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Arctic Norway 2017

...with Mark Finn

June 8th - June 17th

Arctic Norway is one of those destinations many people dream about and thankfully today we have an itinerary and programme which takes in the very best of this wonderful location. Despite birding almost 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle we managed to observe 134 species and several mammals of interest including Elk. Birding highlights were many including rafts of King Eiders, high numbers of Long-tailed and Arctic Skuas, Gyrfalcon, hundreds of divers and sea-ducks and a wide variety of waders in their breeding plumage many of which we do not see in the UK. Passerines are few but did include Arctic Redpoll, Lapland and Snow Buntings, Horned Lark, Arctic Warbler and surprisingly lots of Pied Flycatchers.

The following birdlist should bring back the experience we encountered at the very northernmost part of Europe. My thanks go out to Anders for his local knowledge and guidance in this vast region even with late snows on the mountain passes which tested us on more than one occasion.

The next tour to Arctic Norway in is June 2018

June 8th: Oslo, Kirkenes, Ferdesmyra, Varanger Fjiord South, Karlebotn, Varangerbotn, Nesseby, Vadso

Weather: Clear and sunny 20c

Our Arctic adventure started in the capital of Norway, Oslo with a flight towards the old mining town of Kirkenes situated on the border area with Russia and Finland. Arrive a few minutes ahead of schedule and met up with Anders my local guide. We were soon on our way passing through spectacular scenery of lakes, hills and silver birch forest. Along the way we encountered Rough-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls and Fieldfares. The first stop was at Ferdesmyra a large low-lying marsh on the border with Finland. Around the parking area the group located White Wagtails, Common Redpolls and a flock of Bohemian Waxwings. Our main interest was in the marsh where Taiga Bean Goose, Whooper Swan, Red-throated Diver, Common Scoter and Long-tailed Duck were located. In the distance a few Common Cranes could be seen foraging for food in the marsh. Our journey then proceeded to the southern sector of the huge Varanger Fjiord with a stop near meadows and cliffs producing Bluethroat, Pied Flycatcher, Northern Wheatear and Redwing. Karlebotn is a small village where the tide line had Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and in the distance White-tailed Eagle, Black-throated Diver and Barn Swallows and Sand Martins hawking for insects. The roof of the school attracted Common and Herring Gull and Eurasian Oystercatcher to nest. Next was Varangerbotn which proved to be a very productive place for birdlife. In the gardens Willow Warbler, Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Magpie and House Sparrow. The sheltered bay attracted hordes of Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, Velvet Scoter, Greater Scaup, Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye and Eurasian Teal. Our last stop was at Nesseby Church where we were greeted by Arctic Skuas and along the shore Bar-tailed Godwit, Temminck's Stint and Red Knot. A walk around the peninsula provided us with close views of Red-necked Phalaropes, Arctic Terns and a Black Guillemot. It was time to head to Vadso the first of three bases on the trip.

June 9th: Vadso, Ekkeroy, Skallelv, Vardo, Persfjiord, Hamningberg

Weather: Sunny early on then cloudy conditions with a brisk north wind 5c

With no darkness at these latitudes during June it was no surprise the early part of the day was sunny and pleasant. The weather started to change as we started birding around Ekkeroy where the roadside fields had attracted a party of Tundra Bean Geese and the commoner wildfowl. Nearby on elevated perches a few White-tailed Eagles watched over events. The fields between Ekkeroy and Skallelv brought sightings of Whimbrel, White Wagtail, Bluethroat and an Arctic Redpoll whilst a small pool attracted Tufted Ducks and a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes. Just before Skallelv several Arctic Skuas were observed chasing Arctic Terns and a Long-tailed Skua headed inland to its breeding grounds. The river and gardens at Skallelv are an excellent site for birds at low tide with this morning's visit attracting Little and Temminck's Stints, Purple Sandpiper, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone and Dunlin. In the gardens various feeders attracted Brambling, Common Redpoll, Twite, House and Tree Sparrows. Further along the road more pools added European Golden Plovers, displaying Wood Sandpiper and Ruff the latter in resplendent breeding plumage. Vardo is a busy fishing port and town where another stop added a pair of Barnacle Geese, a second year Glaucous Gull, Common and Arctic Terns, hordes of Red-throated Divers and Long-tailed Ducks and Bar-tailed Godwits feeding on the exposed mud. Our journey took us through spectacular vistas to Persfjiord a sheltered place for seabirds. Careful scanning of the ocean produced hundreds of Common and King Eiders, Common and Velvet Scoters. At our lunch stop a Dunnock and calling Eurasian Wren were added to the trip list. Hamningberg is the end of the road and at one time was a prosperous fishing port. From the pier thousands of Goosander, Common and Black Guillemots, Razorbill, Arctic Tern and dozens of harassing Arctic Skuas. Bonus bird here included Rock Pipit feeding on seaweed. the journey back to base had a good moment when Lapland Buntings were found singing and feeding close to the road and a pair of Horned Larks proved to be elusive. Just before arriving at base a Pink-footed Goose was located among a party of Tundra Bean Geese.

