Saturday 1 November 2014

Is this the end?

The last week has been busy with office work, that needed to be done before my next work assignment. But before that, I managed to see a couple of birds that always have been very high on my wish list as I still lingered around in the south of the country. First out was the message of a Radde's warbler (viersanger) at the famous rarity island of Utsira. The day after its discovery was forecasted very strong winds and lots of rain. I skipped the plan of going there, and as I suspected - the bird was not seen the next day. To my surprise, two day after this, a message suddenly came out that the bird had been seen all day at the same spot. So off I went! Once the 1 hour ferry trip was done, with a pomarine skua (polarjo) following the boat for a few minutes, I went straight to the reeds where the warbler had been seen. Before long, a group of us relocated the bird, but to be able to see this skulky warbler properly in the dense vegetation was a bit more challenging. One time it was pushed out on the edge of the field, and I managed to see it properly for a few seconds. Moments later, it flew into the mistnet the local birders had put up in the area to try to catch it. It was time to take a closer look at this Siberian rarity. This was only the 16th time this species have visited Norway, and it was also a new bird for my Norwegian list.

The skulky Radde's warbler (viersanger) ringed, and at the same time studied
close up by the ten or so birders that visited the island this day.

At the same time, a Bird Alarm about a Firecrest (rødtoppfuglekonge) came in. I decided to go for the Radde's first, and then hope that the firecrest would still be around the next day. This is a southern species, that never have been seen in my home area. This is why it was a bit important for me to try to see this. It would be another new bird on my Norwegian list as well. The only problem is that a Firecrest is a very small bird, and the forest it had been seen is rather big. I started my search in the area it had been seen the previous day and worked my way along the edge. Several small groups of Blue tit (blåmeis) and Goldcrest (fuglekonge) heard along the way. I spent quite some time with these, trying to see each single bird as the firecrest was seen in a this mixed bird party the first day. But no luck. I had almost given up, when one single goldcrest like bird came flying and landed in the small trees next to me. Strong green back, and when it turned its head a second later it was no doubt in the world! Firecrest safely ticked!

In the dark undergrowth of the forest, a single small but stunning bird trying
to hide from my Big Year list. But almost three hours seaching, ment finally that
I got a few glimpses of the charismatic Firecrest (rødtoppfuglekonge).  

As I am on my way to Antarctica to do some guiding, the Firecrest might very well be the last new bird for my Big Year list. The record seems to be difficult to take this year as I am not back before end of December - when most rarities have left Norway. If I only had two more weeks, I would acutally have had good chances to make it as three late eastern rarities have been spotted the last couple of days and there are still some birds to arrive which normally are typical November birds. Well, we will see where it all ends, but I am afraid that to reach 310, which is needed to set the record, will be difficult. Maybe bad planning, but who doesn't need to a little bit of money to survive the winter?

But hey, spending a few weeks around albatrosses and penguins in Antarctica is not the worst substitute to have.

New birds: 2
Total: 302

Friday 24 October 2014

Bird number 300!

Yesterday was an important benchmark day for my Big Year project, as I finally managed to catch up with Richard's pipit (tartarpiplerke). This bird has been a target species for the last few weeks of mine, and I have walked  several tens of kilometers in what I think is the right habitat for it. I've done it in rain, in sunshine and gale force winds as well as mornings and evenings. This Siberian species is normally easy to see during the autumn in Norway, but this year, as for most eastern vagrant, it has proved very challening to get a glimpse of it. Not a bird have I seen. Anyway, I got tip of a bird in Kviljo, so I went there to check it out. Just as I left my car, a Richard's pipit lifted from the field nearby. It flew a few circles over my head and then disappeared behind some of Norway's very few sanddunes. Number 300 safely ticked!

Shy as they are, Richard's pipit (tartarpiplerke) is always difficult to get a decent pic of.
But you take what you get, when it is number 300!

As far as I know, I am only the fourth person in Norway to manage to see 300 bird species during one single year in Norway. It is still ten birds to the record, so that will be hard to manage as new birds are getting far between in this time of year - especially since I am going away for work for the whole of November....

