Friday, 30 January 2015

Big Year Norway Results

Well, soon it's February. Lots of rarities and semi rarities have already been spotted in Norway - unlike last year - my Big Year. When aiming as high as I did, I certainly needed some luck as well as skills and time to be able to succeed. This year has certainly started better than mine did, and I was almost tempted to go for two in a row. But no...this year I need to focus on my photography business. Yes, I do. Or, do I? hmm. Yes, I should.

Last weekend, I did a presentation of my Big Year for a bird club. It forced me to think back on the year and again realising all the great birding and experiences I had through the year. Despite not taking the record, I must anyway be very happy with the result.

I had a lot of time to do my own birding. This was important to me as the very best birds are always the ones you find yourself - without anyone pointing their whereabouts out to you. In Norway, we call these edelkryss - or the nobel twitches.

And to be honest - to find 254 bird species out of a total of 303 seen in Norway within one year myself is something most birders in Norway is going to struggle to beat. On my list of 254 species, some obvious ones are missing - like corncrake and spotted crake for instance - both realtively easy to find myself with some effort involved. The truth is, that this list was not really on my mind - I just realised while thinking back on the year that 2014 was actually a very good year for birds found myself.

Of the 254 species, these are some of the rarer birds I found myself: Great egret (egretthegre), Surf Scoter (brilleand), Black Kite (svartglente), Red kite (glente), Montagus's harrier (enghauk), Red-footed falcon (aftenfalk), Caspian tern (rovterne), Greater short-toed lark (dverglerke), Red-rumped swallow (amursvale), Olive-backed pipit (sibirpiplerke), Citrine wagtail (sitronerle), 2 x Rose-colored starling (rosenstær), Melodious warbler (spottesanger), Corn bunting (kornspurv). 

My Norwegian list increased by 18.

Of the 348 species recorded in total in Norway during 2014, I missed only 19 that was twitchable. Most of these I did actually try for, but came too late for different reasons - mostly because of work. I have defined a bird as twitchable if it was seen at least once more after it first was discovered with at least one night in between. This means I potentially had the time to get there in time if I would have made the effort or time.

To make 303 species in one year in Norway - you need to travel a bit. This also
means seeing places you never have seen before - some of them extremely beautiful.
This is picture show the sky above Northern Norway somewhere.

The effort can maybe be summarised like this:

- 33048km driven in my own car.  
- 28 nights spent in my own car
- 6 roundtrip flights
- 3 times (total 9 days) rental car.
- Visited all the counties of Norway (3 times in Finmark). 
- Did get yearticks in 61 different municipalities.

So, if you are out there wondering what it takes to do a Big Year - this is at least a guiding line to your planning.

Myself and my Swarovski - two inseperable items in 2014.

- EG -

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The very last..

I have just returned from almost two months working in the Antarctic, a relaxing Christmas holiday and a few kilos added because of too much food - and not the least - a new years eve celebration. The latter mean that my Big Year has come to an end. It has been a fun year indeed, even though as predicted after the rather poor September, the record did not get beaten. My final new bird of the year was a Common crossbill (grankorsnebb), which I saw on my way to airport for my work trip down south.

Common crossbill is normally a fairly easy bird in Norway, but this year has been very poor indeed. Some of the challenge with the crossbills is that you need to see them very well to be able to distinguish the common from the similar Parrot crossbill (furukorsnebb). Many birders think they manage to distinguish them by sound or call, but I emphasize THINK. Because studies has shown that the variation in the call of both species is fairly high, and in my opinion, it is impossible to safely distinguish the two species from each other by call unless you use a sonogram. Believe me, I have tried! Anyway, these birds appear rather like nomads in our forest, depending on where in the Fennoscandia there are lots of seeds on the trees. 2014 was a particularly bad year, and even though my effort for this species remained fairly low througout the year, I didn't manage to identify one safely before 30 October. Common crossbill became my bird number 303, which also was my end result. I was the person that saw most species in Norway in 2014, and as far as I know, I am only the 4th person to reach more than 300 species within one year in Norway. So all in all, pretty happy with the result, even though I would of course liked to have taken the record when so close. A quick look at the observation database for Norway show that I missed 18 species in 2014 which was twitchable. By twictchable, I mean birds that at least stayed until the day after it was first seen. This means of course, that if I skipped work completely, and stayed birding all the time, I would have managed both the record and my goal of 320. Anyway, I love my work, so not the worst place to be, and it gives me money to be able to some awesome stuff also in 2015.

Being so close to the record (309) at the end of October, I must say that I felt a bit annoyed about leaving the country for the rest of the year knowing that November can be a very good birding month indeed. It was with some relief, that I returned and realised I wouldn't have made it even though I stayed home. All that said, spending nearly two months amongst albatross and penguins is not the worst way of spending time either.

