Thursday, 26 March 2015

Norway Birding - 20th March (Day 2 of 6)

After a very short night we were up at 07:00 surprisingly bright eyed and bushy tailed. We arranged for our hire car, which we were due to collect from Europcar last night from the airport, to be delivered to the hotel, had breakfast and then got on the road in beautiful sunny conditions. As we loaded the car a flock of 15 Waxwing swirled overhead, we grabbed for the cameras hoping they would settled but they disappeared around the buildings and out of view so we set-off on the road keen to get to Batsfjord. We spent the next 30 minutes driving round the small town trying to find the road out, reaching the main road twice before deciding we were heading the wrong way and heading back into town once again. However, this was not an entirely wasted venture as we did come across a flock of Waxwing numbering around 100 feeding on Rowan berries in a garden, in the sunshine in lovely snowy conditions they gave some good photo opportunities. Its always great to see these birds and I don’t think any birder could tire of them.

Waxwing in Kirkennes

We headed out on our drive passing back past the airport when the conditions once again began to close in, the sky blackened and the snow began to fall. In the windy conditions we could barely see a thing as Trev drove the E6 heading north towards Verangabotn, occasionally conditions were so bad that we could see no more than a few metres in front. Birds were thin on the ground but we didn’t really stop anyway for any length of time due to the terrible conditions, an occasional Hooded Crow, Raven, a raft of Eider and a glimpse of some white jumped redpolls which I claimed as Arctic Redpoll but could easily have been Mealy Redpoll, although having seen Arctic and Mealy later in the trip looking back I am confident they were Arctic Redpoll. At Verangabotn we turned west and then north and drove through the snowbound Tana Valley scanning the trees for Hawk Owl as we went but to no avail, a single Fieldfare was just about all we saw. The snow was thick and visibility poor and while this all sounds somewhat negative the experience of a blasting polar scene was something that neither of us had experienced and we were somewhat in awe.

Driving conditions were fairly difficult!

We had learnt earlier that the pass to Batsfjord had been closed and that vehicles were being convoyed across with a snow plough in front and a rescue vehicle behind so we aimed to get to the 14:30 convoy which we did with plenty of time to spare. I birded the birch scrub for a while at the station before the crossing but it was deadly quiet in the thick snow and very slippery underfoot. The pass crossing was spectacular, a desolate mountain plateau with little but snow and a few rocks and sprigs of grass with the occasional building which looked to be a summer farming retreat. Not a bird was seen and occasionally the scenery was so white that it was impossible to separate land from sky. We did see our first Reindeer which looked very much at home in the snow.

We eventually dropped in to the small, but rather industrial looking town, with a strong smell of festering fish that is Batsfjord and spent the final couple of hours of the day birding the harbour. Fairly quickly we came across a couple of male Steller’s Eider preening on the shore, stunning birds even in the subdued light of heavy snow, we were to see around 15 birds during the course of our birding this afternoon. There were good numbers of gull with the rather slaty looking argentatus Herring Gulls causing some confusion to begin with, amongst these were good numbers of Glaucous Gulls with a mix of ages, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake and a single 1st winter Iceland Gull. There were small numbers of Long-tailed Duck with 25 birds in total and a smaller number of Common Eider. Perhaps best of all was a flock of around 200 Purple Sandpiper roosting on rock groynes on one of the promontories within the harbour. They allowed close approach over the rather treacherous snow covered groynes. Small numbers of Black Guillemot were present with most birds now in summer plumage. After a very tiring couple of days we booked into our hotel, the Polar Hotel, had a couple of beers and a red wine were very welcome before crashing.

Steller's Eider - Not the best shots but my first views of a lifer

Glaucous Gull - 1st winter

Glaucous Gull - Adult winter

argentatus Herring Gulls - Note the dark upper parts and the extensive white in the wingtip especially the outer two primaries (P9 and P10)

Mixed group of gulls including Glaucous, argentatus Herring Gull and Great Black-backed. We struggled with the identification of the sub-adult bird in the middle of the shot due to its small size and bill shape but concluded it to be a runt argentatus Herring Gull. Any suggestions most welcome.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

See also:
Day 1 here;
Day 3 here;
Day 4 here; and
Days 5 and 6 here.