Tuesday 28 January 2014


Today, My Big Year project ticked species number one hundred for the year! And what a bird it was. I am currently in the far north eastern part of Norway, in a small fishing village called Båtsfjord located on the Varanger penninsula. This is actually as far east as Istanbul, Turkey! Yesterday was a travel day, and I spent 18 hours to get here. Compare this to a trip I made in November last year to the Antarctica, where I spent 22 hours to get to Ushuaia on the very souther tip of Argentina and you get some idea of the challenges and effort it takes to do a Big Year in Norway.

This is my third winter in a row I visit Båtsfjord. The last times has been to do photography of the stunning arctic sea ducks, namely the King eider (praktærfugl) and the Steller's eider (stellerand). This time however, I am here to search for a Snowy owl (snøugle) that was seen here last Friday. I consider this to be one of the most difficult birds to get (at least of the breeding ones in Norway), so when I got to hear about it I had booked my tickets already 15 minutes later.

However, the northeastern Norway is very weather beaten and today was no exeption. It was horribly cold, even for a Norwegian. Temperature was minus 14 celsius, which isn't too bad, but when you add 40-45 knots of wind on top of that it makes your cheeks burn a bit....Too bad weather for searching for the owl though, but I anyway go something to celebrate.

In Båtsfjord, the small eco-tourism company Arctic Tourist has a photography hide for the Arctic sea ducks. We got plenty! About 200 king eiders only a couple of meters away and about 20 Steller's eiders were feeding close as well. Sometimes too close to photograph them (!).

King Eider was indeed a worthy 100th species of the year. Closely followed by the even more stunningly beautiful Steller's eider as number 101.

King eider in stormy conditions

This beautiful bird was a worthy 100th species of the year!

With these images, I was honored to open the photography hide season for Arctic Tourist. Februrary is a very good time to photograph these amazing birds, and there are still some available space during February, while March is starting to be pretty full. So hurry up if you want to photograph the guys close up.

Male Steller's eider - equally fantastic as the king eider.

Other species added to the list was Glaucous gull (polarmåke) and Waxwing (sidensvans). In the evening, the wind eased a little bit, and we went night spotting for the owl without any results except for a red fox and some reindeer as well as northern lights dancing on the sky. Will continue the search the next days, and fingers crossed that this enigmatic bird that has eluded me all these years finally will cross my path.

New species: 4
Total: 103


Saturday 25 January 2014

Secret weapons

Since the last update, I have been busy with office work and not been out birding at all actually. After all I am running my photography business and pictures need to be shipped and accountance needs to be done. 

My Big Year project is not possible without some aid from the outside world. I call them my secret weapons, and will certainly be of key importance to my success together with good planning and my own effort. 

Bird Alarm: 
Twitchers all over Norway and the other Nordic countries has this. It is messaging system, where whenever someone sees a rare or interesting bird anywhere they wiill beep this out on the system. They simply make a plot on the map, with some details about the species and behaviour of the bird. They make a bird alarm! And if its rare enough - soon after, birders from all over the country will already have startet their movements towards the locality. It would have been fun to attach a GPS device on birders to see how quickly they react and how their behaviour pattern from whatever occupied their time at the alarm moment suddenly changes. With this system, kindly sponsored to my Big Year project by the Norwegian birding organisation Feltornintologene, I will ensure to quickly get the message if something happens. Together with a network of friends and colleagues, I am sure that no birds will be seen without me knowing about it.

Private Aircraft:
If not any of the bigger airlines want to support you, what do you do? You arrange a private aircraft of course. So now I have a private aircraft, which always is available for my use should I need it. Im not a pilot myself, but a kind friend of me is. I don't think I need to explain this any further other than to say this will help if time is of the essence, which it usually is. 

Swarovski Eurovision 10x42:
My precious binoculars. This is by far the best binoculars I have ever looked through. It helps me every single day, and with them I see things I would never have been able to see before. Especially in low light conditions, their importance is unmatched. Needless to say, I am very happy that Swarovski Optik supports the project and kindly let me use their very best equipment.

