Friday, 16 June 2017

Karigasniemi 14th - 16th June

I had read about Karigasniemi and Mount Ailigas in Wild Wings to the Northlands and whilst I wasn't sure I would have time to get there I had hoped to do so and in the end I have!
I met a Scottish bird photographer, who was particularly interested in photographing nesting birds, at Valtavaara and he told me of his previous trips to Karigasniemi which made up my mind to go. I arrived late in the evening of the 13th June and parked up by the roadside next to a large bog. In the morning I did a short walk along the road and soon picked up a small wader feeding in the wet grassland by the roadside - Broad-billed Sandpiper, a good start! The grass was about 10cm long so the bird was always partly obscured and, having taken hundreds of photos of them in Estonia, I decided to move on.
Spring water passing by the road at Karigasniemi

Parking by the entrance to the Kevo NP I explored the area on foot. More roadside pools produced at least 7 Red-necked Phalarope and countless Wood Sandpiper which were display calling from all directions.
Wood Sandpiper

There were a few ducks on the pools; a pair of Pintail, 8 Goldeneye and a pair of Wigeon. In the bushes Bluethroats were out in force with at least 6 birds singing along a km of roadside. Brambling and Redwing were the new Thrush Nightingale and Common Rosefinch and the former were singing everywhere whilst the latter have now entirely disappeared.
There were large number of wagtails, mostly thunbergi, the Grey-headed version of our Yellow Wagtail but also plenty of White Wagtails. I attempted to photograph all the variations in Yellow Wagtails on my trip round Europe to was keen to get decent photos of both the male and female.

Grey-headed Wagtail - male upper, both sexes show variable dark upper breast markings
A new sound to me in the last few days has been the 'galloping horses' display call of the Jack Snipe, I haven't actually seen any of them but there calls can be heard across the bogs.
I decided to walk some of Mount Ailigas in glorious sunshine. On the way up through the dwarf birch scrub there were even more Bluethroat and I spent sometime attempting to get a bird doing its display flight, not perfect but a reasonable attempt I think.

Bluethroat upper male giving display flight
As I left the trees a lone Siberian Jay called and sat on one of the last bushes before returning in to the wood. 
As I ascended the track over the heather moorland, which looked a lot like home, there were few birds to see (much like home!) but a Whimbrel called and Golden Plover were about the only other bird I saw. In the past Long-tailed Skua have nested on the slopes of Mount Ailigas but no sign today.
I parked up by the spring water that flows past the road and watched the Wood Sandpipers and wagtails, a Sedge Warbler was a surprise moving through the scrub and several Sand Martin flew over. Whilst sat at the roadside a British registration vehicle passed and pulled over, it was Ewan the photographer I had met at Valtavaara. We exchanges our recent sightings and in passing he mentioned an area nearby where he had seen some decent birds last year, it was by a Sami village called Erotusaita, it sounded worth a look so off I went. Whilst we were talking I saw a movement and white in the bushes; Stoat still in ermine, another mammal for the trip.
Stoat in winter ermine
The village of Erotusaita is only occupied in the winter when the Sami people herd the Reindeer and coral them. It was a strange place, empty wooden huts that must be home in the winter and a complicated array of fences to enclose the deer when they bring them in. 

The Sami village of Erotusaita
Plus huge floodlights to light up the winter darkness, it was eerily quite when I was there but it must be entirely different in the winter with the sounds and smells of the animals being herded.
Reindeer pens at Erotusaita
I set off to walk towards the bog area to the north of the village but scanned some of the large fenced areas and was very surprised to see several Long-tailed Skua walking across the grass. As I looked further there were pools and wet areas that were teeming with shorebirds; Ruff, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, 5 Bar-tailed Godwit in bright summer plumage and several Red-necked Phalarope on the open water. 
I curtailed my trip to the bog and spent the next few hours photographing the skuas and waders.
There were 8 Long-tailed Skua and as I looked at them more closely it looked like 6 adults, and heavily marked bird that I took to be a 2nd calendar year and another almost adult like but with a slight breast band and pale bill base that is perhaps a 3rd calendar year. What superb birds they are!
Long-tailed Skua - adult
Long-tailed Skua 2nd calendar year
Long-tailed Skua adult in foreground with 3rd calendar year behind
I went back to park up for the night by the Kevo NP entrance, or for some sleep, it seems wrong to call it night without darkness just as it started to rain. It rained heavily for a couple of hours and at around 22:00 it stopped and started to clear when I heard the distinctive ringing calls of the Waxwing in the trees by the camper. They were fly catching and I guess with no berries at this time of year that's probably a significant food source at this time of year. I managed a few photos and went back to bed.
The following morning I went back to Erotusaita and completed the walk to the large lakes which was only 3 or 4 km. I finally caught sight of Willow Grouse, a fine male with rufous head and neck and which body and wings. Just as I was preparing to get his photo he was off never to be seen again. The bog areas were otherwise fairly quiet beyond the Redwings, Brambling and Bluethroats with a few Meadow Pipit added but no sign of the Lapland Bunting which also occur here. Back at the pools I photographed the Ringed Plover which here are the smaller and slightly darker race Charadrius hiaticula tundrae which pass through the UK on their migration.
Ringed Plover of the northern breeding race tundrae

I'm spending the next couple of days around Ivalo, Pam arrives on a flight on Monday and we will then be heading up to Varanger for the final leg of the journey.
the journey so far

Correction: Steve Mann has kindly pointed out that the English name for the thunbergi race of Yellow Wagtail is Grey-headed not Ashy-headed as I keep calling them. Ashy-headed is of course the Italian race cinereocapilla which I have previously featured 

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