Monday 15 September 2014

Big Year birding again

Big Year project is again up and running after a few weeks at sea. As I am not earning any money by doing the Big Year, I need unfortunately to work a little bit now and then to be able to still have a place to live and food to eat in 2015. I love my work, but in a Big Year context, it is also frustrating to be watching polar bears when I know I miss out on good birds at the mainland (I know this sounds spoiled – but you know what I mean). However, now it is time to take back all the lost species. The remaining of September and all of October are devoted to purely birding. A period that traditionally will produce lots of exciting birding, and by end of October I will probably know if my record attempt is successful or not.

News since last time is that I have had time to surf the internet, and actually found that there have been a lot of Ruddy shelducks (rustand) around in Western Europe in May. Both single birds and flocks in both Finland and Sweden, as well as other countries, seems to prove that there really was a real influx of wild birds of this species this year. Because of Ruddy shelducks being so popular in bird collections, single birds turning up here and there are usually considered to be escapes. I have therefore not included this one on my list so far. However, due to the big influx earlier in spring about the same time as the bird I saw at Kvassheim 25 May (during a dip on Woodchat shrike (rødhodevarsler)), it is likely that this bird was part of this influx and a true migrant - and therefore a wild bird. For this reason, I have now included this one onto my list.

A juvenile White-blled diver (gulnebblom) passing our ship in Svalbard. A rare
 bird in Svalbard and even though not new for my list - nice to get a pic of it like this.

11 September
Touching mainland after 4 weeks at sea didn’t mean any time to rest. Landed at 19:30, and already at 5 am the following morning a friend and I were on the road. A Cattle egret (kuhegre) up in the highlands towards the Swedish border had been there for a week, but only known to birders since two days ago. This is only about the 6th record for Norway, so even though I have seen hundreds of thousands abroad – cattle egret is a very good bird for my Big Year list. Arrived at scene at about 6 am, a bit before sunrise and just as the cattle were released out onto the pastures after being milked. We quickly learned that insects and cattle egret on the other hand, don’t wake up before several hours after. As the first insects started to buzz around, the egret also arrived the scene from its night roost at about 08:30. Big Year bird number 281 safely ticked!

In the evening I went to a good place for waders trying to find Curlew sandpiper (tundrasnipe). A very common bird in autumn migration in Norway, but because I have been out at sea, I still needed it for my list this year. Just as I was interviewed on the radio and talking about how I had missed several good species the last week due to work at sea, a nice flock of 7 Curlew sandpipers flew by me and landed in the bay in front of me. Plan A worked smoothly, and it was nice to tick a bird live on radio!

Taking pictures of the sunrise and the local cattle while waiting for the
Cattle egret to wake up. 

The star attraction for the day - the cattle egret awake and in ready for feeding.

This Cattle egret truly lived up to its name as it was always walking around
the cattle feeding on a fly or two that rested on the cattle itself. In early morning, it
favoured the black cows as I guess the sun heated their fur more and therefore had
 more flies on their back.

New birds: 2
Total: 282

12 September
Next day was spent doing some long needed office work. In the evening, I did a short hike in the forest trying to see a bird I am very surprised I have not yet seen this year. Nutcracker (nøttekråke) is a very common bird many of the places I have been birding this year but it was still missing on my list. It was time to change that, and before long, a couple of birds started to call nearby. After this had been ticked off, I have only two birds left that I feel 100% certain that I will see before the end of the year. Common crossbill (grankorsnebb), arguably an even more common bird than the nutcracker, is still missing on my list. The problem is that you need to see them very well to be able to distinguish them from the similar Parrot crossbill (furukorsnebb), which I ticked already in January. I have had several crossbills flying overhead during this year, but none of them safely identified to common (even though probably many of them were). The other one is a regular autumn migrant from Siberia, and I hope to find it already this week – namely the Yellow-browed warbler.

In the evening, I got a message from my friend that he had seen back a Short-toed lark (dverglerke) from last week, and he had also seen a harrier that was seen too briefly to identify it. It has been a few Pallid harriers (steppehauk) around in Norway lately, so with that in mind, and since Smøla is only a few hours away – the decision was easy.

New birds: 1
Total: 283

13 September
Arrived Smøla and the place for the Short-toed lark early morning. Searched all the fields. No lark. A Gyr falcon (jaktfalk) almost hit my head as he was hunting pigeons, and it should soon turn out that he was not the only pigeon hunter out this morning. After a couple of hours searching for the lark, two guys came yelling at me and shouting that I should get the H….off the field. They had payed money to rent the field from the farmer so that they could hunt crows (kråke) and pigeons. I went straight over and explained the situation, and to be honest, I am quite proud of myself for not shout back at them and ask them to piss off as I had all my legal rights on my side and just as much right to walk on the field as they had. In Norway, grain fields that are cut are "free country", and everyone can walk freely on them. Well, I managed to behave (after all, they did have guns…), and we actually agreed on me and some other birders leaving the field so they could hunt for a few hours and then I could come back to search more for the lark later. I anyway needed to search for the harrier, just in case it really was a pallid.

As I was staring into my phone, checking flights to southern Norway due to reports of pallid harrier (steppehauk), rose-coloured starling (rosenstær) and a booted warbler (tartarsanger) that were all tempting. Something made me look up, and the harrier was outside my window hunting in the distance! A small falcon was chasing it, and as I quickly found the shape of the falcon to be a bit funny – something in between Kestrel (tårnfalk) and Merlin (dvergfalk) I didn’t really know which one to follow of the two. The harrier disappeared behind some trees, but the falcon luckily landed in top of a small bush. Difficult light ment only silhouette views, but I got a feeling of a dark facial mask. It flew off again, and as it passed the tree I could see the dense barring in the upper tail. A short flight and it landed again in the bush. I was now confident that I was indeed looking at a Red-footed falcon! The falcon kept at almost 1500 meters distance. I alerted my friend, a local birder that had seen probably the same bird a week ago on the other side of the island. Leaving his pregnant wife and abandoning plans of shopping - It didn’t take long before he entered the scene. In the meantime, the falcon had flown off.  As we were standing, discussing what to do next, the two raptors reappeared, and we both got decent views. My friend managed to take some pictures of both the falcon and the harrier. The harrier turned out to be a juvenile female Hen harrier (myrhauk), and now in better light, it was possible to see all the identification clues on the falcon as well. A very good bird to add on the list! And even though it was probably the same bird that had been seen a week ago, it was a big surprise finding it back.

I had a few hours more of daylight. I decided to head back to the lark field. Now, we were four birders searching together. We flushed a Quail (vaktel), but still no lark. Even though I have heard many singing, this is actually the first time I get a visual of a quail in Norway. As we were searching for the lark, a big surprise in the form of a Turtle dove came flying by and landed in the field. Just after this, another one flew by. Again – a great bird to add to my Big Year list, and lets hope the pigeon hunters don’t mistake it for the wood pigeons (ringdue)…

Juvenile Turtle dove (turteldue) in flight hoping not to get shot by the hunters.

New birds: 2
Total: 285

Now, I am again off to the famous birding island Røst in Northern Norway. A place which has proven good for rare migrants to turn up in autumn. I will spend two weeks at this place, and hopefully add some new birds to my list. It is nothing more exciting than walking around - checking every bird you see in the hope of it being a rare one. Garden birding like this is the highlight during a birding year, and I really look forward to the weeks ahead. It is birding time!


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