Stjørdal Foto:
A big part of Big Year is also to document the event through pictures and film. Stjørdal Foto ensures me to have the right equipment for the job. If it anyway is something that I miss, Stjørdal Foto will quickly get hold of it for me, so that I am sure to always be properly equipped.

Well, apart from selling images and articles to my clients, much of the time the last week has been spent with editing last year's work. Since I don't have any pictures to show you from Big Year, I will show you two images I took in November while guiding in Antarctica for Aurora Expedition.

A male chinstrap penguin posing like a cross, praying for some female
 penguins I guess

Two Light-mantled albatrosses in display flight over the sea.
This species is one of my favorites in the world, and to see them in a
setting like this is just amazing.

Through one of my contacts, I received a message yesterday of a snowy owl feeding on a reindeer carcass. So on Monday, I will fly up to one the most remote corners of Norway, as far north you possibly can get and try to see this bird. Snowy owl is a species that always has eluded me, so make sure to keep visiting this blog to see how this stunt goes...


Monday 20 January 2014

Signs from above

It has been 3 days since my last birding day, and my first two days without any new species seen for the year. Today, a friend and myself decided to take a trip to the forests in the Meråker area close to the Swedish border in hope to find any Crossbills (korsnebber)or maybe even a Pine grosbeak (konglebit). Lots of wind made things a bit difficult, but when two planes crossed each other paths and made a perfect X - we both got rather optimistic.

Despite of the promising sky, very few birds were seen. Highlights were a Grey-headed woodpecker (gråspett) and a Hawk owl (haukugle). Both seen earlier in the short history of Big Year Norway so far, but anyway exciting to see.

Today, I was interviewed in radio about the Big Year project. Very nice that the public and media seem to take a great interest in this exciting year!

New species: 0
Total: 98

The second hawk owl for the year. Lots of them around at
the moment, and hopefully one of its larger cousins will
appear soon. 

A magic pattern for twitchers. Could the sky look any better than this?


Sunday 19 January 2014

Big Year project in media

Part of my purpose with my Big Year project is to increase interest for birds and birding in Norway. Saturday, my project reached the national news. A nice article featuring some of my images and my project was at the front page of the largest broadcasting company in Norway - NRK.

The article is still (while writing this) on the front page, and can be viewed here: Big Year in NRK

If you don't understand Norwegian, you can always look at the pictures - Enjoy!


Friday 17 January 2014

Easy pickings

The last week was spent back in the area where I grew up and learned my way around the birds back in the days. This is in fact one of the better areas for birding in Norway, so I’m sure I will return many times during the year. Because there has been a very mild winter in Norway so far, there are still a lot of birds around that normally should rather have been way further south along a sunny beach somewhere. The brutal truth came real in the beginning of last week, when frost and temperatures well below minus 10 celsius for most of the country finally arrived. This means that birds get pushed out to the coast. So did I.

A long awaited winter seems finally to arrive. Minus 10-20 celsius in most of
the country, makes hoar frost on the trees and landscape very pretty.

13 January
Conveniently, last night, a report of a Wood lark (trelerke) appeared on the Bird Alarm system just in the area I anyway was thinking of going. This is a species that only breeds in the very south eastern parts of Norway, and sparsely so. Getting this species already this early in the year means saved time searching the breeding areas later in the season. As far as I know, this is only the 7th record of this species in my county Møre og Romsdal, where the first being a bird myself and a friend found in 2003.

