the camera - no photoshopping

Dipper (fossekall)

ca.300 Mallard (stokkand) hang out at Østensjøvannet where they live off bread and oats. They could well fly out to the fjord at night at find food there too

the male Wigeon x Mallard hybrid has laid claim to a female Mallard and is aggressive towards male Mallards despite being smaller than them

the hybrid is in the middle

a Coot (sothøne) and two Moorhens (sivhøne) - note their very different feet. 15 Coots have spent the winter at Østensjøvannet and there are now 3 Moorhens left after one recently disappeared

these two Moorhens are clearly 1st winters but note how the bill on the left hand bird has more colour

whereas this bird I am unsure about. Although the bill is red and the plumage blacker than the other two birds I would expect a larger "shield" on an adult and wonder is this is also a 1st winter but from a very early clutch whereas the other two were born late in the summer

the less marked 1st winter

these two Coots were engaged in pair bonding which in BWP is described as "bowing-and-nibbling ceremony"

if these birds are playing by the book then it is the female on the left who has adopted a submissive bowing posture and the male who is nibbling

the paler Common Buzzard (musvåk) in wintery conditions in Maridalen

and the darker/intermediate plumaged bird