Birding Without Borders

Day 162: Northern Summer

Making the most of Norway’s long days.

June 11, 2015, Gausdal Mountains, Norway — “Hey, Noah, do you hear that?” 

I awoke in my sleeping bag under a pine tree to the sound of a Common Cuckoo: CU-ckoo, CU-ckoo, CU-ckoo, CUckoo. A few yards away, Bjorn was already awake.

“That’s the sound of our alarm clock!” he said. “Let’s get up!”

The sun was still just below the horizon, but dawn had arrived and the forest was alive with bird sounds: A Wood Lark sang in the distance and Common Redstarts called nearby. New year birds! I rolled over and sat up, and looked at my watch.

At first, I wondered if its battery had stopped. “Do you realize that it’s two fifteen in the morning?” I said. Bjorn was already rolling up his pad. “Yeah, birds are singing!” he replied. In Norway at this time of year, it only gets dark for an hour or two, and the best bird activity comes near sunrise. Might as well take advantage of the long days. We got up and went looking for Ortolan Buntings.

Fifty years ago, Ortolan Buntings were common in Norway, but now only six known pairs are left in the country. Nobody is sure why they declined so precipitously here, but it may have something to do with recent changes in farming practices: More efficiency, less room for wild critters (I swear the farms here are as tidy as a Formula One pit). Bjorn knew the area, though, and by 3:15 a.m. we had exquisite scope views of a singing male.

We birded hard for eight hours then took a three-hour nap around midday, and kept going through the afternoon and evening, though a flat tire slowed us down for a few minutes. I spotted a moose, a red fox, a hare, and a badger. In mid-afternoon we spent several hours sloshing around a boreal bog, looking for Rustic Buntings (and finding, instead, a couple of Bohemian Waxwings, a Northern Shrike, and some Bramblings). My shoes will dry out someday.

Late evening found us searching for a Great Snipe, one of Norway’s most iconic birds, in the mountains near Gausdal. It was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit with snow patches on the ground and a biting wind, and the snipe just weren’t calling-maybe they were waiting for a balmier evening to strut their stuff. Eventually, Bjorn and I gave up and threw our sleeping bags on the ground, crawling into them just after midnight, after another 22-hour day of birding.

New birds today: 25

Year list: 2851

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