Monday, 11 December 2017

I'm on Fire

As usual my weekend was not spent birding but it looks like a number of people were out at Fornebu looking the Firecrest but there were no reports of it after Thursday afternoon. This was just the sort of motivation I needed to visit Fornebu today J It took quite a bit of work but eventually I found him about 400m away from where he was on Wednesday and Thursday. He was all alone and feeding mostly on the floor. There were a couple of Goldcrests not too far away and these were feeding 3-4 metres up in bushes and calling quite a lot whereas their cousin made very little noise. He was quite confiding but there were far too many twigs in the way to get any decent pictures and I had to use manual focus all the time.

Bearded Tits were calling in two of the reedbeds and there were four calling Water Rails in total one of which showed itself on two occasions. A calling Chiffchaff from a reedbed was quite a surprise but if a Firecrest can survive then a Chiffchaff should also manage to.

Back at home there was a mini influx of House Sparrows into the garden after they had been mostly absent for a few weeks. One bird caught my attention and after a bit of study I have concluded that it is a female hybrid between House and Tree Sparrow. I have seen a fair few pictures of this hybrid combo before, but these are always of assumed males whereas this bird was clearly a female due to a yellow bill base and pale supercilium (features of female House Sparrow) and a quick google search has yet to reveal any other photos of females. It was quite a subtle bird which mostly resembled a female House Sparrow but had a prominent white collar, a black smudge on a white chin, a small grey bib and a crown that was a mixture of grey and brown.

spot the bird

was again feeding on the ground

I did manage one OK picture - Firecrest (rødtoppfuglekonge)

a male Green Woodpecker (grønnspett) that has been at Fornebu for a while now

when I first saw this bird I thought it was a strange female House Sparrow (gråspurv) with a prominent neck collar

but the grey bib and dark cheek smudge plus reddy brown colours in the crown reveal the Tree Sparrow (pilfink) genes 

female hybird House Sparrow x Tree Sparrow

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Firecrest video

The firecrest was still present today and had a number of admirers but was much more difficult to observe than when I found it yesterday and it hardly made any noise. There were also two Goldcrests in the area which made things a bit more complicated. It was feeding exclusively on the ground during the 25 minutes that I saw the bird but then vanished for a couple of hours before being found again later. For an insect eating bird of more southerly climes it must be a challenge to stay alive!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Now we are talking!

I decided to shake things up a but today and be a bit rebellious – I visited Fornebu first and Maridalen afterwards!! I know, I know, I live life on the edge ;-)

Overnight wet snow had left the reedbeds partially flattened but this did nothing to make the Bearded Tits more visible although I was eventually able to ascertain that there were still at least two in Holtekilen and four in Storøykilen. I then decided to go out to Koksa which I haven’t done so much recently as there has been so little there. As I walked out I reminisced over the rare birds that I have seen at Fornebu over the years with two Isabelline Shrikes, a Siberian Stonechat, a Med Gull and Sabine’s Gull heading my list. I mulled over the fact that the chances of finding anything rare was getting less and less with the continued development of the site and it may be that Bearded Tits become the rarest species that the site hosts with any regularity.

When I arrived at Koksa a complete lack of life was confirmation of what my previous visits have told me. As I walked along hoping that maybe a Water Rail would call I heard a high-pitched call from the small copse by the path. There is often Treecreeper here but the call didn’t quite match and I had a feeling that it was something much rarer. I pulled out my phone and checked the call of Firecrest and got an instant match! This species has recently turned up in record numbers in Sweden, 7 have been seen in one area of Rogaland in west Norway and it looks like the UK has had very high numbers. I have had it on my mind for the last month and have always checked out Goldcrests when  I have encountered them away from the deep forests but was not planning on finding one today! But was it really one? It continued calling and I walked towards it without seeing anything and started to check the tree trunks for Treecreeper when I finally saw a small bird in a bush. Bins up and bang – Akershus County’s first Firecrest was a fact (following Oslo’s first record in May). This species was removed from the national rarity list this year due to a significant increase in records but they have been centred on the southern and south west coast.

I took a while to get any decent shots of the bird and melting snow from the branches above me kept falling on me and my optics, but I was happy with what I managed given the light and conditions. I didn’t get to spend much time with it as a message from my eldest meant I had to go and help her with something, but I got the news out and it was seen again later in the day.

Maridalen did get a visit later in the afternoon where a flock of 140 Yellowhammers is the largest flock recorded in Maridalen. I did not get to see them well but there must be a chance of finding a Pine Bunting amongst them…

It is fair to say that my case of birder blues has been (at least temporarily) banished!

the first picture I fired off - just what a record shot should look like!

Akershus's first Firecrest (rødtoppfuglekonge)

the thin orane stripe within the yellow crown shows this to be a male and I believe a 1cy bird as an older bird should have an even more orange crown

food was clearly not east to come by for an insect eater in the snow but I was surprised to see it on the ground
the reedbed at Storøykilen where the reeds were weighed down by the wet snow but 4 Bearded Tits still found conditions suitable for them
map from showing all the records of Firecrest in Norway clearly showing the bias towards coastal sites in the south and south west

Tuesday, 5 December 2017


I have said that there are few (if any) new birds to see at the moment but my current birding is not exactly designed to find anything new. I seem to be visiting the same locations all the time and seeing the same birds but the problem is that they are nice birds and I am always hoping to see and document some interesting behaviour. It is the Bearded Tits at Fornebu and Pygmy Owls in Maridalen that have captured my attention.

