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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Common Redpoll; Watercolour; 40cmx30cm


The first stages were completed very quickly, with quick, strong washes on colour, which were aloowed to bleed into each othere. Afte this had dried a little I quickly added the darkest area on the main subject..


Using some washes and then more opaque, thicker colour, I quickly added detail to the braches as well as a little further detail on the Redpoll. I added a larger branch to the foreground as I was not happy with the overall composition. When I was happy with the overall values I stepped back and let it dry..

The finished painting, a little further detail added to the bird and branches, the legs were added last.


Early this afternoon I was making a cup of tea when I heard the familiar call of Common Redpoll outside the window. I had a quick look and found there were four birds present near the feeders, incruding a really nicely marked adult male with a really vivid red crown. I grabbed the scope and a made a few sketches, before deciding to get the watercolour box out. I made a very quick sketch with minimal detail and quickly laid down a few washes of colour. The birds remained outside the window for around 90 minutes and by working quickly I was able to build up the branches soon after the paint had dried, whilst I was waiting for that to happen I took a few more detailed sketches of the male bird. I kept working very loosely and quickly and after the birds had left I worked off the sketches to complete the main supject. The whole piece took just three hours to complete and I made a point of not overworking the paint, resisting the temptation to add too much detail. I'm quite happy with the result as it happens, the quick painting giving it a nice spark. Very nice to get the paints out again as well, it had been far too long...

Friday, January 26, 2018

Eurasian Eagle Owl; Stockholm City; 26th January 2018















A 4KVideo here, click on HD for the best resolution...

  A remarkable bird today, news broke early whilst I was at work of this roosting Eurasian Eagle Owl in Sodermalm, Stockholm City. The bird was found sitting on a roof in plain view, without a care in the world. It drew a steady stream of admirer's throughout the day. Remarkably, the bird was found less than 300 metres from where a Ural Owl had recently taken up residence for some weeks.
 The temptation was too much for me and I hastily made my way home after work and grapped my gear, before making a beeline fot the bird, which was just a stones throw from my apartment. On arrival the bird was still present in front of a large crowd, whilst the local Hooded Crows and Magpies went berserk. These were the best views I have had of this species to date, though I have been lucky enough to have astonishing views of a breeding pair in the north of the Stockholm area previously. All the images here were digiscoped with a Panasonic GH4 due to fading light. It seems this bird has been present in the city for at least a week and is thought to have been the same bird seen in Solna just a few days ago, also in an urban setting.
  Eurasian Eagle Owl, as a species is doing quite well in Scandinavia at present and is increasing it's population slowly after numbers had crashed dramatically in the past, in common with many other raptor species. The species has proved to be remarkably adaptive and resilient, it is doing wellnot only in rural settings, but also in the outskirts of large cities and towns, perhaps taking advantage of the presence of high numbers of Brown Rat. Remarkably, the species has managed to colonise Gotland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea, of it's own volition, which expunges the myth that this species will not cross large volumes of water. Further afield the species is increasingly the subject of reintroduction schemes and conservation efforts and the future is perhaps a little brighter for this remarkable predator. In recent years the bird has even returned to England as a breeding species, where there has been great debate as to whether it's presence should be encouraged. It has been assumed the birds in England were not natural colonist's, rather escaped birds, though this assumption may be incorrect given the evidence of the natural colonization of Gotland.
  Eurasian Eagle Owl is an apex predator in northern Europe, it's large size effectively means that the species effectively has no natural predators. Eagle Owls hunt from perches and watching intently for prey, which is generally dispatched by the very powerful talons, though occasionally with a bite no the nape or neck in the case of larger prey items. With regard to prey, the Eurasian Eagle Owl is perhaps the ultimate predatory avian opportunist, with well more than 600 different species of prey items having been recorded in their diet. It seems the most important species in Scandinavia include Brown Rat, Voles, Rabbits, Hares and Hedgehogs. Avian species are often taken as prey, predominently Feral Doves in urban settings, seabirds in coastal habitats, whilst other predatory birds are well documented in their diet, particularily other owl species. The species is capable of taking larger mammals up to the size of young Roe Deer and Red Fox. Eurasian Eagle Owl is a nocturnal hunter, when it takes advantage of its remarkable eyesight and hearing to locate and ambush it's prey. The species is long lived, forms long term pair bonds and is an early bredder. The impressive display call of the male carries for several kilometres and can be heard from the end of winter on breeding territory. Over the rest of the year, despite its large size, this species is largely silent and given it's nocturnal habits it can easily go unnoticed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Common Gulls; Luxparken; 20th January 2018

Common Gull. Adult type and pretty much a typical primary pattern for nominate canus. Large white mirrors on P9 and P10. Note the extent of dark particularily on P8, the basal 30% of this feather is grey.