I started the day by doing my regular route along the coast of Hustadvika. A nice surprise, and a bit unexpected in one of the harbours looking for any Arctic gulls was Grey-headed woodpecker (gråspett). It was feeding in the old nests of a seasonly abandonned Kittiwake (krykkje) colony. In the bushes below was also a Robin (rødstrupe). Another unusual winter bird in this part of the country, and another new species of the year for me. Actually, there was going to be a good day for new species for the year as I got 19 in total this day. Top birds such as Lapland longspur (lappspurv), Dunlin (myrsnipe), Peregrine (vandrefalk) topped the hall of fame for the day – of course sharing the place with the Wood lark. A little bit of a nerve wrecking experience appeared when a Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk) flew by (making my first of the year) and scared all the birds at the moment I stepped out of the car. Above me flew a short-tailed bird, and the gentle fluttering calls of the wood lark revealed its identity. It dissappeared bound north. Although certain of the species, I didn’t want this shitty observation to be the only one on my year list. Waiting has never been a problem for me, and about 30 minutes later the lark was back at the bird feeder (!). A nice year tick was safely bagged. Just after this, an adult male Northern Goshawk (hønsehauk) made a scene, the woodlark luckily excaped its razor sharp talons. I enjoyed the lark some more, before a beautiful moon rise made me grab the camera and run for a nice exposure.

New species: 19
Total: 79

The wood lark that escaped both a hungry sparrowhawk
 and a goshawk attack. 

Moonrise in winter wonderland.

14 January
Up early to reach the ferry to the islands. Outside Molde, there are a group of islands which always produce some good birding year round. Between these islands, there are extesive shallow waters, which also means that this is one the best places in Norway to see sea birds such as divers (lommer), grebes (dykkere), alcids (alkefugler) and other feathery critters connected to the sea in some way. My main goal for the day was to find White-billed diver (gulnebblom). In the right condition and season, one can see as many as 30 in one day in this area. Nowhere else in Norway is the density of this species as high as here. Most of the birds wintering here, is believed to arrive from the breeding areas in Arctic Canada. We saw six on this trip, but unfortuntely the new ferry makes space outside very limited and thus photographing them much more difficult now than a few years back.  I easily saw the usual alcids such as Puffin (lunde), Razorbill (alke), Little auk (alkekonge), Common guillemot (lomvi) and Black guillemot (teist) giving great views from the ferry’s lounge area. White-tailed eagles were plenty and at least 8 or so were seen perching on the small islets in the area.
 Finally arriving Sandøya, the main destination of the day. This island is flat, bordered by sandy beaches and small bays where lots of kelp are pushed up by the sea during any winter storm. The middle of the island is dominated by agricultural fields and gardens. A nice mix for birds any time of the season. The island is small, and birding is best done by walking around the island. Didn’t find any big surprises, but my year list increased for every beach we visited. Best birds being unusual high numbers of Meadow pipits (heipiplerke) for the season. At least 15 were feeding in the kelp, as did a Snow bunting (snøspurv), about 30 Ruddy turnstones (steinvender), a Lapwing (vipe) and a group of 30 Teals (krikkand) just to mention a few. Walking a ditch with open water flushed at least 7 Snipes (enkeltbekkasin), but the best was saved for last as a group of at least 6 Orcas (spekkhugger) passed by while we were waiting for the ferry (yes, I know they are not birds, but whales are cool too). 

New species: 13
Total: 92

A grey heron (gråhegre) enjoying winter light. Short days, also means that it
is easy to experience sunrise and sunset without staying up at unearthy hours
of the day. Even I can make it.

15 January
Decided to go birding south in the county. The island Giske, is another flat but very interesting bird locality at the coast. Before getting there, I stopped by a small frozen lake. The river that runs out from it usually attracts a few birds. Apart from the usual ducks, there was also a Little grebe (dvergdykker) feeding. In the trees surrounding the lake, there were at least 4 Collared doves (tyrkerdue). This is a species that fluctuates somewhat in Norway as it doesn’t seem to cope with strong winters very well. The last years, there have been a couple of winters with much snow and cold weather and the population of collared doves is at the moment very low. It can actually be a tricky bird to find, if you don’t know exactly where to search for it.

