Tag Archives: birds

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 15: There is a call in the wind

The first four birds listed below are from Week 14. But you know, when it comes to gulls, they are just darn hard to tell apart. I had to spend a little more time than I wanted comparing my photos and notes to my books. Plus, gulls are not my thing.

New birds: 5, Journey to date: 64

Gråmåke (Larus argentatus)

Fiskemåke (Larus canus)

Polarmåke (Larus hyperboreus)

Krykkje (Rissa tridactyla)

Snøspurv (Plectrophenax nivalis)


There is a call in the wind

IMG_8772Back from my hike to the top of the island it was time to rest. I dropped my backpack at the birding shelter and contemplated my experiences. I recalled the old maxim, “Take only pictures, leave only memories.” Check, I even managed to take a couple pieces of trash. As I reached to rummage in my rucksack I noticed something else I would be taking with me, a healthy bird dropping on my bag. The dried remains will become a prized artifact of my visit to Hornøya.
I beg forgiveness because I know it’s a sin to covet, but I wanted a booking so bad to Varanger. And like something you covet, it is usually unattainable. I wanted to get to the end of Norway for many reasons. One, because it was possible given my job. Two, I really could say I had visited with Norwegian pupils from every corner of the kingdom. Three, it would be cool. And four, there was a rare duck that was predictably in the area. Feel free to speculate on my priorities.
My booking for teaching in Vardø was perfect. Mid April would be soaked with sun but still good light with shadow and richness. My target bird would still be in the area. I would get to meet a birding inspiration. And the pupils would still be far enough away from “Russ” time to pay attention in class.
Kautokeino was hard to get to last week, nobody goes there by mistake. Vardø is a little easier. Following my day at Samisk VGS I hopped the evening bus to Kirkenes by way of Finland. I saw a lot of trees and two wandering cariboo. Vardø has a commercial airport and is also a port of call for the Hurtigruten. But it is still an island in the far north so there is a balance between the exotic and the accessible
Vardø and the greater Varanger area are anomalies. Theirs is the only true arctic climate in Europe. Trees are rare, on Vardø there is only one, it is in the special protection of the Norwegian Army at the Fortress. Speaking with a resident who’s been to Nome, he said the places are very similar but that the water around Vardø doesn’t freeze shut. Snowmobiles appear to be a necessity.
IMG_8666But the birds, Vardø is about the birds. Exotic arctic birds that might cost your life or fortune in other parts of the world are right here. You can fly in, take some pictures, spend some time in a peaceful and safe Norwegian village and then go home. Maybe it’s too easy?
As a birder I will admit to my sloth and idiosyncrasies. I would do my best but I wasn’t going to risk my life to see everything possible. Besides, I only needed to see one bird to be totally satisfied. Of course, a duck.


Uria aalge and one Alca torda

The key draw to Vardø is the amazing bird breeding island of Hornøya. It is a small rock located just northwest of Vardø, a boat ride of less than 10 minutes. But the moment you cross the breakwater in the harbor you are entering another world. A world of big cold waves. A world of rich marine life. And finally, a world colonized by multiple species of seabirds, theirs friends, and their predators: Hornøya.
IMG_8701The cliff face is visible from town but it gives you no sense of the density of birds living, flying, squawking, and crapping there. Walking up the gangplank the noise was the first tell, the smell was the second, this was a foreign country.
I was the only person on the island, the only noon rider on the ferry. I felt undeservedly proud of myself. The pilot would return in 3 hours. I was dressed for the weather, no worries.
IMG_8770Goal number one was to find a Lunde, a Puffin. 30 seconds, check. They are curious little birds, a color scheme designed by a kindergarten class and the terrestrial habits of  prairie dogs. My camera is the best we have, the truth is I also covet a more powerful lens.
Across the cliff face were the species I had prepared to see, it was so hard to take it in because I could not focus. If there had been one special bird or one special nest in a distance spot, then it would have been easy, everything else would have faded into the background, the great blur of life.
But here everything seemed exciting and important. My eyes needed that special panoramic lens and a sharp memory to take it all in. Overwhelmed by stimulation I went for a walk.


The Gladiators

The island has a restricted pedestrian area to ensure the welfare of the birds. I took the path that would lead me south along the cliff face to climb up and over the island to visit the lighthouse on the other side.
The walk afforded me the opportunity to move and change my perspective, as well as get scared to death. I heard an avian commotion to my left, but paid no mind. All these birds were in breeding mode. It was war on the cliff over mates and territory, like the worst of a honky-tonk getting visited by the battalion on the first night back from extended training.