Yellowhammer (gulspurv). Not new for my Big Year list, but
since it posed so nicely in the rain, it just asked for being taken
picture of. 

Walking along the beach I found a shore lark (fjellerke), and on some other fields behind the beach, I flushed another Richard's pipit! My very own Richard's, and you know how it is. The birds you find yourself are the ones that taste best. Later that day, I found another two Richards's pipits. What can I say other than that I don't understand the world and the tricks it is playing on me sometimes. 

Earlier this week, I caught up with another bird that I had actually given up on this year. Bewick's swan (dvergsvane) is a typically winter bird in Norway, but last winter was only 3 observations of it. I tried for two of them but missed. This time luck was on my side, as I stopped by a field with lots of pink footed geese (kortnebbgås) on it. I had got a bird alarm about bewick's swan yesterday, so it was not totally by coincidence that I found myself just at this place now - Orrevann at Jæren in south western Norway. As I stood scanning the geese for anything rare, the two swans, an adult and a juvenile came flying in. They landed on the field, and sat for five minutes before lifting off again and as they did, they passed me quite close before they continued towards the south. Finally some luck....Though, only one adult with one young means that one of the parents had died somewhere along the migration probably. For geese and swans, the young stay in family groups their first year of living, and this time is important for them to learn important skills for surviving later on. I do hope the young will make it, even with only one parent.

Bewick's swan (dvergsvane). A bonus species as I had given up on them
this year when I missed the species twice with only a couple of hours earlier
this year. This is only the fourth time the species visit Norway this year.

New birds: 2
Total: 300


Monday 20 October 2014

Reality sneaks up on me...

East and south easterly winds in October normally means good birding, and lots of Siberian migrants. NOT this year! The low pressure over northwest Russia has been quite steady still, and I blame this for the worst rarity autumn in Norway for decades! Not the best combination when trying to set a new record in number of birds seen in one year.

Well, it is not because of lack of effort at least. Since I arrived back from sea 10 September, I have been out every single day except two (one funeral, and one sick day). Easterly winds has kept the spirit up, but to be honest, rarely have I seen so few birds in the gardens and out in the field this time of year before. First I spent a few days chasing a Hoopoe, that despite being seen briefly many of the days I was there, I still needed this one on my list. This bird apparently has a secret favorite spot that we still don't know about. Or maybe it hasn't and that this is the big problem with this bird. This bird in Verdal has been seen all over town, on locations so far from each other that several have started to speculate if it really only is one bird or if there are at least two birds involved. Anyway, investing more or less 5 full days on this bird - I had given up and went birding on a nearby location - Rinnleiret. As I walked back to my car, I get to see a bird flying in the far distant quite high up. I lifted my binoculars and to my big surprise - a hoopoe! It was flying in the direction of where it normally is seen, but this is at least 3 kilometers away! One thing I have learned this Big Year, is to never give up! It is now on my Big Year list and this was species number 297. I also tried for two other Hoopoes that have been around before this, but without any luck.

A Hoopoe (hærfugl) flying high and in way too far distance to be enjoyed
properly after 5 days searching...

Apart from that, all I have managed to find in the gardens was a fox. It had nowhere to run but up a mountain, so this became the first time ever I have seen red fox (rødrev) climb a vertical cliff.

Fox climbing the mountain, after being woken up by an eager birder in the garden.

Because the birding was so slow in my home area, I decided to go south and try my luck at one of my favorite localities - Lista. I spent all of May here with reasonable good results. Lista is so far south, that birding can be good here even at least for a month longer than where I normally live. So off I went, and 921 kilometers later, I was again at Lista Bird Observatory! Here I found a very late Common sandpiper (strandsnipe), that of course carefully was checked for spotted (flekksnipe). I also found back a White-backed woodpecker (hvitryggspett) that was ringed at the observatory a few days ago. At least I think it is a White-backed. It has rather large white spots on the shoulders, but everything else - including its call - seems to fit with a white-backed. Since hybrids are so rare, I stick with my theory until otherwise proven.

White-backed woodpecker (hvitryggspett) or hybrid white-backed x Great spotted (flagg)?

