Report from the visit of St. Paul Audubon Society (SPAS) members in May 2002

Publisert: Gustav Steensland Søndag   4. august 2002

With great expectations on both sides of the Atlantic preparations had been made for a visit of 11 SPAS members to Rogaland from 3 - 11 May 2002. The tour had been announced in SPAS publications as the tour of Islands, Fjords and Mountains: Birding Southwest Norway.

Dalane Chapter of the Norwegian Ornithological Society (NOF-DL) had invited them, and Gustav Steensland was the host during their stay. The SPAS group was led by Julian Sellers, and the program had been put together by Julian and Gustav. Here are the names of the SPAS participants in alphabetical order:

  • Linda Amrein
  • Tom & Elisabeth Bell
  • Sally Hague
  • Joel Hessen
  • Marjorie Lundy
  • Ron Selbitschka
  • Julian Sellers
  • Amy Sundberg
  • Fred & Dorothy Waltz

Below are my selection of daily notes from birding, sightseeing and social events.

Friday 3 May:

Upon arrival on schedule at Stavanger airport, Sola, shortly before noon, they were welcomed by Gustav & Torunn Steensland. Two minivans were checked out at the Hertz car rental office, namely, a 7 passenger Opel Zafira and a 6 passenger Toyota HiAce. The luggage probably had the most comfortable space (in the rear part of the HiAce), but otherwise the vehicles served us well throughout the week. Joel and Ron signed in as additional drivers, but Julian (Toyota) Gustav (Opel) served as happy drivers all the time. An ATM machine provided the visitors with fresh cash in Norwegian currency, and this cash proved to be handy later on as several stores etc. did not accept foreign "plastic money".

The first stop was made at Møllebuktenat Hafrsfjord, just by the monument "Sverd i fjell", in memory of the "Battle of Norway" in AD 872. A Mute Swan (knoppsvane) was floating gracefully in the bay nearby, and various gulls (måker) could also be seen. The group followed Gustav's suggestion to visit Ullandhaug, a hilltop some kilometers to the southwest of downtown Stavanger. Although the aim was to check out the panorama from the telecommunication tower there, the trees up the hill was teeming with birds, especially Fieldfare (gråtrost), Redwing (rødvingetrost) and Blackbird (svarttrost). Some warblers (sangere) were also observed, and the SPAS guests had the feeling of a good start of their birding tour. Some low clouds covered parts of the scenery, but it was nevertheless possible to have a sense of the terrain in which the excursions would take place in the days to come.

Later on in the afternoon we made a lunch stop at a bakery in the Kvadrat shopping mall in Sandnes, followed by grocery shopping at Bryne. The weather was already getting nice, sunny and mild, and stayed like that during the whole period until the departure on 11 May! I would say that our guests were out of the extra ordinary lucky with the weather conditions for this time of year. We arrived safely at Hellvik, where our guests found their places in the three locations (the Steensland and Knudsen cabins, and Tonning Egge's apartment), all within walking distance from each other. Early in the evening Torunn invited the group for homebaked treats, coffee and tea. This was a good occasion for sharing and getting ready for the events in the days ahead. One of the intems on the "agenda" this evening was the practicing of the pronunciation of the names of some of the Dalane Chapter members on a list worked out by Gustav. Due to the scheduled early rise next morning, a planned restaurant meal in Egersund was cancelled.

Saturday 4 May:

At 7:00 AM we left Hellvik on our way to Eigerøy Bird Observatory on the island of Midbrødøy to the west of Egersund city. Leif Arne Lien was there with his nice open motor boat, a traditional wooden vessel inherited from his father. To the sound of a slow going engine we enjoyed the ride in the calm sound, and we had close views of Great Black-backed Gull (svartbak) and Common Tern (makrellterne). At Eigerøy Bird Observatory we were met by several Dalane Chapter members and some of their families. Bjørn Erik Paulsen had been up early in the morning with the aim of banding birds caught in the nets. Nearby the base of Eigerøy Lighthouse we all took a stand to watch local and migrating birds, and several species were added to SPAS visitors' life lists. A Yellow-billed Loon (gulnebblom) headed up the coast against the light northerly wind, and Northern Gannet (havsule), the logo bird of the observatory, was also seen. At the end of the day Ivar Sleveland reported a total of 70 species observed, although not all of them could be listed by every SPAS visitor.

