Alan Dalton post's birding diaries and original artwork from Sweden. Established in 2006, this now long running blog is now a complete overview of my birding experiences. As an artist I greatly enjoy sketching birds in the field and you will find a wide selection of that work here, from fieldwork to finished paintings. I am very passionate about my artwork and try to depict birds in their natural habitat, as I see them in the wild. My artwork is for sale and can be viewed at http://www.alandalton.net/
As regards to my photography, since 2008 I have used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera coupled with a Sigma 150-500mm OS lens for since March 2012 for bird photography, all previous images being digiscoped. Regarding sound recording, I have been usung a Telinga Stereo Dat Mic and parabol to record birds in the field, coupled to a Marrantz 661 digital recorder, a superb piece of kit. Interest in butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies has recently seen the accquisition of a Sigma 150mm macro lens. I hope you enjoy the blog and please feel free to leave comments or contact me at alandltn@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fieldsketches; Tyresta National Park











 Displaying Great Crested Grebes in the images above..




 Crane preening..




 Above and below; This male Yellowhammer was a great subject, giving great views for 40 minutes..




Some recent fieldsketches, all done at Ovre Kärret in Tyresta National Park...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tyresta National Park; Sound Recordings; 26th March 2012

Arrived at dawn at Tyresta National Park, the conditions almost perfect for recording, with clear skies and just a light wind. I spent about five hours recording various species, light snow making conditions difficult and I found the breeze gave me problems at times, vibrating the dish dimensions and affecting recording. Wind is not the recordists friend! I was able to get into sheltered positions though in most areas and get around this. I got my first soundbite today at the marsh at Ovre Kärret, lots of birds calling, dominated by the occasional warning calls of a pair of Crane. Later I watched my recording levels carefully and got some very fine recordings of Common Buzzard, Goldcrest and Chaffinch as the wind dropped off. I have got an old camera strap now for the dish, which can easily be slung over the shoulder whilst walking and looking about. So, some new species and a real idea of the kind of recordings I can expect from the equipment...



Here is a recording of Ovre Kärret, where a pair on newly arrived Common Crane were diplaying, one of the truly iconic sounds of Swedish rural areas. A quite amazing, trumpeting call- Other birds can be heard on this dawn recording, calling Eurasian Jay, Whooper Swan, Siskin and Great Spotted Woodpecker, as well as singing Song Thrush and Yellowhammer.







Here again the calls of Common Crane displaying, though this time the recording is tighter...







Close by were a pair of Goldeneye, you can hear the display calls here if you listen carefully, before the drake gives a louder call typical of courting males..







After leaving Ovre Kärret I walked towards the sound of a displaying Common Buzzard and managed to get a very nice recording of this bird..







A little while later I recorded this singing Goldcrest. One can see on the sonogram the high pitch of the song, perhaps the highest pitch of all birds at the site....







Chaffinch are now returning in numbers and these strong singers offer good recording opportunity. Here a probable adult male singing strongly, providing a nice sonogram..






Again here a Chaffinch, but this bird was much duller in tone a judged to be a second calender bird. A young bird that lacks experience on the breeding grounds. Note the difference in song to the adult bird above, a much weaker song which shows a markedly different sonograms. Ageing birds is one area where sound recording can be exremely useful in the field...






Also very abundant today where Siskin, another meber of the finch family. Here is a nice recording of an adult male singing close by...






Another male Siskin here in song, with Eurasian Nuthatch, European Robin and Song Thrush all in the background...






More Siskin this time, though not the song above. This time there were a few birds calling and seemingly displaying in flight...






A European Robin here in song, probably just returned on migration as there were none here a few days ago. The song in the early season is often unpolished and is refered to as 'plastic song'. In time the song is refined by the singing bird in order to impress a female...






A drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker here...right atop a dead tree hammering away....


So, all in all, a very good mornings recording I think. I think I have the use of the equipment worked out and the results with the telinga dish are quite amazing. Mostly common species seen today, but even still there were two year ticks, Song Thrush and Green Sandpiper. A Woodcock was also flushed over the morning, probably the best bird of the day, though the displaying Cranes at dawn was very memorable.