A Stonechat (svartstrupe) was reported from Kjerkevågen in Lindesnes the second day of my stay here. Not a rare bird in Norway, but anyway one of those that has escaped me so far. I went there, and before long I had ticked bird # 298 on my Big Year list!.

Stonechat (svartstrupe). I was starting to get a bit nervous about this species
lacking on my list for so long to be honest. Late autumn is generally a good time
to see it in the south of Norway, and my theory was proven right ;)

Even though I am now close to 300, and only 12 birds from the record, I starting to realise that this is not going to be a record year. I still have ten days of October birding but 1st November I need to go for a work assignement in South Georgia and then Antarctica. This means no Big Year birding all of November.
Is it still possible to take the record, with ten more days in October and ten days in December to do it? It will be very hard, and I need to be extremely lucky these last days. But who knows, I still miss a few common ones like Common crossbill (grankorsnebb), Two-barred crossbill (båndkorsnebb) and Richard's pipit (tartarpiplerke) so who knows...

It aint over before the fat lady sings....

New birds: 2
Total: 298


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.


Monday 29 September 2014

Røst 3 - no birds for days, but then...

It is just an hour until my flight leaves, and my stay here at Røst has come to an end. Before I came, I had a vague hope of getting about 15 Big Year birds - I got 4....It is safe to say that bird wise, it has been a little bit of a dissappointment. Despite several birders out in the field every day, trawling gardens and tall grass fields, very few rare birds were found this year. But this is how "island birding" is. It is all up to the weather, and during my 14 days stay, we have had predominantly northerly winds. The polar front has been a little bit further south than normal and probably pushing the eastern vagrants a little bit south of Røst this time. Also, a big low pressure system has been quite steady over northern Finland and north west Russia further pushing birds in a more southerly route than Røst.

So, despite a lot of common migrants in the gardens, no real "sibes" were seen. The very last days, we got a strong low pressure system with 55 knots wind coming in quickly from the West. Such weather give hope of American vagrants, and as soon as the wind dropped and made birding possible, my friend Håvard discovered a Buff-breasted sandpiper (Rustsnipe) - an American wader. This was good news, as this was a lifer for me, and one of the birds I was hoping to see during my stay. Røst has proved to be a good place to see this species in the past.

However, of course things shouldn't be that easy. As my friend was on the phone to alarm me about the bird, the bird lifted and dissappeared far. In short, after walking about 25 kilometers searching, I had still not seen the bird, and had more or less given up on it. While searching, another friend alarmed me about another very good bird - this time an Eastern vagrant - Olive-backed pipit (sibirpiplerke). My friend and I decided to try for this instead and rather go back to search more for the sandpiper later. As we were leaving the area, a small flock of shore birds flew over head. 7 Golden plovers (heilo), 2 Grey plovers (tundralo) and two smaller waders. One was quickly identified to Sanderling (sandløper) but the other - wasn't that? YES, indeed - Buff-breasted sandpiper (rustsnipe) was flying back and forth overhead not really wanted to land. After doing this for a while, the sandpiper finally looked like landing in the area it first was discovered.

Buff-breasted sandpiper in flight before landing, showing the diagnostic
wing pattern of dark "comma" in primaries. The bigger bird being a
golden plover (heilo)

On the ground, showing rusty coloured neck and head. Very long, pale legs.
Lifer, and a long wanted bird on my Norwegian list as well! X

A lifer was safely ticked, and Big Year bird number 289. This bird alone, more or less saved my stay here at Røst for the whole 14 days. 

After this great experience, I went to the north side of the island, where my friends had already relocated the olive-backed pipit and unusual for this cryptic species - it flew up and perched on a fence - letting me see all the id features easily. Great! 

Not very easy to see details on this picture unless you enlarge the image, or
dobbel click on it. Olive-backed pipit (sibirpiplerke) - I promise!

With the pipit also being a Big Year bird, my total is now up in 290. I admit I feel like I am a little bit behind schedule at the moment, and getting to my goal of 320 species seems difficult. I havent given up yet, and at least the record of 311 should still be possible. The next weeks, I need to step it up a bit and just go for every new bird that is turning up in this country. 

