Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sweden part 3 - wildlife

During my week in Sweden I had some wildlife other than birds. As with birds, no unexpected levels of excitement were reached, but overall it was enjoyable. I really wanted to show my family moose but this was the closest we got:

Our short stop at Ålsjön was rather productive. A young 20 cm-long Grass Snake climbed up the walls of an underpassage:

This very pregnant Sand Lizard posed on the boardwalk:

Mush Beetles are impressive beasts!

Heath Spotted Orchids were common around Luleå 

Typical Swedish scenery

The view from the top of Bälingeberget is quite awesome. retreating glaciers created these boulder fields at the end of the last ice age.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Sweden part 2 - Hökugla!

Without sharing my dark ideas with my wife, I had two bird targets for the trip to northern Sweden. One was Hawk Owl, the second was Pine Grosbeak. I birded Scandinavia as an advanced teenager in the early 1990's, so I didn't 'need' other classic Scandinavian species. Both targets are not easy in the relatively southerly and coastal region of Luleå - 'only' 66° N. I got some pre-trip intel from a local birder, but news from my friends Nanette and Thomas who were birding the area and found a family of Hawk Owls about 1.5 hrs north of Luleå, near Boden, enticed me to lose one night of sleep. I headed out of Luleå on July 1st shortly after midnight. I checked some other small roads where Hawk Owl was possible, and tried for other owls too, but only had quite many roding Woodcock. At 02:30 I got to the spot provided by Nanette, and as I drove in I heard many thrushes mobbing aggressively - it had to be an owl. A quick scan in the big tree and - Ural Owl! It quickly flew off and out of view, leaving me astonished. Unexpected and awesome, but not quite the owl I wanted... A short drive further, and as I got out of the car I immediately heard begging Hawk Owls - boom!

Quickly I spotted an adult, presumably daddy owl sitting on top of a spruce - my heart skipped a beat. What a bird! I have been dreaming to see this boreal owl for many years. I quickly secured some record shots in the low sunlight:

Then, in a more relaxed mode, I just enjoyed the family action. The adult did a few fly-byes, displaying its remarkable hawk-like silhouette. So cool! 

I did not see any actual feeding but at first the chicks were hidden so I might have missed it. Then they moved out to the open, but stopped begging and the adult disappeared.

Can you spot all three?

Here they are:

The habitat was very nice, some proper boreal forest but like everywhere in Sweden, logging created open patches. Dawn chorus was nice but nothing more exotic than Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Common Redstart etc.

Very happy with this encounter, I left the owl family in peace. I had a spot for Pine Grosbeak near Luleå airport, but when I got there I was disappointed to find degraded forest by a landfill - not very attractive and very few birds. At 06:00 I snuck back into bed for a snooze before the family woke up for another day of activities...

Thanks again to Andreas, Nanette and Thomas for the info.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Sweden road trip part 1 - birds

Got back last night from a week-long family trip to Sweden. Sweden is a wonderful country. We landed at Västerås and drove from there up north. First night we stayed near Sandvik, second near Bispgården and then we reached our destination - Luleå in the far north of Sweden. Lots of driving...
From a family point of view it was a great holiday - weather was perfect, we did lots of outdoor stuff and got to know special people. From a wildlife point of view I could have achieved more. At this time of year, best hours for birding are between 22:00 and 04:00. Because of all the driving I did, and long days of family stuff, I could afford only one night of proper birding. Other times when I was outdoors during hours when normal people are awake were rather quiet, and light conditions were horrible.
However, all in all, I saw some stuff and enjoyed the common birds Sweden has to offer.
I enjoyed seeing in good numbers migrants that are doing pretty bad in England. Red-backed Shrikes, Pied Flycatcher and Willow Warbler were present at almost every stop in the south and centre. Pied Flycatchers were breeding in almost every nestbox I saw.

Pied Flycatcher

Heading up north, a short stop at the lovely nature reserve Ålsjön was productive with breeding Whooper Swans and Slavonian Grebes.

Luleå is a special town, with lots of wildlife in it. Urban birding with Arctic Terns and Whimbrel can't be bad. 
Arctic Tern

Whimbrel - taken at 00:45 without flash...

On my final morning, before flying out, the kids had an hour at a play area in Västerås. I had time for a quick walk around Mälarpark which was rather nice with Icterine and Wood Warblers. The Icterine was singing from high up in the trees. 

Icterine Warbler

Up in the north I did have a couple of target species. I succeeded with one - more on my next blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Kitten, bee and other friends

In recent days I have been super busy getting prepared for my PhD viva (tomorrow, wish me luck!). Therefore my wildlife experiences were again reduced to non-birds. My urban bathroom continued to deliver relative quality, in the form of Small Clouded Brindle last night. It waited in the bathroom till the morning, then I took it out to the garden for some modelling.

A few nights ago two less-common and very welcome visitors entered my bathroom - Small Blood-Veins:

Large Ivy Tortrix was another new #bathroommoth:

Today while waiting for my car to get MOT'd, I paid James a quick visit for a cuppa and some moths. James trapped several fine moths this morning, and I played around with two. Sallow Kitten is one sweet little pussycat. Sadly one wingtip was broken.

Common Emerald is an attractive moth too

The single Bee Orchid growing in James's garden is looking fine

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My most-wanted!

Bird news coming out of East Anglia have strange ways. Yesterday evening a Buff-breasted Sandpiper was found at Potter Heigham Marshes, but the news didn't reach the internet-generation until mid morning today. I was stuck doing things in the morning, but as soon as I could free myself I picked up my gear and shot off. Negative news didn't put me off, and I did my best to relocate it. After a long and hot search, on the farthest scrape, a flock of Ringed Plovers flew in. I did a quick scan through the scope and  - boom! The sweetest-ever shorebird, my lovely lifer - Buff-breast! Beautiful, gingery, delicate, just as I had imagined it. Not obliging like a Davidstow Airfield slut, but I enjoyed very good scope views. Photography was horrible though, distant through heavy heat-haze, no joy here.

Phonescoped videos are a bit better:

Buff-breasted Sandpiper has eluded me since I arrived in the UK almost four years ago. There were no gettable East Anglian birds during this period, and I didn't go all the way to SW Cornwall for one (though I was tempted). I narrowly missed one in Dorset last year, so this species climbed to the top of my most-wanted birds before my departure in August. I secretly hoped for this scenario exactly. Now, after a few rapid heartbeats all is well - the plan fell into place and this embarrassing gap in my list is closed now. In fact it was a global lifer for me - I have not seen it in N America in several trips there.

Even though I was really focused on one sweet bird, I did see quite a lot of other stuff (check my eBird checklist here), including many families. Notables were Spoonbill and Hobby.


Will I have another tick before heading back? Stay posted...

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Recent moffs

Haven't been doing any birding in recent days, so my wildlife experiences were limited to a few more bathroom moths, and a couple of imported hawk-moths courtesy of James Lowen.

Pine Hawk-moth - stunning creature

Elephant Hawk-moth - always popular

Bright-line Brown-eye - flew in to the bathroom and wouldn't settle down for a proper photoshoot

Common Marbled Carpet

 Lychnis - very similar to the Campion I had a couple of weeks ago

Pretty micro - Hook-stream Grass-veneer