Friday 17 January 2014

Easy pickings

The last week was spent back in the area where I grew up and learned my way around the birds back in the days. This is in fact one of the better areas for birding in Norway, so I’m sure I will return many times during the year. Because there has been a very mild winter in Norway so far, there are still a lot of birds around that normally should rather have been way further south along a sunny beach somewhere. The brutal truth came real in the beginning of last week, when frost and temperatures well below minus 10 celsius for most of the country finally arrived. This means that birds get pushed out to the coast. So did I.

A long awaited winter seems finally to arrive. Minus 10-20 celsius in most of
the country, makes hoar frost on the trees and landscape very pretty.

13 January
Conveniently, last night, a report of a Wood lark (trelerke) appeared on the Bird Alarm system just in the area I anyway was thinking of going. This is a species that only breeds in the very south eastern parts of Norway, and sparsely so. Getting this species already this early in the year means saved time searching the breeding areas later in the season. As far as I know, this is only the 7th record of this species in my county Møre og Romsdal, where the first being a bird myself and a friend found in 2003.

I started the day by doing my regular route along the coast of Hustadvika. A nice surprise, and a bit unexpected in one of the harbours looking for any Arctic gulls was Grey-headed woodpecker (gråspett). It was feeding in the old nests of a seasonly abandonned Kittiwake (krykkje) colony. In the bushes below was also a Robin (rødstrupe). Another unusual winter bird in this part of the country, and another new species of the year for me. Actually, there was going to be a good day for new species for the year as I got 19 in total this day. Top birds such as Lapland longspur (lappspurv), Dunlin (myrsnipe), Peregrine (vandrefalk) topped the hall of fame for the day – of course sharing the place with the Wood lark. A little bit of a nerve wrecking experience appeared when a Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk) flew by (making my first of the year) and scared all the birds at the moment I stepped out of the car. Above me flew a short-tailed bird, and the gentle fluttering calls of the wood lark revealed its identity. It dissappeared bound north. Although certain of the species, I didn’t want this shitty observation to be the only one on my year list. Waiting has never been a problem for me, and about 30 minutes later the lark was back at the bird feeder (!). A nice year tick was safely bagged. Just after this, an adult male Northern Goshawk (hønsehauk) made a scene, the woodlark luckily excaped its razor sharp talons. I enjoyed the lark some more, before a beautiful moon rise made me grab the camera and run for a nice exposure.

New species: 19
Total: 79

The wood lark that escaped both a hungry sparrowhawk
 and a goshawk attack. 

Moonrise in winter wonderland.

14 January
Up early to reach the ferry to the islands. Outside Molde, there are a group of islands which always produce some good birding year round. Between these islands, there are extesive shallow waters, which also means that this is one the best places in Norway to see sea birds such as divers (lommer), grebes (dykkere), alcids (alkefugler) and other feathery critters connected to the sea in some way. My main goal for the day was to find White-billed diver (gulnebblom). In the right condition and season, one can see as many as 30 in one day in this area. Nowhere else in Norway is the density of this species as high as here. Most of the birds wintering here, is believed to arrive from the breeding areas in Arctic Canada. We saw six on this trip, but unfortuntely the new ferry makes space outside very limited and thus photographing them much more difficult now than a few years back.  I easily saw the usual alcids such as Puffin (lunde), Razorbill (alke), Little auk (alkekonge), Common guillemot (lomvi) and Black guillemot (teist) giving great views from the ferry’s lounge area. White-tailed eagles were plenty and at least 8 or so were seen perching on the small islets in the area.
 Finally arriving Sandøya, the main destination of the day. This island is flat, bordered by sandy beaches and small bays where lots of kelp are pushed up by the sea during any winter storm. The middle of the island is dominated by agricultural fields and gardens. A nice mix for birds any time of the season. The island is small, and birding is best done by walking around the island. Didn’t find any big surprises, but my year list increased for every beach we visited. Best birds being unusual high numbers of Meadow pipits (heipiplerke) for the season. At least 15 were feeding in the kelp, as did a Snow bunting (snøspurv), about 30 Ruddy turnstones (steinvender), a Lapwing (vipe) and a group of 30 Teals (krikkand) just to mention a few. Walking a ditch with open water flushed at least 7 Snipes (enkeltbekkasin), but the best was saved for last as a group of at least 6 Orcas (spekkhugger) passed by while we were waiting for the ferry (yes, I know they are not birds, but whales are cool too). 

New species: 13
Total: 92

A grey heron (gråhegre) enjoying winter light. Short days, also means that it
is easy to experience sunrise and sunset without staying up at unearthy hours
of the day. Even I can make it.

15 January
Decided to go birding south in the county. The island Giske, is another flat but very interesting bird locality at the coast. Before getting there, I stopped by a small frozen lake. The river that runs out from it usually attracts a few birds. Apart from the usual ducks, there was also a Little grebe (dvergdykker) feeding. In the trees surrounding the lake, there were at least 4 Collared doves (tyrkerdue). This is a species that fluctuates somewhat in Norway as it doesn’t seem to cope with strong winters very well. The last years, there have been a couple of winters with much snow and cold weather and the population of collared doves is at the moment very low. It can actually be a tricky bird to find, if you don’t know exactly where to search for it.

At Giske, there were again lots of birds with highlights being Bar-tailed godwit (lappspove), 9 Dunlins (myrsnipe), 12 Redshanks (rødstilk) and 4 Scaups (bergand) as well as 5 Skylarks (sanglerke) and lots of pipits (piplerker). Nothing I wouldn’t for sure see later in the season, but very nice birds and numbers for a winter day birding in Norway. A flock of at least 63 Chaffinch (bokfink), was also a unusually high number for this species in the season. In the kelp washed up on shore were lots of pipits. I found a very strangely coloured one. Much paler and browner than the others, and hopes were immediately raised of this being a buff-bellied (myrpiplerke) or a Water pipit (vannpiplerke). Both of them being extremely rare in Norway, as well as a bit tricky identification vice. Spending quite some time with this bird, and photographing it from all possible angels, I was at the end more or less convinced it had too much and too washed out streaking as well as not white enough underparts to belong to either of the rarer species. An unusual coloured Rock pipit (skjærpiplerke) was all it was. But it was for sure fun as long as it lasted. These are the things that make the adrenalin rush, and excitement being born. The challenge of not only finding these strange birds, but also to identify them correctly and compare them to (almost) identical species with all their plumage and jizz variation are very fun indeed.

A look alike rarity - but is in fact just a rock pipit.

On the way back, a disturbing noise from my car appeared uncomfortably loudly. Is this the end of my Big Year? Make sure to follow to see how it goes….

New species: 3
Total: 96


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