June 10th: Vadso, Road to Vardo, Hornoya, Vardo

Weather: Cloudy with a light NE wind 5c

Before breakfast a short walk into the nature reserve which is situated next to the hotel. The wind was blowing a little with light showers. Willow Warblers were singing from the willow scrub and a Brambling was seen by Georgina. The pond held several Red-necked Phalaropes, Goosander and Red-breasted Mergansers. Back for breakfast and afterwards a return to Vardo along the coast road. En route Arctic Terns were roosting on the old tyre boom and White-tailed Eagles loafing along the coastal cliffs. A stop at one of the favoured fields produced Tundra Bean and Pink-footed Geese, Northern Pintail and offshore Black-throated Diver, Black-legged Kittiwake and Arctic Skuas. On entering Vardo we entered the town via the underwater tunnel which connects it to the mainland. In Vardo harbour we witnessed hundreds of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, Common and Arctic Terns and over fifty Black Guillemots. At 1100 we set off by rib to the island of Hornoya an important bird island which is close by. On arrival the group were met by literally thousands of birds on the cliffs and surrounding Barents Sea. The cliffs were bulging with Common and Brunnich's Guillemots, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Black-legged Kittiwake, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls and European Shags. Passerines were few but included the Scandinavian race of Rock Pipit feeding young near the bird shelter. A walk towards the lighthouse commenced which passed through the colony offering amazing views of our avian friends. On an offshore island Greylag and Barnacle Geese were breeding and the tussock grass attracted Meadow and Red-throated Pipits, Northern Wheatear and Twite. By the lighthouse lunch was taken with spectacular sea views to the east and west and the constant spectacle of Arctic Skuas chasing seabirds for food. Returned to Vardo and visited another area of the town when a Peregrine Falcon was noted chasing birds over the sea. No sooner had this disappeared a female Pallid Harrier passed by allowing excellent views and key ID features. Offshore we again encountered impressive numbers of Common and King Eiders, Long-tailed Duck and Common Scoter. A sheltered bay held Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Purple Sandpiper. Back on the mainland a return to the mudflats had similar birds to yesterday, and a short diversion allowed us close views of Lapland Buntings. Back to base along the coast road with a Willow Ptarmigan flushed from the roadside. Another pool was notable for Whooper Swans, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper and a pair of Northern Pintails.

June 11th: Vadso, Nesseby, Tana Delta, Mountain Road to Båtsfjord

Weather: Early sunshine giving way to cloudy conditions on a light E wind, 5c

A later start this morning as we left Vadso to make the journey to Båtsfjord via the Tana Delta. The usual birds were around the hotel in Vadso and the countryside until we reached Nesseby. Near the church we encountered at least two Short-eared Owls hunting around a house and garden. A walk towards the peninsula revealed a huge influx of Red-necked Phalaropes numbering c700 birds. At the point White-tailed Eagles were present. On the sea groups of sea-ducks including Velvet Scoters. The beach had similar shorebirds to our previous visit plus a Eurasian Oystercatcher nesting on the top of a grass-lined roof shed with two well-grown young. On the road towards the Tana Delta a Eurasian Kestrel was noted a scarce summer visitor to Finnmark. The road follows the Tana River and a stop near cliffs and birch-wood proved to be good for birds. In the birch trees the group located Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Bluethroat and at least three stunning Arctic Redpolls. On the river a pair of Whooper Swans, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard and Common Sandpipers. The road eventually leaves the river and forest and enters an area of upland taiga, cliffs and pools. Late snows this year has had an effect on the birds although the snowmelt has started albeit slowly. Our first stop produced excellent views of Long-tailed and Arctic Skuas, European Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Willow Ptarmigan, Horned Lark and Reed Bunting. At the 'junction' a telegraph pole had a singing Wood Sandpiper and the pools Red-throated Diver, Long-tailed Duck and Red-necked Phalarope. A bonus here was a group of newly arrived Eurasian Dotterel and displaying Ruff and Temminck's Stints. The journey down towards the fishing port of Båtsfjord is dramatic passing steeply downhill and through pristine Arctic habitats. A stop for a roadside Willow Ptarmigan, parties of Temminck's Stints, single Snow Bunting and a displaying Rock Ptarmigan added to the days enjoyment. On arrival at Båtsfjord a pool held a pair of Black-throated Divers, Common Goldeneye, Goosander and Red-breasted Mergansers and a large group of breeding plumaged Long-tailed Ducks. A Great Tit was located in nearby birches. Checked in at our hotel where Glaucous Gull and a flock of Bohemian Waxwings concluded an excellent birding day.