On our way back to Hellvik in the early afternoon, we made a stop at Fotlandsfossen, a mighty waterfall in the Bjerkreim river. John Grønning had suggested that we might discover a nest of White-throated Dipper (fossekall) there, but we didn't succeed in that search. We were, however, lucky to see two fairly uncommon species, namely Yellow Wagtail (gulerle) and Gray Wagtail (vintererle).

In the evening Dalane Chapter hosted the SPAS visitors at a social gathering at Egersund Hotel (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4). With the efforts of Gunnvor Bodil Krone (the wife of Ivar Sleveland) a fine program had been planned. Ivar Sleveland, the chapter chairman, welcomed the participants and then Gustav served as toastmaster for the evening. Julian and Dorothy gave informative speeches on behalf of SPAS, and Johan Tore Rødland introduced Dalane Chapter to our guests. Bjørn Erik Paulsen presented Sokndal Banding Group and gave detailed reports of the species banded during the years the group had been in function. John Grønning showed and commented a nice selection of his slides. A special moment will not be forgotten. Ivar had carved and painted a wooden Ring Ouzel which he presented to Julian as a memorial gift from NOF-DL to SPAS. Gunnvor led the SPAS visitors in a nesting box identification contest, displaying a variety of nesting boxes built by Ivar. With good Norwegian food and a spirit of emerging friendship the evening was a highlight during the SPAS visit.

Sunday 5 May:

Another bright day showed up with sunshine and light wind from the north. This was the day when we should tour the Jæren area, guided by John Grønning. On departure from Hellvik a little past 8 AM we were joined by two other cars with John and other NOF-DL members, and the first main stop was at Kvassheim, a bay by the North Sea. At the mouth of a little creek there a laguna attracts a wide range of species, and among them this morning were Peregrin Falcon (vandrefalk), Eurasian Curlew (storspove), European Golden Plover (heilo), Ringed Plover (sandlo), Dunlin (myrsnipe), Red-breasted Merganser (siland), and Common Shelduck (gravand).

One of the well-known birding sites at Jæren is Revtangen, with its bird observatory. Located nearby Orre it has a small cabin and large nets used for catching birds to be banded. The grand old man of bird banding in Norway, Olav Runde, with more than 25 years as a birder and bander, welcomed us and shared some of his insights and a few birds caught in the net. On the fields nearby some Black-tailed Godwit (svarthalespove) were seen, and Yellowhammer (gulspurv) was singing from a tree. A little further inland a patch of forest by the large lake Orrevatnet was the next stop. Several warblers were heard and seen, among them Sedge Warbler (sivsanger), and the Reed Bunting (sivspurv) should not be forgotten. John had a message on his pager about some Eurasian Dotterel (boltit) on a field not far away, and we were lucky to spot five of that species from our cars just beyond a stone wall along the road.

When we had arrived at the lake Grudavatnet, we were joined by Bjørn Erik Paulsen. The area around this lake is famous especially for a variety of ducks, geese and shorebirds. John was able to spot a Garganey (knekkand), but then it hid in the reeds. We headed on to Horpestadvatnet, a lake to the south-east of Orrevatnet. From the first lookout (photo 1, photo2) we observed a pair of Great Crested Grebe (toppdykker), and one of them was on the nest among the reeds. Another pair showed off their courtship. The last stop on the Jæren birding tour was Søylandsvatnet, a lake to the east of the highway 44. John's hope for raptors was fulfilled as a beautiful adult female Eurasian Marsh Harrier (sivhauk) soared above the reeds and trees around the lake.

As the lunch this day at the Statoil gas station at Klepp was quite simple, we perhaps even more enjoyed the meal at Jærgarden Kvalbein, a cattle barn turned into a rustic restaurant. Solid Norwegian food and fine deserts served at our tables pleased us this late afternoon.

Early in the evening we were invited to join Ivar and Gunnvor for a check at one of Ivar's nesting boxes for Tawny Owl (kattugle). Just beyond a hilltop in Fotlandsli we cautiously approached the tree on which the box was hanging about 4 meters up the trunk. With a home-made "landing net" on long rod Ivar covered the opening of the box and out came the owl. It was a great moment as Ivar held the female bird with his bare hands for a little while and then let it go. The male was most likely watching the scene unseen from a distance. After climbing the ladder, Ivar made it to the lid of the box and picked up a ball of down and feathers: the three chicks, still too small to be ringed. Some days later, Ivar told us, he would be back for just that, along with the same task at his 39 other owl nesting boxes in the Dalane area.