And then they hit me. A pair of gulls in full tussle fell off the cliff on TO ME! More apologies to God for my language. Unfazed, the combatants continued their struggle down the hill. They found a moment of detente and then flew back to the nesting area only to begin the struggle again. I wasn’t going to wait for a repeat performance.
Ducks are my thing, and in Varanger one can safely predict seeing the rare Steller’s eider. It’s a color looking duck with a neat story. They spend winter in the area and then in May return to the melting lakes of Siberia to nest. It was almost noon on Sunday and I was waiting for the boat to take me to Hornøya when I noticed a raft of ducks in the harbor.
Ah, common eiders. Cool ducks in their own right but not too exotic; I saw this group yesterday. But what could some new pictures hurt, digital shots don’t cost nothing.
Click, click. what! I switched to my higher magnifying binoculars and saw it, a steller’s, no two, no three! Two drakes and a hen in the group of Commons. I know there was the grin of an 8-year-old boy on this middle-aged face.


Polysticta stelleri on a sunny day, Vardø

I was more than satisfied with my time on the island. I got sun, I got snow, I got to see fantastic and unusual birds up close and personal. I think three hours would be the minimum a person would need on the rock if they had any abiding interest in birds. The raptors were absent, that was a small bummer but not a disappointment. My day had already be made.
IMG_8577Later in the week I tried different location on the islands. The firm Biotope designed birding blinds around the islands, they are the only architectural firm in the world devoted to birding. They have an international presence but their goal is to turn Varanger into a destination birding location. I think they are well on their way.
On my last day on Vardø, the sun was shining again on new snow. The sun rose at 3:52, I managed to stay in a bed a little longer. My morning stroll on this working island of fishermen was to the area called Skagen. I scored one new bird species, the Snow buntings were present but shy. Additionally, the striking scenery was just humbling. I took pictures of what I could but it would just be better if you paid this special place a visit. There is a call in the wind: take it!

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

Biotope on Hornøya

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 13: Words from the wiser

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 13: Words from the wiser


New birds: 1; Journey to date: 52

Svartmeis (Parus ater)



Words from the wiser

I am late again with this week’s edition. I’ve been occupied with other writings so I’m going to let the words of one of our greatest voice speak instead. I picked the introduction to “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. “Silent Spring” altered American history, for the better.

This April I have keep the doors and windows open despite the cold because the birds are singing. This spring has been a riot of song and feathered chatter. With that in mind, “Silent Spring.”


Rachel Carson.  from “Silent Spring” (Houghton Miffin, 1962).


There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields. In autumn, oak and maple and birch set up a blaze of color that flamed and flickered across a backdrop of pines. Then foxes barked in the hills and deer silently crossed the fields, half hidden in the mists of the fall mornings.

IMG_8369Along the roads, laurel, viburnum and alder, great ferns and wildflowers delighted the traveler’s eye through much of the year. Even in winter the road- sides were places of beauty, where countless birds came to feed on the berries and on the seed heads of the dried weeds rising above the snow. The country- side was, in fact, famous for the abundance and variety of its bird life, and when the flood of migrants was pouring through in spring and fall people traveled from great distances to observe them. Others came to fish the streams, which flowed clear and cold out of the hills and contained shady pools where trout lay. So it had been from the days many years ago when the first settlers raised their houses, sank their wells, and built their barns.

Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Someevil spell had settled on the community: mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was a shadow of death. The farmers spoke of much illness among their families. In the town the doctors had become more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness appearing among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among adults but even among children, who would be stricken suddenly while at play and die within a few hours.

IMG_8013There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example where had they gone? Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.

On the farms the hens brooded, but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs the litters were small and the young survived only a few days. The apple trees were coming into bloom but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.

The roadsides, once so attractive, were now lined with browned and withered vegetation as though swept by fire. These, too, were silent, deserted by all living things. Even the streams were now lifeless. Anglers no longer Rachel Carson visited them, for all the fish had died.

In the gutters under the eaves and between the shingles of the roofs, a white granular powder still showed a few patches; some weeks before it had fallen like snow upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and streams.

No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.

This town does not actually exist, but it might easily have a thousand counterparts in America or elsewhere in the world. I know of no community that has experienced all the misfortunes I describe. Yet every one of these disasters has actually happened somewhere, and many real communities have already suffered a substantial number of them. A grim specter has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know. …



Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.


The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 8: Old Friends in New Light

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 8: Old Friends in New Light

I took a last chance walk with Owen to find some new birds. Owen insisted on pitching every stick he found on the trail into the woods, heaving snowballs at imaginary targets, and singing an American song with Norwegian words he was inventing on the spot. I was trying to walk quietly and look for birds.