I haven't got all the statistics up there yet, but will come back with a summary of the year fairly soon.

Finally, Common Crossbill added to the list. The last new bird of the year.
Total 303, which also became the end result for my Big Year.

2015 will be more about photography for me, and hopefully I manage to produce some great and important stories and pictures. Looking forward to that!

My next Big Year will be in......

New birds: 1
Total: 303


Saturday, 1 November 2014

Is this the end?

The last week has been busy with office work, that needed to be done before my next work assignment. But before that, I managed to see a couple of birds that always have been very high on my wish list as I still lingered around in the south of the country. First out was the message of a Radde's warbler (viersanger) at the famous rarity island of Utsira. The day after its discovery was forecasted very strong winds and lots of rain. I skipped the plan of going there, and as I suspected - the bird was not seen the next day. To my surprise, two day after this, a message suddenly came out that the bird had been seen all day at the same spot. So off I went! Once the 1 hour ferry trip was done, with a pomarine skua (polarjo) following the boat for a few minutes, I went straight to the reeds where the warbler had been seen. Before long, a group of us relocated the bird, but to be able to see this skulky warbler properly in the dense vegetation was a bit more challenging. One time it was pushed out on the edge of the field, and I managed to see it properly for a few seconds. Moments later, it flew into the mistnet the local birders had put up in the area to try to catch it. It was time to take a closer look at this Siberian rarity. This was only the 16th time this species have visited Norway, and it was also a new bird for my Norwegian list.

The skulky Radde's warbler (viersanger) ringed, and at the same time studied
close up by the ten or so birders that visited the island this day.

At the same time, a Bird Alarm about a Firecrest (rødtoppfuglekonge) came in. I decided to go for the Radde's first, and then hope that the firecrest would still be around the next day. This is a southern species, that never have been seen in my home area. This is why it was a bit important for me to try to see this. It would be another new bird on my Norwegian list as well. The only problem is that a Firecrest is a very small bird, and the forest it had been seen is rather big. I started my search in the area it had been seen the previous day and worked my way along the edge. Several small groups of Blue tit (blåmeis) and Goldcrest (fuglekonge) heard along the way. I spent quite some time with these, trying to see each single bird as the firecrest was seen in a this mixed bird party the first day. But no luck. I had almost given up, when one single goldcrest like bird came flying and landed in the small trees next to me. Strong green back, and when it turned its head a second later it was no doubt in the world! Firecrest safely ticked!

In the dark undergrowth of the forest, a single small but stunning bird trying
to hide from my Big Year list. But almost three hours seaching, ment finally that
I got a few glimpses of the charismatic Firecrest (rødtoppfuglekonge).  

As I am on my way to Antarctica to do some guiding, the Firecrest might very well be the last new bird for my Big Year list. The record seems to be difficult to take this year as I am not back before end of December - when most rarities have left Norway. If I only had two more weeks, I would acutally have had good chances to make it as three late eastern rarities have been spotted the last couple of days and there are still some birds to arrive which normally are typical November birds. Well, we will see where it all ends, but I am afraid that to reach 310, which is needed to set the record, will be difficult. Maybe bad planning, but who doesn't need to a little bit of money to survive the winter?

But hey, spending a few weeks around albatrosses and penguins in Antarctica is not the worst substitute to have.

New birds: 2
Total: 302

Friday, 24 October 2014

Bird number 300!

Yesterday was an important benchmark day for my Big Year project, as I finally managed to catch up with Richard's pipit (tartarpiplerke). This bird has been a target species for the last few weeks of mine, and I have walked  several tens of kilometers in what I think is the right habitat for it. I've done it in rain, in sunshine and gale force winds as well as mornings and evenings. This Siberian species is normally easy to see during the autumn in Norway, but this year, as for most eastern vagrant, it has proved very challening to get a glimpse of it. Not a bird have I seen. Anyway, I got tip of a bird in Kviljo, so I went there to check it out. Just as I left my car, a Richard's pipit lifted from the field nearby. It flew a few circles over my head and then disappeared behind some of Norway's very few sanddunes. Number 300 safely ticked!

Shy as they are, Richard's pipit (tartarpiplerke) is always difficult to get a decent pic of.
But you take what you get, when it is number 300!

As far as I know, I am only the fourth person in Norway to manage to see 300 bird species during one single year in Norway. It is still ten birds to the record, so that will be hard to manage as new birds are getting far between in this time of year - especially since I am going away for work for the whole of November....

Yellowhammer (gulspurv). Not new for my Big Year list, but
since it posed so nicely in the rain, it just asked for being taken
picture of. 

Walking along the beach I found a shore lark (fjellerke), and on some other fields behind the beach, I flushed another Richard's pipit! My very own Richard's, and you know how it is. The birds you find yourself are the ones that taste best. Later that day, I found another two Richards's pipits. What can I say other than that I don't understand the world and the tricks it is playing on me sometimes. 