I will start tomorrow - with trying for a Woodchat shrike (rødhodevarsler) which is not updated since the storm 3 days ago, and then continue to try for Hoopoe which are seen a couple of places the last days. 

Wish me luck!

New birds: 2
Total: 290


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.


Thursday 18 September 2014

Røst 1

Røst - arrived and already on my third day on this rarity magnet of an island. Through the years, no island in Norway has built such an impressive species list in such a short time. Especially during autumn migration and for eastern vagrants, this island has earned its reputation. And here I am - for the next 11 days.

Røst has not only a lot of gardens, but also a lot of installations for air drying
fish. Røst is very much still a community based on fishery, and especially the
 winter cod fishery. The fish is air dried, and then sold mostly to Italy.
Underneath these installations is a rich vegetation ideal for pipits and other ground
living birds. 

16 Sept,
Arrived late yesterday evening, way after closing time for food store. This ment, early morning in the garden without anything to drink (drinking water here are unsafe to drink unless boiled due to too many sheep and  birds using the same water) or eat. And when you are out in the field, you quickly get absorbed into the birding mode. The hunt for the next rarity - or any rarity. Each garden is like a treassure coffin that just waiting to be unfolded. You never know what you find or when you find it. This also means that you forget to eat, and it would not be until about 19 in the evening that I realised I had forgotten to eat anything.

What I did find on this sunny day was a bright sun that always seemed to be in my eyes. I also found that the gardens were extremely difficult to bird, as there are still a lot of leaves on the bushes and the gardens here at Røst are big and not easy to get a good overview. They also seemed very empty - hardly a bird to be seen anywhere.

After a few hours of birding, I did however get my first expected Big Year list addition as a Barred warbler (hauksanger) flew out from a garden and into a bush further up the road. I never found it back despite searching. Some twenty gardens later I found my second semi rarity for the day, a Wood warbler (bøksanger) was actively feeding in a tree until it got scared away by one of the surprisingly many cars on this rather small island.

New birds: 1
Total: 186

17 Sept
Low clouds  and kind of misty. At midday even some drizzle before everything cleared by about 15:00. The rare treat of no wind. Birded the gardens, and what a change from yesterday! Gardens were filling up with birds as I was working my way from one garden to the next. This was a fall. Before long, a well known call was heard and a pipit flew over head. Unfortunately the almost certain Olive-backed pipit (sibirpiplerke) never landed and disappeared out of sight. It never made it to the list. A call and bird I have extensive experience with both from Norway and abroad, and even though the call is similar to tree-pipit, the calls are rather different. A bit later I did see a tree pipit in a garden on the other side of the island. Very different call indeed, but due to the rarity magnitude of olive-backed, I don't want to include it on to my Big Year list without a proper visual.

It was soon clear that this day was very different from yesterday, as every garden had birds in it. My very expected next Big Year bird soon appeared. The always beautiful Yellow-browed warbler (gulbrynsanger), was seen here and there. In total at least 5 indivuduals werer logged during the day. Despite a lot of birds on the island, nothing very rare was found.

I have already mentioned the dense vegetation in the gardens. This does not only make it hard to spot the birds, but also to photograph them. Despite trying to document both the barred warbler, and some of the yellow-broweds, I never managed to get a clean shot of any of them. Documenting birds on this island is very hard indeed at the moment, and I am looking with some horror until a bird we really need to document turns up - like a skulky Acrocephalus or maybe Norway's first Siberian blue robin.....

One of the many sheep on the island - for the moment not hiding in a bush,
but still helping to conteminate the drinking water on the island. 

New birds: 1
Total: 187

18 Sept
Cloudy, but more wind today from the north east ment more difficult to spot the birds in the moving bushes. It seemed like a lot of birds had left the island as well as only one Yellow-browed warbler was seen. Several small flocks of Ring ouzels (ringtrost) arrived and dropped in. Total of about 15 were logged. A few Garden warblers (hagesanger) and about 15 Chiffchaffs (gransanger). A female Sparrow hawk (spurvehauk) was new on the island since yesterday, and flock of about 120 Brent geese (ringgås) migrated pass as well as two White-billed divers (gulnebblom).

