This was the second tour to Arctic Norway operated by Birdwatching Breaks, in contrast to the previous year sightings were quite different but the range of species was impressive. The majority of the regions speciality species were observed although numbers of King Eider were very low this year compared to 2017. Unusual species included Great Northern Diver a rare visitor, Slavonian Grebe which was well east of its normal breeding range in Norway, Osprey, Black-tailed Godwit of the race islandica, Pectoral Sandpiper displaying in a marsh, a stunning Ross's Gull in its pink plumage, Northern Hawk Owl and above average numbers of Pine Grosbeaks.
The next tour to Arctic Norway takes place in June 2019 and is led by Anders Mæland.
June 7th: Oslo, Kirkenes, Fereesyma, Karlebotn, Varangerbotn, Nesseby Church, Vadso. Weather: Rather mixed with frequent wintry showers on a NW wind 7C.
At 0720 hours we left the airport hotel to check in with Norwegian Air for the flight to Kirkenes in far north-eastern Norway. The town is actually further east than Istanbul in Turkey. On arrival the group met up with Anders my local guide. Our first stop was the huge marshland at Fereesyma with views towards the Finnish border. Before arriving at Fereesyma the first of many Rough-legged Buzzards were seen along the roadside plus European Golden Plover, Long-tailed Skua and Fieldfare. Due to weather conditions the marsh only held a small group of Taiga Bean Geese, Common Gull and in roadside pines Common Redpoll. Karlebotn was next which is literally at the end of the huge Varangerfjord. The rocky foreshore held summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwits a beautiful bird at this time in June. Also present were a pair of White-tailed Eagles, Goosander, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Common Redshank and Ringed Plover. The older building attracted nesting Common Gull and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Varangerbotn village attracted for eagles and waders before we turned down to Nesseby Church a world-famous birding site. A scan of the muddy foreshore revealed Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Temminck's Stint, Ruff, Sanderling and in the seaweed a fantastic Western Yellow (Grey-headed) Wagtail. On the return walk two male Northern Wheatears chased around and a party of Red Knot flew northwards. Vadso was just down the road our base for three nights. Checked in and visited Vadso Island and marsh at 1715. The walk towards the pool had singing Willow Warbler, Fieldfare, European Greenfinch and Arctic Skuas offshore. On the pool up to thirty Red-necked Phalaropes, Tufted Duck and Ruff. Overhead Common Redshank and Wood Sandpipers were in display mode. The weather closed in so we headed back to base.
June 8th: Vadso, Skallen, Kvalnes, Indri Kiberg, Vardo, Barvikmyran. Weather: Mixed with rain and sleet showers on a NW wind 7C.
After breakfast we headed eastwards out of Vadso to make a short stop at a sheltered bay. This was productive for several ducks including a pair of Northern Pintail. On the other side of the bay a party of Red Knot dropped down into the rocks to feed. The journey along the coast road to the village of Skallen had several pairs of White-tailed Eagles, Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas, hundreds of Goosander and Red-breasted Mergansers. At Skallen we parked up to visit a garden with feeders which in turn attracted European Greenfinch, Common Redpoll, House and Tree Sparrows. On the exposed mud views of European Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Temminck's Stint and Dunlin. Kvalnes is further along the road where a walk towards the shore and bay was made. A small pond attracted Common Goldeneye and Tufted Duck, whilst the cropped vegetation allowed good views of Arctic Redpoll, Red-throated and Meadow Pipits, White Wagtail, Willow Warbler and fleeting views of Lapland Bunting. A diversion to the hamlet of Indri Kiberg proved to be a good move as the huge rafts of Common Eider eventually revealed three King Eiders including a drake. Offshore waters had a lone Black-throated Diver and a Pomarine Skua thumping hell out of an unfortunate Herring Gull (the gull survived). A garden feeder provided a bonus with Twite picking up discarded seeds. After lunch Vardo was reached a fishing port which has seen better days and appears to be in decline. The beach area had Purple Sandpiper and Sanderling feeding among the seaweed. In offshore waters many Common and Black Guillemots and flocks of Arctic Terns. Another short diversion to an area of willow scrub had a singing Bluethroat and Willow Warbler. At the end of the afternoon a visit to Barvikmyran a huge wetland where we witnessed dozens of Arctic Skuas, Red-throated Divers, displaying Common Snipe, Dunlin, and best of all a displaying Pectoral Sandpiper a bird from NE Siberia and North America and a Snow Bunting. On the return to Vadso we added Tundra Bean and Barnacle Geese in a roadside field and at least fifteen White-tailed Eagles sitting on the shore.
Mammals: Mountain Hare (2), Reindeer (c)
June 9th: Vadso, Vardo, Hornoya, Persfjord, Hamningsberg, Komagvaer. Weather: Cloudy with a cool NE wind 6C.