At Giske, there were again lots of birds with highlights being Bar-tailed godwit (lappspove), 9 Dunlins (myrsnipe), 12 Redshanks (rødstilk) and 4 Scaups (bergand) as well as 5 Skylarks (sanglerke) and lots of pipits (piplerker). Nothing I wouldn’t for sure see later in the season, but very nice birds and numbers for a winter day birding in Norway. A flock of at least 63 Chaffinch (bokfink), was also a unusually high number for this species in the season. In the kelp washed up on shore were lots of pipits. I found a very strangely coloured one. Much paler and browner than the others, and hopes were immediately raised of this being a buff-bellied (myrpiplerke) or a Water pipit (vannpiplerke). Both of them being extremely rare in Norway, as well as a bit tricky identification vice. Spending quite some time with this bird, and photographing it from all possible angels, I was at the end more or less convinced it had too much and too washed out streaking as well as not white enough underparts to belong to either of the rarer species. An unusual coloured Rock pipit (skjærpiplerke) was all it was. But it was for sure fun as long as it lasted. These are the things that make the adrenalin rush, and excitement being born. The challenge of not only finding these strange birds, but also to identify them correctly and compare them to (almost) identical species with all their plumage and jizz variation are very fun indeed.

A look alike rarity - but is in fact just a rock pipit.

On the way back, a disturbing noise from my car appeared uncomfortably loudly. Is this the end of my Big Year? Make sure to follow to see how it goes….

New species: 3
Total: 96


Saturday 11 January 2014

Slowly but steady

This week has mostly been office days, but a few short trips in the local area have ensured my list to be growing virtually every day. Northern goshawks seems to be showing off well during the start of the new year, and I have seen 8 different birds already in the 2014. It became part of my list already 1st January.

5th January
Short trip to Buvika just outside Trondheim to look for ducks, and maybe some late shore birds as frost and snow is still absent for this winter. Highlight were three River otter (oter) babies playing in the sea. I always love to see this animal, that luckily has become very common along the coast of this part of the country. They always seem to be in a good mood, and if you don’t see them feeding on some fish they just caught they will be busy playing. The best part about them is that they seem to be dominant over the American mink (mink) which is an introduced species (escapes from mink farming industry) and it seems like the otter is the most efficient way to eradicate the mink from our country. The American mink is a big problem for many of our seabird populations, as it is an efficient predator on eggs and chicks in the nesting season. So hands up for the otter! The only two new birds for the year were House sparrow (gråspurv) and Greenfinch (grønnfink).

New species: 2
Total: 49

6th January
Birding the river where I live, in hope of finding a rare gull or something else fun. Of course, a hunting goshawk (hønsehauk) was seen almost immediately. More interesting, and new for the year, was a glimpse of Norway’s national bird – Dipper (fossekall). The dipper was swimming around in the river, diving for aquatic invertebrates as they often do this time of the year. This is one of very few birds which doesn’t have hollow bones – exactly because he wants to be a better diver.

New species: 1
Total: 50 (hooray!)

The local dipper,, that lives outside my garden.

 7th January
Again birding the river. Treecreeper (trekryper) in the neighbour’s garden was the only new one.

New species: 1
Total: 51

9th January
Went searching for some forest specials today. A friend and myself went to a forest just outside Trondheim in hope to find something interesting. First thing we noticed (actually after walking for half an hour or so) was that we didn’t hear any bird sounds at all. Total quietness! Winter birding in the forests in Norway is never easy, and with this in mind we didn’t loose faith. Thy who search shall find. An hour or so later, we were chasing the sound of a drumming woodpecker. Not any woodpecker, but the sound clearly belonged to the Norwegian woodpecker I most rarely see – the Three-toed woodpecker (tretåspett). This bird, I normally only see a couple of times each year. Not only because I rarely walk in the forest (contrary to most of my friends’ beliefe), but also because this species is highly dependent of old forest. Something which is unfortunately less and less abundant in this world – Norway included. Afer some chasing up and down the hills, we finally managed to figure out that the bird didn’t actually move as much as we thought, but that there were in fact two different individuals that made us run back and forth thinking it was the same bird moving a lot….A tiring experience (but I guess needed after Christmas feast), but I feel we won the battle at the end. These two rivals (the drumming woodpeckers), finally met as well, and then we were there to observe it. The two males had a long and hard territorial fight, and they sat on the same trunk showing off to each other. Having a drumming competition, wings flapping and chasing each other through the forest. We observed this very interesting behaviour for more than an hour, before we decided to leave the rivals to themselves. Ticking new birds is not only about making the longest list, but I hope to see many interesting behaviours and learn more about the birds I tick off like this during the year. Great!