Still, I will take a noisy walk in the woods any day with my son sans birds than a walk alone in an avian paradise. A father only gets so many walks with a boy, every one is precious. I’d like to think Mother Nature rewarded my patience with a brace of new feathers, but I think I just got lucky to have my cake and eat it too.

New birds: two

Fuglekonge (Regulus regulus)

Flaggspett (Dendrocopos major)


Old Friends in New Light

It was easy to spot the black hair tie on the dark dirt trail at this time in the afternoon. The angle of the sun exaggerated the relief of objects on the ground. Other human debris littered the trail, I plucked the band. I had to walk about another 100 meters on the trail until I can upon the ubiquitous green trashcan, I walked with it on my extended left index finger as if I was a human ring toss target. The bin had a couple of beverage cans, wrappers and assorted filth, in went the hair tie too. I make a point to pick up some trash on every nature walk I take. I have never seen someone do that in Norway, I’ve been looking.

My return to Stavanger was a chance to revisit several cherished spots, including two lakes: Stokkavatnet and Mosvatnet. I have reported previously of how Stavanger weather is remarkably moderated. It may have been the middle of February but greenery abounded and ice was in short supply.

My run around Stokkavatnet was more pleasant than my first in October. One, I knew where I was going, there is comfort in familiarity. Two I didn’t get rained on.

I saw many of the same birds in the same spots, the Golden Eyes were particularly nice to see in greater abundance than my last sighting. In “Happy Duck Corner” I spied a small grebe. My stopping to stare caused it to change direction and swim into the reeds. Clearly accustomed to bodies in motion, it was uncomfortable with bodies at rest especially when accompanied with a stare.image

The following day I walked around Mosvatnet with my binoculars with the express purpose of picking out birds, especially hoping to see the sister of that grebe. There were no new birds, but the familiar Tufted ducks in breeding plumage were a treat.

The low light made the drakes absolutely radiant. Oh, that I could ever look so fine in a suit. The hens as well exuded a more comely appearance than one should expect. The golden rays of the sun rebounded from their eyes when they drew near. Their stares caused me to pause.

imageTime spent in nature is renewing. One reason is that the experience is always new. The trail may be the same; the same trees and birds, you wear the same coat. But it’s also always new. The time of day, the wind, the sounds, and your mood. Each facet makes for a novel experience. I don’t know what makes the difference for you. For me, I pay attention to the angle of the sun, it helps me see old friends in new light.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.


The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 53: Fuzzy Math

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 53: Fuzzy Math

Yes, Virginia, there is a Week 53. If you allow yourself to use your imagination, then you can invent all manner of things.

One of the “things” I like in Norway is the use of organizing the year by weeks. In Norway, the week begins on Monday. For examples, in 2015, Week (Uke) 1 began on Monday, 5 January; we arrived to Oslo on the first  day of Week 32, Monday, 3 August. That pattern through the year means that the week of Monday, 28 December is Week 53. It seems like every organization uses the week numbering system to organize their calendars, there is little need for fretting about calendars dates. Neat!

New bird:

Pilfink (Passer montanus)

Fuzzy Math

I had a “Big Year” in 2015. I endeavored to be more exacting in recording my new bird observations in America, a habit I then brought to Norway, with great success and pleasure. One of my heroes is Aldo Leopold. I will never be able to hold a candle to his remarkable notetaking and documented wild observations, but I’m going to do my best.

Do I have a favorite bird sighting of the year? No, the most memorable sightings were important for different reasons and to priviledge one would also be to favor the company in which I saw the bird in question.

My noteworthy sightings in America were (in chronological order):

  • Grus canadensis canadensis
  • Tympanuchus cupido
  • Grus americana

Norway has been generous to this lazy birder. I haven’t tried too hard to see birds, it’s been mostly catch-as-catch-can. My spreadsheet has 39 entries for Weeks 32-53. Maybe it should be 42? I had one bird misidentified and two lines for birds that I just could not make a totally positive call. Shucks.

I am confident I would have had at least 50% more if I would have been more dedicated to birding the mountains than running them. Oh well, my conscience is clean.

Because I favor certain types of birds, many species have escaped my count because I’m just not looking for what Is likely close by in plain sight. Sparrows, finches, most of the song birds…I don’t put any effort into finding them; the same goes for most marine birds like Gulls.

I know my way around the Oslo area so much better now than autumn. Come the spring migration, I will do a better job about preparing for likely migrants in likely locations – at least I can’t do worse.





