Friday, 28 March 2014

Tripple dip, and a near hit

Birding is exciting and full of surprises and not to mention unpredictable. This is what makes this hobby so great! Bird has wings, and you never know when the bird uses them. I've just returned from a one week trip to Southern Norway. The main goal was to pick up some long staying wintering birds, and also to look for a red kite (glente) - a rare bird with 15-30 records a year in Norway. The absolute best time to see this species is the last week of March and first week of April, and the best place to do so is the famous birding area at Lista in the very south of Norway. So here we go...

20 March
On the island Sandsøya in western Norway, a Yellow-legged gull (gulbeinmåke) has been visiting since 12th of Februrary. This species is still a huge rarity in Norway. The problem with this bird though, is that it has been very elusive and irregular at the harbour where it has been seen. It tends to be out at sea fishing for long periods and then follow the fishing boats into the harbour when they come to deliver their catches. But it rarely stays for more than a day or two, so I have been awaiting my great opportunity to get this one. So today, I went. The weather couldn't possibly be worse. Pouring meters of rain and a forecast of 55 knots wind! But the gull had been seen three days in a row, so my hopes was up. Sandsøya is not particularily easy or cheap place to get to by the way - as you need 5 ferries from my home to get there, and the travel from Trondheim actually takes about 8 hours. Anyway off I went. The local birder and discoverer of the gull - Ingar - was searching the harbour all day. The rain didn't stop for one single second since I left home, but luckily the wind was a bit easier than forecasted.

Of course, this ghost of a gull had decided to leave since yesterday, and it was nowhere to be seen despite our optimistic effort. However, we did manage to see a local Eagle owl (hubro) on its dayroost in the distance and a pair of White-fronted goose (tundragås) which became the only Big Year tick of the day!

White-fronted goose flying in the rain.

In the evening - I turned south.

New species: 1
Total: 132

21 March
Finding myself in eastern parts of Norway after a long drive for most of the night. My plan was to search all flocks of Whooper swans (sangsvane) that migrates through this area this time of the year in hope of finding a Bewick's swan (dvergssvane) that so far has eluded me this year. Needless to say, I did not succeed, but luckily no rain anymore. However, I did manage to find a flock of Mistle thrush (duetrost) and a single Reed bunting (sivspurv) that both were new to the Big Year list.

Further south, I stopped briefly by the long staying Black duck (rødfotand) near Tønsberg, that I saw already 2 January. However, at that time, it was raining so hard, so I didn't manage to document it for my Big Year portfolio. I am not a hundred percent sure of the true identity of this bird, but will await the decision of the rarity comitee if it will count on my list or not.

The somewhat disputed, American black duck.

I also stopped by the famous bird area Borrevannet, to see if there were any raptors about (red kite - remember? ) I had a fly by Little woodpecker (dvergspett), which was also a new addition for the year.

A cold notherly was blowing and the only raptors seen during my two hours visit was a Buzzard (musvåk) and Goshawk (hønsehauk). I hurried down to meet my friend, to join him for some insect trapping with his fancy light trap. Waiting for the dark to come, a Woodcock (rugde) displayed over our head in its typical laps around what probably will be its territory,

New species: 4
Total 136

22 March
The idea was to do some raptor watching, but weather was not very cooperative being cloudy and with a icy cold northeasterly blowing quite strong. We quickly changed our tactics, as it was clear that there was lots of passerines about in the bushes despite the wind. A fly by mistle thrush (duetrost) was the bird of the day, even though a couple of Linnet (tornirisk) was the only addition to my Big Year list.

In the evening I headed more south and west. I was going towards the jewel of birding areas in Norway - Jæren. Here, the plan was to see the American wigeon (amerikablessand) that had been  present since last November as well as the long staying Surf scoter (brilleand). Both of them, rare but annual visitor from the US. On the way there, in the very last of light, I manage to stop by a Caspian gull (kaspimåke) that has stayed in the harbour area of Mandal for some time. Contrary to when I had to seach two days for it Fredrikstad, and ticked this species for the first time 12 Februray - this one came immediately. I guess my bread throwing excersice in Fredrikstad payed off, and my previous 1600km drive to tick the species in Fredrikstad could have been spared.

