Friday, 27 March 2015

Norway Birding - 21st March (Day 3 of 6)

Today felt like it was to be a birding day proper and we were up at 04:00 and donned our Arctic onesy's ready for a four hour stint in the floating hides run by Ørjan Hansen at Arctic Tourist in the Batsfjord Harbour. I think both Trev and I were a bit sceptical of these hides having seen very little in the harbour around the hides yesterday afternoon and seeing how close to shore they were. Still, when we arrived at the hides at 05:00 there were probably a thousand or so seaduck present including Steller’s, Common and King Eider and Long-tailed Duck, many being very close to the hide. The approach of the RIB to collect us to take us the 50m or so to the hides soon put pay to this and virtually all the duck were flushed and we clambered aboard the small hide (there is also a large hide but as there were seven people in this we opted for the small hide) opened the flaps and stared onto an empty sea. However, within a short while the first Steller’s Eider appeared and over the course of the four hours we were in the hide we had great views of all the previously mentioned duck species, some down to four metres or so. There was a great deal of calling and courting, especially amongst the Steller’s, and it was great to watch these birds at such close range and obscured from their view. We rattled off hundreds of photos and I filled two 64GB cards, it was almost a relief to leave the hide safe in the knowledge that we had secured some reasonable shots but now not having to process anymore! Although the temperature was around -8c the hide was surprisingly warm and the arctic suites were almost too warm but my feet felt like the ice had taken control and I lost all sense of feeling. Unfortunately, during our time in the hide the light was not great for photography and there was regularly heavy snow further compromising the light, furthermore, beyond the area where the ducks gather is a red building, this casts a red light onto the water affecting the images. While in the hide we also had good views of Glaucous Gull, Purple Sandpiper and Hooded Crow plus Mallard trying to get in in the action – I don’t think either of us took shots of the latter though.

King Eider - we had close views of up to 10 birds, a further 50+ were present further into the harbour

Female King Eider

Female Steller's Eider

Steller's Eider - Absolutely stunning birds. My favourite part of the plumage is the sprig of broccoli on the nape. This Eider spent more time close to the shore than the other Eiders and is close in behaviour to the dabbling ducks.

Adult male Common Eider

1st year male Common Eider

Female Common Eider

Female Common Eider

Adult male Long-tailed Duck

1st year male (left) and female (right) Long-tailed Duck

Purple Sandpiper

Photography in an Arctic onesy

After the hide we headed back to the hotel for breakfast and packed our bags. A scan over the very southern area of the harbour (Maritbukta) produced four Black Guillemot and a handful of Common and Steller’s Eider. We then headed back over the pass which was a lot clearer than yesterday and the views were fantastic. Trev did attempt an off road approach and drove between the snow poles marking the edge of the road and we plunged into the deep off road snow, I found this slightly hilarious once I had pushed the car free and Trev did a good job of driving out of the snow but it could potentially have been a bit serious, Trev eventually saw the funny side I am sure.


Mountain pass between Batsfjord and Tana Valley

We passed through the Tana Valley heading for Vadso and along the way we did a little birding but saw relatively little, a couple of Willow Tits nest building, Bullfinch, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Red-breasted Merganser and few sea-duck on the Tana Delta. The snow was so thick though that birding was difficult and it was difficult to pull over to enable us to scan or walk anywhere.

At the Varangerbotn junction we topped up with fuel and grabbed some food before heading along the coast for Nesseby. We enjoyed superb views over Veranger Fjord now that the weather had cleared and while I stared out to sea looking for seaduck, Trev, while driving, spotted an adult White-tailed Eagle sat on the near shore. We manoeuvred the car alongside the snowdrifts bordering the road, hopped out the car and at a range of 300m the bird flushed. We had rather unsatisfactory views of the bird in flight. We then headed to the carpark by Nesseby Church parked up, had a quick bite of lunch and then hopped out of the car. It was biting cold, amazingly cold, and it felt like our faces had frozen almost immediately and our teeth were about to shatter. I took some snaps of the church in the snow and then we both went to the shore and took snaps of some obliging Purple Sandpipers which were feeding on the sandy beach which was a little alien to us having largely experienced them on the rocks of UK shores. We then spent some time at the small fishing harbour at Nesseby where there where small numbers of gull including an Iceland Gull and a few Glaucous Gull, argentatus Herring Gull and Kittiwake present. A fishing boat approaching the harbour was followed by thousands of large gull species but they peeled away before reaching the harbour but not before an immature White-tailed Eagle approached from a distance and passed through the flock to assess the feeding opportunities before disappearing towards the hills on the south side of the fjord. There was little else to be seen, six Red-breasted Merganser and the occasional Black Guillemot were offshore while dried Cod hung on the drying racks to be picked over by the crows. I went up to my thighs in snow and had to commando roll myself out, I stood, checked no one was looking and continued photographing the Cod.

Nesseby Church

Purple Sandpiper

Adult Kittiwake

Fishing boat off Nesseby


After Nesseby we drove slowly towards Vadso stopping occasionally but saw little new, although lots of seaduck were present offshore and a small flock of 20 or so Waxwing were seen on the approach into Vadso and there were good numbers of Steller’s Eider, Common Eider and Long-tailed Duck in Vadso Harbour. We checked into the Vadso Fjord Hotel had a beer and then had to cross back across the bridge on foot in the ice cold after finding that the hotel did not serve food. Had a big pizza dinner at Opticom, a couple of beers and then crashed.

See also:
Day 1 here;
Day 2 here;
Day 4 here; and
Days 5 and 6 here.