Wednesday 8 October 2014

WOW, wow, WOW, wow, wow, wow!

The last week has been busy - very busy. I have been on the road, on my way to a twitch or out birding myself. In the last blog, I wrote that I would try the next day for a Woodchat shrike (rødhodevarsler) - the birds wanted it differently.

The Bird Alarm went off with a mega - a Little bustard (dvergtrappe) in Verdal - only 1 hour drive north of Trondheim! 30 minutes later, and I was on my flight from Røst. By the way, on of my nicest flight ever, as for most of the trip I had the pleasure of a dancing Aurora borealis (nordlys) outside my window.

30 Sep
Ready at site, where the bustard was seen even after dark the evening before, at 6 o'clock - that is about half an hours before sunrise. Despite this being the first twitchable little bustard, 3rd record this year but not seen in 106 years before 2014, there were only a few birders ready. I was one of them of course. Despite my optimistic atitude and early start, the bird had gone. It took us an hour or so, before realising the truth that the bird was not there hiding in the field anyway. We started to search elsewhere. The problem in this area, is that there are so many corn fields, that you could spend a whole year before covering them all. Searching nearby, and slowly expanding my search, at some point I found my self close to where a Hoopoe (hærfugl) had been seen the last days. I visited the garden, and the neighbourhood the bird had favoured. But despite being updated this morning, I didn't find this one either. I quickly went back to search for the bustard. A few more hours later, nothing. Back to the hoopoe site - nothing. This pattern repeated itself during the day, until a friend of mine texted me - Pictures of Little bustard in flight published on the local alarm system now! Slightly panicking, I managed to get one of the others to call the observer (I didn't have the phone number, and my mind was not capable to search it up in the phone book). 15 minutes later, I found myself running along a gravel path. As the breath got heavier, and my thoughts of never eating crisps again started to appear - my running went into fast walking before finally arriving at the scene. Not exactly where I would expect to find a bustard - on a gravel/constuction site with hardly any vegetation - but the observer's pictures proved it all.

However, he hadn't seen the bird actually land, and he hadn't seen it since he saw it the first time. Wisely, he didn't want to pursue it and risk to scare it away before more birders arrived. It took some careful scanning with the spotting scope, before I finally found it perching with back towards me! Great relief and a great bird. Because so many birders was interested, despite the rather long distance to the bird, we didn't go any closer. Through the scope, it was anyway easy to see most details on the bird - Lifer! As we were watching this stunning bird, a Black-redstart (svartrødstjert) apeared in front of us - a local rarity.

This pile of stones in the fjord might not exactly look like a place to search
for a Little bustard (dvergtrappe) - but someone did indeed think it was
a good idea, and he did get his reward! In this picture, there is actually
one sitting.

A very cropped and enlarged picture, but I promise the brown and white bird
slightly left of the middle is indeed a Little bustard (dvergtrappe) - the first to be
twitchable in Norway in more than a hundred years. Due to the large interest
amongst other birders in this bird, we didn't go any closer - not risking to scare
it off. It stayed until dark, but was gone the next morning and not seen again since.

I know, that all birds, it being willow warbler (løvsanger) or little bustard, are equally valuable in a Big Year context - they all count for one. But some birds, like this one, will inevitably become one of the highlights of this year bird wise. It was already afternoon, and 15 or so more birders managed to arrive before dark to twitch this bird. I quickly went by the hoopoe site in the dusk on my way home, just to find - nothing. The day had anyway been a success!

New birds: 1
Total: 291

1. Oct
The Woodchat shrike (rødhodevarsler) hadn't been updated for five days now. I anyway decided to give a try. About two hours drive later, I arrived. To be honest, I wasn't too optimistic about this one. I quickly checked the garden, but no bird. I then saw some nice shrike habitat just behind it, and as I was urgently needed to attend to some personal business, a pale bird flew past me and quickly dissappeared behind a hill. It was either the shrike or a Barred warbler (hauksanger). I quickly finished my business, and ran up the hill. Seconds later, a nice woodchat shrike flew out from the bush and perched up in a tree. Excellent!

