All the intended targets for our northern circuit were in the bag so we decided to spend the morning looking for Three-toed Woodpecker (Drieteenspecht) – a scarce spruce forest specialist and my only remaining Western Palearctic species in this charismatic family. We had intended to look for this Woody near Uppsala, but as it is more common further north and because we had some time on our hand we decided to give it a go in the good looking spruce forest north of Idre.
Reindeer, by Sander Smit
At dawn we were roadside birding under subzero conditions. Now and then I ran the tape of Three-toed Woody, but every time I took my gloves off my fingers it felt like I’d put them in a bucket with liquid nitrogen! Woodpecker activity was booming, with Greater Spotted Woodpecker (Grote bonte specht) drumming from every direction. Suddenly we heard a long machine gun like drum that Jelmer immediately identified as Three-toed Woodpecker. I started taping and after a 15 minute battle the bird flew overhead.
The pressure was of, but now we longed for better views. We returned to the site after breakfast and this time immediately after running the tape a beautiful male Three-toed Woody flew in and treated us with stupendous views. Nice one!
Three-toed Woodpecker, by Sander Smit
What to do next? We had a 500 kilometer drive to the Great Grey Owl (Laplanduil) site ahead of us (Sander of course still needed this mega Owl) so we thought it wasn’t a bad idea to stretch the legs for a bit. A nearby Fjeld – a treeless upland plateau covered in thick snow this time of the year – seemed an excellent location! We had barely walked 200 meters when Sander miraculously found a white male Ptarmigan (Alpensneeuwhoen) on the opposite slope more than half a kilometer away! An unexpected lifer for him and Max and our fifth (!) species of Grouse for this trip!
Ptarmigan, a record shot…
The long drive was rather uneventful, but this changed dramatically when Sander suddenly said: “We have to turn around, I think I saw a large grey Owl!”. While turning the car around I was joking that it might have been a Ural Owl (Oeraluil), half expecting to see either a buzzard or a grey piece of plastic hanging from a tree. How wrong could I be… Upon reaching the clearing there was a huge ghost-like Ural Owl – my last possible Lifer for this trip – staring back at us from the edge of a clearing. Holy shit! For 20 minutes we had the beast to our selves before it disappeared in the forest. The stuff of dreams!
Ural Owl, do I need to say more, by Max van Waasdijk
A pit stop at a White-backed Woodpecker (Witrugspecht) reintroduction program didn’t produce the desired bird, but as these Woody’s aren’t raised in the wild, they couldn’t count them anyways.
Around 6 PM we arrived at the Great Grey Owl site. We ensured the nervous Sander that last time the bird was ridiculously easy and surely it would be this time! 6 PM turned into 7 PM, 7 PM into 8 PM and half an hour later it was almost completely dark… Bad news for Sander. Suddenly the walky talky bleeped! It was Jelmer who was waiting at the other side of the clearing and just now had the Owl flying in, he raced to us, we jumped in the car and 2 minutes later we were at the spot, but by now it was pitch black and the Owl remained hidden from sight in the forest edge…
Sander was devastated, so we decided to give the Owl one last try where we’d heard one 3 nights ago. As we stepped out of the car the owl was hooting distantly in the forest; we were back in the game! As we slowly closed in on the bird I decided to do some spotlighting over the clearing left of us. Suddenly BANG! There was Great Grey Owl sitting in a dead pine tree 10 meters away. We couldn’t believe our eyes. All was good now! To round of the Owl spectacle Jelmer was able to close in on the second bird and made This amazing recording!
Now it was time to drive back to Uppsala and enjoy some much needed sleep. Jelmer had other plans… He knew of a calling Tengmalm’s Owl (Ruigpootuil) near Uppsala and as we were on a winning streak, we had to give it a try. It took us some trouble and an extra hour of nighttime driving, but around 1 AM we rounded of the day/night with a calling Tengmalm’s Owl. Pfewww! What a rollercoaster day!
The winning team!