Tomorow, the weather forecast is easterly and south easterly. Cloudy in the morning and then it will start to rain. Almost no wind. This should be text book weather for a big fall out, so I can't wait for next morning's birding. Hopefully something good will come, and I can add a few to my Big Year list.

New birds: 0
Total: 187


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!


Wednesday 3 September 2014

On the seven seas - or just the Barent's sea

I am still out at sea, doing a bird survey. That means birding every day,  but not in a way that necessarily increases my Big Year list very much. However, when you are out there, there is always hope. One seabird I did hope to see during this scientific cruise was the Sooty shearwater (grålire). This year however, has been really poor for them in the waters I am at the moment. Normally on cruises like this, I see a couple of hundreds of them around. But this year, I have only seen two. Luckily, one of them was just when we were almost touching the coast with our ship, and thus within territorial waters so it could be ticked on my Big Year list. Just below the famous North Cape cliff, one was passing our ship and joining a group of fulmars (havhest). This day was a pretty good birding day actually with long tailed skuas (fjelljo), great skuas (storjo), an unidentified phalarope (ubestemt svømmesnipe) feeding at sea as well as no less than 9 Manx shearwaters (havlire) – the highest number I have ever recorded in one day in Norway actually.

Sooty shearwater (grålire) just passing our ship once - but that is all that is
 needed to be included on my Big Year list.

When we are doing bird surveys like this, especially in the autumn, sometimes land birds also land on our ship. Some are regular migrants going about with their normal migration such as snow buntings (snøspurv), redpolls (gråsisik) or wheatears (steinskvett), but now and then something slightly more spectacular happens. Through the years, I had the fortune to be visited by Red-breasted flycatcher (dvergfluesnapper), Citrine wagtail (twice – sitronerle), Rough-legged buzzard (fjellvåk), Wood warbler (bøksanger), grasshopper warbler (gresshoppesanger) and turtle dove (turteldue) just to mention a few. The fun and exciting things about seeing a passerine far out at sea onboard the ship, is the same as on a remote island – you never know what it is before you get a proper look. I am still waiting for the snowy owl (snøugle)....

The other day was such a day. When waking up in the morning, I heard rumours from the crew that there was a sparrow onboard. The crew is competent in many things, but identifying small brown birds is not one of them, so it was with some excitement I started to search all the corners of the ship. Our ship isn’t very big, but I have often been surprised how well the birds manage to hide themselves here. I didn’t find any bird until many hours later, when I again was sitting on the bridge counting seabirds. Suddenly a medium sized bird dropped down from the roof of the bridge and dissapeared towards the stern of the ship. I hurried out, and down on the trawl deck and finally caught up with the bird – to my surprise it was a nice juvenile Red-backed shrike (tornskate). The position of the ship, you can see from the map – it is pretty much in the middle of the ocean. According to Google maps, 272 kilometers north of nearest mainland – the northernmost coast of Norway.

The yellow pin is the position of our ship at the sightign - 272 kilometers north
of Norway! The Red-backed shrike (tornskate)  is supposed to migrate in the
opposite direction of the North Pole - to Southern Africa.

The shrike was not new for my Big Year list, but it was exciting to see. That said – seeing these birds so way off course and so far out from any land is always a mixed pleasure as I know that the birds will die in a day or two. Small birds have a pretty fast metabolism, and they need more or less constant access to food. On our ship – far north in the Barent’s sea there is not much insects to be found. The bird lingered on the ship for the whole day, but wasn’t seen again. I did write a small piece on it for the cruise diary of Institute of Marine Research (IMR), and the NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting) picked up the story and also made a small article about it as well as a radio interview. So in a way – the bird has now got eternal life ….

Red-backed shrike - tornskate onboard our research vessel FF Johan Hjort.

Despite a very warm and sunny autumn in Norway, the fall migration is on full swing back home. Soon I am off this ship, and will resume my Big Year exercise – Can’t wait!

New birds: 1

Total: 280