A day out birdwatching

I think we have a lot to learn from watching the play of nature. There’s nothing more beautiful than watching nature’s own dance.

Jan Erik Blom

Shhh, look! There’re two hens approaching

Jan Erik Blom

We are lying halfway out of our sleeping bags, covered by branches that we cut down earlier to make the lean-to that works as a shelter this evening, trying to be as quiet as mice. We’re starring intensely into the binoculars, where we see several black dots moving down by the marsh.

There’re two hens approaching, Jan Erik Blom is pointing and whispering. He’s witnessed a countless number of black grouse plays during his 73 years, but is still just as excited. The males are cackling and whistling, while they’re dancing easily around each other. They’re measuring each other’s ornament, to see who is more superior. When the hens are approaching the play is heating up. It’s starting to look like a real cockfight. One leaves the battle with a victorious walk, while the rest run off into the woods again. 

He never gets tired of watching wild animals. Whether it’s a moose or a black grouse, he can sit for hours studying their behavior and the social interaction between the animals and the nature. Jan Erik has spent his spare time as a ranger for “Nordmarka” in Oslo since he was 18 years old. He knows every little corner of the forest, and has more likely spent more hours out there than he has in his own home. His love for nature, the animals and of course hunting have been carried on to his son Martin Blom, who has made it into a day job producing hunting movies.

Martin was carried around on his father’s back in a child carrier or put in a sleigh until he was old enough to walk on his own. There was no other option. As a ranger Jan Erik had to be outside, and he didn’t see it as a problem to bring his son to work. Now it’s Martin’s four year old daughter who sits in the child carrier with her earmuffs on, to join her father hunting. One starts early in the Blom family.

The whole outdoor package has so much to offer. There’s so much diversity of nature easily available outside our doorstep. Besides, I think we have a lot to learn from watching the play of nature. There’s nothing more beautiful than watching nature’s own dance.

Jan Erik Blom

We started the evening heating up some hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, nearby the Blom’s cabin, before we moved further into the woods preparing for a night by the marsh. As experienced as these men are in the outdoors it didn’t take long before our little lean-to campsite was up and ready, and we were soon lying shoulder to shoulder ready to wait out the birds. What we hadn’t anticipated were the newly hatched mosquitos that were showing a little earlier than normal. 47 mosquito bites divided on two arms, and less than two hours sleep was the price to pay to get a look of these dancing birds – where the mating act itself didn’t last longer than a second and a half. Nature gives and nature takes back.

Both Jan Erik and Martin have a long history with hunting. Jan Erik shot his first bird as a 9 year old, Martin had to wait until he was 14 as there were new regulations to follow, but I think it’s safe to say that he has made up for these years, spending large parts of his life  out in the woods hunting .

To me it’s about being outside. To hike outdoors, berry picking, training the dogs,  fishing. The nice thing about hunting is that you turn on your senses to a whole other level. You become more observant and notice more of the little details, says Jan Erik.

Martin agrees; Often you get the question about how you can manage to shoot an animal when you love them so much. To us hunting is not only about shooting the animals. Of course this adds an element of excitement to the normal walk in the woods, but there are few people that study the animals as close, follow the stocks throughout the year to see the development and who care as much for the animals as hunters do.

If we see that some species have a low stock one season, we don’t hunt that year. If you want to reap you must sow, and that’s the philosophy of most hunters, Jan Erik adds. 

In the Blom family there’s a lot of self-supported food in the fridge. And not just meat; mountain cranberries, blueberries, cloudberries and chanterelles. They harvest what they can harvest – something that’s an essential part of spending time in the outdoors. You learn what nature can give, which helps you become more self-served.

To take care of the meat is an important part of hunting. To spend time cleaning, preserve, and of course prepare the meat for a meal, is an important part of the process. It’s nice to be able to sever a dinner where you know exactly where your food is coming from, says Martin.

To show children where the food is coming from, and to teach them to have respect for  nature is in my opinion some of the most important lessons we can pass on to the next generation, says Jan Erik.

The hens have chosen their partner, and the play draws to an end.  Dusk turns to dawn. What is it that makes these two repeatedly seek to the outdoors? That they time after time choose to  spend the night under a bush, with only mosquitos as company until the birds finally show up for a short round dance at the marsh, than have a good night’s sleep at home?

The black grouse play is the highlight of the spring, says Martin.

The play that takes place is only possible to see deep in the forest in a time period of two weeks every spring. The black grouse very often have settled marshes that they go back to every year, so you should talk to someone who knows the area, before settling down with a dash of patience to experience the dance.

The interest is the same for this as for the hunt: it’s the good fellowship, the good time outdoors, the experience of nature. We don’t just hunt to shoot; we also hunt to see animals in their natural settings. We hunt experiences. And to watch the social interaction of the birds in this way is one of the finest experiences one can have in the outdoors.

We pack our sleeping bags, and put on our skis before the short trip back to the little cabin by the pond. We make some coffee on the fire before we start the ride back to civilization, which isn’t far away; even though we get the feeling that we were deep into the wild. We feel surprisingly awake.