I don't see you, you don't see me. But I am drumming loudest in the forest here.

Searching through the forest for more forest special yielded a few parties of Crested tits (Toppmeis), which was also new for the year. Arriving back to the car, there was a nice surprise in the form of a Hawk owl (haukugle) waiting for us in a treetop next to my car. This bird (like any owl I guess) is certainly one of my favorites in the Norwegian fauna, and this winter it seems to be a small influx of them – at least in the southern half of the country. Needless to say, I enjoyed the owl very much.

New species: 3
Total: 53

Not the best picture I have ever made I admit, but
the shape of a hawk owl in a tree top is always a
 highlight during a birding trip.

10th January
Again searching the harbour area in town for any interesting gulls. None seen. Saw a few Rooks (Kornkråke) and an unusual (for this part of the country) wintering Wood pigeon (Ringdue). This is the good thing about the early season birding, that even on days I don’t necessarily find any rare birds I anyway add species to my list.

The coming week, I will do some birding at the coast. Of course, unless something better turns up….

New species: 2

Total: 55


Sunday 5 January 2014

Kick off!

For a while now, I haven’t done much birding. Not because I didn’t feel like it, but because I wanted to save the energy until my Big Year was starting. I had planned the start well, and at midnight I was going to celebrate with some friends and film the spectacular fireworks in my home city going off as a great opening picture on this blog. Some mallards outside where I live usually get a bit spooked from it, so this was going to be my new year’s bird and the opening of Big Year already at 00:01. But…

Day 1 – 01.January
Got a call from a friend yesterday. There was a Hume’s leaf warbler (Blekbrynsanger) seen not far from his house. His house is 650 kilometers away, so my quiet celebration plans had to be changed and the painful truth of what it takes to do a Big Year had already proved itself. So here I was - at first light (actually a bit before) ready at a narrow ditch borderd with reed beds at Klåstadkilen, Larvik in south-eastern Norway. A few friends and myself walking up and down all day looking for the Hume’s leaf warbler. A very rare bird indeed in Norway with less than 20 records of this Siberian gem. Most of them turning up in late October, so this was not only rare, but also a very unusual for the time of the year. I was searching all day, and probably walked the 600m length of the narrow channel at least 10 times. It was said to be skulky – hiding a lot in the grass – so careful searching and focused to find this bird ment that I didn’t see much else this day. I didn’t even see the Siberian guest. Yes – you read the words correctly. My Big Year started off with a dip….First bird of the year was a Blue tit (Blåmeis), but the top bird of the day amongst my 31 bird species seen was a Great grey shrike (Varsler).

Klåstadkilen, Larvik 1st January. Its only so many times you can walk along
 a ditch bordered with reeds, fantasizing about a hume's leaf warbler....