Later on the same evening we proceeded to Tengesdal where the Bjerkreim river runs very calmly along the banks. Some Canada Goose (kanadagås), Mute Swan (knoppsvane) and even three Whooper Swan (sangsvane) made a nice postlude to a good day of birding.

Monday 6 May:

This day had originally been designated for some rest and easy birding at Hellvik, but the prospect of some sightseeing and shopping at Sokndalsstrand made a change to our plans. We had been blessed with beautiful and warm weather also this day, and Torunn Steensland joined us with her car. The first stop along the way, however, was made at Mjølhus, with a walk up and down the narrow gravel road to Kjerrvall. This quiet and hilly area should be promising for the observation of Ring Ouzel (ringtrost), the logo bird of NOF Dalane Chapter. Alas, not all of the SPAS birders were able to spot it this time, but some did get it on their life-list. It was also heard singing in the area, together with a variety of other species.

Due to some misleading information in a tourist brochure we found most of the shops and cafés in Sokndalsstrand closed, and our lunch was eaten at a cafeteria by the main road at Hauge i Dalane. Although Gustav took the group "a brigde too far" we managed to locate Rekedal, a short valley nearby. It was expected to be a good place for warblers (sangere), but the treat was a European Buzzard (musvåk) passing by the ridge.

Back at Hellvik it was time for a BBQ-party (photo 1, photo 2) at the Steensland cabin. Gustav had hired his friend Thor Jakobsen, a native of Hellvik, to prepare the goodies for the grill, and he served us nicely a combination of fish, meat, vegetables, salads and baked potatoes.

If I am correct, we heard a Eurasian Cuckoo (Gjøk) boasting its calls late in the evening from across the bay at Hellvik.

Tuesday 7 May:

This was to be the mountain day of the SPAS visit, and Sirdal and Hunnedal lay there waiting for us in incredible sunshine and temperature for this time of year. As we had agreed to meet our expert guide for the day around noon time, we had time to make some stops before that. At Helleland the 19th century wooden church surrounded by gravesites was recommended by Gustav, not the least because the church yard is the workplace of Roald Lomeland, a long-time NOF-DL member. He has listed 26 species nesting on the location. Although he was not with us we saw quite a few birds.

A little up Gyadalen (the Gya valley) we made a stop at Terland klopp, a stone bridge over the Gya river. And, what else did we see than a pair of White-throated Dipper (fossekall). (Gunnvor Bodil Krone and Ivar Sleveland had been scouting for dippers in the area the days before and had suggested this place). We were all thrilled to see this national bird of Norway eagerly gathering nest material along the river banks. May be we disturbed them from building the nest under the bridge?

At Tonstad Kjell Grimsby was there waiting for us, and on the bank of the Sirdalsvatnet (a lake at 53 meters above sea level) he had spotted a Little Ringed Plover (dverglo), a very rare visitor in Norway. We were all able to see it in our scopes and binoculars. Kjell took us further up the Sirdal (the Sir valley), and one of his special interests is birds of prey. High up on a granite wall he pointed out a Golden Eagle (kongeørn) on its nest, and several other raptors were seen further up the valley. We had a nice lunch stop at Dorgefoss, in former times one of the mightiest waterfalls in Rogaland. Nowadays, just a tricle is flowing through the deep gorge due to the construction of the Sira-Kvina hydroelectric power station.

At Fidjeland (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4) Kjell made an attempt to attract newly arrived Bluethroat (blåstrupe). By a little creek surrounded by patches of snow he put up a net and installed his sound equipment. But, alas, none of the desired birds showed up. On Thursday, however, while we were at Utsira, he sent us a text message to Gustav's cell phone. Several Bluethroats had come, and he had ringed some of them at the same location!

Kjell joined us a little ways into Hunnedalen, a valley going northwest from Sinnes. On our way to the top of the divide he spotted a Ring Ouzel (ringtrost), and we stopped there (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3). Thus all of us had a good view of this beautiful bird. Further down the valley he also located a Raven's (ravn) nest. We bid Kjell goodbye, and continued further down to Byrkjedalstunet, where we had a splendid dinner. We were served lamb roast à lá Rogaland and for dessert we had caramel pudding. Afterwards we hiked along the paved road up to Gloppedalsura, and the distance was far longer than Gustav's estimate of "a little more than a mile". The weather was nice and the view from the vantage point made the trip worth while.