Both these are getting more and more difficult to find but I see it as a badge of honour to be able to find them when others fail, and it of course is good for guiding if I know where they are. The Pygmy Owls in Maridalen are clearly not settled anymore and this is because there is not a high density of rodents for them to find so they need to move around. Yesterday I found a single bird atop a spruce in the forest where he was being scolded by Coal Tits and a Great Spotted Woodpecker and he also sang a bit. I didn’t observe him hunting though which is the behaviour that I want to document.
Otherwise Maridalen was quiet and the lake is now 50% frozen.

At Fornebu the shallow salt water bays have been frozen for a long time and there is snow on the floor of the reedbeds, but this doesn’t stop the Bearded Tits spending almost all their time searching for food on the ground. They are very difficult to find because they also call very infrequently and if they do call it is normally a very weak contact call. Yesterday though I was very lucky though as a group of three birds were feeding right by the path and I was able to observe and document them over a long period. I had them high up feeding on the seed heads for about a minute but the rest of the time they were running around like mice on the ground feeding and for the first time I was able to properly observe this behaviour. There seemed to be very little food for them to find compared to when they were up on the seed heads so one must wonder why they choose to feed on the ground. My theory is that it is to avoid predation. When they are high up they must be easy targets for Sparrowhawks which could also explain why the number of birds always decreases as the autumn/winter progresses. So, they face a trade-off between easy to find food and the risk of predation.

Sunrise in Maridalen at 09:45

the lake was half frozen but it is forecast to be warm on Thursday and Friday so will probably melt 

the Bearded Tits (skjeggmeis) were briefly up eating from the seed heads

Pygmy Owl (spurveugle)

still recognisable in silhouette

it looks like this bird is very thin judging by how the ribs seems to be sticking out

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Frognerpark birds

With seemingly little new to find I decided on Friday to make use of the nice light and try to get some better photos of the quite varied birdlife in Frognerpark. The birds that seem to have settled in for the winter seem to be split into two groups: the bread eaters and non-bread eaters. In first category are the Mallards, Mute Swans and three species of gull. The non-bread eaters are the Moorhen (eating grass whilst I was there), 13 Teal which seem to find plenty of natural food, 3 male Goldeneye and 5 Herons. There are some species though which have a foot in both camps. The male Wigeon was grazing grass but also fighting for bread and the 14 Tufted Duck at times were diving under the mass of bread eating Mallards although what they were eating was difficult to say.

one-legged, headless Grey Heron (gråhegre)

Moorhen (sivhøne)

Mute Swan (knoppsvane) pair

female Teal (krikkand)

adult male Teal. There were also two young males who were in a much less smart plumage

Tufted Ducks (toppand)

adult male Wigeon (brunnakke)

note the green on the head. This is sometimes thought to be a sign of American Wigeon genes but occures so often that in cases like this is just a natural variation within European Wigen

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Little Grebes

I was looking back at sightings in November from previous years and have confirmed my impression that November 2017 is a particularly poor month. There are very low numbers of all species and no special species have arrived. All this is contributing to a mild case of birders depression for yours truly.

Yesterday I had a nice little episode with Bearded Tits at Fornebu whereby I could hear them giving their very quiet contact call and realised they must only be metres away from me in the reeds but it took me ages to see them low down and behaving more like mice than birds.

Today I decided to head out of Oslo and check out the Drøbak area. This normally quick journey now takes twice as long due to work on tunnels (Norway the masters of tunnel construction have been informed by the EU (of whom they are not a member) that their tunnels do not meet safety requirements which has caused a huge program of upgrading n tunnels across the land). Along the way I stopped to look for Kingfishers at their frequently used wintering locality in Bunnefjorden but didn’t find any.

At the marina at Husvik three Little Grebes showed incredibly well as they dived for food close offshore. They caught a number of small fish whilst I watched and this area has overwintering birds annually. It is a bit of a mystery as to where they come from as there are incredibly few breeding records of this species in Norway let alone the Oslo area but it might well be that the species is overlooked in the breeding season rather than them being long distance migrants.

A young Common Seal was hauled out on a pontoon and a flock of 100 Common Eiders were feeding on mussels in the marina but otherwise there was little to see here. A bit further south a flock of 54 Velvet Scoter was a good local count and I had a hope of finding something rarer amongst them but will have to keep hoping.

A stop at Østensjøvannet on the way home revealed a young male Wigeon that was very keen to eat bread. This bird is ringed and apparently got the bling here a few days ago but for some reason this has not been reported. The local council has hung up signs telling people not to feed the birds here. This is a reaction to some people dumping enormous amounts of mouldy bread and pizza bases. This behaviour clearly needed to be addressed but the signs and unfortunate statements from the misguided leader of the local bird club (basically saying that by giving ducks bread that you are harming them) has left people feeling like criminals for feeding the ducks which has resulted in fewer people coming with food. Luckily though there are enough sensible people that ignore the signs and the wildfowl that choose to winter here are getting food. Judging by their eagerness today though they are only just getting enough and a group of 20 Feral Pigeons were also getting in on the action. They were clever enough to realise they had no chance against the ducks once the food was on the ground so were landing on people to take the food out of the hand. I decided to get in on the action and manged some selfies with the pigeons. Not quite the same as a selfie with a Hawkie but fun none the less.

selfie with two feral pigeons

and in true Attenborough style here is the secret behind the making of the selfie (photo Håvard Klemsdal)

Little Grebes (dvergdykker)

Roe Deer

young Common/Harbour Seal (steinkobbe)

1st winter male Wigeon (brunnakke)

female Bearded Tit from yesterday

and male