Thursday 29 May 2014

Busy May

Keeping a blog updated in the busy month of May, is more challenging than I actually expected. Much because the weather has been great and the birding also very good. I have been birding every single day in this month. Normally starting at about 06 in the morning and not stopping before between 21 or 22. So not much time for other writing a log, eat, sleep and go birding. May has treated me well, and I got lots of good stuff, even though with a few exceptions, the big rarities has been few. It will be too much to write a day by day for the last half of May, but underneath is some of the highlight briefly.

15 May
Day started rather slow, with only highlight being a migrating White-billed diver (gulnebblom) and a new Big Year bird in the form of an overflying Grey wagtail (vintererle). There had been some rumours about a Serin (gulirisk) nearby, and my friend Geir and myself went there to have a look. Standing there looking over the area my binos stopped with a raptor soaring far away on clearly V-shaped wings. My mind was not expecting what I was seeing in my telescope a few seconds later. Expecting to see a Marsh harrier (sivhauk) the surprise was fantastic and made the adrenalin flow like a big river when I realised it was a Red kite (glente)! This is a bird I already spent a week searching for in Lista in end of March without success, and through the years as a birder - I have actually spent months in total staring up in the sky hoping for one of these to glide by. Finally it was here, and what a bird it was! This was also a new to my Norwegian list, and probably one of the more "embarrasing" ones that I until now have been missing. The bird soared a little bit in the distance before it started to glide straight north in high speed. We chased it by car, and found it back 10 minutes later. Just as we stopped the car, the bird changed direction directly away from us, and started to loose altitude rapidly. I didn't get much pictures that show id features, before we lost it and it was never seen again despite searching for quite some time.

 New birds: 2
Total: 232

16 May
The morning started good, as I was alone couting migration when I saw a flock of swallows coming straight in from the sea. A few minutes later I saw the same flock hunting insects over the nearby forest, and from experience, these migtrating flocks can be well worth taking an extra look at. I didn't take long before a nice Red-rumped swallow was discovered, and made it on to the list over "birds I find myself" in this Big Year. A parallell list I am doing this year just for fun. This is only the second red-rumped swallow I find myself in Norway, so quite exciting indeed. The bird lingered around for a few hours, and most of the local birders that wanted to got to see it. It landed on the same wire as the first one these season, and luckily sat for a bit longer so that it was possible to take a few pictures.

Red-rumped swallow (amursvale), showing itself from different angles.

A female Citrine wagtail (sitronerle) was also seen very briefly. Amazingly - the third citrine wagtail this year for me!

New: 0
Total: 233

17 May
Finally! Sandwich tern (splitterne). It only took me 17 mornings of early morning seabird migrationg counts to see this one....Not a big rarity in Norway, certainly not in the south-western part of the country, but I started to get a bit nervous this would be one of these scilly one to miss in my Big Year. Also a fly by Bar-headed goose (stripegås) and a Yellow wagtail of the form flavissima is worth mentioning. Also, Norway's national day - Hooray!

18 May
Two more Sanwich terns (splitterne) migrating. Very slow migration, so went to local stake of Scarlet rose finch (rosenfink). On the way there, we had a fly by White-backed woodpecker (hvitryggspett). Heard one male rosefinch singing, and this became the only new one for the day.

New birds: 1
Total: 234

19 May
Again a very slow day migration wise. A Little ringed plover (dverglo) was seen close enough to be doucumented on my list. In the morning, a Bluethroat was ringed by Aida (bird observatory staff) and this became the only new bird on for my Big Year list today.

A female Bluethroat (blåstrupe) becoming part of science.

Little-ringed plover (dverglo) documented in Big Year style (long distance).

New birds: 1
Total: 235

20 May
After a slow morning with only a Pomarine skua (polarjo) being some sort of a highlight, I received a message about a Eastern Stonechat (asiasvartstrupe) at Jæren - 150km away. This is a big rarity in Norway, so I soon was on the road.

It was, as reported by the observer, a very difficult bird indeed. After a two hour search in the area, the bird suddenly made a nice fly by, and I got to see it very well - yet briefly through my binoculars. A large pale rump, white wing bars and in genreally a very contrasty bird looked very promising. However, as over the last years, there has been quite some change in the perception of how much our "normal" westerly stonechats (svartstruper) might vary in plumage, so I needed better look to be able to identify the bird properly. Even though, the finder, Sigmar, had some rather poor photos of the bird which kind of confirm the impression of this bird really being an Eastern stonechat, I wanted to have better look at it.

