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Birding seasons

Norway stretches far in north-south direction, and the climate can change from humid and oceanic to dry and continental over shorter distances than most places in the world. Therefore, seasons are not the same all over the country at any given time!

December to February is a quiet time for birders in Norway, days are short and species diversity is relatively low. Birds tend to stay put, and typically you see much of the same birds every time you visit your local patch. There are plent to see along the coastline though, large numbers of wintering divers, grebes, ducks and other seabirds are scattered all over the coast. The beautiful King Eider and Steller's Eider rarely penetrate further south than Tromsö, and White-billed divers are regular south to Trøndelag. Up to 1500 of these magnificent birds winter along the coast, with most in Nordland and Troms counties. Most of the northern diving ducks winter in large numbers, and the mild climate in the southwest enables small numbers of several shorebirds, a few thousand Wigeon and a some hundred Teal to join them. Red-throated and Great Northern Divers are regular along the southern coasts, together with Red-necked Grebes which have their strongholds in the Trøndelag-counties. The woodlands are dominated by 7-8 species of tits, Goldcrests, and 5-10 species of finces, woodpeckers and Treecreepers. Birds tend to be very inactive, and can be hard to find.

At the end of February the first few migrants arrive, typically a small wave of Skylarks are followed by Lapwings, Common Ringed Plovers and Starlings. In early March Oystercatchers arrive at the beaches and in mid month several thousand can migrate past on a good day. Curlews and a few Golden Plovers add to the diversity among the flocks of Lapwings and Oystercatchers. While this is happening, auks and Kittiwakes arrive at the breeding colonies, and the early breeders such as owls and Ravens lay their first eggs. Mealy Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks arrive in the northern Pine forests as the daylight returns, and the tits start singing to attract a mate.

At the end of March the first major arrival of short distance migrants make landfall, and thousands of blackbirds comes inn off the sea from Great Britain, together with Redwings, Song Thrushes, Chaffinces and Woodcocks. Buzzards, Rough-legged Buzzards and Sparrowhawks arrive from the continent. A week later and the Dunnocks, Robins, Wheatears, Chiffchaffs, Bramblings, Linnets, Twite and Reed Buntings will follow. These early arrivals take up residency along the southern coasts, it will be a while until they arrive further north and inland. Later in April witnesses the main arrival of dabbling ducks, more Golden Plovers, Fieldfare and Ring Ouzel. At this time the first migrants, often Snow Buntings, arrive in northern Finnmark.

Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca
Photo (c) Frode Falkenberg

Having reached the second half of April, the first warm front will bring the first long-distance migrants, often Swallows and Sand Martins first and the first Whinchat, Willow Warbler and Pied Flycatcher a few days later. The main arrival of these species will not be until the first half of May. Typically arrival is a couple of weeks delayed in the nortern parts of the country compared to the south. The migration is picking up along the coasts, and divers, ducks and geese are heading north. A good days seawatching from the west coast near Bergen can produce a few thousand Barnacle Geese, a few hundred Red-throated- and 20 White-billed Divers, Pink-footed Geese arrive in thousand to their staging areas in Trøndelag.

In May, everything happends so fast that there are not enough days to go birding. Migration is at its best between 10th and 20th, and anything can turn up among the masses of shorebirds, seabirds and passerines that keep coming. The passage of White-billed Divers, skuas and other seabirds along the Varanger Peninsula peaks with hundreds of the first and thousands of the latter. May will probably be the best time to visit Norway for birding, to see a maximum number of species.

In the Mountain areas, such as Hardangervidda, the snow and ice is melting but snow-free ground is scarce until early June. Birds arrive as soon as enough snow has melted, but sometimes breeding is delayed for weeks if the spring is colder than usual. While these mountain birds await the gradual appearance of their territory from beneath snow and ice, many lowland passerins already feed the first clutch of young.

The arctic breeding season is boosted by a sudden onset of insect hatching, and the breeding of waders and passerines is timed so that the hatching of the young coincides with the peak in insect availability. They don't linger much after the young fledge; autumn migration starts alredy in early July, with adult shorebirds followed by juveniles a few weeks later.

Insect eaters such as warblers, flycatchers and Redstarts leave the country in August and September, they migrate singly or in loose flocks and this migration is not as visible as what will follow later. From late September into October thrushes and finches migrate, sometimes in steady streams and huge flocks. Redwings migrate at night, and their thin "tsiii"-calls are heard almost continuosly in nights when hundreds of thosusands pass over head. September and October is the most busy periode for the bird observatories, several of which trap and ring more than 10.000 birds is a good season. Every year rarities from east turn up, most regular in small numbers are Richard's Pipit, Yellow-browed Warbler and Little Bunting, followed by Red-breasted Flycatcher and Pallas's Leaf Warbler. A large number of more rare species are recorded most years, most regularly on islands in the western part of the country. Every three years or so Tengmalm's Owl and sometimes also Pygmy Owl are on the move, and are easily tape lured at some of the Bird Observatories.

In November, migration slowly come to a gradual end, the last to leave are Blackbirds, Redwings, Blackcaps and finches, some of these will also try to spend the winter in the relatively mild coastal areas - if the winter is not too harsh this can be a clever choice, compared to making a risky cross over the North Sea into unknown territory.

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