Earlier this week, I caught up with another bird that I had actually given up on this year. Bewick's swan (dvergsvane) is a typically winter bird in Norway, but last winter was only 3 observations of it. I tried for two of them but missed. This time luck was on my side, as I stopped by a field with lots of pink footed geese (kortnebbgås) on it. I had got a bird alarm about bewick's swan yesterday, so it was not totally by coincidence that I found myself just at this place now - Orrevann at Jæren in south western Norway. As I stood scanning the geese for anything rare, the two swans, an adult and a juvenile came flying in. They landed on the field, and sat for five minutes before lifting off again and as they did, they passed me quite close before they continued towards the south. Finally some luck....Though, only one adult with one young means that one of the parents had died somewhere along the migration probably. For geese and swans, the young stay in family groups their first year of living, and this time is important for them to learn important skills for surviving later on. I do hope the young will make it, even with only one parent.

Bewick's swan (dvergsvane). A bonus species as I had given up on them
this year when I missed the species twice with only a couple of hours earlier
this year. This is only the fourth time the species visit Norway this year.

New birds: 2
Total: 300


Monday, 20 October 2014

Reality sneaks up on me...

East and south easterly winds in October normally means good birding, and lots of Siberian migrants. NOT this year! The low pressure over northwest Russia has been quite steady still, and I blame this for the worst rarity autumn in Norway for decades! Not the best combination when trying to set a new record in number of birds seen in one year.

Well, it is not because of lack of effort at least. Since I arrived back from sea 10 September, I have been out every single day except two (one funeral, and one sick day). Easterly winds has kept the spirit up, but to be honest, rarely have I seen so few birds in the gardens and out in the field this time of year before. First I spent a few days chasing a Hoopoe, that despite being seen briefly many of the days I was there, I still needed this one on my list. This bird apparently has a secret favorite spot that we still don't know about. Or maybe it hasn't and that this is the big problem with this bird. This bird in Verdal has been seen all over town, on locations so far from each other that several have started to speculate if it really only is one bird or if there are at least two birds involved. Anyway, investing more or less 5 full days on this bird - I had given up and went birding on a nearby location - Rinnleiret. As I walked back to my car, I get to see a bird flying in the far distant quite high up. I lifted my binoculars and to my big surprise - a hoopoe! It was flying in the direction of where it normally is seen, but this is at least 3 kilometers away! One thing I have learned this Big Year, is to never give up! It is now on my Big Year list and this was species number 297. I also tried for two other Hoopoes that have been around before this, but without any luck.

A Hoopoe (hærfugl) flying high and in way too far distance to be enjoyed
properly after 5 days searching...

Apart from that, all I have managed to find in the gardens was a fox. It had nowhere to run but up a mountain, so this became the first time ever I have seen red fox (rødrev) climb a vertical cliff.

Fox climbing the mountain, after being woken up by an eager birder in the garden.

Because the birding was so slow in my home area, I decided to go south and try my luck at one of my favorite localities - Lista. I spent all of May here with reasonable good results. Lista is so far south, that birding can be good here even at least for a month longer than where I normally live. So off I went, and 921 kilometers later, I was again at Lista Bird Observatory! Here I found a very late Common sandpiper (strandsnipe), that of course carefully was checked for spotted (flekksnipe). I also found back a White-backed woodpecker (hvitryggspett) that was ringed at the observatory a few days ago. At least I think it is a White-backed. It has rather large white spots on the shoulders, but everything else - including its call - seems to fit with a white-backed. Since hybrids are so rare, I stick with my theory until otherwise proven.

White-backed woodpecker (hvitryggspett) or hybrid white-backed x Great spotted (flagg)?

A Stonechat (svartstrupe) was reported from Kjerkevågen in Lindesnes the second day of my stay here. Not a rare bird in Norway, but anyway one of those that has escaped me so far. I went there, and before long I had ticked bird # 298 on my Big Year list!.

Stonechat (svartstrupe). I was starting to get a bit nervous about this species
lacking on my list for so long to be honest. Late autumn is generally a good time
to see it in the south of Norway, and my theory was proven right ;)

Even though I am now close to 300, and only 12 birds from the record, I starting to realise that this is not going to be a record year. I still have ten days of October birding but 1st November I need to go for a work assignement in South Georgia and then Antarctica. This means no Big Year birding all of November.
Is it still possible to take the record, with ten more days in October and ten days in December to do it? It will be very hard, and I need to be extremely lucky these last days. But who knows, I still miss a few common ones like Common crossbill (grankorsnebb), Two-barred crossbill (båndkorsnebb) and Richard's pipit (tartarpiplerke) so who knows...

It aint over before the fat lady sings....

New birds: 2
Total: 298