Thursday, 8 December 2016

A well place shot of Hawkie

Today was warm - a whole 7 plus degrees! I’m not quite sure where this warm weather is coming from but it is forecast to continue over the weekend. There was also no wind and rather expectedly Oslo was covered in mist in the morning. I had a late start when I thought the mist would have burnt off away from Oslo and chose to look for the closest Hawkie to Oslo (other than the Sørkedalen bird which seems to have moved on). The bird is close to Drøbak, has been present for a month and I had previously paid my homages to it on 23 November.

When I got there it was glorious sunshine but it took quite a bit of searching before I eventually spied out where Hawkie was selling his wares. He was on a wire by a farm and I took a chance and drove up the track to farm. I got very close to him and the sun was on the right side but as I prepared to take a photo he flew down onto a low conifer in the hedgerow around the farm house. He had clearly seen a rodent there (seemingly in the garden) but didn’t pounce. The light was a bit pants now and when he then flew even closer onto the top of a spruce right next to the car he had the sun right behind him – close but no real cigar. He then flew off into a nearby field and sat up on a wire above some rough grass. I drove away from the farm and found somewhere to park and then approached the owl. At some distance he dropped down into the grass and then flew up again with a mouse! I was still some way away but tried to come closer to document meal time. However, he proceeded to fly into a small copse where I saw that he stashed the mouse and then flew back out onto the wire. Clearly times are good if he has enough food to have a larder!

I then waited for him to catch another mouse and although he was looking hard he never pounced again before eventually flying back to the farm and perching up on the barn. Although he was on a wire in the middle of a field and it was sunny, the sun was so low that it was only once that the bird was actually in the direct sun but it gave a nice golden glow to the bird and I’m quite happy with my photos.

Despite the obvious presence of rodents, I had only one Great Grey Shrike in the area which last winter held at least 4 birds.

A quick visit to Maridalen revealed the shrike right in the south of the valley where I have never recorded him before and this suggests that he is having to work hard for a meal. The Scaup is still present and may make it into 2017 if the lake doesn’t freeze over (the current ice that has formed should melt now). The last two days there have also been an adult and two juvenile Whooper Swans on the lake. From their behaviour it is not clear to me whether they are a family group and it could be that the two youngsters arrived on their own and joined up with the lone adult I saw on Monday. I think it is unusual for juvenile Whooper Swans to leave there parents so early and if they have then it would be the result of an accident I think. If they are present with the adult though then this also suggest that something has happened to the other parent.

Hawk Owl in the sun
with a nice sized rodent

look at those talons and bill

hunting in a garden

Christmas tree decoration

Monday, 5 December 2016

4 out of 4

A grey day with temperatures over zero but no rain and no fog. I headed for Lillomarka again hoping to reconnect with some of the exciting species I had there last week. Today I added a new species to the list with a Hazel Grouse. This bird was in an area I have walked past thinking was ideal for the species and today I had it singing and saw it briefly in flight a few times but it can’t be classified as a cooperative individual. I also had Pine Grosbeak giving me sightings on all four of my visits. I had a single noisy bird today (seems to be the case that lonely single birds make quite a bit of noise but flocks remain mostly silent). I saw the bird once and heard it (or I at least assume was the same bird) a couple more times over the course of half an hour or so. I also had a noisy bird flying over me a kilometre away when I was walking back to the car which could possibly have been the same individual. No Three-toed Woodpecker today but a Black Woodpecker was feeding in the same place and gave me unusually good views.

In Maridalen the Scaup and Great Grey Shrike showed as well as a single newly arrived Whooper Swan on the lake. I didn’t find the Hawk Owl in Sørkedalen but it was seen over the weekend.
The poor light again made taking photos challenging but videos were OK.

view from Lillomarka (where the grosbeaks are) towards NE Oslo

Pine Grosbeak (konglebit)

Black Woodpecker (svartspett). Note the two very broad shafts to the tail feathers which it actively uses to hold itself steady when banging away

The Scaup (bergand) and Tufted Duck (toppand) still on Maridalsvannet

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Long-tailed Tits on ice

On Friday I searched for Pine Grosbeaks in the valley without finding any or anything else of note but with luck I will find some also here before the winter is finished. The Scaup and Great Grey Shrike were still going strong and a small flock of Long-tailed Tits were interestingly searching for food on the ground. I have seen them very occasionally on the ground before but here the whole flock of ca.8 birds was on the deck and it wasn’t a forest floor but on ice with a thin layer of snow on the top with vegetation sticking up through the ice. I’ve no idea what food they were finding here but would imagine that it was insects of some sort – not that there are many around at the moment.

Long-tailed Tit (stjertmeis) finding food in the snow

Great Grey Shrike

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Three-toed Woodpecker and a bit of Piney

I just had to go searching for the Pine Grosbeaks again. I have really fallen in love with this area of Lillomarka. Despite being closer to the city than the areas of Nordmarka that I usually visit there are far fewer people here, the forest seems to be richer and it is also a lot easier getting around with fewer steep slopes to negotiate. The weather at the moment is perfect for searching for forest/taiga birds. There is no wind, it is cold and crisp and mostly sunny (although today a level of mist hung over the hill tops) and there is no snow meaning getting about is easy.

Despite the perfect listening conditions there is still little to hear as the density of birds is very low but when you find a flock of 10 Pine Grosbeaks and have quality time with a male Three-toed Woodpecker down to 5metres range then it is definitely a case of quality over quantity.

The Grosbeaks made me work hard but then suddenly I heard one and there they high up in a spruce only 25m away. I was able to get quite close to the tree which was on a slope and I could view the birds from nearly the same height but the light was absolutely pants! I counted a maximum of 7 birds at a time but these were all females/juveniles whereas I had also seen an adult male so knew there were at least 8 birds in the tree but when they flew out to a nearby birch there turned out to be 10 birds! In typical Piney style they fed quietly and thoroughly in the spruce tree and were there for 20 minutes!! before flying en masse (when they made quite a lot of noise) to a birch where they fed on tiny buds. When a flock of 10 birds can feed almost silently in one tree for 20 minutes then it is clear that one needs luck combined with a slow and thorough search method to find them.

The flock of 10 birds contained only a single adult (red) male and my photos show this to be unringed and therefore not the same bird that I saw on Monday. One can wonder how many birds there are in the area.

On my way out to the Grosbeaks I had a male Three-toed Woodpecker which gave itself away by the tapping noise it made. I saw this bird quite well but the light was terrible and it was feeding high up. On my way back 2 hours later I heard it tapping again only 100m away and this time was able to see it very well. It was still dark for photography but I saw the bird at head height when it was licking sap and got so close that I managed an iPhone selfie with it J This was definitely the closest and most prolonged meeting I have had with this species which is known to ignore people but has previously not been so confiding with me.

In Maridalen the Scaup was suddenly back in the company of a Tufted Duck. Quite incredible that they can avoid detection for so many days (last record was on Saturday).
First a video of the woodpecker which has turned out better than the photos I took (it always seem to be the case that video copes better with poor light than stills).

male Three-toed Woodpecker (tretåspett). Photography in the dark forest was a challenge

here licking/eating sap

iPhone selfie

This Black Woodpecker (svartspett) hole looks good for housing Tengmalm's Owls (perleugle) if next year is an owl year
my first view of the Pine Grosbeaks (konglebit)

4 birds in this picture

a young male (I think) eating spruce buds

adult male. This bird has no ring unlike the bird I saw three days ago

eating buds in a birch tree

all 10 birds
Scaup (bergand) and Tufted Duck (toppand)

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 ;-)