June 12th: Båtsfjord, Berlevage, Molvik

Weather: Cloudy with light NE winds 7c

Today was spent mainly in the mountain area and along the coast and harbours close to Berlevage. After breakfast we travelled back towards the junction to Berlevage when an adult Golden Eagle was observed flying in the opposite direction! A check of the ponds which are slowly thawing revealed Velvet Scoter, Greater Scaup, Eurasian Teal and Red-necked Phalarope. As we dropped down towards the impressive Kingsfjiord a stop was made which overlooked the sea and adjacent cliffs. Careful scanning of the cliffs revealed a singing male Ring Ouzel whilst further up Rough-legged Buzzard and a juvenile Golden Eagles were seen in flight. Next stop was the lighthouse near Berlevage which is a noted seawatching point as it juts out into the Barents Sea. Winds were not favourable although a light passage of Red-throated Divers was noted. On the horizon groups of Northern Fulmars and close to us Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin and a few third year Northern Gannets. The fishing port of Berlevage is literally a heaven for gull watchers with sightings of Great Black-backed, Herring, Common and at least ten Glaucous Gulls. Outside the harbour walls good numbers of Great Cormorants and European Shags, Goosander and a hunting Peregrine Falcon. On the shoreline Purple Sandpipers and Ringed Plovers appeared to be the common waders. As we passed the airport Anders located a Gyrfalcon in flight and most of the group managed to get views of this rare and sought after species. On the river another bonus in the form of a White-throated Dipper (black-bellied race). The road down to Molvik is scenic and has many different habitats and subsequent birdlife. The birch scrub attracted Fieldfare, Redwing and a singing Bluethroat. On the hillsides displaying Willow Ptarmigan. The pools and cliffs at Molvik held up to five White-tailed Eagles one of which was mobbing a Golden Eagle, Greater Scaup, Tufted Duck and Red-necked Phalaropes. On the return journey a stop in the high mountains allowed us a close approach to Snow and Lapland Buntings, Rock Ptarmigan, Temminck's Stint and a pair of nesting Whimbrel. Back to base with a slight diversion for Bohemian Waxwings feeding on willow buds and a single Pink-footed Goose in the harbour area.

June 13th: Båtsfjord, Berlevage, Syltefjiord

Weather: Cloudy with a cool NW wind 4c

The day commenced with a short visit to sites around Båtsfjord with the only addition to the list being a European Starling a vagrant to this part of Norway. Our journey up to the mountains produced similar birds to the last two days with a noted increase in the number of Long-tailed Skuas. The large sea fjiord en route to Berlevage held impressive numbers of Black Guillemots which numbered several hundreds. On entering the town a single Lesser Black-backed Gull was located by the bridge another scarce visitor to the area. The birds had not changed much from yesterday although the number of Glaucous Gulls had decreased. A short seawatch from the lighthouse provided us with close views of Northern Gannets and a noted passage of Great Cormorants. Lunch was taken in the town before we retraced our steps towards Båtsfjord and diverted to the abandoned village of Syltefjiord. The journey to the village provided us with sightings of Rock and Willow Ptarmigans, Arctic Redpoll and Fieldfare. In the village Twite, Common Redpoll and White Wagtails were around the buildings and gardens, Returned to base and tomorrow we move on to the last leg of our tour in Arctic Norway.

