An example of a well functioning birding network.
Prior to leaving Australia I'd been in contact with Eddie Chapman, who lives in
Voss, between Bergen and Oslo . Eddie is an occasional Birding-Aus contributor
as well as a local expert. I asked him for some contacts in Bergen, and he
passed my details on to some others. Within half an hour of my receiving a
reply from Eddie, I was contacted by Michael Fredriksen in Bergen who offered
to take me out on a trip. Little did I know what sort of trip. When I arrived
in Bergen, Michael told me they wanted an early start.
An "early start" in the Norwegian summer is something to be reckoned with.
Michael said we had to get to the birds before they settled down when the sun
got higher. I woke at 3:30am in near daylight, and was outside just after 4,
only to find my lift already there. We were in a hurry for the Bruarvik ferry.
Present were Michael and his son Ian. Another birdo, Terje Hansen, shared the
back seat with me. We set off, meeting on the way a fourth, Bjarne Andersen,
who tagged along in a separate car. The weather was cool, but not cold, and
Bergen to Voss is normally a two hour drive for the law-abiding Norwegians.
However it is widely accepted in Vestland that speed limits do not apply to
those who are chasing ferries. This is well demonstrated on the main road
between Bergen and Stavanger, and this particular trip, while in a different
direction, was no exception. Not that the trip to Voss was without
observations, of course. By the time we arrived we'd seen lesser black backed
gull, common gull, grey heron, mallard, hooded crow, magpie, willow warbler
(the most common bird in Norway in Summer), chiff-chaff, raven and blackbird.
On the beautiful lake at Voss saw lapwings, with their weird electronic calls,
and got close looks at red breasted mergansers, while goldeneyes flew past - we
got better looks at these later on.
It was about this point that I began to suspect that I was in the company of
Serious Twitchers. Not only did these guys know where the birds were, and what
they sounded like, but they also knew how many had been seen in Norway in
recent years. I was way out of my depth, but they were friendly,
understandably proud of their country and eager to help me with any questions.
The next stage was to the ferry at Bruarvik on the Eidfjord, an upper reach of
the Hardangerfjord. We arrived with a few minutes to spare and waited,
watching fieldfares, pied wagtails (the ubiquitous ferry-terminal bird) and
wood pigeons. We could also hear chaffinches, bullfinches and a wren - a bird
I was never able to get on to - calling in the thickets up the hill. House
martins had nested in the embankment near the terminal, and on boarding the
ferry itself, we noticed that they'd also made their home under the eave of the
wheelhouse. One of the staff told us that the ferry was about to be retired
and moved somewhere south, and that the crew were concerned about the martins'
We crossed the Eidfjord to Brimnes, where the climb to the Hardangervidda
began. We got a greenfinch at Garen while a yellowhammer called its little
heart out from a rock wall supporting the old road to the Vidda, now used only
for enthusiastic cyclists and a tourist "train". The experts were able to pick
out the call of an icterine warbler, but I was only able to recognise the
Cooler air told us that the climb was over, and we'd arrived on the
Hardangervidda. This plateau is an alien landscape to an Australian, even to
one that has survived two Norwegian winters, and one that remains etched in the
memory. The snow was melting fast, and patches of rock were growing all
around. Running in a near straight line from our north east to due north was
the imposing black ridge known as Hallingskarvet, and out of sight to our north
was the low, flat glacier the Hardangerjøkulen, and beyond that, Finse, where
the Bergen to Oslo railway crosses the Vidda. A number of cabins dotted the
landscape but apart from the occasional ski tracks, no humans were to be seen.
It wasn't for a few minutes that I noticed that nearly every snow free patch
had a bird of some sort perched on the highest exposed rock. Low areas were
filled with small icy looking lakes. We'd stop the cars, crunch off into the
snow with our scopes, pick out some birds, and move on. In this way we got
lesser scaup, which look a little like large tufted ducks, which were also
present, snipe, with its oddly long bill, the startling bluethroat, dunlin and
wheatear. Perhaps the most common birds there were meadow pipit and golden
plover. Redshank, and ringed plover were also there in some number. It seemed
so odd to see these birds not only not wading, but standing around in snow!
The snow seemed to suit the Lapland buntings, though.
