Hawk Owls in good numbers
I've just returned from three days in the Pasvik taiga forest, northern Norway. This unique part of Norway holds many sought after bird species. During my stay I didn't see too many species, but some of them are pretty mouthwatering for a birdwatcher from western Norway.
Siberian Tit Poecile cincta
Pine Grosbeaks were singing several places, especially if the sun showed up. What a nice fluty song from this giant! If you are able to track down a feeder you may get some really close encounters with the species. They do not worry at all in the presence of people. Below, an adult male to the left, and a female to the right.
Male and female Pine Grosbeak Pinicola enucleator
Hawk Owls in good numbers
The rodent situation is apparently good in the Pasvik valley, and I recorded as many as five Hawk Owls in a rather small area. The picture below show a female in her territory near Svanhovd. The male was nearby at the time.
Northern Hawk Owl Surnia ulula
Redpolls have been totally absent in western Norway this winter. In contrast they were the most numerous birds around in the Pasvik valley. Small parties of 5-15 birds were seen at most sites. A few Arctic Redpolls were also mixed in the flocks, but they were hard to pick out. Below there is a Mealy Redpoll to the left, and an Arctic Redpoll to the right.
Total species list from these days: Willow Grouse (1), Hawk Owl (5), Three-toed Woodpecker (1), Bohemian Waxwing (50+), Long-tailed Tit (4), Willow Tit (common), Siberian Tit (common), Great Tit (common), Blue Tit (1), Siberian Jay (2), Black-billed Magpie (common), Hooded Crow (common), Common Raven (common), House Sparrow (common near houses), Tree Sparrow (2), European Greenfinch (common), Mealy Redpoll (common), Arctic Redpoll (5+), Pine Grosbeak (35+), "trumpeting" Eurasian Bullfinch (20) and Yellowhammer (4). Adding up to 21 species.
The North Cape (Nordkapp) is the northernmost point on mainland Europe, at 71 degrees north. Close to the most popular tourist site you find the small village of Gjesvær with its 120 inhabitants. The way of living is based on direct and indirect harvests from the sea. Bird safari around the bird cliff is one of them.
I was visiting Gjesvær to take part in a meeting with local companies offering products for visiting birders 13 - 15 May 2013. On my drive from Lakselv airport on the 13th. I stumbled upon a first spring male Black Redstart near a place called Repvåg. A rarity in Finnmark county. During the 200 km ride to the North Cape the birding highlights were 17 different Rough-legged Buzzards, a Merlin, about a hundred Tundra Bean Geese (inner Porsangerfjord) and good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits, well dressed in their red breeding plumages.
During the first night in Gjesvær we experienced the first midnight sun of the year. A beautiful experience. On day two we were invited by skipper Ola Thomassen to go on a safari around the islands of Gjesværstappan. Ola organises daily boat trips around the bird cliffs, and we agreed to go on a ride.
After breakfast we went out with "Lundekongen" ("The Puffin King") to do a ride around the stunning cliffs of Gjesværstappan. They are only minutes away from the village by boat. Just outside the harbour tons of birds appeared. The first to greet us were Shags and Black Guillemots, but as we closed in to the bird cliffs thousands of Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills were swimming and flying around. Both Common and Brunnich's Guillemots were present. We saw only three individuals of the latter, but several hundred Common Guillemots. Gjesværstappan are famous for their colony of Northern Gannets. It it the most northern in the world. About 1200 pairs are breeding there, and I will do an extra blogpost on these birds soon. All bird pictures in this post are shot from the safari boat "Lundekongen", driven excellently by Ola Thomassen at Birdsafari a/s. A full species list can be found on the bottom of the post.
Total species list with numbers 13 - 15 May Gjesvær and Gjesværstappan, Finnmark county: Mallard (1 pair), Common Eider (250), Red-breasted Merganser (3 pairs), Great Cormorant (150), European Shag (500), Northern Gannet (900), White-tailed Eagle (15), Golden Eagle (1), Eurasian Oystercatcher (10), Ringed Plover (2), Golden Plover (6), Purple Sandpiper (75), Dunlin (1), Common Gull (3), Black-legged Kittiwake (500), Great Black-backed Gull (50), Herring Gull (350), Common Guillemot (500), Brunnich's Guillemot (3), Black Guillemot (50), Razorbill (3500), Atlantic Puffin (8000), Rock Pipit (5), Meadow Pipit (2), White Wagtail (2), Northern Wheatear (1), Ring Ouzel (10), Redwing (4), Fieldfare (1), Sedge Warbler (1), Hooded Crow (15), Common Raven (10), Common Starling (1), House Sparrow (12), Chaffinch (1), Twite (6), and Snow Bunting (15).
Yeah, right! Publish a photographic blogpost from Båtsfjord in March with no pictures of drake King Eiders? Sounds like an brilliant idea to get no hits on a webpage... Well, my last post covered only drake King Eiders from Båtsfjord, so I suppose "my" audience has seen enough of them for a while :-) The thing is that there are lots of other stunning birds in Båtsfjord during late winter.
I spent the afternoon on 22 March birding the inner part of the Båtsfjord fjord. The weather was nothing to brag about, so most of the birding was from the car. I recorded 18 different species, but as you can read from the list below there were lots of birds, and several species of high quality ;-) In addition there were three different Grey Seals in the harbour.