On our way back to Hellvik we made a short stop at Gådå/Tengesdal, an important birding location for Dalane Chapter. There we happened to run into Rune Kvassheim and some of his peers, who were preparing a barbeque at the lake there. It surely was a nice evening and spot for that sort of thing.

Wednesday 8 May:

This was the last morning at Hellvik, and we drove north towards Stavanger. At noon we came to the terminal at Mekjarvik, where we boarded the car ferry taking us to Skudeneshavn on the island of Karmøy, calling at Kvitsøy on the way over the fjord. The sea was calm, and gulls and terns could be seen all over. There was not time to stop at the many good birding locations along the way to Haugesund, where we should take the car ferry to Utsira. Only shortly before departure did Jan Kåre Ness show up, and we were happy to have this experienced guide with us also on the trip out to this beautiful island 25 kilometers out at sea. As we approached Sørvågen terminal, quite a few Northern Fulmar (havhest) could be seen from the ferry. This species have one of their southernmost breeding areas in Norway just here.

After having settled in in our three lodges (all located by the sea), Jan Kåre took us on a short birding adventure. He was also busy taking phone calls and messages from other birders on the mainland. A Pied-billed Grebe (ringnebbdykker), a rare visitor to Norway from North America, had been spotted in Haugesund also this day! Among the species we saw this day at Utsira were Little Auk (alkekonge), Common Guillemot (lomvi), Common Redstart (rødstjert), Spotted Flycatcher (gråfluesnapper), and European Golden Plover (heilo).

As the day was coming to its end and it was dark enough outside Jan Kåre presented the first part of his excellent slide show, featuring life and birds at Utsira in Spring and Summer.

Thursday 9 May:

Another fabulous day greeted us as we got up this morning. It was an out of the ordinary nice day on the island, and Jan Kåre took us around (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4), skillfully spotting and explaining the various species. In Nordvågen (photo 1, photo 2) a Bluethroat (blåstrupe) showed up, displaying its colorful chest at full force. Later on the same day, on the western side of the island, Dorothy spotted a Bluethroat as well! We all enjoyed it once more.

A special treat was to visit the banding station, where among others Eivind Sande, the leader of Utsira Bird Observatory, was active with banding. The Red-backed Shrike (tornskate) that was caught as we were there was probably one of the first arrivals in Norway this year.

In the evening we enjoyed part two of Jan Kåre's slide show, now with Fall and Winter scenes from Utsira. Of the non-residents of Utsira he is among those with most trips out there, probably more than 350 visits! Before the slide show we had a tasty evening meal, with newly caught shrimp bought from a local fishing vessel.

Friday 10 May:

We had to be early birds to catch the ferry back to Haugesund, and once more we had an easy ride on calm seas. This day we chose a different itinerary back to Stavanger, namely via the island of Bokn, taking the car ferry from Arsvågen to Mortavika on the island of Rennesøy. From here there is a tunnel connection, the so-called Rennfast, over to the mainland, taking us under two fjords, as deep as about 225 meters below sea level in one of the tunnels.

In Stavanger we were met by Torunn Steensland, who guided some of the SPAS participants to a long desired shopping in the down-town area. Julian and Gustav left all the luggage at Gustav's office at the School of Mission and Theology, and returned the rental cars.

At 1 P.M. by the Skagen terminal we boarded the passenger ferry taking us to a sightseeing cruise (photo 1, photo 2) into the famous Lysefjord. Halfway in the fjord we stopped below the Pulpit Rock, a flat pice of rock towering about 800 meters above us. Randi and Jostein Grastveit had come all the way up to Stavanger to join us for the cruise, making nice company with us.

Following the cruise there was time for a walk through Gamle Stavanger, a collection of old wooden houses near the harbor. A taxi came to pick up the SPAS members and their luggage, and they left for Sola airport hotel.

In the evening it was time for the farewell dinner at the hotel, and Harald, Torunn and Gustav were hosted by the SPAS group. Impressions and experiences from the last week were shared. We also talked about the possibility of a return visit from Dalane to Minnesota. A hopefully correct quote of an early WWII statement by Winston Churchill seems appropriate: "This is not the beginning. This is not the end. This is the end of the beginning!"

After the dinner the SPAS group had their trip count, and they were happy to have reached a total of 117 species!

Saturday 11 May:

The SPAS group made their departure from Sola all on their own. There was no need for guiding from the hotel to the airport. Later the same day they arrived in Minneapolis, after a flight via Amsterdam.

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Hellvik, 4 August 2002

Gustav Steensland