June 14th: Båtsfjord, Tana Valley, Neiden, Kirkenes, Svanhovd

Weather: Cloudy then sunny with light NW winds 7c

Checked out of the Polar Hotel in Båtsfjord for the journey to Svanhovd situated in the Pasvik Valley south of Kirkenes and close to the Russian border. A quick check of the harbour area added nothing new so we set off up the mountain road and down into the Tana Valley. The usual birds were present on the higher slopes including two newly arrived Eurasian Dotterel which allowed close views. Within the Tana Valley a stop allowed us to study Bluethroat at close range as it perched in a conifer tree and further down the road a male Pied Flycatcher was duly found sallying for insects from a fallen tree trunk. A diversion to the hamlet of Neiden and habitats around the church revealed Fieldfare, Redwing, Great Tit and on feeders Common and Arctic Redpolls which made a nice comparison. A nearby muddy river attracted a Common Greenshank which was new for the list. A late lunch was taken at a service station close to Kirkenes before making the short journey down to Svanhovd our final base in Arctic Norway. The habitat slowly changes from birch to conifer forest and patches of meadows, marshes and river systems. The feeders at Svanhovd attracted European Greenfinch, Great and Blue Tits, House and Tree Sparrows, Brambling and Eurasian Siskins. A walk down towards the river through a series of meadows allowed a close approach to Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Ruff and European Golden Plovers. In the woodlands we could hear the distinctive songs of Common Redstart and Little Buntings. Back near the centre a Yellowhammer was singing and Barn Swallows were nesting in a garage surely the most northerly breeding birds in the world.

June 15th: Svanhovd, Pasvik Valley, Road 885, Skroytnes

Weather: Sunny in the morning followed by showers on a light W wind 14c

Today was spent exploring the varied and many habitats along the Pasvik Valley and Road 885. The feeders at the nature centre attracted a male Eurasian Bullfinch of the larger and brighter northern race. Our first stop of the day was at the hippodrome and the adjoining forest. The group were greeted by a singing Pied Flycatcher who showed well on a aerial. Close by we were lucky to find a pair of Siberian Tits feeding young in a nest box and a Parrot Crossbill flew overhead. In the distance a Common Crane was busy feeding in a marsh close to the Russian border. Our journey down 885 was frequently interrupted by stops for the commoner birds. At the end of the road we went on a short walk through a mixed habitat of birch, pine and bog which yielded great views of a singing Little Bunting, Yellow Wagtails of the race thunbergi, and singing Tree Pipits. After an enjoyable lunch another walk was taken to a settlement by the Pasvik River which at this point forms the border with Russia. In the wild garden another Pied Flycatcher, Redwing and Fieldfare. A scan into the river itself revealed good numbers of adult Little Gulls, Common Scoter and the commoner duck species. The weather started to change as we headed back to base. This was to our advantage as the darker conditions led to sightings of a female Black Grouse, Eurasian Woodcock and Common Snipe. An earlier dinner this evening followed by a visit to the reserve at Skroytnes. On arrival a walk along a boardwalk leads to an elevated hide overlooking the river. This proved to be an excellent place for birds with a large group of Whooper Swans, various ducks including the first Smew and Northern Shoveler of the trip, hunting Short-eared Owls and a perched White-tailed Eagle. The remainder of the evening was spent travelling along dirt roads in search of grouse. On this occasion no grouse but close views of two Elk by the road - fantastic.

June 16th: Pasvik Valley, Road 885

Weather: Sunny then rain showers on a light SE wind 10c

Our last full day in Arctic Norway started with a slow drive down Road 885. The usual birds were around the hotel and in the cultivated fields. Anders took a diversion down a dirt road for several kilometres until we reached a summer house which also acted as a forestry centre and husky base during the winter months. The feeders here attracted many forest birds including a spectacular male Pine Grosbeak which showed well and occasionally sang his melodic song. Also present were Siberian and Great Tits, European Greenfinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, Eurasian Siskin and Reed Bunting. A walk along the road resulted in a Willow Ptarmigan being flushed from cover. The surprise bird of the tour was brief views of a White Stork flying low over the trees before dropping into cover, unfortunately the bird could not be relocated. We headed back towards the hide at Skroytnes with similar birds to yesterday evening although the number and variety had dropped somewhat in a few hours. A bonus came in the form of a female Eurasian Marsh Harrier which is well out of range this far north. Several sites along the river were visited in the afternoon with similar birds to the morning plus a single Yellow Wagtail. After dinner we went out again to explore the 885 and several dirt roads. Our perseverance paid off as a Siberian Jay was eventually found preening in a conifer tree. No sign of any grouse so we headed back to base for our final night in Norway.

June 17th: Pasvik Valley, Kirkenes, Oslo, London

Weather: Sunny with light S winds

Today was essentially a travel one back to Oslo and then onto London. Anders decided to try the birch forests once again en route to Kirkenes airport. This paid off as the last spring migrant was located singing its trilling song from the top of a tree - Arctic Warbler. This species probably has the longest migration of any passerine as it winters in SE Asia. After getting great views we proceeded to the airport stopping at a couple of lakes for Black and Red-throated Divers, Smew and Goosander. The flight down to Oslo went well and the connection to the UK were without a hitch. The end to a wonderful birding location in the far north of Europe.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.


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