Birding at Hjälstaviken; 25th March 2012

 Pink Footed Geese with a single Bean Goose. These would be seen right at the end of the day after much searching for them, flying past Lingbokullen three times in the end. A full account of the days birding below...
  Note the small stubby bill on these Pink Footed Geese, which is largely dark in appearance. The upperwing is bluish toned grey, quite different from Bean Goose in this instance. The head is rounded and the neck looks short, as well as being small and compact. Then of course there are the pink feet...



Hjälstaviken the venue on a clear day, the light excellent on the day. I met with John Costello and we set out from the south end of the wetland, checking the reedbeds first. The wind proved stronger than we thought and was very chilly, coming from the northeast. Nevertheless there were birds straight away, Greylag Geese were along the road, whilst a Common Buzzard drifted north. Chaffinch were noticable, a recent arrival rom the south. A few Skylark sang overhead, whilst a couple of Common Crossbill were better, flying past calling. Black-headed Gulls were moving, as we approached the reedbeds the first Reed Bunting flicked across the walkway, shower white outertail feathers in typical fashion. Then another couple of yearticks, a Linnet flew past, calling as it went, whilst 3 Teal were on the water to the south. New birds for 2012 kept coming, the first calls of Common Crane came across the lake, a flock of Cormorant flew south. Birds were more numerous than the last visit, then a familiar dark shape above..


 Above and below; Adult White Tailed Eagle, the bird gave stunning views as it floated over our heads, followed by a second! Hjälstaviken is quite simply a superb site for the species...



The reedbeds produced no Bearded Tit, we moved onwards to the south, a Stock Dove flew past, the first of several birds to do so. Woodpigeon were also moving and several flocks were noted. A bit further on a Mistle Thrush flew past us and gave a good view before we approached the observation tower, fields full of Greylag Goose awaited. First though we had a look from the tower to secure a few more new birds for the calender year, Wigeon were present, at least a dozen. A Meadow Pipit flew over calling somewhere around this point, while a Great Crested Grebe was picked out on the open water. Pintail proved frustating as we thought we had a male in cover, though in the end we left it to look through the geese at the site. Greylag were everywhere, small numbers of Canada Geese also grazed the fields around the track. It didnt take long to locate 5 Eurasian White Fronted Geese, though the birds flew after a short time. Small numbers of Taiga Bean Goose where then picked up, then more White Fronted, very nice birding this. A pair of Gadwall dropped in, whilst a small flock of Barnacle Goose did the same. We decided to place ourselves of the birds flightpath, between the fields and the water. Soon this paid off as small groups of Greylag began to fly past, giving some great oppotunities for in flight shots in quite superb light...


 A pair of Greylag, note the pale grey upper forewing, the pale appearance overall and the large orange bill on these birds. In addition the call is quite distinctive..




 A lone Greylag Goose in the sunshine...




 Greylag trio over our heads..




 A couple of Greylags head towards the fields to feed..


It was very nice to have such a nice day, with good light. The birds streamed over and it wasn't long until Eurasian White Fronted Geese also began to fly over and give us some cracking views. Their call was most distinctive and easily picked out when the birds took to the air, giving us ample warning the get the cameras ready. Through the scope I located 29 birds in all, they flew to and fro and gave us every chance to get a few shots. Also above us where Bean Geese, about 90 of which were present..


 Half and half! Eurasian White fronted Geese with Greylags overhead. The markings on the belly of the White Fronts most useful feature from below, the call also being very easy to pick out..




 Above and below; Bean Geese were also very much in evidence, note the dark bil with orange tone, orange legs and dark appearance in this shot. Rather large geese these, long necked, with flattened head profiles..





Despite careful searching, there were no Pink Footed Geese  that we could see. Such were the photo opportunities though, we stayed on for a couple of hours before moving on the Lingbokullen were 3 Common Buzzard were actively displaying overhead....

 Common Buzzard, a typical individual this...




 Also today were at least 100 Lapwing, flighty and at times distant. This one flew past as we waited for geese..


 Eurasian White Fronted Geese offered such good shots that we stayed on to photograph them getting our best shots of the species to date..