There are some birds I would really like to see and a couple to see again. My wish list includes:

  • Polysticta stelleri
  • Tetrao urogallus
  • Somateria spectabilis
  • Fratercula artica

For 2016 I have high hopes and low expectations, It is going to be a great year. I think if I saw my four wish list birds then that would be a bigger score than the 39 I have claimed in Norway. How can 4 > 39? Fuzzy math.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 51: We Go Up, We Go Down, Very Nice!

Off the schneid! Leave it to Lister to give me another surprise. I came to the Lister area to teach. But I also got to see a couple of new birds. The Lister area is one of the top birding areas in Norway – lucky me. However it’s off season, Lister has it magic during migration season. Perhaps I’ll find a reason to return.

New birds: 2*

Melanitta fusca

Scolopax rusticola

*Sothøne, seen 20 October in Stavanger, finally got around to reviewing the picture


We Go Up, We Go Down, Very Nice!

“Jesus!” my mind screamed and I felt like I lept five feet into the air. What was that? That sound, it tore the peace of the misty forest apart. “There, ghosts!” my eyes gathered in all the intell. No, wooly sheep. “Oh,” and my focus returned to the soggy trail and my guide, stay with my guide because I am somewhere in Norway but exactly where?


I was running in the Lister area, Farsund was my base for the week; consult the map and then return to this blog. Good.

Norway has two envious paradigms. One, a person is able to walk-hike-run just about anywhere the heart desires, Allemannsrett (“Everyman’s Right” in english). Two, personal health is a national imperative, that is, eat well, exercise, and don’t become a burden.

Following my Tuesday lesson at Lister VgS – Eilert Sundt, there was the important time to socialize with the other teachers in the Personal Room (teachers’ lounge…in Norway they really know how to do the teachers’ lounge. Note, must be part of the social connections at school, it is just expected. Plus Norwegian teachers don’t have their own classrooms so the lounge really is an important home base).

IMG_4495 (1)I was introduced to Vidar (psydonemn) while having a cup of coffee, from their custom dinner service #pride. My host for the day told him that I liked to run on my travel. She told me that Vidar was a local running guide. At first glance you may not think that he was a gonzo athlete but you’d be wrong, very wrong. He reminded me of a favorite teacher from days of high school past.

“Can you be ready by 12:20?” he asked. “Yes,” was my immediate response, I didn’t want to even bother to consider having a conflict. Now I just had to get to my hotel ASAP and change.

I was late but he was forgiving. I’ve alway appreciated the kindness of strangers. With a hairy black dog in the back of the van we had a quick drive to the coast. I planned on running the length of the beach and back – my tactic to avoid getting lost – he was going to run with the dog to the top of a local promontory.

I have right to traverse the beach, throw shells back into the sea, watch for birds, and to dream. This community has some of the better beaches in Norway. They will create a trail, most with handicap accessibility, some 40 kilometers long up the coast. Room for anyone to wander, a destination for the wellness of body and soul, a place not for sale.


Any thoughts I had about running in a steady manner ground to a halt as soon as I got the beach: the gentle lap of waves, the force of the wind, and the vision out into the abyss stopped me. Pictures, an attempt to do a Periscope (live-streaming app) and a quick video for my family turned the run into an intermittent stroll.

It was late December but the Gulf Stream gives this coast a gift of warmth, it was about 5 degrees centigrade. Overcast skies were a leaden dome but they couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm. After enough pics I needed to get running or I’d would run out of daylight. The sunset was at 3:42.

And just when I got a good pace, my run was stopped again; birds on the water. Several dark and large duck-like birds, and a couple of petite and light grey feathered swimmers. The low light, my eyeballs, and little iPhone thwarted any definitive observations. Okay, keep running.


Another good pace, an even rhythm on the firm sand, righteous running. The shoreline here has lovely stones and rocky outcroppings like most of Norway, but also sandy dunes with swaying grasses. The roots fight with the waves for the sand, they have for 10,000 years.


Here comes Vidar and the dog. He said the path was hard to follow because of all of the rain so he came back to guide me, stout fellow! Farewell shoreline safety, good. Vidar and the dog alternated being the leader, I followed.

IMG_4533We passed through a gate to control the sheep. A long dark bird was on water like before, but this one was close. Vidar said something was amiss, it didn’t try to flee. I got a good picture and then spotted a corpse of a recently deceased of the species. Maybe they were companions?




