Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making it to southern Norway

The next milestone after leaving Bergen was Stavanger, my gateway to southern Norway and to the best birding spots in the country. Leaving Bergen I also left behind the last of the snow and ice that had made cycling more challenging the week before. I also had a few ferries still to catch on the way to Stavanger. One of these ferries was delayed by more than 12 hours due to engine trouble, so I spent a night in one of the waiting rooms at the ferry port. Thanks to the heater inside I was happy to wait!

The comfortable waiting room at the ferry port.
Though I did not get to do much birding on the way to Stavanger, I did get to see a couple of new species for my Norwegian list, such as Mute Swan and Common Crossbill. Jays and Waxwings were suddenly more common than before, and were seen and heard regularly along the way. Some of the agricultural fields near Fitjar town were packed with Fieldfares and the occasional Redwing.

A Fieldfare, one of many on the agricultural fields at Fitjar.

After spending a night in another waiting room at a ferry port just north of Stavanger, I arrived in town early. I made my way to the public library to check emails and complete some admin work. Using Google Earth, I found a potential camping site in a park not far from the city centre which seemed remote enough for wild camping. When I arrived at the site in the evening, I headed towards the largest and darkest patch I could find. Confident that I had found a good spot, I pitched my tent for the night. Next morning I woke to find that there were two walking paths passing my tent by some 15 metres! Some morning joggers and a group of pre-school children must have been astonished to see my tent in the middle of the wooded park. So much for stealth camping! 

Crossing a bridge on the way to Stavanger.

After staying a couple days in Stavanger, I headed south towards Jæren, one of the best birding areas in Norway. A rare Isabelline Wheatear had been seen there during the preceding week, so I had even more reason to get there sooner than later. On the way south I stopped at a small bay at Hafrsfjord to find the American Wigeon that had been in the area for some years; a nice bird to add to my Norwegian list. The bird was a male in full breeding plumage and was amongst dozens of Wigeons, Mallards and Velvet Scoters. The next stop was the small harbour of Ølberg where an Iceland Gull had been sighted the week before. Despite scanning all the Herring Gulls there was no sign of the gull. With the sun setting it was time to find a campsite for the night; a spot behind the beach dunes at Bore was in order!

The male American Wigeon (right) at Hafrsfjord.

The next day I worked my way down the coast, visiting any accessible small bays and beaches with lots of kelp in the hope of finding a rare pipit or wheatear. It was while visiting one of these bays that I was surprised to meet Martin, whom I first met on Røst Island in late September. Martin had just finished a survey of dead seabirds along a stretch of beach, so I joined him for a short stint of birding. After getting some tips on where to find some specials in the area, Martin and I parted ways as he had to return to a long day at work.

The open spaces of Jæren, one of Norway's best birding areas.
At Orrevatnet, a large fertile lake in the northern part of Jæren, the birding was particularly good. Although the Isabelline Wheatear was no longer in the area, there were still other good birds to chase. The ploughed agricultural lands surrounding the lake held large numbers of Meadow Pipits, White Wagtails and Lapwings. The single Bewick’s Swan that had been associating with a large flock of Whooper Swans was still present, adding a nice lifer to my list. A distant Hen Harrier gliding over the marshes was a nice surprise, while a Sparrowhawk made a brief appearance when it perched on a fence close by. I visited the beach near the village of Orre to search for another bird that had been in the area for some years, namely a Surf Scoter (an American species). While a number of other species were riding the waves close to the shore, such as Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Razorbill, Great Northern Diver, Velvet and Common Scoter, there was no sign of the scoter.  I scanned the surf on a number of occasions during the day without any luck.

The next day I met up with Kjell, whom I first met while birding on Vaerøy Island in Lofoten. Kjell and his family kindly hosted me for a night, and Kjell even managed to arrange a morning off from work to take me birding to his local patches. Some of the first species encountered included a Water Rail calling from the reedbeds in front of Kjell’s house, a number of Great Crested Grebe pairs, a few Common Buzzards and a female Pochard. Our attempt to find the Surf Scoter was successful, and so I finally got to see the stunning male bird that Kjell himself found five years earlier at the same location. Later we visited a small lake to get views of male Pochards, but instead were rewarded with great views of a small group of Bearded Reedlings moving through the reedbed. The males are incredibly beautiful birds with their blue-grey heads and drooping black ‘moustaches’. Simply great birding! Moving on we visited some beaches strewn with kelp with the hope of finding a vagrant bird. While nothing unusual was about, we did get to see a pair of Purple Sandpiper in attractive winter plumage. As the birding slowly came to an end, we picked up the single Carrion Crow amongst some Hooded Crows; another bird that had been in the area for some years. 

Kjell scanning the surf.

­According to the weather forecast, a spell of wind and rain was two days away.  It was therefore best to leave as soon as possible for the next major birding destination to the south, namely Lista. Leaving Jæren was not easy, as the area clearly has huge potential for good birds. Though I had arrived somewhat late in the season (October is best) I could easily have spent a week there. Yet another place I will return too sometime in the future...