 Here the white around the base of the bill from which the spcies gets its name can be clearly seen..


 Above and below; More images of Eurasian White fronted Geese, they just kept coming..



Onwards then to Lingbokullen where we spent the late afternnon. There were few geese on the ground here suprisingly, though there was a steady stream of birds flying northwest to the fields. Most were Bean and we had amazing views, the odd White Front livening things up, whilst a trickle of Greylag passed throughout. Cranes were in evidence here all day and we a lovely bird do a solo flyby. Then I picked up two geese which struck as quite pale on the upperwing, short necked and dark billed. I shouted to John immediately, finally, we had Pink Footed Goose in front of the camera! John was very happy having missed one on the previous visit. We had great views as they flew to the fields first, then back to the lake, before returning with Bean Geese again! We had lovely views of displaying Common Buzzard high overhead throughout, before we left to get home. A great days birding in any book...


Above and Below; A Common Crane overhead at Lingbokullen...



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Eagle Owl in Display; Sound Recording

Spent the evening awaiting the Eagle Owl male at a local breeding site. The bird displays every evening and eventually it appeared, though remained back within a stand of trees, calling every eight or nine seconds. The local Blackbirds were going berserk throughout! I had the Telinga with me a duly recorded the bird. Also here are some other recordings from this Evening of Blackbird and Great Tit. This time I had the recorder on the correct setting for the parabol and I was blown away by the sound it gathered. Distant birds could be heard clearly with the headphones, indeed, I could hear birds and identify them that were not possible to hear at all by naked ear! I learned a second lesson today straight away from a singing Blue Tit which was right in front of me. I recorded the bird and the volume was LOUD through the earphones, the recording on replay was distorted in places of high pitch, which is when I realized what the 'Recording Level' dial was for. I lowered the dial to 4 and when a Great Tit popped up close by I got a perfectly clear recording that gave a beautifully clear sonogram. Second big practical lesson coming on day two in the field then! Eventualy I sat and waited for the Eagle Owl, enjoying listening through the parabol greatly, picking up distant Skylark on passage to boot. Stock Dove could be heard clearly displaying at about 120 metres! Eventually the owl appeared, though at the back of the woods, not sitting out at the front and remaining at perhaps 350 metres range. The recordings were still good, the bird clearly audible and identifiable! After a few minutes the bird stopped calling and didnt fly overhead on it's usual route and did not call again. I contented myself with recordings of the local Blackbird population and got more familiar with the equipment. Results below, converted to MP3 files in Audacity.



The display call of a male Eagle Owl here, a rather simple note that can nevertheless carry a couple of kilometres on a still night...




I had been track a pair of Mallard that were flying past when the Eagle Owl started to call at 6.16pm., that recording above..




Other birds had earlier been the subject of the parabols attention. Here a distant chorus of Blackbirds, a very beautiful song indeed...




Here another Blackbird after dush at first giving subsong, before spotting me and giving the species classic alarm call...




Here a Blackbird scolds from the ground, often a sifn that a ground predator, such as a cat, is close by...




Here a Great Tit calling close by, listen for the low call of Grey Heron after the third call...




First day of Sound Recording; Tyresta National Park; 20th March 2012

The first day out with the Telinga Stereo Dat setup today, the location was Tyresta National Park. As one might expect there were many hurdles to overcome and getting used to settings on the Marrantz 661, as well as the Pro8 handle will take time to master. Despite not having everything set up perfectly I did manage my first recordings which are here. Its still early in the year here and the huge majority of summer migrants have yet to arrive, I will use the tme available to try familiarize myself with the equipment in order to get the best possible recordings in the coming months. This will be a very steep learning curve, there is a lot to learn. I have decided to use Audacity to edit and convert my files to MP3 files, then uploading to the Xeno-Canto database. I have also downloaded Ravenlite from Cornell Lab to help analyze sonograms...