Caspian gull, Mandal. This bird is even colourringed. It was marked as a chick
in a pure caspian gull colony in Belarus! 

A very caspian gull like bird, also seen in Mandal havn. Black bill, whitish head
and breast and the general pale and contrasty and elongated appearance makes this
a good candidate for caspian gull when scanning through a flock of large gulls.
However, details in feather markins on the secondaries and secondary coverts,
as well as on the back reveal its true identity - herring gull (gråmåke).

New species: 3
Total: 139

23 March
After a short, but comfortable night sleeping in the car, I was ready at the wigeon site at first light. Both this one, and the surf scoter have been our so long, that people have become a little bit relaxed about reporting them on the different bird news networks. None of the birds had been reported for a while, but I (stupidly) assumed they anyway were around. It turned out the last sighting of the American wigeon was 9 days ago. It had decided to leave its wintering site much sooner than normal. A strong wind picked up, and even though I searched three hours for the surf scoter this was nowhere to be seen either. The surf scoter normally dont depart its wintering site before  April some time, but appearantly it the birds are getting affected by this very unusually warm and dry winter as well. Two major dips in one day - birds that I felt was going to be easy pickings. I should have learned by now - nothing is easy. I can only hope these rarities will return back for next winter in time to be included on my list.

At a field, nearby I did find a Black crow (svartkråke) which turned out to be the best year tick of this whole trip.

Black crow (svartkråke) - shape of wings, and bill are some of the features that
distinguish this from a juvenile rook (kornkråke). Also, when seen well, it lacks
the shiny colour of that the rook sometimes show.

New species: 4
Total: 143

24-26 March
Now I was really in Red kite (glente) territory. A bird, that for all these years of birding has eluded me on all its visits to Norway. I was spending most days standing on the one spot to look for  raptors. A total of some 30 Buzzards (musvåk), 6 peregrines (vandrefalk) and at least 2 white-tailed eagles (havørn) wasn't very impressive numbers, but it kept my hopes up. Especially since there was a sighting a little bit east of Lista the day before. Normally, birds sighted east of Lista, tend to end up on Lista the next day, and here I was - ready for it to appear and shine! Red kites are a bit difficult, as it is kind of a there and then bird. Meaning, it rarely stays around for others than the one who sees it first to be enjoyed. Weather was shifting and by the third day, it strond winds and even rain set in. Forecast for the next days didn't look promising either, so I decided to change tactics. I was heading north, just after reassuring myself that a long staying Gyr falcon (jaktfalk) that had lingered around for months had decided to leave two days before I arrived.....

Lista light house, a famous land mark both for seamen and birders.

The news about Big Year coming to Lista, and I had appearance both in the regional radio in prime time, as well a page in the local newspaper. The Big Year project is really reaching out to the people!

New species: 5
Total: 148

27 March
I suddenly find myself just south of Oslo, at a place known to be good for raptor migration and where red kites have been seen now and then. This morning, hopes was good, as the weather forecast was promising with blue skies and no wind. Everybody knows, at least if you are coming from the west coast of Norway, that weather forecasts rarely get it right. This was also true for this day, when a heavy cloud cover layed as a thick carpet over the landscape. It even rained a bit, and ice cold notherly breeze set up just to make sure to stop every single raptor that even remotely was thinking about soaring a little to stay on the ground. A passing white-tailed eagle was anyway trying its wings, and is actually a local rarity in this area. I stayed for 3 more hours, and one single sparrow hawk (spurvehauk) and single buzzard (musvåk) was all that stretched their wings this day. Weather forecast quite similar for the next days, so I decided to start the 7 hours drive home. So I did.

At 10am the next morning - a message peeped in that a red kite migrated past the exact spot I was standing yesterday only 22 hours ago..........Birds can certainly pull some practical jokes on birders some times...

Total: still 148.

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