Now we’re through the dunes and marshes. Just off the beach the wind disappeared and all sorts of new sounds invaded. During the occupation, the Germans fortified this part of the Norwegian coast with an intensity. We ran past numerous ruins of bunkers, pillboxes, and fortifications. I was reminded of my visit to Normandy. Sheep grazed a distant hill, they are used as natural vegetation management. The dog pulled, Vidar pulled back, victory to the biped.




Across a road we scrambled up Skjolnesveten. This was adventure IMG_4541running: novel, a little risky, imperfect weather, camaraderie, and a goal. A bird exploded away to our left. I asked if it was a grouse, Vidar said it was a Rugde, he made a motion with his fingers about his nose to explain that it had a long thin bill. At 15:18 we reached the summit. The view was thoroughly modern: reclaimed natural areas, the timeless sea, and a massive Aloca smelting plant. And down we went.

The route down was the hard part, caution being the better part of valor. Returning via a different route we spooked a Roe deer, and got our feet good and wet. At the car they drove off, I opted to run back to the hotel. It was a chance to extend the run and to see more of the industrial harbor where two ships were docked.

A couple of weeks ago a Norwegian friend related a story about some hill climbers. They were friends of his who were on holiday. The country in question had certain hills that were off limits or required a local guide, a concept not well accepted by the travels. The pair had bagged the peak and were on their way down when they were confronted by an officer demanding their papers and interrogating them about their poached climb. The duo played dumb and just kept repeating in a pigeon english, “We go up, we go down, very nice!” with toothy grins for added effect. The officer finally gave up and they all went on their way.

What rights do you have to enjoy God’s earth by your own power? In Iowa you are limited. On a few rivers you have the right to float but the shoreline is private. Wisconsinites are free to course any body of water, even if it’s only seasonal. Ola and Kari Nordmann enjoy almost total access to rivers, the exceptions are exceptional. Because of Allemannsrett they can walk the fields and forests, camp most anywhere they please, and not stress about fencerows or property lines. I am jealous.

IMG_4582 (1)Thursday was my second date with Vidar. He had shown me on Wednesday an internet map of the destination. “This is a special place,” he pointed to a part of the route. I have heard that a lot in Norway. Seems in every locale there is a hill, rivulet, or forested grove that is special. But the labels have been always pronounced with sincerity, bordering on reverence.

The fog and mist that greeted the sunrise Thursday decided to make a day IMG_4595of it. We ran anyways. Like Tuesday, it was a melange of modernity. We parked next to a new auto tunnel that ran 3 kilometers under the mountain, we ran next to the century old canal that linked the sea to Framvaren and then up the ancient Fossekleiven to the saturated meadows and forests of Raufjellt.

“Over there a German airplane crashed,” pointed Vidar. He said some people died. “Germans,” he added as almost an afterthought for clarity. It was a detail that only added to the contemplativeness of the place.

We were near the point of beginning our descent. We went down through a surprisingly all deciduous forest by way of a switchback trail. I got a lesson from Vidar about how the oak and good wood here was taken by the Danes, and then English to built their fleets. The Dutch built Amsterdam on oak pilings.

The surf, forests, and mountains are for play and pleasure but also history lessons. These sweeps of nature, in all their steep glory, are here to impart health and happiness. They are open to you and me to explore, enjoy, and embrace. And if you are really lucky, you can get an education and a new friend.


Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

author’s note: landscape photos filtered “mono”, running photos filtered “chrome”

Sunday Nature Call, uke 48: Go Outside

Sunday Nature Call, uke 48: Go Outside


I have a feeling that my neighbors’ generosity as bird feeders will also benefit me this winter. I took photos of a Thrushes, I had seen them before the but the light was so good they warranted more exposure. Analyzing the stills I noticed a new bird hidden amongst the Thrushes. Yeah! And then I accidentally deleted the photos in my unnecessary zeal to clear off the camera’s memory. Boo! Still managed one confirmed new feathered friend.

New birds: 1

Dompap (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)



Go OutsideIMG_6257


Go outside, I am. So this is all you get for the Sunday Nature Call. I could either write or hike. Hiking wins.

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

Sunday Nature Call, uke 42: Love Thy Neighborhood

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 42: Love Thy Neighborhood

My brother says it’s better to be lucky than good, tru dat, especially if you like to see new birds. Week 42 gave me a surprising bounty after my scores of Week 41. I’ll take all the luck, and help, I can get. Maybe I was lucky, but I also got some help from a new friend in Rørvik; mange tusen takk R.S.

There always seems to be a bird that I just can’t quite identify. Both were on the coast at the islands of Vikna. The first was a large brown hawk – ohhh, hawks are just giving me a hard time this year.