I have a golden rule in my Big Year project, and that is that for a bird to be included on my Big Year list, I need to see all the important id features myself. I won't count on what other people see, I need to see it myself to be totally sure. I bird alarmed the bird out as being an Eastern Stonechat, but despite searhing by several people over the next hours, the bird was never seen again. To be honest, if I was in Asia, I wouldn't think twice calling this bird an Eastern stonechat, but because we are in Norway and the rarity scale of this bird - I just didn't see it well enough to count it on my Big Year list. Lets hope for another one some time soon!

But, while searching for this bird, I got a message about both a Golden oriole (pirol) and Tawny pipit (markpiplerke) on the famous island of Utsira. Both not only new to my Big Year list, but also to my Norwegian list. Quickly cancelling a dinner date, I realised I was on the road again and what was ment to only be a short trip for the stonechat, was now turning into a overnight trip with ferries involved. I started to think it was a bad idea to leave the sleeping bag behind at the bird observatory in Lista....More or less on the way there I added two semi rare birds to my Big Year list - Broad-billed sandpiper (fjellmyrløper) and Corn crake (åkerrikse).

21 May
After a short night in the car (getting used to it by now), without my sleeping bag, I went to the last ferry in time. The weather forecast was not good. During the day, the wind was predicted to pick up to 30 knots (15m/s) and big amounts of rain should set in. I needed some luck and to get the birds early in the day to make this a success.

Arriving the island in no wind and overcast - it was indeed perfect conditions. The pipit had not been seen since midday yesterday, but on the ferry on the way out, one of the local birders (Bjørn Ove) called me to say he had found a singing Blyth's reed warbler (busksanger). A species had expected to miss since I will be away for most of June, when they normaly turn up. As far as I know, this is actually the earliest record of this species ever in Norway! I went straight there, and heard the bird singing. I recorded the song, but never managed to take a picture, despite seeing the bird briefly on a few occasions. My next target was more important on personal level - the golden oriole is one of two Norwegian breeding birds that I have never seen in Norway. The species has a reputation for being quite a skulker - even though it is indeed a canopy bird.

I first checked the garden it was last seen without any luck. I then went on to the garden were the locals say alll orioles on this island sooner or later visit. Because this bird is so shy, I stopped at a far distance and started to search with my binos. It didn't take long before I found a thrush sized bird jumping around in the canopy. Before long, it jumped out all in the open and reveiled itself as a beautiful female golden oriole! It sat for a while and started preening - I could not believe the good views I was experiencing of this skulky critter. Soon a crow came and flushed the birds out from the trees. I got a few flightshots, and a new bird both on the Norwegian list and the Big Year list was safe!

A long wanted bird on my Norwegian list - Golden oriole (pirol). This means
I now only lack the Snowy owl (snøugle) on my Norwegian list of the Norwegian
breeding birds.

An hour or so later, the predicted heavy rain came in, and I never found the Tawny pipit despite making an effort. What I did get - was soaking wet, and again - I was so happy I left all my stuff back at Lista.....After all, it was only going to be another 8 hours before I came home so I could take on some dry clothes. That is, unless another bird alarm peeps out.

New birds: 2
Total: 240

22 May
I had planned it so this was going to my last day at Lista. I needed a couple of days birding further northeast in the country to pick up a few breeding birds before I head to the Arctic for some work. The morning migration at the ligh house was very slow, and an easterly gale didn't get my hope up for much excitement in the bushes either. However, a close up White-billed diver (gulnebblom) migrating got us a bit excited before a Nightjar (nattravn) was spotted far out at sea coming straight towards land. A rare bird indeed to see during daylight hours, not the least over open water. When it finally arrived only 400 meters to go before it touched land, a Peregrine (vandrefalk) came to meet him. The falcon started to hunt the nightjar, and the nightjar only barely escaped the four dives from the young falcon. The fifth time however, the falcon hit the nightjar so it was pushed down into the water. Only a few seconds later, a Black-backed gull (svartbak) came in and swallowed the nightjar without any chewing at all! A fairly disturbing sight. And one can not but feel a bit sorry for the nightjar that probably had been flying all night from England or Denmark only to be swallowed meters before safety. But as I say, nature is not a romantic place as Disney or natural history documentaries sometimes tries to convince you. It was indeed a rare and unusual nature experience for the few birders on land that witnessed the whole thing. The most bisarre thing though, is that only half an hour later, the same thing happened again! This time the Black-backed gull came inn to chase the Peregrine away and by that actually saved the nightjar. The nightjar got a bit spooked about this hostile welcome and turned 180 degrees and disappeared out at sea again. Not the normal way to add a nocturnal bird to the year list.

