Thursday, July 14, 2016

... and Varanger (Norway)!

During the trip to Finland we crossed the border to Norway to spend some days in Varanger. The whole place is very nice... a must-see!! Thanks to Anders Maeland for some birding tips around the fjord.

Varangerfjord is about 100 km long, and it has birds everywhere. There are several places to go, but actually you'll see many birds just stopping the car wherever and looking around.
Waders are particularly numerous in the shores, but only few species breed there, like Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus).

If you drive inside the tundra, you expect poor wildlife richness for being such a plan and apparently monotonous habitat...

But the amount of breeding species is quite impressive!, and very nice especially if you are used to see them only in migration or in winter, as it happens with the waders. Golden Plovers (Pluvialis apricaria) are easy to spot in several places showing their fantastic breeding plumage.

Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) are also found in the tundra, and Dunlins (Calidris alpina) and Common Snipes (Gallinago gallinago) are common in small ponds, where you can also find Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) sometimes.

In shallow pools it is also possible to see Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) in breeding plumage, in which the female has brighter and more colourful plumage thant males, as it happens with Dotterels.

Arctic (Stercorarius parasiticus) and Long-tailed Skuas (Stercorarius longicaudus) are also common in the tundra, but as well very easy to spot on the sea from many places. I didn't know that Long-tailed Skuas hunt hovering over the tundra, as Kestrels would do... It's very nice to see them doing it!
Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus)
Long-tailed Skua (Stercorarius longicaudus)
Talking about raptors, if you are lucky you'll find a Gyr Falcon (Falco rusticolus) sitting on a rock, waiting for the best chance to hunt a Willow Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) or a distracted wader. But the actual kings of the region are White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla)!

Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) are very common in some areas, especially in meadow areas were also waders are found, while Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) are more scarce. Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) are restricted to more rocky areas, but still it is possible to find them close to Vardø. 

Red-throated Pipits (Anthus cervinus) are more common close to the coastline, in grasslands. They can be very tame!!

Also inland, there are some lakes and marshes were you can see Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) and breeding Divers, especially Red-throated (Gavia stellata). Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus) are also easy to spot!

Back to the fjord shores, Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima) are very common everywhere. Also Black-throated (Gavia arctica) and Red-throated Divers (Gavia stellata) are common at the sea. We also saw 5 Great Northern Divers (Gavia immer), which is an interesting amount for the area.

Skuas, waders... and thousands of Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are flying around all the time. Is actually very impressive!
Most of Kittiwakes in the fjord are breeding in Ekkerøy cliffs. The breeding colony is actually amazing! And it truly deserves a visit...

Some chicks have already hatched!
Some Razorbills (Alca torda) were quite close to the Kittiwake
At Vardø harbour you'll see some nests in buildings as well! 
Another bird breeding colony that has de be visited is Hornøya, a rocky island close to Vardø. To get there you have to take a boat, and tickets are sold at the Turism Information Office. Once you get there, you'll get surprised on the amount of birds everywhere, and the sound they make...

Common Guillemots (Uria aalge) are the commonest species in the colony. They are everywhere!!

Brunnich's Guillemots (Uria lomvia) are quite restricted
to the cliffs that are seen in the beggining.
Razorbills (Alca torda) are also present, but not as numerous
as the Guillemots.
Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) are also quite common, and at this time of the year they give very nice photographing opportunities while are carrying fish to the nest.

Other species in the colony are Kittiwake and European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)...

Apart from Hornøya it is worth to keep following the coast to the North, going to Hamninberng. From the road you'll have views to several small bays which are usually very good for Divers, like White-billed Diver (Gavia adamsii), but we actually saw one from Hamninberg. And apart from the quite huge flocks of both Red-breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) and Goosanders (Mergus merganser), it is also quite good for King Eiders (Somateria spectabilis).

And yeah!! We found this very nice 2nd-year male King Eider!
From Hamninberg village, the seawatching is impressive! We saw many birds from several nice species, including hundreds of Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis), Great Skuas (Stercorarius skua), Manx Shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus), Common, Brunnich's and Black Guillemots, Razorbills, Atlantic Puffins, Kittiwakes, Gannets... and also a Harp Seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus). We also saw an unidentified Whale and several Harbour Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) inside the fjord.

On the scruby areas, especially in the one close to Hamninberg, Red-spotted Bluethroats (Luscinia svecica svecica) are quite easy to find, and sometimes, very tame!!!

Redpolls (Carduelis flammea) are usually in all scruby places, and this one close to Hamninberg is meant to be one of the best spots for Arctic Redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni).

Male Redpoll (Carduelis flammea).
Female Arctic Redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni).
After seeing most of the fjord, we drove south, on the way to Kirkeness, to stop at the Neiden's church; a place which is mentioned by many trip reports as a good site for Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis).

We were having dinner there when, suddenly, we heard the first singing male very close to us!!, about 10 o'clock in the evening. At the end, we heard at least three singing males! Some record shits here... they are hard to photograph properly while singing from the trees!

From the same place we also saw this moulting Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), several Woodcocks (Scolopax rusticola) and one of the several Hawk Owls (Surnia ulula) we saw...

 We spotted up to 20 Hawk Owls, from the car!! They use the cables a lot, and from the distance, they look like a Swallow! ;)

 Early in July most of juveniles are flying around already, but they are still begging and are quite easy to detect. I have to say also that, apparently, it was a very good breeding year for the species!

A very nice experience!, and, of course, very worth to come back...!!