 Basically, today was day one in the field. My mistake was to set the recorder, a Marrantz 661, on Line Mic. This was the wrong setting and meant that the parabol was not utilized and the recording was done directly from the inhouse mic on the Marrantz. As a result there were problems with noise, such as me moving, or touching the recorder. Even with this happening I still got usable recordings! I returned home and found downloading managable after a few Youtube tutorials, then realizing my error on hearing the recordings. So, a lesson learned, something which would be remedied in future trips. Despite the error, heres what I got, a little noisy, but hey...


Arrrived at the park at the Nyfors entrance and noticed five Goosander present on Flaten. As I passed them into the woods they began to display and I moved back quietly and recorded their odd calls from behind cover in case I disturbed them. Recording opens up a whole new world, I'd never paid much attention to this species before, a really wonderful display this and nice to get it down...




My main target species for the day was Black Woodpecker, which are displaying busily at the moment. I came across this bird at Ovre Kärret and waas able to record his display/song from about 75 metres away. This is one of the best sounds around at the moment and very much a signature noise of swedish forest habitats, a very evocative sound...




Long Tailed Tit. Found these two birds moving through the wood in a small mixed flock, with Blue Tit and Goldcrest, both of which can also be heard of this recording. These are the typical calls heard from feeding birds..





Woodpeckers are very busy displaying right now, as well as calling in the forest they display to other males by drumming. Here is a recording of 2 Greater Spotted Woodpeckers drumming to each other from the boundaries of their territories. One bird was quite close, the other, clearly more distant. These birds have favoured drumming posts which they habitually visit, often early in the morning. Other species do the same, though often have slightly differing drum bursts and volume...





Lastly a common species, here a male Blackbird calls nervously as it watches me from a small pine. This will be a familiar call to many people from all over europe, one of a repotoire of call and songs the species gives. Therein lies the beauty of recording, there are often several calls given by any one species, sometimes different calls by the same species realted to their sex, behaviour of age...


Over the coming months I will try get out recording often and will post here on the blog. It struck me today just how difficult it is to avoid noise disturbance when recording, even at such a remote national park there was constant noise from planes, helicopters, pylons and distant cars...

Telinga Parabol Equipment

 My new sound recording system arrived over the weekend, this is more or less the whole system set up, though the mic is more securely attached to the parabol in the field. Note the clear, soft plastic parabol, which is key to the recording process. A fairly light bit of kit to carry about..




 Telinga Stereo Dat Mic. After a bit of thought decided to go for the Stereo Dat for a nice full sound...




 Telings Pro8 Handle. The grip by which the system is held, internally wired. The cable here is attached directly to the Stereo Dat Mic...






Marrantz 661 Digital Recorder. Picked this up some time ago second hand from a birding friend, a nice straightforward machine to use in the field. The machine was hardly used as is in perfect condition. There is a carrying case with it for use in the field, allowing it to hang at ones side by means of a shoulder strap.

My interest in birdsong and in particular, their calls has seen me invest in a system to record them. The above Telinga Stereo Dat package is a complete kit designed to record focused sound my means of a stereo microphone mounted in the centre of a parabol. This is perfect tool for picking up and recording the sounds birds make, from songs to calls, as well as other behaviours, such as the drumming of woodpeckers. Its a fantastic bit of kit and I'm looking forward to the spring, recording it's songsters and having the ability to record, document and share this. I will atempt to give an account of my recording, the process and progress over the coming months for antone interested. The recording of passage birds and their calls will also be very much on my agenda later in the year..

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pygmy Owl Acrylic


A quick acrylic done this afternoon, masonite panel. 14x12 inches.


Pygmy Owl Fieldsketches







Sketches of Pygmy Owl from yesterday evening. As usual these are done with a black biro, though I found myself wishing I had a pencil as it would of speeded up the drawing. Will try carry some lead around from now on as sometimes it is better suited for filling in areas of tone...