The others were very interesting and conspicuous in behavior – I’m sure a seasoned birder would name them with ease. There were like ducks, grouped in a shallow salt-water bay. The birds were dark on top, white underneath but the behavior is what will give them away: they flew away with the slightest approach, running on the water and with a low outstretched neck and head – very unique. What were they?

New birds:

Storskarv (Phalacrocorax carbo)

X (X x)

Havørn (Haliaeetus albicilla)

Toppskarv (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

Fossekall (Cinclus cinclus)

Sangsvane (Cygnus cygnus)

3 men dragging brush, Dugnad

3 men dragging brush, Dugnad

We had been advised that there would be at least one community-wide cleanup/workday in our area and that you are obliged to help. Plus it would a good chance to meet people since at this event, the Norwegians expect to run into one another. At 10 AM Team Hanson was ready. Actually only the senior partners were ready, the junior partners didn’t make a quorum so I can’t say how they really were

We found our way to the registration area, fumbled through Norwegian, and got assigned an area. “Oh, that job seems easy,” I thought. Another addition to my list of completely misunderstood exchanges in Norway. In five years it will be really funny.

Author rests on his laurels, dugnadThe appointed hillside was covered with cut tress, saplings, and brush. The task was to drag it up off the hillside and then on to the community pile, I threw myself in the work with gusto. Man, I haven’t done any yard work since July, it felt good to do something familiar like this. In no time at all I was in my t-shirt despite the air temperature below freezing – sun and stillness: with hard work who needs clothes?

I met a neighbor, an elderly gentleman surprised an American was pulling sapling up some obscure hill in Oslo. He approved, plus his granddaughter was studying to be a math teacher, so I was okay in his book.

Meghan’s english attracted a friend. A hitherto unknown neighbor from the midwest, now over a generation in Norway, overheard Meghan talking to the boys. I think he was eager to re-familiarize himself with english.

Ola Nordmann hauls logs at dugnad

Ola Nordmann hauls logs at dugnad

Others were in my sector as well. A woman who wielded the loppers with abandon. A big guy with no hair he-maned the logs up the hill. I was leaving those for the tractor, maybe he needed an excuse to do something manly. A woman came around from the organizing committee with a basket of snacks. All so koselig.

We cleared the hill about 12:30 and called it good. “Rest!” called the sawyer. A lunch of whatever available and then some chill time in the apartment. I announced that I was going to take a 20 minute rest, i.e. if I sleep longer than wake me.

I woke myself several time with a choking snore only to drift away again. With a little courage and curiosity I peaked at the clock: “Holy Smokes, it’s after 4!” I’m not missing a grilled hotdog for all that work. And we all breezed out of the flat and to the gathering.

Dugnad "Tailgate"

Dugnad “Tailgate”

In a parallel universe there were Hawkeye tailgate parties taking place. The crisp of the air, smell of roasting meat, the feel of a cold aluminum can in my hand, and the idle but happy chit-chat with others reminded me of a fall football game. But instead of celebrating ritualized violence, we had gathered on a glorious autumn day, to smell the air, bask in the sun, and tidy the unmanicured elements of the natural world.

In Norway nature is celebrated, maybe venerated more than the scriptures. But there were more than two gathered, setting to work their hands. We made something better of our community and ourselves. For a great output of labor, no money traded hands. To be in league with your fellowman to make life better, inside our out-of-doors needs no defense. Is “dugnad,” one of those Norwegian words that just doesn’t translate?

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 41: A walk with my wild side-kick

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 41: A walk with my wild side-kick

“Good things come to those who wait.” That expression must have been created by a cheese maker, certainly not a birder. For birders the opposite is true: get up early, change locations, do something. You need to have a bias for action if you want to be a birder. On Saturday I took my own advice and was rewarded, but not just with new birds.

New birds:

Knoppsvane (Cygnus olor)

Brunnakke (Anas penelope)

Siland (Mergus stellata)

Kvinand (Bucephala clangula)

Smålom (Gavia stellata)

The upcoming week was going to be a long one, I needed to maximize my time with the family in preparation for my absence. But you know how it is when you have an obsession, a drive, an itch that just has to be scratched. I got up when I woke up before the sun came up. The harbor, I needed to get to the harbor at Fornebu and maybe catch sight of some birds at rest while on migration.

If I caught the first bus down the hill, I thought, then I could make a quick dash to high probability areas and get back before everyone else got rolling for the day. #2 son padded into the kitchen, “Where are you going?” he asked while rubbing the sleep from his eyes. I told him. With a groggy voice but brightening eyes he asked to come along. Of course, that would make me happy I said, and it was the truth.

