Sunday, 29 March 2015

Norway Birding - 24th and 25th March (Day 5 and 6 of 6)

We were heading for the Pasvik Valley today so were up at 05:00 for 05:30 breakfast and on the road for just before 06:30. As we had breakfast we scanned the harbour at Vardo and picked up three Black-headed Gull (largely summer migrants here), a Common Gull (the first of the trip) and an immature White-tailed Eagle which flew across the harbour. We headed back west along the north shore of the Varangerfjord scanning from the car as we went. It was a little warmer today and the thermometer showed -5c in slightly more cloudy conditions yesterday. We diverted to the small harbour at Nesseby to check for gulls but there were only small numbers of argentatus Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake so we continued our drive. A short way out of Nesseby a stunning juvenile White-tailed Eagle flew slowly over the road, we did an emergency stop as quickly as we could, not easy on an ice covered road, and enjoyed amazing views as the bird flew overhead. We turned south on the A6 and somewhere in the area of Aune a few kilometres south of the E6/E75 junction we came across a stunning Hawk Owl perched atop a telegraph pole and then, just behind, another bird. They gave fantastic views down to around 20m before flying off in pursuit of a Magpie after giving some juvenile Tawny Owl like contact calls. A short way on a third bird was siting atop a TV aerial on a house - three Hawk Owl within a 100m stretch! We headed on south passing through some stunning mountain scenery which we had not seen on the first day due to the terrible weather conditions and saw a further two Hawk Owl along the route, this is evidently a common species along the better wooded parts of this road.

Immature (1st year) White-tailed Eagle

Hawk Owl

Hawk Owl

We reached the Pasvik Valley at 09:00 and drove down the far more wooded valley dominated by spruce and birch. Our first stop was at the National Park visitor centre of Bioforsk at Svanhovd. We were hoping to spend some time at the feeders at the centre and explore the birch woodland behind the centre which supports Three-toed Woodpecker. The feeders, while busy, were relatively species poor and supported little more than House Sparrow, Common (MealyRedpoll, two Coue's Arctic Redpoll (which showed briefly) and Greenfinch. The woodland was inaccessible due to the recent heavy snowfalls and we could find no clear tracks to allow us to bird it. So, after a quick stop at the local Co-op, we headed further south and birded the loop that extends through Skroytnes. The road passes through a mosaic of fields, spruce and birch woodland although much of this was covered with snow. The road was relatively birdless, we saw a good number of Mealy Redpoll, Willow Tit and a male Goshawk which looked to be much paler below than our UK birds and was of the northern race buteoides.

We eventually reached the BIRK Husky guesthouse near to Melkfoss at around 13:00 and checked in with Chris the owner to a cacophony of barking husky’s, not really my idea of peace in a beautiful snowy wilderness - but they were fairly well behaved and only seemed to bark when attention was given to them. Chris showed us to our rooms and pointed us in the direction of the feeders and hide and off we went. The feeders were alive with redpoll and we identified (or at least claimed!) Common (Mealy) (the commonest with a peak of around 20 birds present at anyone time) and Coue’s Arctic Redpoll (no more than three present at anyone time). I find these redpoll extremely difficult and I was somewhat baffled by the two species and the apparent integration between them. Quickly Trev picked up a lifer for me, Pine Grosbeak, a female bird and then soon after a male appeared, there were probably four birds present in total and over the course of the afternoon showed very well. Other species coming into the feeders included a Siberian Tit, Willow Tit, Siberian Jay (a single bird rather briefly), Bullfinch (a pair) and many House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit. After a couple of hours at the feeders we walked the ski-do trail to the south of the guesthouse and followed this for a couple of miles to a frozen lake. The crossing of the lake looked daunting in this vast snowy wilderness so we turned back and headed for the lodge for the last bit of birding. The birding along the ski-do track as with much of the forest was very slow and all we saw was a single Arctic Redpoll, three Siberian Tit and a couple of Willow Tit.

Male Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

Female Pine Grosbeak

I had fairly poor views of Siberian Jay and this is the best shot I managed

Siberian Tit

Willow Tit

Common (Mealy) Redpoll

Common (Mealy) Redpoll

Common (Mealy) Redpoll

Common (Mealy) Redpoll

Common (Mealy) Redpoll

Possible Coue's Arctic Redpoll

Possible Coue's Arctic Redpoll

Coue's Arctic Redpoll

We spent the final hour or so of birding light trying to add some birds to our Russian list, the BIRK Husky is no more then  200m from the Russian border and as neither Trev nor I had been to Russia we thought it would be entertaining, if rather trivial to start a Russian list. The border runs along the centre of the river Vaggatem and after some brief scanning we scored fairly well with the first bird being a Dipper feeding on the ice on the edge of the partially frozen river followed by a Whooper Swan which flew from the south and landed in the centre of the river before swimming to the Russian side and coming ashore, our Russia list now numbers two species.

After popping to the local Co-op to grab some beers we relaxed to some photo editing and writing up up notes. Two other guests, Aurora Borealis 'hunters', who had been pacing the woodlands outside looking for the lights burst into the lodge exclaiming the lights were showing so we tore ourselves away from our beers and popped outside into the -10c temperatures. We saw a glimmer of the lights which were not too spectacular before returning to our laptops and beers.

The 26th saw us up at 05:30 for breakfast followed by loading of the car and our return drive to Kirkennes. The plan was to revisit the Waxwings of our first day and then took for a Hawk Owl which was said to perch on one of the roadsigns on the airport approach road. However, conditions were overcast and the snow heavy and our journey back was a little slower and more treacherous than we had anticipated. We had a drive around Kirkennes in the increasingly heavy snow before deciding that we would be better off at the airport. As we drove we saw a few Waxwing but little else. On arrival at the airport we relaxed and did some 'chimping' before boarding our flight on time, the journey home was smooth and efficient, unlike the final flight on the first day of our trip, and following departure at 11:30 we were home by 18:30.

We had a fantastic trip, the highlights for me were undoubtedly Ivory Gull, Steller's Eider, King Eider, Hawk Owl and Pine Grosbeak and the island of Hornoya with its vibrant seabird colony. Our list of birds recorded was 71 species, two of which, Pine Grosbeak and Steller's Eider were new for me while Trev had one lifer, Ivory Gull. Species recorded were:

Whooper Swan
Greylag Goose
Bean Goose (Taiga)
Long-tailed Duck
King Eider
Common Eider
Steller's Eider
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Mallard
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon)
Common Woodpigeon
Common Crane
European Shag
Great Cormorant
Northern Lapwing
Purple Sandpiper
Ivory Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake
Black-headed Gull
Mew Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
European Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Glaucous Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Atlantic Puffin
Black Guillemot
Razorbill
Thick-billed Murre
Common Murre
Northern Hawk-owl
Northern Goshawk
White-tailed Sea-eagle
Eurasian Green Woodpecker
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Gyrfalcon
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Bohemian Waxwing
White-throated Dipper
Mistle Thrush
Redwing
Fieldfare
Common Blackbird
Willow Tit
Siberian Tit
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Common Blue Tit
Eurasian Nuthatch
Great Grey Shrike
Eurasian Jay
Siberian Jay
Common Magpie
Eurasian Jackdaw
Hooded Crow
Common Raven
House Sparrow
Common Chaffinch
European Greenfinch
European Goldfinch
Common Redpoll
Arctic Redpoll
Twite
Pine Grosbeak
Eurasian Bullfinch
Snow Bunting
Yellowhammer

Total = 70 species

See also:
Day 1 here;
Day 2 here;
Day 3 here; and
Day 4 here.