We stopped just shy of Halne, and were surveying the landscape when a nudge
from Bjarne suggested something was out. Not far off was a pair of ptarmigan,
the red colour of their necks identifying them as willow ptarmigan. We spent a
half hour or so admiring (and slowly stalking) these magnificent birds, and
Terje took some exceptional digiscoped photos. Subsequently I've learned they
go also by the name of willow grouse, but I prefer ptarmigan, as it's more
reminiscent of the place. Oddly enough the Norwegians laughed that it must
have been named by the English, who are fond of silent first Ps in names.
Norwegians insist that first letters are always pronounced, such as in "kniv" a
Moving up the Halne itself, we spied a ring ousel, which was also one of my
target birds, based solely on its ridiculous name. While watching this bird,
we also got shore lark and a distant long-tailed duck. A shout from the other
side of the road alerted us to the fact that a rough-legged buzzard had
arrived. Unfortunately I can't remember who it was who spotted the bird, it
may have been either Ian or Bjarne. It was distant at first, standing on the
ground near some rocks, but eventually it came over and crossed the road,
giving us good views.
Pausing for a reed bunting, told from a Lapland bunting by the black nape as
well as the lack of black on the breast, we continued down to Haugastøl, where
the road meets the railway line and the famous Rallarvegen trail starts. This
was the signal for a "pølsepause", a sausage break. Here also were common
teal, swifts, starling and house sparrow - relatively dull birds in comparison
to what we'd just seen.
At this point we left the Hardangervidda behind, and continued through Geilo,
Ål, Gol and up to Kvanhøgd on Golsfjellet. This area, too, is a plateau, but
is distinct from the Hardangervidda as it is much flatter, and seen from afar,
it looks like a huge flat bowl. I get the impression that this is a place that
knows how to get seriously cold in winter. The lack of rocky outcrops makes
this area more fertile during the warmer months (or perhaps "weeks"), as the
vegetation was more wooded, and farms were everywhere. Here we met a Slavonian
grebe, with its startling golden eyebrow tufts, Eurasian curlews, siskin,
brambling and dunnock. Yellow wagtail were also in the long grass on the sides
of the roads, and swooping around were barn swallows. At this point my notes
say "song thrush", but this probably my bad translation of "sanglerke", which
is the more likely skylark, as we were surrounded in grassland. A lone kestrel
made its presence felt although I had some difficulty telling it at first from
the outline of a cuckoo in flight. On the bank of a lake we spotted a
greenshank, with its slightly upturned bill.
We left the cars and walked into some woods, following the drumming of the
three-toed woodpecker, but alas, the sound carries a long way and we eventually
decided to retreat. We were rewarded back at the cars with a Eurasian jay, and
some sand martins. The lakes nearby had both red throated divers and black
throated divers as well as wigeon, and the heath between road and lake yielded
whinchat and redwing. One of the highlights of the day for me was the four
cranes with a pair of chicks that live in the high marsh here.
At this point I was having some difficulty keeping my eyes open, but more birds
kept me awake. We began our long journey Westwards towards Bergen again.
Passing through Hol, I noticed that Haugastøl was just to the North. Last time
I was here there was nothing but snow. At Hovsfjord near Hol we stopped to
check the resident black headed gulls, and picked up goosander and a wood
sandpiper. We also watched as a golden eagle patrolled a ridge nearby - an
We were now on the North side of the Hallingskarvet, and climbing again towards
the top of the Aurlandsdalen. Successive lakes as we climbed had more and more
ice, and the assembled experts were on the lookout for goldeneye, specifically
to check the ratio of males to females. The thawing lakes are important for
their breeding cycles, and the females stay on the higher lakes, while the
males stay lower. At the highest point we finally spotted one of my favourite
birds, the fossekal, or dipper. This little gem is Norway's national bird, and
brilliant to watch bobbing on the ice. From here we drove directly home to
Bergen, through the picturesque Flåm, where we got our last bird, the
oystercatcher. We arrived back in Bergen at 11:30 in the evening, in deepening
In all, the 20 hour twitch covered some 700 km through, for me, the most
spectacular scenery on Earth. In about 70 species for the day (not counting
ones that the expert ears picked out but were either unrecognisable or
inaudible to me), 41 were ticks for me. Having only been on twitchathon teams
that wimp out and actually sleep, I'd never been on any trips like this one.
My thanks are to Michael, Ian, Terje and Bjarne for the most astonishing day,
and for their friendliness and enthusiasm for their country and their birds.
Thanks also to Eddie Chapman and also to Russell Woodford for having
Birding-Aus in the first place. Without Birding-Aus this might have been
possible, but just that much more difficult.
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