Now, getting greedy, he asked if this could be something,”just the two of us do,” you know, exclude #1 son. No, we need to ask your brother, I said. But my mind was a couple of steps ahead of my words because I knew it was an easy bet #1 son would pass.

We got ready. Brother asked what was going on. Before I could speak #2 excitedly informed him. I asked brother if he also wanted to come along? “No,” was his vacant reply and he slipped down the hall to craw in bed with his mother.

Off. #32 Bus, switch at Lysaker. Snarøya bus to Fornebu: quick, quick. Feet. Down the asphalt path, past the curling club building and to the bay.

It was a gay walk with #2 son, or as we call him, “Little Bear,” or just “Bear.” Though I would prefer to walk in silence, my heart isn’t hard enough to repress the joy that babels out of the mouth of babes. Choose to smile and enjoy.

The birding bounty was immediate. Charismatic white birds were across the bay, two of them. Certainly they were Knoppsvaner, and with four young.

imageMany mallards swam about, aimlessly. A puddle duck that wasn’t a mallard made a bee-line to my shore, to hide in the tall grass. A female, and cryptically marked, but my suspicion was confirmed by picture and text, a Brunnakke.

Bear was enjoying his turns at the binoculars. It was cool out but not cold, and no wind to speak of, such luck. A small flock of odd long-necked birds passed. Dark against the gray sky, there was no way I could make an identification. It bet they were cormorants, next time.


Fornebu was the airport for Oslo. Since the opening of Gardermoen lufthavn in 1998, the sprawling peninsula has been repurposed with planned communities, corporate office parks, sporting venues, and oh so many trails. Like Stapleton in Denver, they retained the control tower as an homage to the area’s past.

We walked a little further east on the path. New two-story apartment blocks unostentatiously overlooked the bay. A boy played with a golf club and a handball, alone. The surprising noise of laborers working on a new block punctuated the stillness. And they say Norwegians don’t work on Saturdays! Well, I do think I overheard the workers speaking something like Polish.

A small tongue of land jutted into the bay as if it was added for the enjoyment of people. I snapped and held Little Bear back. A small black and white duck was now quickly swimming in the opposite direction. Too conspicuous for its own good, just bagged a Kvinand. I released the hound.

Running to the tip of the tongue, Little Bear pointed across the bay. A knoppsvane was closing the distance, first it was exciting, then I got a little worried. Knoppsvaner have a reputation for aggression. How could we be too close to the babies?

The answer became apparent as the babies came across the bay too, in a hurry. They expected to be fed. The babies, whined. Bear and I enjoyed their closeness. Then, not receiving their expected treats, the babies would take turns making threatening hisses. The first time it happened, Bear’s eyes became as big as saucers with anxiety, betraying the bravery of his nickname.

We idled a bit. A strange diving bird was just a tickle too far for my zoom lens. I was hoping it might work closer for a better look. A grebe maybe? Uh, well not a duck, and not a goose. Its diving movements were so quick, so furtive that I was perplexed (with books and the internet, mystery solved).

I suggested that we walk on, Bear gave no complaint. He offered to carry the binos. We reached a neighborhood, we would clearly have to walk about another 10 minutes to hit the other bay. In my improvement as a father I knew it was better to leave early than risk a rebellion or disenchantment. I asked the Little Bear if he wanted to press on or go back.

Clearly he thought the correct answer was to press on. But his heart and his stomach where pining for a return home. I offered that I was getting a little chilled, an out; we turned about.

Path marking, FornebuLike the walk in, Bear asked to hold my hand. Oh, melt my heart. “Dad, can I hold you hand?” is one of the sweetest and best questions I ever get asked. “Yes, please.” Little does the Little Bear know that this practice will atrophy all too soon. He won’t miss it, but I will.

We walked, further than anticipated, to catch the bus. There was time to talk, and silence, and hand holding, and rock throwing. There was time to hear, “Dad, I really like bird watching with you.” There was time to look, really look at my beautiful little boy and try to memorize every feature of his fresh face.

I left early to capture some birds. I returned with memories, sure, of birds. But the better memories were of time with my Little Bear.

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 39

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 39

To Hell with the cranes!

Yes, I said it. I know you may be shocked but somethings a man, a birder, must say thre truth, as shocking as it may be. Like Dick Cheney, I will not appologize.

Oh, not that Hell, the other one. You know, the one in Norway, the nice one. The Hell with friendly folks and certainly not hot. Seriously, have you been to Hell, Norway? They don’t even need air-conditioning there, instead, bring a sweater (wool if you’re serious).

