Tuesday 23 September 2014

Røst 2, on a rarity island with no rarities...

As mentioned in the previous post, I am on one of the biggest rarity magnets in Norway. Autumn birding, or island birding like I am doing at the moment is all about patience and not losing faith. To keep working, to keep walking, to keep birding, to keep being alert and think that every bird is a potential rarity. Every bird should be carefully identified, and double checked. Island birding like this, is either like being in paradise or hell. When everything comes together, when the weather is just perfect - you might experience what is called a fall. Birds practically raining (or falling) down from the sky, and every garden is alive with birds. Days like this normally also produce a lot of rarities and it all happens at the same time. It is getting very busy indeed. The only problem is that days like that are far apart, sometimes weeks apart - sometimes they never happen....It is all about not loosing hope. To keep being optimistic. To keep checking weather forecasts and pretend you understand when it is going to happen. To keep seeing the positive trends in the empty days. To keep blocking what bird alarms of rarities other people find - even on an island near yours when you are seeing nothing. Sometime it is indeed very hard to keep the motivation on top - but so far I am managing pretty well I think.

I have now been on this island for 7 days. So far, only two new Big Year ticks has been added. Even though there have been a lot of birds in the gardens - no rare ones have been spotted yet. Not a single one! I am definitely working a lot for the goodies this time. Even though Røst is not a very big island - it is certainly big enough. According to my Step counter on my mobile - I am doing an average of 25 000 steps a day - which means about 21 kilometers walking in bogs and on roads and through gardens and on stones every day. Only one of these days has been enough to beat my total for the whole of June and July combined (working on a ship all summer is not ideal for the adding steps walked in your life)!

19 September
Almost no wind, but a gentle stroke from east, north east. Clear in the morning, cloudy and rainy from about 13:00. Again a very probable Olive-backed pipit (sibirpiplerke), came in calling its rather characteristic flight call with a much more rolling "R" than most tree pipits (trepiplerke) and landed on a power line. A bit too far to see details, but I did pick up a rather contrasty belly and upper breast. A trait a tree pipite would never show in my mind. Before I managed to get closer to see the details of the head pattern, a big truck came on the road and scared the bird off. It flew into the marsh land and disappeared forever. Another 99% bird. Something that should be a theme of the day as both a likely Turtle dove (turteldue) was flushed out from a bush by a passing car, and disappeared behind a house before I could get a positive id. Also, I flushed a very likely Great snipe (dobbeltbekkasin), from a garden. No call, and no zigzagging flight, but unfortunately is also disappeared behind a house a was never found again despite some searhcing in the area. The only trait that was not seen properly was its white outer tail feathers. But as this would be a first for the island, it was just seen a little bit too poorly for a safe identification. The garden birding was rather slow, but a the Yellow-browed warbler (gulbrynsanger) was still at site, as was a wood warbler (bøkssanger). 10 Garden warblers (hagesanger), 2 Dunnocks (jernspurv) and about 20 Ring ouzels (ringtrost) were logged as well.

In the afternoon, me and some other birders went out at sea. I still need Leach's storm petrel (stormsvale) on my list, and there is no better place than Røst to try for it. On the way out to sea, we stopped by the very small island Skomvær, only to see that no rare birds had chosen to rest on this island either. After searching the island for an hour or so, we went further out at sea and started chumming. 14 minutes later, the first British storm-petrel was seen around our boat. A juvenile Pomarine skua (polarjo) was harassing the few kittiwakes (krykkje) attracted by our chum. Also, a total of about 7 Sooty shearwaters (grålire) came by our boat to see what smelled so delicious. In total we logged about 10 storm petrels as well, but unfortunately no leach's.

Sooty shearwater (grålire) passing close to our boat. 

20 September
Wind turned to Soutwesterly 3-4 m/s. Raining more or less all day. Yesterday evening, a new team of five very experienced birders from Southern Norway arrived the island. More birders out should in theory mean increased chances of finding something jucy. Good numbers of birds in the gardens, but still no rarities found. 20 Garden warblers (hagesanger), 10 Black caps (munk), two Lesser white-throats (møller, first for the season), Redstart (rødstjert), at least 4 Yellow-browed warblers (gulbrynsanger) and Black-tailed godwit (svarthalespove). Also, the first Song thrush (måltrost) was the first one during my stay. The Wood warbler (bøksanger) was still around.

21 September
Strong wind with 15m/s from the North ment nearly impossible to bird the gardens. I went out in the open, and walked the fields in hope of finding some birds that not normally need to perch in a bush. My hope was Richard's pipit (tartarpiplerke) or maybe even a Short-toed lark (dverglerke), but no luck on the hunt. I saw a sooty shearwater (grålire) passing close to the shore and I also found an old carcass of a Sperm whale (spermhval) that had drifted ashore. Unfortunately, someone had already removed all the teeth. They are very valuable and can be sold for lots of money on the illegal market. Last half of the day, I actually spent catching up on some office work and waited for the wind to drop.

22 September
Still northeasterly. Partly cloudy with some rain showers in the morning. Sky clearing by midday. Temperature has dropped considerably, and in the distant mountains of Lofoten there were already snow capped peaks. Fortunately, the wind had dropped to only 3-4 m/s - meaning good conditions for garden birding. Almost all the Sylvia sp warblers seemed to have left the island. A couple of new arrivals in the form of two Yellow-browed warblers (gulbrynsanger), 6 Northern wheatears (steinskvett), Jack snipe (kvartbekkasin) and in the late evening a Turtle dove (turteldue) flew past me as I was watching a chiffchaff (gransanger) catching insects.

Hopefully, the turtle dove is a messenger pigeon that means something good is about to happen. However, the highlight of the day for me was a very cooperative Spotted redshank (sotsnipe). I spent almost an hour photographing it as this is a species that I actually don't have in my archive from before. A great encounter indeed! I also finally managed to document one of the many Yellow-broweds the last week. The foliage on the bushes is still very dense, and despite trying for several - I have until now only failed in my attempt to photograph one for my Big Year archive.

If you have seen any my photography work earlier - you will probably
already know that I love silhouettes. Spotted redshank (sotsnipe) surrounded by
beautiful ripple pattern in the water.

More silhouettes....
This is how it looks like when not backlit.

and some rain - something I have got used to during these last days.

Spotted redshank is normally a very shy bird, but this one was happy to be
photographed and kept coming closer and closer.

Spotted redshank might look a bit similar to redshank (rødstilk), one of the
very few other red-legged birds in Norway. The strong loral stripe is a
good identification mark of Spotted redshank - as well as the spotted
appearance on the back. 

Not sharp, not very good, but finally I at least managed to document a
Yellow-browed warbler (gulbrynsanger) for my Big Year.

For the next three days, the forecast says light east-southeasterly winds. In theory, this should mean good  birding and very high probabilities of something rare turning up. I am still optimistic, I still have hope that the next bird will be a rare one. I am still patient.


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