The it was time for a bush walk. Despite the hard wind, it was soon clear that there had been quite a few passerines arriving as several Wrynecks (vendehals), Spotted flycatchers (gråfluesnapper), Red-backed shrikes (tornskate) and even a Thrush nightingale and an Icterine warbler was about. The two latter was new to the Big Year list. Then I arrived to a small plantation, where I heard a song I first dismissed as subsong of Icterine warbler. Something was  not quite right though, but the bird went silent. I was there for half an hour waiting and watching other birds as this was on the lee side of the wind and had quite good bird activity. Just as I was about to leave, the bird started to sing again. Then as soon as I turned around it went silent again...I waited another ten minutes and again just as I was leaving it started again. This time from a slightly different place, and I sat down to listen more. I waited for the special Icterine sounds, but they never came. After a while, it started to sound more and more like a Marsh warbler (myrsanger). My mind started to work......isn't it Melodius warbler (spottesanger) and Paddyfield warbler (åkersanger) that has a song similar to Marsh? I needed to see this bird to see that it was not an Acrocephalus - thus ruling out the Marsh warbler theory. It lacked many of the Marsh warbler notes I am used to, and I was fairly sure it wasn't one. Then I saw the bird briefly, but only the rear hald of it from under. The vent was yellowish, and by now I felt confident that it indeed was a Hippolais type of warbler. I called for back up. By the time more people arrived, a Red-backed shrike (tornskate) had chased the bird out in the open so that I got very good, yet brief views of the whole bird. It was indeed a Melodious warbler - only the fifth record for Norway as far as I know! There has not been any twitchable Melodius warbler since one in 1993 on Utsira, so this find was going to make stur amongst the birders. I made some sound recordings, but no one managed to get any pictures. The bird was at all times very well hidden.

Unfortunately, the bird started to be silent for longer and longer periods as the day went on, and the last observation was at about six in the evening except for a few notes heard very late evening. This ment that only the local birders managed to reach the bird in time, and also this Melodious warbler turned out to be a non-twitchable one. But what an ending to my stay at Lista - very good indeed!

Late evenig, I got a phone about a Hobby (lerkefalk) that was hunting in av very Red-footed (aftenfalk) like manner. I went to see it as this was new to my Big Year list. Only about 70 meters away, a hobby was hunting insects from the fencde posts for about 40 minutes until dark. Often seen jumping on the ground and running to catch beetles. A very strange behaviour indeed, and one that proves that Red-footed falcons are not the only one with this behaviour.

New birds: 5
Total: 245

23 May
Not much happening at Lista today. I found a Broad-billed sandpiper on one of the beaches, and then I left Lista at about seven pm. My next goal was a singing River warbler (elvesanger) two hours drive away that was discovered yesterday night. I arrived just as it was started to sing, and this was indeed one the my easiest Big Year birds so far. A Long-eared owl flew by with a mouse in its talons and we could hear the young ones begging nearby. The local birder Rolf Jørn, showed me the area a bit, but I needed to head further north as I was going to try for a Great-reed warbler that was found this evening next morning.

At Borrevannet, the police apparently found it a bit strange that a dirty old car like mine was driving around in a fancy golf resort in the middle of the night. However, they quickly believed my story that I was there just to watch birds and liste for the rare and special Great-reed warbler. I was even offering them to join me in the event, but they politely declined the offer.

New birds: 1
Total: 246

24 May
I had a 3 hours sleep in the car before going for the warbler. In short, no warbler heard. At a nearby lake, I knew it was a good chance for Honey buzzards (vepsevåk) - one of those birds in Norway with an easterly distribution. Only 5 minutes after my arrival, two beautiful Honey buzzards were soaring over my head! Very nice indeed, and a bird I not often get to see in Norway.

This young Tawny owl (kattugle) was meeting up instead of the
Great-reed warbler (trostesanger)....

Soaring Honey buzzard (vepsevåk).

I headed further north, to my next destination, the estuary Ilene. I could not believe my luck when I suddenly found a Caspian tern (rovterne) sleeping on the sand bank! This is only the second time I see this species in Norway - following one all the way back in 1991 which was probably the first rare bird I actually saw in Norway. This time I found it myself though - a much better feeling! While wathcing the tern, a message about a Woodchat-shrike peeped in. The down side was that this was 600km away in the opposite direction of what I was originally going. Actually, it was not that far from where I left yesterday. Had the message come out one hour earlier, I could have reached it the same day, but now, I had to wait until tomorrow.

New birds: 3
Total: 249

25 May
After a long drive, and another night in the car, I found myself up a shining at 6 am at Jæren. It was soon clear that the Woodchat shrike was no where to be seen....I stopped by a Ruddy shelduck (rustand) that most likely is an escape, but you never know with these birds. Good to have seen it, since it was unringed and seemed a bit wary. If there is a bigger influx of the species in rest of Europe, it may very well be treated a true vagrant, and only an escape from a park or bird collection. Then I started to drive back north east.