Tweet

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pygmy Owl; Segersäng; 14th March 2012

Headed for a site called Segersäng this evening in the hope of Pygmy Owl, the location having been one of the best sites close to Stockholm for the species in recent years. The journey down took about 40 minutes on the train and I then had a walk of about 1Km to lake Tarnan. I had brought the camera, binoculars, scope and a digital recorder tonight. Earlier I had taped calls of a displaying Pygmy Owl directly off the computer at home through the speakers, taping using the inbuilt microphones on the Marrantz 661. With this kit in the backpack I arrived and waited on the crest of a ridge at the west of the lake from about 17.30. Once in position I gave a quick play for 40 seconds, no reply. There were birds in the area,  two pairs of Black Woodpecker were very vocal as they disputed a border, one of the males flew over calling and gave a very nice view. I waited. At 17.45 and 17.50 I repeated the playback without response. Again at 17.50 I played the tape, as it finished and I listened. Almost straight away, at least 500m away, the distinctive mellow note of a Pygmy Owl drifted across the lake. The bird called for a couple of minutes and ceased, I played the tape again. I waited afer it stopped for perhaps 30 seconds and there it was, sitting in a spruce about 20 metres away, calling. I sketched the bird for seven or eight minutes as it looked straight at me, before flying straight over my head and moving south a little, now calling constantly...


A Pygmy Owl calling from atop a spruce tree, typical display behaviour for this cracking little bird..

I had just decided to move back to the road, when suddenly, a second bird started calling to the north! Both birds could then be heard calling to each other for several minutes and I found myself wishing my parabol microphone had arrived and I could record the birds! I listened in still conditions as darkness fell, before moving back to the road. I couldn't resist one more playback, again the bird was on top of me straight away, the bird reacting instantly to the recording. It sat over the road on top of a spruce calling and I grabbed a quick record shot at this point. The bird wasn't finished though and flew to within three metres of me, despite the fact the playback had ceased a couple of minutes previously, this time sitting in birch where I couldn't see it in the darkness. Eventually it moved off bit by bit, calling all the time. The second male was now calling again to the north. Then a different call cut through the night air, a roding Woodcock, just overhead. I sat back and listened, two Pygmy Owls and a roding Woodcock making a wonderful backdrop. A called it an evening at this point and wandered back to get the train..

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Great Grey Owl Fieldsketches and Video

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A few fieldsketches here from yesterday of the Great Grey Owl at Hagalund. Video link posted below..

CLICK ON LINK BELOW FOR VIDEO FOOTAGE;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VJTWwJ0X_s&list=UUUWm0gG93nKzlG2XotE1F3A&index=1&feature=plcp


Monday, March 12, 2012

Great Grey Owl; Hagalund; Uppland; 12th March 2012

 The first view of the bird perched, it took a very nice photo too! This is perhaps one of the very best birds in europe..




 The birdspent some time hunting in a small wooded area, often stooping into the grass after voles...




 The bird moed avery few minutes to a new perch, where it listened intently for voles in the grass..




 The bird looking over it's shoulder at a birder. Generally speaking, the bird was not concerned by our presence, though kept an eye on our movements. It being a Monday, not many people were present in any case...




 The sun here causing a problem of shadow...




 The bird hunting in the afternoon on a bright, sunny day. A remarkable sight..




 My first decent in flight shot of the day in warm sunlight..




 The bird perched on a small outhouse. It was remarkable how the bird could change shape and posture...




 A shot of the bird landing..




 Checking out a telegraph post right in front of our position. It the flew upwards and gave amazing close range views..




 Above and below; The bird approached to withing a few metres on this telegraph post right in frony of assembled birder's. An unforgetable experience..









Great Grey in flight is a really impressive sight..




Perhaps the best shot of the session, very happy to get a shot of this calibre..




My best flight shot from late in the evening. The shutter speed in low light blurred the wing moement..


A second visit today to see Great Grey Owl in Ekerö, the bird still present and showing well. There has been a second bird recorded in the last few days at the site, this news and stunning weather saw me make the journey again. I arrived at 13.35 and sat to wait with a small group of a dozen birder's. Afte just over an hour the bird swept out of the forest and across the field and so began five hours of the most wonderful views of Great Grey Owl one might ever wish for. The bird spent some time around a small area of woodland and often showed very well as it hunted. It dissapeared briefly after catching a vole, later reappearing to give amazing views, first on the woodland edge and then out in the open right in front of assembled birder's down to about eight metres. It hunted in front of us for 45 minutes before dusk set in and the group dwindled and left the area to the unting owl. A quite remarkable experience...