2 Common Gull, with two Herring Gull and a handful of Black-headed Gull...



Common Gull in first winter plumage, just coming into the second calender year of it's life. Again a rather typical nominate canus. Note the rather petite looking bill in this individual.



Adult, again a rather typical nominate canus, with dull, small bill, dark on P8 not extending to the primary covert's, just a small dark spot on P5, dark irides.


Ist winter canus in flight, the same bird as above.



An adult at rest on the ice. Just over 20 Common Gulls present



A first winter bird coming to bread in front of me. Whitish underwing with small dark chocolate brown markings, no dark trailing edge of the underwing. Once again, a typical canus.




Bird A. This bird peaked my interest as soon as it appeared as it appeared a shade dark On further inspection the bird had quite a heavy, bright toned bill and most intriguingly a slightly pale iris. The legs were also rather bright.The primary pattern proved to be a little dissapointing however, with the dark on P8 not extending to the primary covert's. The nail in the coffin however, is the presence of a mirror on P8, which is a silver bullet for a heinei candidate, so it appears that this is indeed a nominate canus with pale irides. There was a nice, solid band on P5. Another good feature for nominate canus is the extent of streaking on the head. I would hope for a clean white head in a heinei candidate, with thin pencil thin streaks confined to the nape, which is clearly not the case here.



Bird A. The same individual as above. Note the bright bare parts and rather heavy bill.





A view of the underwing here. Note the amber coloured iris in this bird, which is quite interesting.



Bird A. Out of direct sunlight the iris appeared rather dark looking. This is something to bear in mind when viewing these birds, light conditions are critical. It seems some nominate canus Common Gull may show a pale amber iris in a minority of individuals. When looking for a heinei candidate here in Stockholm I have also had to be mindful that intergrade canus/heinei birds may well be likely to cloud the issue. To get an acceptable heinei here in Stockholm I would need a bird that displayed a full suite of features to be sure of the identification. This will include extensive black on the primaries, preferably a little dark on P4, a clean headed appearance, long winged structure, pale yellow irides, dark mantle tone and bright bare parts.



Finally, this bird flew past without settling at the site. This one was clean headed, dark looking and inspection of the photos showed a quite interesting primary pattern. I would very much like to see this bird properly, but perhaps it will appear during another visit to the site.

With a cold spell taking a grip in Stockholm, I decided a trip further afield in search of Common Gulls was in order. The species has been almost non existent on my usual patch at Skeppsbron this winter and I was keen to try and locate a few of these smaller gulls in order to look for an eastern bird ssp. heinei. I have been checking any Common Gulls I have come across carefully in recent winters. To date, I have not had a bulletproof candidate, though I am quite sure that eastern birds must be turning up here in Sweden and I would expect that a period of freezing weather might well see these a few of these birds moving west.
On arrival at Lilla Essingen I was delighted to see two flocks of predominently small gulls at rest on the newly formed ice at Luxparken. Among the 220 Black-headed Gulls and small numbers of Herring Gull there were 22 Common Gull. I began feeding bread and manged to pull a few of the birds closer to my position.
 This site does not generally allow prolonged close views of these birds, though they will come to bread briefly. Goshawk are regular here, as are White tailed Eagle and the birds are rather wary as a result. This site appears to hold the smaller species in periods of cold weather however and I was heartened to have a small sample of Common Gull to check. The search for a heinei Common Gull will continue over the winter and if it should come to pass that I find one I will be over the moon...

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Argentatus Herring Gull; Skeppsbron; 20th January 2018

1st Winter/2nd Calender Year. This colour ringed bird from Helsinki has been in the area throughout the winter. A very typical bird in it's age class, very much a classic individual...


3rd Winter/4th Calender year. A nicely marked bird this. Note the third generation primaries, with well defined mirror on P10 and well defined dark marking on P4-P10. Th primary covert's are diffusely dark, whilst the remnants of a subterminal band on the tail are still very obvious in flight. The iris is very light at this stage, whilst the bill has much lemon yellow tone, all typical features of a bird of this age.


Sub Adult. Note here the dark band near the tip of the bill and the suffuse dark on the primary covert's. Both these features indicated a bird that is a sub adult, that is to say this is likely a 4th Winter/5th Calender Year.


3rd Winter/4th Calender Year. Note the still dark looking iris. Again, note  the third generation primaries, though this bird lacks a well defined mirror on P10, with well defined dark markings defined on P5-P10. The primary covert's are diffusely dark, whilst the tailband is not solidly dark. Herring Gulls vary tremendously from individual to individual, there is no set template and birds can show advanced, typical or retarded features whilst in immature plumages.

Sub Adult. Note the dark mark on the bill, lemon toned irides. A very confiding bird...


