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.



  1. This is very exciting Eirik and I wish you good luck. Will you be recording your sightings on such that we can follow your progress and see how you are getting on compared to the other listers?

  2. Thanks rixy,

    I will definitely need a bit of luck to have success and reach my goal of breaking the Norwegian record. I will use Artsobservasjoner and other media to keep my lists updated yes. Have just put in my records there so people can follow my push forward.