Thursday, November 22, 2012

Heading down Western Norway

I left Molde on a ten-minute ferry ride across a portion of the Moldefjord. Once across, I cycled through broad-leaved woodland displaying a variety of awesome autumn colours. Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were common, and I took a second glance at each woodpecker to make sure I wasn’t missing any of the white-backed variety. Not far down the road, while watching a small party of birds, I found my first Pygmy Owl. Awesome little birds! This species closely resembles the Pearl-spotted Owlet in Africa, except that it does not have the two spots ('eyes') at the back of the head.

The first major town I visited was Ålesund, where I made an unsuccessful four-hour search for the Little Grebes that usually hang out at one of the nutrient-rich lakes within the residential area. Determined to find the species, I promised myself to pay the lake another visit on my return from Giske Island, just offshore from Ålesund. To get to Giske I had to take a bus ride through two sub-sea tunnels and over a bridge, which connect Giske to the mainland via two other islands, if that makes any sense? Though I arrived in the dark, I had taken a look at the layout of the island on Google Earth, so had a good idea where to pitch my tent for my two day stay.

The north western side of Giske Island, looking out to sea.

Giske is a fairly small island so it was easy getting around by bike - I completed the road circuit on the island several times! The main species I wanted to find at Giske was Red-necked Grebe. Unfortunately, since I only had binoculars, I only had distant views of what I thought must be the species. Not satisfied that I could make a positive identification, I left the species off my bird list. However, I was rewarded with great views of Velvet Scoter, a black sea duck with a bright orange bill. These were common around the island, as well as Common Scoters, Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Divers, Goldeneyes, Common Eiders, Wigeons and Long-tailed Ducks. The latter I had not seen for some time, so it was great to finally see the males in their splendid winter plumage. The occasional Razorbill was also seen flying past close to shore. The shoreline on the north western side of the island held Common Shelducks, Curlews, Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlins, Redshanks, Sanderlings, and a pair of Grey Plovers. A pair of Ruddy Turnstones amongst some rocks was a nice surprise. I was also pleased to see my first male Teal in breeding plumage; a small but attractive duck indeed! I scoured the grasslands near the shorelines for rare pipits but only got the usual species such as Meadow and Rock Pipits, as well as Skylarks, Snipes and occasionally a flock of Twites. 

A Velvet Scoter, a common species along the Norwegian West Coast.

After my two days at Giske, I headed back to Ålesund through the tunnels again. A quick visit to the lake in search of the Little Grebe was quick indeed. A single grebe was the first bird I saw on the water as I approached! A far cry from the four-hour search just days before - but that’s how it works, this hobby called birding. South of Ålesund I took a couple of ferries to ensure I stayed on the scenic coastal route. It was while rushing to catch one of these ferries that I had my first views of a somewhat shy White-backed Woodpecker. Woodpeckers can sometimes hide pretty well behind a pole at the best of times, and this one was no exception. After clinching the most important features on the bird before it moved off, I was happy to resume my rush to catch the morning ferry ride.

A typical ferry at the port.

On my way south along the coast, I made a detour to a recommended birding location called Ervik. Ervik lies nestled between two mountain ridges, and has an idyllic beach, a few houses, some agricultural fields and a lake. I could have settled there permanently! Its also known amongst surfers, and there were two at the time trying to catch waves. Back to birding, the target species here was Stonechat. Expecting to find one perched on a fence like they do in South Africa, I eventually found one foraging within a patch of shrubs behind the beach. The bird was very discreet and spent most of the time close to the ground, only perching occasionally. He was in the company of a large flock of Greenfinches and a Wren. 

A view over Ervik, with the beach on the left and the lake on the right.

From the cliff overlooking the sea I tried scanning for migrating seabirds, but once again it was clear I lacked stronger optics. The only birds I could identify were the ones close to shore, and these included a flock of Common Scoters, and the occasional Gannet flying by. It was interesting to watch the scoters ride the rough surf without landing on top of the rocks; they seem quite content getting tossed about by the swells and having waves crash down on them!

A view from the cliffs at Ervik, while trying to identify passing seabirds.

Although the weather held back occasionally, the rain and wind was rather relentless at Ervik. When I heard from a local resident that the forecast for the next day was less rosy, I decided it would be best to move on. Besides, it was still a long stretch to get to Bergen, the next major milestone. I headed for Maløy, a significant fishing port to the south of Ervik, and took the early evening ferry ride across the fjord. I found a camping spot beside the road close to the top of the first hill. The evening was perfect, moderate temperature, no sign of rain, and no wind. Perhaps a little too perfect…

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