Probable Sub Adult. A rather dark eyed individual which has been present for some time now and has already been discussed in depth in past posts here on the blog..


1st Winter/2nd Calender Year. Another typical bird, a nice view here of the expected tail pattern...


Adult. A dominant, long calling bird..


1st Winter/2nd Calender Year. A ringed bird from Helsinki. Frustratingly, the bird did not remain long in the area and only four of the birds six numbers were read before it departed..


1st Winter/2nd Calender Year. Another bird that has previously been discussed is this individual with a rather odd appearance due to plain feathers growing through in moult, perhaps due to stress or malnourishment at the time...


Sub Adult.


3rd Winter/4th Calender Year


Adult. A bird that has been in the area since last October, readily identified by it's dark irides and hooked tip to the upper mandible.


1st Winter/2nd Calender Year.


3rd Winter/4th Calender Year


3rd Winter/4th Calender Year


2nd Winter/3rd Calender Year. Note second cycle covert's and tertials, irides remain quite dark in this bird, largely flesh toned bill with a dark band and worn, dark brown primaries.


2nd Winter/3rd Calender year in flight.


2nd Winter/3rd Calender Year? This bird was a little more difficult to age. The second cycle tertials, largely lighter toned bill and evidence of moult in the covert's tipped me in favour of a 2nd winter bird. This bird confuses me somewhat though. Note the dark eyes and apparently largely 1st cycle coverts here. Also, can we trust those scapulars are 2nd cycle? Is this a bird displaying retarded moult? Could this in fact be a 1st winter bird?

2nd Winter/3rd Calender Year. Note second cycle covert's and tertials, light irides, light tones on bill and dark brown primaries with thin paler edges at tip.



2nd Winter/3rd Calender Year. Note second cycle covert's and tertials, irides starting to lighten, flesh toned bill with dark band and dark brown primaries with thin paler edges at tip without white spots at tip.



2nd Winter/3rd Calender Year. Note second cycle covert's and tertials, light irides, yellowish tip to  bill and dark brown primaries with thin paler edges at tip.



3rd Winter/4th Calender Year. A bird that appears quite adult like at rest. Note the delicately marked brownish greater covert's and tertials, as well as the tone on the bill with faint darker smudge.

Images and discussion of Argentatus from Skeppsbron on a day of wonderful winter light.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Whooper Swans; Skeppsbron; 20th January 2018



















































Whilst checking through the gulls at Skeppsbron on my regular visit, the calls of a group of Whooper Swan caught my attention as the birds flew across the water from the direction of Matflotten, before coming to rest on the water in front of me. The group, consisting of three adult types and four young birds, which would of fledged last summer, then proceeded to approach me, calling constantly to each other as they did so. Given the wonderful light, this was a nice opportunity to get some photographs at close range and I took full advantage, the results are posted above. This is the largest group I have seen in the city centre to date. Normally, the odd pair or family group appear at the site, though it was wonderful to see this large family party at such close range. The species normally winters in a more rural setting, so these birds are breaking the mould slightly, perhaps having learned that there is a readily supply of grain available at Matflotten.
 This species is one of the world's largest flying birds, weighing up to 15.5kg, with an impressive wingspan of up to 250cm. They breed widely across Scandinavia and the Baltic states, where the population is estimated at around 70,000 pairs. Two futher populations exist. Firstly, there is an Icelandic breeding population, upwards of 20,000 pairs, which winters mainly in the British Isles. Further to the east, there is a Siberian population of perhaps 17,000 pairs, which is also a long distance migrant population. This population is thought to be declining.
 Whooper Swans breed on wetlands throughout their range, generally wintering near water and feeding on pasture and crop fields. Adults mate for life and wintering groups are made up of family parties, with young birds accompanying the adults on their first migration to the wintering grounds. They are highly vocal and their wonderful trumpeting calls can be heard from a long distance. A highly social species and it is thought that they establish dominance based hierachies on the wintering grounds, when groups of forty of fifty individuals can form flocks. The are long lived and can reach upwards of thirty years of age. Young birds bond in their adolescent years and brred at the age of four or five years..-
 Normally, this is a species that keeps it's distance from humans, so it was nice to get such an opportunity to train a camera lens on this family group today...Whooper swans are territorial during the summer but social during the winter. Whooper swans can be found living in flocks near wetlands. Larger flocks of more than 40 individuals are more common from October to November, whereas smaller flocks of fewer than 30 individuals are more common from January to early spring. There is a social hierarchy with larger families at the top, monogamous pairs in the middle, and unpaired individuals at the bottom. Dominant birds can feed for the longest period of time, and individuals often seek to join flocks for added protection. Aggressive males may also cause one family to be more dominant over another family of equal si