Birding Without Borders

Day 163: Alpine Birding

A late spring lingers above treeline.

June 12, 2015, Near Kongsberg, Norway — It’s not the fart that kills you, it’s the smell—or so they say in Norway. It may not sound like it, but this is a piece of practical advice for defensive drivers: In Norwegian, the word “fart” means speed, and “smell” means, roughly, a crash. Thus, it’s not the speed that kills you, it’s the crash!

I chuckled every time we passed a big “DIN FART” speed camera today on the highway. Bjorn said that Norwegians are aware of this double meaning (everyone here learns Norwegian first, English second, then Danish, and a language of their choice after those three). A few years ago, a visiting dignitary from the U.K. was hosted at a swanky hotel in Oslo, and the hotel staff actually put masking tape over a sign in the hotel elevator that said something ending in “I Fart” to avoid giving offense. Such a tactful country.

Today’s mission was a concerted effort in the high mountains of south-central Norway, looking for alpine birds of the north. Luckily Bjorn checked the road conditions and discovered that our highway was still closed for the winter because of snow, and so was the second road he checked. So we went to a third mountain range where the road was plowed with four-foot-high snow banks at the pass. What a place! 

The birds above treeline here are few but interesting. We found Rock Ptarmigans, Lapland Longspurs, Temminck’s Stints, Bluethroats, and Ring Ouzels on scattered islands of rock in the snowpack. Later we dropped down to sweep up Siberian Jay, White-throated Dipper, and an awesome male Capercaillie (a grouse the size of a turkey) in the stunted coniferous forest just below.

At dusk Bjorn found a camping spot in the woods and we threw down sleeping bags. Just before we drifted off for the night, I tried whistling an imitation of a pygmy-owl. After a minute, Bjorn hissed, “Whoa, a big one!” and, amazingly, a Tawny Owl had flown in over our heads, apparently to drive off the perceived pygmy-owl intruder. Bjorn, still in his sleeping bag, aimed a flashlight and spotlighted it on a branch. Suddenly, I had this weird feeling, then realized that I was in the exact scene depicted in the banner photo on this Birding Without Borders page: Lying in a sleeping bag, looking up, and shining a light on a large owl. I got to live out my own photo shoot!

New birds today: 15

Year list: 2866

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