The rarity highlight of the day was no less than a Tufted Duck! It's not an annual species during winter in Finnmark. Coming from a good wintering site for the species, I was not too intrigued by it's prescense. I chose to focus on the magnificent Arctic seaducks.
In the afternoon the mountain opened for convoy driving again, and I prepared myself for another exertion behind the wheel. It was the same shit as yesterday, but once again I survived. I was on my way to Vardø and the Gullfest 2013. Unfortunantely the snow blizzard lasted all along the Varanger fjord to Vardø. On arrival I was blessed with a cold Arctic beer. My roommates Arild, Carsten, Morten, John Martin, Anders and me went to the first talks of the Gullfest.
Once more, if you want to visit Båtsfjord to get an experience for a lifetime, contact Ørjan Hansen via his website Arctic Tourist. All Eider species can be photographed at close range from his floating photo-hide. The season is January to April. The Arctic seaducks disappear during the breeding season. Both Steller's and King Eiders may breed far east of Finnmark. Some of them maybe as far as the Bering Strait?
I left Vadsø and the brilliant birds there, and headed for Båtsfjord in the afternoon 22 March. I was up for one of the most breathtaking birding moments of my life, but had to pass severe obstacles before that.
The drive to Båtsfjord is supposed to last 2 1/2 hours. However, the weather became so bad that Båtsfjordfjellet (the only road to Båtsfjord passes here) had to close. Some time in the evening the cars were allowed to drive in a line behind a large snow-showeler. The weather was terrible, and both the window-lashes and tires did not always respond the way I wanted.
After a pretty devastating ride I met up with Ørjan Hansen, the director of Arctic Tourist. He offers several birding products, ranging from eagle safaris to close-up photography of sought-after species. Most famous is his floating hide targeted at Arctic seaducks such as King and Steller's Eider. Tomorrows todo!
Ørjan picked me up at 5 a.m. and we, a woman from southeastern Norway with an interest for photography and myself, went directly to the hide. Just minutes after our entry the ducks came! It was still rather dark, but despite of the blizzard and extreme wind conditions nearby, the hide was impressively stable. The light was not good at all, but the shapes and colors of the King Eiders compensate for whatever I lost. Being present in the hide without disturbing the feeding eiders at all, felt completely unreal when parties of all three eiders passed just an arm-length away. Here are some pictures of different drakes, all shot with 400 mm and Canon 7d or 5d mk II. Click to view large.
On this post you only find the ultimate speciality of Båtsfjord, the King Eider. I will follow up with a post covering other birds (including the royal females) in Båtsfjord in a few days. The season for King Eiders is all winter, but if you want to do some serious photography from the hide, choose February-March. Then the King Eiders and other seaducks are still there, and the light has returned. Don't hesitate to contact Ørjan (link above).
Birdlife Norway, my employer, is part of a project aiming to boost and enhance the bird tourism in Finnmark county. During a week in late March 2013 I visited some of the people offering products for birders and bird photographers. First up was two days in Vadsø, the coastal end in the south of the Varanger peninsula. See the map on the bottom of the page.
I arrived Vadsø in Finnmark county, northern Norway in the afternoon 21 March to meet up with Øyvind Zahl Arntzen, the manager of Arntzen Arctic Adventures. Øyvind offers several products for the nature enthusiast, and I was about to experience two of them. This afternoon we went out with his unique floating hide, which is a rebuilt boat with cover, suitable for four photographers and the driver. The engine was run by solar power, and completely quiet. We circled around in the harbour for an hour or so, and thanks to Øyvinds knowledge about the birds behaviour we came close to several diving ducks, where the enigmatic Steller's Eider was the target. There were less than a hundred present in the inner harbour this afternoon, and we drove around the small flocks, and drifted alongside them without disturbing.
Other birds present in the harbour area was Common Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, Mallards, Black Guillemots, Purple Sandpipers, a Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, and the numerous Black-legged Kittiwake.
Early in the morning the 21st we drove some 20 kilometers west of Vadsø. Øyvind prepared his snow scooter, and I was placed in a sledge behind the vehicle. We drove into the Birch forest, and ended up in Varanger Birdpark. This site has several feeders for passerines, a raptor hide, nesting boxes for owls, redstarts and other passerines, as well as a large well equipped cabin that may be rented.
At the time I was there it was the passerine feeders that gathered birds. Small parties of redpolls (mainly Arctic, but also some Mealy visited the feeders, and gave splendid photo opportunities even without us hiding. A few Great Tits hung around, as well as two Siberian and a Willow Tit. Close to the park a Three-toed Woodpecker entertained us with its drumming all through the stay. Other birds recorded in the park this morning was Raven, Hooded Crow, Greenfinch and Bullfinch.
Last year Øyvind had attractive species like Hawk Owl, Tengmalm's Owl, Common Redstart and Siberian Tit breeding in nest-boxes during the summer. We went on a little snow scooter drive to more elevated areas, to look for owls and whatever, but did only manage to see a couple of Siberian Tits during a sudden snow blizzard that came over us.
November 2018: Fieldwork in three IBA's in Nepal