Juvenile Woodchat-shrike (rødhodevarsler) - new to both my Norwegian and
my Big Year list!

I went around to get the light at a better angle for photography, but the bird flew off without me noticing it. I searched the area for half an hour without finding it back. I then went on to do some regular birding before going back the shrike area. As I stood on the hill looking over the area - the shrike suddenly came flying past me with a big dragonfly in its beak! It went into a thorny bush, before perching on top of it after a while. I got my Big Year documentation and left the bird alone.

The Hoopoe in Verdal was once again updated, and I was already on my way there. I was also hoping to be able to see the bustard once more, but this bird was not seen again despite many birders now out searching for it. I spent a couple of hours searching for the hoopoe, but it avoided me today as well.

New birds: 1
Total: 292

2. Oct
As winter is approaching I needed to get my winter tires onto my car, just in case I needed to go for a bird soon and cross some mountains. As I was in the store, buying tires another mega bomb went off with as loud bang as you can possibly imagine- this time a first for Norway - Red-eyed vireo (rødøyevireo)! Amarican passerines like this, is every European birder's dream to see. The only problem was that this bird was at least 12 hours driving away. I was checking flight posibillities as another mega alarm went off. Brown shrike (brunvarsler) not too far away from the vireo. The decision was made. For both these twitches, I needed the flexibillity of my own car. So I went off driving. 10 hours later trough some of the best landscapes and scenery Norway has to offer - I got the message that the shrike was not a Brown shrike, but the far more common Red-backed shrike (tornskate). I could have taken the flight anyway, and saved some time. I even would have made the vireo twitch the same day.

Arrived the ferry terminal at about 1:30 in the night, where I was to spend the night before the first ferry out to the island, Kvitsøy, tomorrow morning.

New birds: 0
Total: 292

3. Oct
First ferry out to Kvitsøy, but weather was not on my side. Together with a few (again surprisingly few) other birders, we soon found the garden the bird had been seen all yesterday. Strong wind made the condition very unfavorable. A few hours waiting, and I decided to start searching in nearby gardens. Another few hours later, the bird had still not been found, but a Bird Alarm went off again. A Red-eyed vireo had been spotted across the fjord - only about 15 kilometers to the north. Was this the same bird, or was it Norway's second record ever of this species? Even though a short distance in direct line, it ment another two ferries, and 80 kilometer driving.

Arrived the second place about two hours later. Then 3 hours of waiting, before I decided to go try from another angle. Behind the garden, there was even less wind, and it took only five minutes before I saw the head of a Red-eyed vireo in the thick bush! I quickly alarmed the other birders in the area, and we all got some fantastic views of the handsome nearctic warbler on European ground! From there, I went back for a family visit it Stavanger ready to search for a long staying Mediterranean gull (svartehavsmåke) the next morning.

Norway's second (or first) Red-eyed vireo. This bird has never been seen in
Scandinavia before the one the day before which might be the same individual as
this one.

New birds: 1
Total: 293

4. Oct 
Starting the day a bit slow, and went to the bay Grannes, just outside Stavanger. This was the last place the gull was seen a few days ago. Quickly realising that the gull was not there, I took a quick look at the ducks further out in the bay. To my surprise - a nice male Surf scoter (brilleand) was swimming together with some other ducks. This American duck was not new for my Big Year list, but was a new "birds I found myself in my Big Year". A list I kind of have on the side, just for fun. The rest of the day, was spent searching in the area for the med.gull, but no luck.

In the evening, I went to a football match, just to be see that my home team won the match and by that also won the league! Go Molde!

5. Oct
Again, started the morning searching for the gull, but no luck. An alarm went off again, half way on the way home. Bulandet is another rarity island along the coast, which its potential for good birds has fairly recently been discovered. This time a Subalpine warbler had been spotted. A rare bird indeed, and even more rare as an autumn bird! The species is recently been proposed to be split into several different species based on recent scientific work on its DNA and distribution of the different subpopulations. To get an idea of which subspecies it is, one need to see the extent and shape of white in the second outermost tail feather. Field ornithology is not exactly getting easier with these sort of splits. But anyway, the finders luckily managed to catch the bird, and to look at its tail as well as taking a feather sample allowing for future DNA analysis. This bird will therefore probably be one of the very first Subalpine warblers identified safely to a (sub)species in Norway. Why not more twitchers visit this bird, is therefore a bit strange to me. So far, it looks like this bird belongs to either of the more easterly forms, Sylvia cantillans cantillans/albistriata.

