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lyskonoh úzkozobý, samice / Red-necked Phalarope, female (Phalaropus lobatus)

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Wednesday, 04 May 2011 22:34

Snow Bunting on snow, Rock Ptarmigan and a little confusion

When I think of how many kilometres I have walked and climbed during last three weeks, i have a feeling I’m more of a tourist than a wildlife photographer. My very last trip of Easter time led me up to the top of the Gullfjell Mountains in Bergen area. Yes, it is the same area where I photographed Golden Plovers last summer. This time I decided to visit for the first time the very top of the mountains called Gullfjelltoppen – it is supposed to be a good place for spotting Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus). I planned this trip already during February but at that time I was a bit scared to climb up when the tops were covered with thick sheet of snow and I would venture into places I have never been before. April seemed to be a good compromise – with less snow and higher temperature but the birds still having their white winter plumage.


Snow Bunting on snow, female (Plectrophenax nivalis)



The days are getting longer vary fast now so I had to set up the alarm clock to 5.00 a.m. to be on the top in the morning light. I left the snow shoes at home this time – terrain at the parking place was already free of snow and the Gullfjelltoppen (987 m.a.s.l.) some 700 m higher from the parking lot was frozen enough in the morning for nice walk in snow with boots on.


On Gullfjelltoppen (987 m.a.s.l.) – home of Rock Ptarmigan, in the background is the snow-capped Austerinden hosting population of Golden Plover in summer time


I could feel the spring especially down in the valleys between mountains – the heathers sounded with tens of Dunnocks, Willow Warblers, Pipits and Song Thrushes sang from the tree tops. As I climbed up the sounds went silent and the only birds I met in the middle of my trip at Redningshytta were two White Wagtails. The way up leads me to places I have never been before but fortunately the terrain is quite accessible and I only need to take care not to slide down from the icy slopes.


Snow Bunting, male (Plectrophenax nivalis)


The trip up to the top with the sun rising was spectacular – not a single human around, just snow-capped mountains and the view towards frozen inland and fjords in the North and South from the massif. I could hear strange sound from the rocky field in front of me wondering what the hell the Crested Tits are doing up here? Closer view reveals my mistake – two pairs of Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) searching for food in the rocky spots where snow has already melted. I have forgotten the typical call of these „northern white sparrows“that I usually meet in winter months at the coast of Atlantic. The birds attract me towards the rocky ledge and leave soon beyond horizon. Strange call sounds from behind the ledge and I suspect Raven, the typical inhabitant of mountains. Quick look and nothing in there – the bird must have flown away!


Rock Ptarmigan, female in winter plumage (Lagopus mutus)


Well my task at that day was the quest for Rock Ptarmigan so I continued upwards. There were no birds at the top but the footprints and burrows in the snow were quite clear sign of the recent birds presence. However the icy footprints meant the birds must have left it here at least one day earlier, no sigh of fresh activity. I admire again the birds courage – some of the burrows are dug just at the very edge of the snow-bank that continues down some 300 meters in almost vertical mountain face. Taking a rest between the stones close to the top I unwittingly note a small white spot some 100 meters down from me, which seems to slightly move across the dark rock – is it snow or Ptarmigan? Closing up with binoculars I could see a female still in the full winter plumage. After a while the bird adds a call – here it is! What I heard before was not a Raven, it was Rock Ptarmigan! The sounds are pretty similar! Crawling down on the snow towards the bird is not very successful, the birds takes off when I’m some 50-60 meters away but I have at least a record shot! These birds never fly far away so I try to spot where the bird might land again and really, after some 100 meters the birds sits down on a rocky spot again. Another 50meters of crawling in the snow and I’m almost there – hidden beyond the rock I could here the call of the Ptarmigan some 15 meters from me. Unfortunately the call was rather a sign of bird’s unrest and so when I slowly looked out from my shelter the bird was gone again. What a pity!


Snow Bunting, male (Plectrophenax nivalis)


It is around a noon and the first tourist on the skies are coming – the best time to leave the scene. The snow starts to melt and walking in it becomes more difficult. On the way back I meet the Snow Buntings again – this time they are rather tame and let me do a few decent photos although it is still rather a record photo than an art, well photographing real wildlife is a task! :-).


Snow Bunting, female (Plectrophenax nivalis)


A few hundred meters further I can hear the Ptarmigan’s call. I turn back and almost running a Try to spot where the birds might have landed. It is again some 100 meters from me – the bird perching on a rock with no chance for me to get closer hidden behind any natural ledge. So I need to go down on my belly again and try to get as close as the bird lets me. After a few meters I always stop and get some pictures – this is the usual technique when I need to crawl directly toward a bird that is aware of my presence. Sometimes you get bad pictures but sometimes you can get pretty close. This time the first case was true – the bird took off again when I was at ca 30-40 m distance. This time it was a male partially moulted into spring (summer) plumage.


Rock Ptarmigan, moulting male (Lagopus mutus)


So it was my first photo session with Rock Ptarmigan – it was not exactly how I would like it to be but it was still better than in February when I always saw these beautiful birds flying away from me leaving no chance for taking decent picture.


Rock Ptarmigan, moulting male (Lagopus mutus)



Last Updated on Thursday, 05 May 2011 13:24
Comments (31)
  • karel šimeček

    Zdravím na sever,pěkná reportáž - taky jsme po nich během cesty po Norsku pásli,vždy to skončilo vyplašením a odletem -proto nás děsně dožralo, když za námi na jednom odpočívadle přišla Francouzka a chtěla určit ptáka, kterého před pár minutami vyfotila mobilem na asi 3 metry :-) byl to kohoutek bělokura přes celý displej ...

  • Jirka

    Tak to obcas bohuzel ci bohudik chodi - bohudik, pokud se to prihodi nam, kteri za ptaky vyrazime :-) Videl jsem spoustu videi z Aljasky, kde jsou ptaci pravdepodobne dost krotci ale nedavno jsem narazil na youtube i na podobne video z Finska - belokur vysel ze stromovi na silnici a motal se kolem nohou kameramana jako pejsek, holt nekdy se priroda chova prazvlastne :-)

  • Štěpán Mikulka

    Ten Karel tě chce naštvat, co:-)? Jestli jsou tak ostražítí, jako tetřívci, tak to ještě asi dá fušku něco vyfotit. Zážitek ale určitě bezvadnej Jirko. Díky za počtení a hodně štěstí při dalších norských pozorováních.

  • Jirka

    Diky Stepane, stalo to rozhodne za to, byl to vpodstate vylet na soulacku takze jsem rad i za to, kdybych tam lezel pul dne a nehybal se, pravdepodobne bych se k nim dostal bliz ale momentalne nemam vubec cas jak uz to tak chodi. Ptaci jsou ostrazitejsi nez mistni tetrivci ale zase mene ostraziti, nez tetrivci cesti :-) Na pristi zimu bych chtel pripravit ten zasyp jak jsi mi radil. Mej se skvele.

  • Tommy Sørensen

    Mange flotte bilder!!
    Liker godt landskapsbildet.
    Og rypebildene er også flotte. Rypene er flotte på denne tida.

    Tommy S

  • Jiri

    Many thanks for your visit Tommy, yes they are beautiful in winter plumage, maybe it was already too late, I love when they are completely in white. I will try next year. Good luck with your tours / lykke til med din turer

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