Ruddy shelduck (rustand), for now not counting on my Big Year list, but
if it turn out to be a big influx in rest of Europe - things will look better.

During late last evening, the Great-reed warbler from yesterday morning was found again in a slighly different place. I decided to give it a go. Again, my plan was slighly altered as a report of an Ortulan bunting near Arendal came up. I made the short detour to secure this rare breeding bird on my list. After some complication to find my way (there is a lot of small roads in this area!) the local birder Rolf Jørn again assisted me to the right place and they even had the bird ready for me in the scope when I arrived. Talk about special service and efficient twitching!

Late evening I arrived again at Borrevann. This time no police, but another local birder. The finder (Bjørn) of the bird was there to make some sound recordings of the song, and he could guide me to best place. Again, the very efficient twitching and this was actually a new bird to my Norwegian list as well! The bird was sitting all in the open, albeit at some distance, singing his hoarse song. I went back to the car to fetch my spotting scope, but by the time I came back the bird had stopped singing and I didn't see it again. Anyway, a very nice experience where many Thrush nightingales added to the atmosphere.

New birds: 2
Total: 251

26 May
Another good sleep in the car, before I found myself bright and shiny outside a beautiful farm in Buskerud trying to find a Serin (gulirisk) that had been seen for a week but not reported in 4 days. I didn't have much hope that this long staying bird was still around, but I had to try. No luck during the three hours there. I was soon off towards my next target - a Red-breasted flycatcher (dvergfluesnapper) in Oslo. This rare bird, especially in spring, was easily found thanks to Bird Alarm excellent map and GPS functions. As I arrived on scene, the bird was actively singing. It was moving a lot, catching insects between his beautiful song, so getting a decent picture was actually a bit challenging.

It is small in size, but big in song. Red-breasted flycatcher (dvergfluesnapper)

Red-breasted flycatcher showing his red breast.

This was a day involving a lot a driving. My next target, was about 200km further north. One of Norway's rarest breeding birds, and at least the one that most likely is the first to go extinct. Only during the past 3 years, the already small population of the Rustic bunting (vierspurv) has decreased by 95%! Very sad indeed. Pesticide and hunting in their migration and wintering sites are probably the cause of the grim future of the species that now only counts about 20 pairs in Norway.

I arrived at scene, and some walking in a flooded area. Actually the on the radio in to the area, they said that road was close due to too much water. I anyway decided to have a go as this was a difficult bird indeed, I only had this chance to see it. The down side, since this road was dead end road, was that I could risk to get stuck for a couple of days as the peak of the flood was expected only in two days time. Anyway, I made it there. Wading up to my knees in water on the way to the exact place. I was telling myself I was quite lucky that this place was fairly high up, so that the mosquitos had yet to hatch. After a one hour search in the area, I finally found a couple feeding. The male was following the female around, and was clearly doing some sort of mate guarding. Very nice to see, and I only hope the flood doesn't ruin the breeding season for these rare birds. I took a few pictures, and then left the area not to make too much disturbance. After all, this is the breeding locality to one of Norway's rarest birds.

Coloruful but so rare - one of Norway's rarest breeding birds - the Rustic bunting

I then continued north. Had a flat tire, and saw about 20 moose on the way. When I finally went to sleep, I was almost back home and had driven more then 800 kilometers during the day, but seen a few very good birds along the way.

New birds: 2
Total: 253

26 May
Dipping a Meditarranean gull (svartehavsmåke) that had been present for the last two days. Then birded my old local area without anything worth mentioning. In the evening, I visited a famous Great-snipe lek (dobbeltbekkasin) where more than 20 birds made a spectacular performance! Very nice ineed.

Lekking Great snipes (dobbeltbekkasin) is a magic experience, and one that
in my mind easyli compete with the more famous Black grouse (orrfugl) or
Capercaillie (tiur).

New birds: 1
Total: 254

Now, I am off to work. I am guiding photographers to excellent polar bear experiences for the nest 3 weeks or so. I am hoping to add a few Arctic specialities along the way. On the way there, I am stopping one night along the way in the hope to see the true wild Lesser white-fronted goose that breed north-east Norway. The population is about 40 pairs, and together with the Rustic bunting (vierspurv) belongs to one of Norway's rarest breeding birds. Fingers crossed that I make it, and that I don't miss out on too much stuff on mainland the time I will be away. There has already been some disturbing news about Lesser-yellowlegs (gulbeinsnipe) and Collared pratincole (brakksvale) that I have no chance to reach before I leave for my next adventure.

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