Lesson # 41 about Norway, have no expectations so you can’t be disappointed. I didn’t expect to see any new birds during my week in T (Trondheim for the uninitiated). Frankly, that is a good place to start. I expected to see nothing, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I witnessed two new birds. For those of you who are birders, you know how exciting that is. For those of you who aren’t, some day you will understand. I record my new gets in a paper journal and an electronice spreadsheet, lest one or the other fail. A new bird is far more than a notch on some belt but rather a deeper communion with nature and the great biological forces to which we all yield.

The airport express bus was taking me from T to TRD at Værnes. Reliable highway E6 was uncrowded and the skies were partly cloudy. Passage through several tunnels makes for a dynamic trip.

Exiting a tunnel near Vikhammer I spied a group of long-legged and long-necked gray birds gleening a recently chopped grain field. I didn’t want to believe it at first, and then I didn’t want to create a scene on the bus with frantic gesticulating. Heroically I channeld my best impression of Ola Nordmann being excited and quietly made a note on my phone’s tablet. Less than ten mintues later we passed through Hell, Norway and then arrived at TRD.

New birds:

Ærfulg (Somateria mollissima)

Trane (Grus grus)

Trane (Vik, Rolf, 1969. Fuglene i Farger. H. Aschehoug & Co. Oslo. p. 111)

Trane (Vik, Rolf, 1969. Fuglene i Farger. H. Aschehoug & Co. Oslo. p. 111)

Yes, that’s all you get.

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 35

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 35

The lure of technology to humans must be like the lure of a wriggling worm on a hook to a brook trout (BTW – not a trout). How can one resist? The truth is we don’t and neither do brookies, and we both pay dearly for our impulsivity. The other morning this week I spied an unfamiliar bird out the kitchen window: game on! Armed with the big camera I was quite excited. But as I fiddled with the camera, trying to find the feathered object in the viewfinder and compose a proper shoot, it flew away.

“Damn!” I cursed. Stupid camera, why can’t it be easier to use, have a better lens… You already know the answer, the fault wasn’t in the camera, it was in the operator. I accept the responsibility and am humbled. Had I just focused intently on the bird and took note of the plumage, the movement, and the voice, I bet I would have added another bird to the ledger. But I didn’t and I am to blame.

Isn’t that how technology lets us down; we get convinced it is really going to help, but then the technology ends up being an interference to the actual lived experience. And that’s what we really want, the authentic, in-the-moment engagement. The lure of technology (read computer and microprocessor-based gear) is that it will help you better capture, augment, and intensify the reality one is trying to experience. It can, and there are times when it does. But I’ve been finding myself too often on the sour side of technology.

Have you read, “Undaunted Courage”? What about, “Beyond the 100th Meridan”? “Walden”? Oh, here’s an obsure one, “Tall Trees, and Far Horizons”? All great adventure stories that relate evocative experiences, captivate, and inspire. For those adventurers not a cell phone was to be found. GoPro, absent. GIFs, JPEGs, Likes…non-existent. No Tweets. And yet, the stories are present because they were recorded. Paper and impresser, contemplation and remembrance, the ancient tools of humanity.

Of course, I will keep my SmartPhone and i-pad. I had a little fun making a GIF of #1 son chopping a log at a kids’ festival Saturday (Norway: kids=free-for-all). If I can remember that technology is an augmentation of the lived experience for human primates, then I’m sure I can live more authentically. If I think my gadgets will save me, then I am doomed to buffering, corrupted files, and not being able to enter the bloody four-digit code and then open the application quick enough to capture what I could have done if I had just stood there and gazed in full sensory enjoyment of the very thing I was foolishly trying to record!

I’ve missed birds. I have fumbled with a device and then lost the moment. Trying to capture some awesome experience here or there, I have ended up frustrated with my kids because they weren’t performing in ways compatible for me to capture the moment for digital perpetuity. You too?

Week 35 Tally:

Stillits (Carduelis carduelis)

Grønnsisik (Carduelis spinus)

There is a change in the air, it’s happened so suddenly. Cooler breezes, an autumnal feeling rain, birds flocking, these harbingers must be acknowledged and accepted. If you practice Friluftsliv, then there is no consternation. Just make the most of today. And if tomorrow is rainy, well, then you’ll need to dress accordingly. My active wool is ready – I just wished I had packed my second pair of running shoes – so I would always have a dry pair to put on.

No hawks, no sweat. Maybe this upcoming week, or maybe never: Semper Gumbi!

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh