Finnmark is an exceptional birding destination. In the summer it can offer a taste of the arctic and of the east as well as breathtaking scenery and nights that never get dark.
This trip was my third to Finnmark following ones in May 2011 and March 2012. My partner in crime for this trip was fellow Rarities Committee member Bjørn Olav Tveit and we had an aim for the trip to find something to trouble our fellow committee members aswell as to see as many of the specialities as possible.
For me the chance of finding Arctic Warbler (lappsanger) and Little Bunting (dvergspurv) was the number one priority as my previous visits have been too early for these birds. Tradition says that they don't arrive until the third week of June but in recent years there have been earlier records with perhaps global warming having a say? Also this May has been exceptionally hot in the far north so things were likely to be early this year.
To maximise birding we planned to sleep in the car and sleep as little as possible. We managed to stick to our plan although for Bjørn who had just returned from a few days in Amsterdam this meant quite a lot of additional sleeping in the passenger seat.
We landed in Kirkenes at 11am on Thursday 13 June but took 45 minutes to get on the road as our hire car was not ready. We birded our way towards Varanger with the big highlight being a singing male Arctic Warbler (lappsanger) at the classic locality of Neiden Church. This was the first observation this year in Norway of this late arriving migrant but already the next day there was a report of three birds in the area. We first picked it up on song which is a trill slightly reminiscent of Wood Warbler (bøksanger) of which there was also one in the area. Having seen Greenish Warbler (østsanger) only a few weeks ago it was great to gets its cousin and appreciate the plumage differences between the two.
|singing male Arctic Warbler (lappsanger). Look at that supercilium!|
|looks a bit less special here but the wing band(s) are visible|
Close by were also a number of Long-tailed Skuas (fjelljo) resting by the fjord. Judging by the number of pellets in the area they are finding enough food although they did not seem to be breeding.
We worked our way along the Varangerfjord from Varangerbotn to Nesseby to Vadsø without finding anything particularly rare but there were Red-necked Phalaropes (svømmesnipe), fine summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwits (lappspove), a flock of Taiga Bean Geese (sædgjess), Arctic Skuas (tyvjo) and White-tailed Eagles (havørn) to entertain us.
|the pond at Nesseby with Red-necked Phalarope just metres away|
|Red-necked Phalarope (svømmesnipe). Note the mosquitos on the water which are the food source for so many birds|
|slightly different angle|
|Bar-tailed Godwits (lappspove). Note the different plumages related to sex and age. The reddest birds being adult males, the orangy birds females and the white birds probably in their 1st summer|
We slept the night just after the small village of Skallelv by a small bay. I slept in the car and Bjørn outside where some curious sheep woke him early in the morning.
|Bjørn Olav sleeping|
|inquisitve sleep taken from my hotel room|
The next day we continued up the coast to Vardø and then to the literal end of the road at Hamningberg. We visited (after first driving a long way up a wrong track) an area of marshes about 7km from the coast that was quite simply excellent. Six Little Gulls (dvergmåke) looked like they were thinking of breeding, there were Ruff (brushane), Long-tailed and Arctic Skuas (tyvjo) plus loads more. We decided this would be a good place to spend the night especially as there was a new and pleasant toilet there (always an important factor when sleeping in the car).
|All the mod cons|
Our time in Vardø was mostly spent going through many hundred Herring Gulls (gråmåke) waiting for fish in the harbour where we turned up a few colour ringed birds and four 1st summer Glaucous Gulls (polarmåke). I will have a separate post later on the gulls (optional reading!).
Also from Vardø our only King Eider of the trip - a male but probably in its 2nd summer hence not quite full plumage and in the harbour a relatively close Brunnich's Guillemot (polarlomvi).
|Brunnich's Guillemot (polarlomvi)|
During the day we had good numbers of Red-throated Pipits which allowed themselves to be photographed and both Arctic (polarsisik) and Common Redpoll (gråsisik). North of Vardø a White-billed Diver (gulnebblom) was the highlight for us. It was not an adult but its plumage seemed to be too advanced for a bird in its 2cy. I have not managed to find out what 3cy birds look like but suspect this was one.
|Common Redpoll (gråsisik). Despite the cold colours note the large dark feather in the undertail coverts and broad barring on the flanks|
|same bird as above. Note also the strong bill|
|Arctic Redpoll (polarsisik). Not always easy to seaprate from its Common counsin but note the pure white undertail coverts and rump, very little streaking and small bill|
|Red-throated Pipit (lappiplerke)|
We headed back to the marshes for the night and checked out some very low roadside cliffs which we had been told were a Gry Falcon location. We spotted an extensive area of droppings and then a large falcon flew in. Unfortunately it was only (?) a Peregrine but nice all the same. It doesn’t seem possible that falcons could breed here but it looks like a suitable resting place between hunting missions. At the marshes as we heated up our dinner we were treated to displaying Jack Snipe with at least two birds in the air. They make the most incredible noise that is likened to a galloping horse and I had always wanted to hear one. We slept heavily and looked forward to an early start and more displaying waders.
|Adult Peregrine Falcon (vandrefalk) - it should have been a Gyr (jaktfalk)|
When we awoke at 4am we couldn't open the boot of the car and it was clear that the battery was flat. We had chosen automatic hybrid car for ease of driving and also in silent mode it is great for listening for singing birds in the forest whilst driving. The downside is that it cannot be jump started so we needed help. We also needed to have mobile coverage! We walked nearly a kilometre before we could ring for help. Help took a little over an hour to arrive (impressive hey?)
|help on the way|
and in the mean time we enjoyed Bar-tailed Godwits, tundra Bean Geese, Bluethroats (blåstrupe), Lapland Buntings (lappspurv), Rough-legged Buzzard (fjellvåk), Ruff and Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas amongst many others. We also had a fox methodically walking the area searching for nests or young birds and attracting lots of attention from nesting birds – in fact it was a good, if unfortunate, way of what was out there.
|Long-tailed Skua (fjelljo)|
|Lapland Bunting (lappspurv)|
On the road again at 0630 we headed for Nesseby where we had seen that there had been some good numbers of seabirds the evening before. This site is at the western end of Norway’s only east facing fjord and can produce some good seabirds with Europe’s only (?) Soft-plumaged Petrel its best record. Winds had turned from favourable easterlies to northerlies so there was less to see but two summer-plumaged Little Auks (alkekonge) were very unexpected.
We gave it a couple of hours and then headed towards Pasvik. Our second service station hamburger confirmed that petrol stations have now cracked the code and with renewed energy we headed south into the tongue of land called the Pasvik valley that is Norway but should really be Russia or Finland. We stopped regularly to check stand of birch trees for Arctic Warblers or Little Buntings. It took a while but we finally heard a song familiar from the iphone. Little Bunting! A male showed really well and I managed decent pictures and video. What a great bird and a tick that has been a long time coming.
|Little Bunting (dvergspurv)|
After enjoying this bird we headed deeper into Pasvik. The river at Skrøytnes held good numbers of ducks and waders and also flycatching Waxwings (sidensvans).
|View over the taiga in Pasvik with Russia and the industrial plant at Nikkel in the distance|
We searched for Red-flanked Bluetails (blåstjert) but couldn't locate any and then decided that we would spend the night searching marshes for displaying Broad-billed Sandpipers (fjellmyrløper) and Jack Snipes. We drove roads until they were impassable and then walked, visited suitable marshes two or three times but heard nearly nothing. We had been told that nightime was the best time for these species in Pasvik and with no wind listening conditions were good although some drizzle was perhaps not good (especially for my camera). We kept going until 4 am but with little to show for our troubles and just slept in the car in full field dress. Awaking slightly refreshed at 7am nearly the first noise we heard was a galloping horse. So much for Jack Snipe being a nocturnal displayer!
Buoyed by this we set out for the Tommamyra marsh supposedly teeming with our two target waders. It took a while to walk out as I managed to literally take us in circles but with subsequent good use of GPS we eventually found our way to the marsh. There were waders but not the hoped for ones. Breeding Spotted Redshank shouldn't be looked down upon though.
An unexpected bonus from our wanderings though was at least four singing Little Buntings which gave us eight in total - a pretty respectable count for this rare breeding bird.
After some searching we found ourselves Siberian Jay (lavskrike) and Siberian Tit (lappmeis) although Pine Grosbeak (konglebit) evaded us. We also had singing Parrot Crossbill (furukorsnebb) and a close meeting with a pair of Hazel Grouse (jerpe) but a steamed up camera allowed me no pictures.
|Siberian Tit (lappmeis)|
|Parrot Crossbill (furukorsnebb)|
Another visit to Skrøytnes was very productive. With no wind and great light we were able to pick out many birds. 31 Smew (lappfiskand) of which only 2 were 2 females was a huge count as was 14 male Shovelers (skjeand) and three Garganey (knekkand) were rare so far north. 15 minutes of adrenalin came from a distant 1st summer plover that eventually flew and revealed black armpits and hence meant it was a Grey Plover (tundralo) but before that had been the subject of a conversation as to whether it originated from America or the Pacific. Amongst the many other birds here were some Ruff with a little display from a couple of the males, Little Gulls, a Great Grey Shrike (varsler), Waxwings, Little Stint (dvergsnipe) and nesting Wood Sandpipers (grønnstilk) which sat on tree tops by the path shouting at us.
Our final push for the day was to find more easterly warblers or buntings and we located a new singing Arctic Warbler but couldn't relocate the first Little Bunting from the day before.
Our trip was great fun and very full on. This write up does not do it justice but hopefully the pictures and videos (to come soon) will. We had in total 120 species and saw most of the specialities for Varanger and Pasvik. Missing were Steller’s Eider (stellerand) which has not been reported for a month or so and is now becoming very unreliable in the summer here probably as a result of a declining population. Pine Grosbeak was a surprising absence from our list and raptors and owls were generally scarce with no Gyr Falcon (jaktfalk) and the only owl a Short-eared (jordugle).
|Sedge Warbler (sivsanger) was relatively common and far more showy than in southern Norway|
|male Brambling (bjørkefink) - a common and pleasant site all over Finnmark in the summer|
|more phalaropes. It was difficult deciding which picture was best....|