Sunday, 25 June 2017

Varanger 21st - 24th June

We left Ivalo at around 10:00 in hard driving rain with a cold N wind and a temperature of 3℃, it was still raining when we stopped at Neljan Tuulan for a coffee. At least 4 male and 4 female or immature Pine Grosbeak were at the feeder and a Siberian Tit, which was ringed, also paid a visit. Pam was impressed with the Grosbeak but even more so with the Red Squirrel on the feeders. Plenty of Redpoll but all Mealy. As we crossed the higher ground towards Utsjoki the rain turned to sleet. We passed a Red-throated Diver on a roadside pool and a distant Rough-legged Buzzard hovering over the wooded hillside and a Merlin dashed across the road. 
Rough-legged Buzzard
Utsjoki was a row of wooden properties with a small well stocked supermarket just before the river crossing into Norway.
We followed the River Tana with clusters of fishermen on the shore where the river narrowed forming rapids and stopped at Tana Bru. Norway is even more expensive than Finland so we made do with a Pizza to share at the equivalent of 14€ which, when delivered was plenty for two anyway. Fuel was about 150€/litre but fortunately we had filled up in Inari at 129€/litre.
We quickly arrived at Varangerbotn and our first sighting of the Arctic Ocean. The rain had just about stopped but it was still cold. Pam spotted the first White-tailed Eagle on the shore and we saw four more as we drove towards Nesseby.
White-tailed Eagle
Flocks of birds on the water were mainly Goosander but we had one group of 50 Velvet Scoter which was impressive and there were groups of Eider strung along the shoreline.

At Nesseby there were 3 summer plumaged Little Stint feeding on the shoreline and several Arctic Skua and a single adult Long-tailed past along the coast. 
Little Stint - summer plumage
I met a dutch birder travelling back down the coast towards Pasvik and we exchanged sightings. He had seen King and single Steller's Eider at Vardo and more King Eider near Hemningsberg which was promising.
We stopped overnight at JV Camping at Vestre Jakobselv. There were bird feeders by the reception with more Redpoll but again all Mealy. The occasional Willow Tit made a visit but otherwise it was House Sparrows and Greenfinch. Around the harbour we had Temminck's and Little Stint, more Goosander and small parties of Long-tailed Duck.
We stopped at Vadso and had a good look around Vadsoya Island. The Mountain Hares were the highlight, the birding was difficult in the cold N wind but again there were Wheatear and Meadow Pipits and 8 Red-necked Phalarope on the pool.
Mountain Hare
Moving up the coast we visited Ekkeroy which was worth the stop just to witness the clouds of Kittiwake nesting on the cliffs. 
Kittiwake on Ekkeroy
I walked all over the island looking at the Pipits and managed several Meadow and a couple of Rock there were also Wheatear here and nice views of Arctic Skua stood.
Arctic Skua
We drove on to Vardo with a few stops on the way. The tunnel lights were out so we had to wait for a convey shuttle that was leading cars through the 3km tunnel and we parked up for the night at the Tourist Information in the North Bay. There were Black Guillemot, Eider and plenty of Kittiwake which were nesting on the buildings close to the Tourist Information. I checked South Bay for the King and Steller's Eider but if they were there they were to far away to distinguish without a telescope. I hadn't brought mine and this was one of several times when I regretted that decision. We ate in the Pokora Restaurant which was surprisingly good, a meal for two for about 40€.
It was another cold night, I got up around 06:00 and did another check of the harbour but the tide was out now and the birds were even further away.
The cold, rain and dark sky was getting a bit oppressive but we pressed on. My spirits were lifted when at Pam's suggestion we stopped on the first decent bog area north of Vardo and had several Lapland Bunting. 
Lapland Bunting
The males looked fantastic in their breeding plumage, quite different to the dull winter attire in which we usually see them in the UK. 
The drive around the coast towards Hamnigsberg is spectacular. We saw several groups of Reindeer feeding by the roadside and large groups of Goosander offshore at Persfjord there were some closer eider. The first ones I looked at, a group of half a dozen, looked like King I scanned for more Eider for comparison and came across a group of about 100 but scanning through these they looked the same as the first group then I saw a fine male King Eider. 
King Eider - male
They were all King Eider, a group of about 150 moulting males and females. I scrambled around on the seaweed covered rocks and eventually got some photos although there were never going to be close. There were a couple of males in the group that were still in more or less adult summer plumage but the rest were dark with various pale areas. 
King Eider - part of flock
The females looked to be in typical plumage.
There were gulls on the rocks at Sandfjord and included ad adult Iceland, first for the trip.
Iceland Gull -adult
As we neared Hamningberg a Red Fox crossed the road, still in its thick winter coat, it stopped and turned to look at us just as the sun was starting to brighten the sky and it looked amazing before slowly walking away along the edge of a pool.
Red Fox
We parked in the large car park and I went across to look for pipits in the heather clad area. Almost immediately a pipit flew up and called overhead, a cheeping call, I followed it until it landed. Red-throated Pipit at last and a fine male. It flew around landing about 50m away and was joined by another Red-throated Pipit, in all there were at least four Red-throated Pipits in quite a small area.
Red-throated Pipit
I watched them feeding and the Red-throated chased off another slightly larger buffy coloured pipit. It didn't fly far and when I got on it I was amazed to see that it was a Tawny Pipit. I took photos and managed some reasonable record shots. What was the chance of finding a Tawny Pipit here at 70°North! I sent the record through to Finnmark Birding and Tormod confirmed that it was only the second record for the Varanger area, with the first at Ekkeroy in 1999!
Tawny Pipit
We had a walk around the deserted village and a male Snow Bunting made a brief appearance. 
Snow Bunting
With the weather still poor we drove back to Vestre Jakobselv and stopped again at JV Camping. In the morning my walk around the village produced the first owl of the trip, Short-eared, a first summer Glaucous Gull and another Mountain Hare. Back at the feeders I bumped in to a birder from Norway Birding who was leading an American lady around the area. He had no additional news but surprisingly had already heard of my Tawny Pipit, the power of social media! 
With the weather forecast still poor we decided to head back towards Finland, as we drove between Tana Bru and Utsoki we saw a Rough-legged Buzzard hovering over the hillside then Pam called out Moose and sure enough there it was stood in a field by the roadside, starring at us. It looked like a young male with horns starting to appear on its head. It starred at us for perhaps 5 minutes before slowly walking back in to the forest. 
Moose or Elk as they are sometimes called
As we were about to make the turn to cross the river to Utsjoki another young Moose appeared by the roadside a great end to our short visit to Norway.
From here we are travelling south towards home and plan to work our way down the Swedish coast.
I'll add some scenic shots when I get chance.

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