Again arriving the ferry terminal too late for last ferry out in the evening. Another night in the car - another night on a random ferry dock.

6. Oct
Arriving the place for the Subalpine warbler just as the light arrived. Staring into the bush, I suddenly heard a familiar call - Olive-backed pipit (sibirpiplerke) overhead! Not easy to tell by its call alone I took a few flight shots with my camera. Despite bad images, they show fairly heavy streaking on the bird's sides and this support my suspicion of Olive-backed pipit.

Quite heavy streaking far down the breast, as well as flight call heard confirms this
to be a Olive-backed pipit (sibirpiplerke) migrating overhead while searching for a
subalpine warbler (rødstrupesanger)

A few minutes later, a small warbler appeared in the bush - this was to be the first of three Yellow-browed warblers (gulbrynsanger) this morning. Seconds later, something chased the yellow-browed away, and the subalpine warbler could safely be ticked! Within half an hour birding on the island, three high quality species had been spotted. The pipit was new to "birds found myself in my Big Year".

Yellow-browed warbler (gulbrynsanger)

Not so easy to see, and it was indeed fairly skulky and not very cooporative for
photography - but this is indeed a Subalpine warbler (rødstrupesanger) of the eastern
form S.cantillans cantillans/albistriata

I left the island for a 8 hours drive north at noon.

New birds: 1
Total: 294

7 Oct
Finally, at my local spot. The famous island Ona. Even though twitching great species the last days. It has been real rarity weather home, and I have all the time wanted to do some proper birding to search for rarities myself instead of chasing around for birds others have found.

As the sun barely made it over the mountains to the east, a small pale, sandy coloured bird lifted in front of me. I quickly got the suspicion of it being a short-toed lark (dverglerke). A species I missed twice this year already. I followed the bird and flushed it once more before it rested on gravel road. I managed to take a few images, and by that, also verify my suspicion. It was indeed a Greater short-toed lark (dverglerke). Big Year bird # 295.

Greater short-toed lark (dverglerke). Finally! I missed two of these this year
already, so it was a big relief finding this one myself. As far as I know, only
the fourth record this year in Norway of this species.

As I stood there watching the lark, a Little bunting (dvergspurv) flew overhead and landed in the spruce trees not far away. I went over to try to get a better look at this local rarity - flushing a Water rail (vannrikse) on my way. I only got flight views of the bunting. The gardens looked very quiet with two Black caps (munk) and a Yellow-browed warbler being the only warblers around. I decided to leave the island early to go birding on the neighbouring island Sandøya.

Gardens at Sandøya seemed even more quiet - but another Yellow-browed warbler was found mixed in with the Goldcrests (fuglekonge). A Pomarine skua (polarjo) was harassing the local kittiwakes (krykkje), and a sparrow hawk (spurvehauk) kept the crows (kråke) busy. Further out in the bay, I flushed a Jack snipe (kvartbekkasin), and on a nearby field, a Black-backed wagtail (svartryggerle) was hunting for the last insects swarming before winter sets in.

I started to get short of time before the ferry back to mainland. I went passed a garden and a single starling (stær) flew up from the ground into a nearby spruce. I walked ten more meters, before it came to mind that this was a bit strange behaviour for a starling. I walked back. And a few minutes later, I had another sought after Big Year bird on my list - Rose-coloured starling (rosenstær)!

Not very pink as a juvenile, but this is a Rose-coloured starling (rosenstær). 

New: 2
Total: 296

October is not half way yet, and weather still looks promising the next week. Hopefully, more rare birds will be seen over the next days, and if I do - I will of course write about it here.


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