Day 2 – 02. January.
I spent the night at a friend’s place not far from where the Hume’s should have been. I felt my luck had changed a bit, as a message about a Water pipit (Vannpiplerke) came in yesterday evening only 30 minutes drive from my where I stayed. The weather though didn’t exactly look promising with forecast of 30+ mm of rain. Basically it was going to be pouring down all day. Add a little bit of wind on top of it, and you are up for a nice day outing. Again, I was ready at first light, or slightly before. I was carefully scanning all the pipits in the area while I gradually got soaked by the rain and wind. At the end I was so wet, that I could just as well taken a swim in the ocean and not got any wetter (yes I have gore tex and all that fancy shit, but it doesn’t help when you do regular birding at the windy coast of Norway and it get salt spray in it. In my experience, Gore tex and its look alike garment is great and waterproof for the first half year – after that its useless for anything but keeping the wind outside. People that mostly walk in the city and pretend they are “outdoorsy” will tell you its great though….).

3 hrs searching and no Water pipit, a couple of Meadow pipits (Heipiplerke) was the only new birds of the year to be seen. I left the place thinking this year is going to be a lot of fun….Tried a little bit for the Hume’s warbler again. Needless to be said, I didn’t find it. Went further north to look for a real long stayer. An American black duck (Rødfotand), that is somewhat disputed about wether it’s a hybrid or not, (Myself being in favor of the hybrid category I guess, but time will show what the Norwegian Rarity Committee will say as they are currently revising all records of this extreme rarity in Norway) has been wintering for 12 years near Tønsberg. As far as I know, this bird is only the 3rd ever to be accepted by the committee so far. I got there – rain was still pouring down. Actually even a bit more than earlier, if that is even possible. But there it was – Between 40 or so Mallards (Stokkand) a male American black duck. I actually saw this bird a the day after it turned up the very first time, so it was kind of a déjà vu. My luck had turned and this whole trip wasn’t going to be a vaste of time and money anyway. A big bonus there was a beautiful male Smew (Lappfiskand) – a semi rare bird in Norway that definitely is easiest to see during winter (as with the black duck). Then it was dark. Daylight hours are short this time of the year in Norway, with birding light from about 09:30 – 15:30.  7 new species today. Total 38 species.

Day 3 – 03 January
An overnight stay at a friend that I hadn’t seen for 1,5 years. I already start to see the benefit of catching up with old mates during my Big Year! Today was going to be challenging, as I wanted to try to see a Kingfisher (Isfugl) near the Swedish border in Halden. It is there for its 3rd winter, but is using a rather long stretch of the river and many people have gone home empty handed trying to see this bird. But to see it now, ment that I would save myself for (probably) several attempts later in winter. I live about 600km away from this site, so to see it already now would mean a big relief. Parked my car, and 5 minutes later the unmistakable calls were heard slightly downstream from where I was standing. I quickly found the bird, beautiful as always. This is one of the more exotic birds in Norway, with iridescent blue back and bright orange underparts. Its breeding population in Norway is 1-3 pairs only – a real rarity. Despite being there for its 3rd winter in the same river, it hasn’t yet been found breeding in Halden.  
There had also been reports of an Iceland gull (Grønlandsmåke) in Halden the last day. A rare bird on this side of the country, and a scarce winter visitor to my home area in western Norway. I went to the nearby supermarket to buy bread, and before long, a very nice 1st winter Iceland gull was feeding only a few meters in front of me. Today – everything was going ridiculously easy and my spirit for the remaining Big Year is again as high as ever. It is going to be a fun year!

Halden is very near one of a handful places in Norway that regularly hosts Bearded tits (Skjeggmeis), so as I was in the area I did the half an hour drive to Øra. A walk along the channel yielded at least 20+ bearded tits heard, but only one male seen flying over the vast reed bed vegetation. A stunning bird, but unfortunately very difficult to see well at this locality. Nevertheless, another of the birds best seen in winter added to my list. After watching a male Goshawk (Hønsehauk) hunting feral pigeons during an impressive acrobatic flights from the both of them the daylight was yet again gone and it was time for me to head back home.
9 new species today. Total 47 species.

If you look long and hard on this very cropped picture, you might be lucky
to spot the amazingly colourful kingfisher I saw in Halden (Tip: look just to
 the left of the big pole in the water).

1st winter Iceland gull braging about his wingspan.
White like an angel.