Thursday, 30 June 2011

Last Day

 Redpoll on nest in willow shrub

Today was the last day of our trip to north Norway. We rounded it off with catching and ringing another Broad-Billed Sandpiper and a brood of Wood Sandpiper chicks.

But I thought I should mention the passerines which nest here in the arctic. Here are a couple of shots of a Redpoll on her nest set in a low willow bush. The nest is a fine mesh of willow down and grasses, lined with a thick wad of Willow Grouse feathers - the white ones moulted by the grouse as they turn from white to brown plumage in spring. A wonderfully warm nest for these high latitudes.

  Redpoll nest and eggs

And as a last parting shot here is a fledgling Hawk Owl, one of a brood of four which we came across today.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ringing Broad-Billed Sandpipers

Today we were ringing Broad-Billed Sandpipers. This whole trip to north Norway has been focused on the study of these birds and other arctic-breeding waders, especially Jack Snipe. And the study has been ongoing for several years, led by my brother Rab, Skitts to the birders who know him, and Karl-Birger Strann of the Norsk institutt for naturforskning in Tromso. I have been a mere helper on this trip and am grateful to them both for a great experience, and to Ed Duthie and Harry Scott who have helped on this project before and have been a great lead on the birds of the area. All have made this an excellent excursion.

 Adult Broad-Billed Sandpiper marked with a unique
combination of colour rings for ready identification
     in the field wherever it is seen on the breeding area
 or in its wintering grounds.

 The chicks are incrediibly well camouflaged, their
white speckled down mimicing the water glistening
on the waterlogged vegetation where they live in the arctic mires.

And they are tiny, all four sit easily within the palm of a hand.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Mountain heath

We were up on the  North Norwegian mountain heath, mire and woodland today, in a very remote place close to the Finnish border. Wonderful light after a shower of rain.

A dunlin stands on a mossy hummock watching over his chicks.

A grand old mountain birch tree, probably hundreds of years old, and grown in a natural twisted form, unlike most of the trees close to roads or easy access where they grow in a close coppiced form.

 Intricate tapestries of lichens covered the ground

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Long-Tailed Skuas

 Long-Tailed Skua, showing the fine long tail streamers

It is not only the owls which are breeding well during the current peak in small mammal numbers. Long-Tailed Skuas are also cashing in on the abundant lemmings. These seem to have peaked in numbers during winter, but the numbers are still high enough for the birds to rear their chicks.

 Adult skuas defend their chicks by stooping at any intruder

A family party of Long-Tailed Skuas at the nest.Handsome birds in flight and on the ground.
More owls

 Adult female Short-Eared Owl

The are high numbers of grey-sided voles in northern Scandinavia at the moment and consequently the owls are breeding well, rearing large broods of chicks on the abundant food supply. Yesterday I saw Hawk Owls with a large brood, today I saw a brood of seven Short-Eared Owls.

 Short-Eared Owls have beautiful big yellow eyes

Owl chicks are of different ages, by a day or so between each. This is because the female begins to incubate as soon as the first egg is laid. In a brood of seven there is a large range of ages and sizes of the chicks. In this nest there were only four chicks still in the nest. The other three had wondered into the nearby shrubbery, which all helps to ensure that if the nest is brood are attacked by a predator, at least some chicks should survive.

Four owlets in the ground nest of a Short-Eared Owl
with a grey-sided vole at the side - supplied entirely
by the male bird
Hawk Owls

 Adult Hawk Owl

It was raining for a couple of days here in North Norway, so we went for a drive down to Finland for a walk in the pinewoods. The birds were a bit quiet due to the rain, it was only a light drizzle, but it was good to see and hear Waxwings, Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers. And it especially good to come across a pair of Siberian Jays, and a fledged brood of Hawk Owls. There were at least five large fledglings, and the adults were unconcerned about us as they brought in voles, grey-sided, while we were there.

One of the larger owlets

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Lapland flowers

Arctic Bell-Heather Casiope tetragona

While looking for birds in north Norway, I find myself walking past some wonderful displays of wild flowers. Here are just a very few selected species. The bell-heather and diapensia grow up on the high plateux, where it is windswept and the plants all grow very low to the ground.

Diapensia lapponica

In the lower heaths and bogs one of the mose abundant plants is the Labrador Tea, along with various species of heaths, such as Mountain Heath Phyllodoce caerulea and Bog Rosemary Andromeda polifolia.

 Labrador Tea Ledum palustre

 Lapland Lousewort Pedicularis lapponica

Waders in north Norway

 Spotted redshank

I am up in north Norway at the moment studying high latitude breeding waders. The habitats are lakeside mires within which there are several sub-habitats utilised by various waders for feeding and nest sites. Open water is used by red-necked phalaropes, open sedge is used by broad-billed sandpiper, close growing sedge is used by jack snipe, wood sandpiper and reeves. Spotted redshanks nest on the nearby heath and lead their chicks into the bogs to feed.

 Lakeside mire

 Spotted redshank

Wood sandpiper

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Ringing buzzard chicks

Yesterday I was out ringing buzzard chicks with Dave Leitch, Ewan and Jenny. We ringed birds from several broods bringing the group total for 2001 to over fifty chicks. These are quiet raptor chicks, compared with those of most falcons or accipiters. So the whole effort was a relaxed experience with time to appreciate the birds. And even easier as Ewan did all the tree climbing and passed the chicks down to the grown where we ringed them in comfort, then passed them back up to Ewan at the nests.

Here are a few shots of the birds being ringed.

Outer Hebrides

 Berneray beach

I took a few days off last week and went for a trip around the Uists. I had planned to ring wader chicks there as they are usually so abundant in the machair grasslands. But this year, with such cold wet and windy weather, there were very few chicks. Nor any adults about. The oystercatchers were in flocks, or on eggs. I have never seen the islands so quiet with birds.

So I spent a bit of time watching for otters. Its always good to see these amazing animals. Fascinating how they can move so liquidly. And it good to get out of the bogs for a few days and walk with sand beneath my feet.

Cotton grass blowing in the breeze.
Shetland - whimbrel

Scalloway Castle

I have been pretty busy over the past several weeks, what with studying greenshanks in Sutherland then whimbrel in Shetland. And as the weather has been cold wet and windy the whimbrel were slow to go down on eggs. Many pairs were simply standing around as if waiting for warmer weather before they laid. So not many photographs of whimbrel, and in place I have posted a few shots of a variety of buildings on Shetland.  

 Norse click mills along a streamline

A floating hut out from Voe harbour