Before leaving Vadso a singing Common Chiffchaff behind the hotel. The group were en route to Vardo with a visit to coastal willow scrub holding Fieldfare, Redwing and Northern Wheatears. Earlier a Short-eared Owl crossed in front of the van being pursued by Hooded Crows. At 1000 hours we set off towards the rich seabird cliffs n the island of Hornoya. Within Vardo harbour good numbers of Arctic and Common Terns. On arrival in Hornoya a short walk up towards the breeding cliffs with exceptionally close views of European Shag, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common and Brunnich's Guillemots, Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin. These species were joined by displaying Rock Pipits and Common Ravens looking for prey. On the opposite island views of nesting Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, displaying Ruff and at least eleven White-tailed Eagles. Back to Vardo at mid-day and then the scenic road to the abandoned fishing village of Hamningsberg. Roadside pools held Red-throated Divers, Red-breasted Merganser and displaying Temminck's Stints. A scan into the vast waters of Persfjord added Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Black-throated Divers to the day list. Further down the road a showy Ring Ouzel sang from a rock and Sand Martins fed nearby. A walk around Hamningsberg was productive for rafts of Goosander and Black Guillemots, Fieldfare and Redwing with the latter nesting on window sills, Barn Swallow, White Wagtail and a local rarity in Chaffinch. Brief views of a Pomarine Skua hassling gulls off the jetty. On the return journey Great Northern Diver, displaying Wood Sandpipers and a male Eurasian Teal were the highlights. The pools before Vardo held the commoner waders and a pair of Horned Larks feeding quietly in the grass cover. Our last stop was at Komagvaer a tiny settlement with views into the Varangerfjord. This was productive for Velvet and Common Scoters, Great Skua, Common Snipe and a calling Whimbrel. Back to base for the last night at Vadso before moving on tomorrow.
Mammals: Reindeer (c), Grey Seal (2), Minke Whale, Fin Whale.
June 10th: Vadso, Varangerbotn, Tana Valley, Hoyholmen, Leirpollem, Båtsfjord. Weather: Cool with a NE wind 6C.
Before breakfast a few of us walked around the suburban streets of Vadso. This was productive for Fieldfare, Common Redstart and Great Tit. At 0845 we set off towards the Tana Valley with a stop at Varangerbotn being particularly productive for Slavonian Grebe, Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, Common and Velvet Scoters and high numbers of White-tailed Eagles and Rough-legged Buzzards. Filled up with fuel and set off along the scenic road within the Tana Valley. Driving slowly along the road eventually paid off as a Northern Hawk Owl allowed us close up views whilst perched on a telecommunications tower. In the birch-wood Bluethroat, Brambling and Willow Warbler were in full song. A diversion to Hoyholmen an area of tidal flats and estuary allowed us views of Dunlin, Temminck's Stint, Black-tailed Godwit an annual rarity and a pair of Black-headed Gulls. Lunch was taken at Leirpollem an area of farmland and pools. On the grass a female Common Shelduck which was new for the tour plus Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Ruddy Turnstone and a Short-eared Owl which was flushed by Linda. Back to the main road which rises in altitude to enter an alpine landscape of pools, moorland and rock outcrops. The first pools held uncommon breeding birds including Long-tailed Duck and Greater Scaup. At the summit a bushy spot had Reed and Lapland Buntings giving their distinctive songs and a Red-throated Diver sitting quietly on her nest. On the road to Båtsfjord a walk along the main road added European Golden Plover, Ruff, Long-tailed Skua, Horned Lark and Snow Bunting. On reaching Båtsfjord a lagoon had Common Goldeneye and Red-necked Phalarope and a pair of Tufted Ducks. The last stop was a lagoon not far from the centre which had the major ducks of Finnmark plus a party of Common Goldeneyes. Our day ended with great views of Bluethroat singing from a wire.
Mammals: Reindeer (c), Mountain Hare (2), Grey Seal (2), Harbour Porpoise (1)
June 11th: Båtsfjord, Berlevag including the harbour and airport. Weather: Rather mixed with snow showers and sunny spells on an E wind 6C.
Today started with a visit to the mountain areas above Båtsfjord. En route a White-throated Dipper flew in front of the van and promptly disappeared into a nearby river. The weather on the mountain slopes was poor with frequent snow showers and a cool east wind. Despite this views of typical mountain birds; Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas, Red-throated Pipit, Northern Wheatear, Snow and Lapland Buntings and Horned Larks. The wetter areas were attractive to European Golden Plovers, Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones. At the junction we turned towards the isolated fishing port of Berlevag passing the impressive Koningsfjord. One pool held Whooper Swans, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye and Long-tailed Ducks. A diversion of the main road into a rocky area was productive for White-tailed Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzard and views into the fjord of an island with substantial numbers of European Shag, Great Cormorant and the widespread gulls of Northern Norway. A bonus came when a male Rock Ptarmigan appeared close to the van on an exposed rock. Down the road a visit to Berlevag lighthouse added nothing new of note so we headed into the port area with its thousands of gulls. Black-legged Kittiwakes were nesting on almost every building whilst the roof areas had the larger gulls including five Glaucous Gulls. In the outer harbour rafts of Goosander, Common Scoter and in the distance passing Northern Fulmars. By the airport a single Pink-footed Goose was seen and a pair of Peregrine Falcons circled above the cliffs. It was time to return to base following the same route with sightings of Red-throated and Black-throated Divers plus Common Terns nesting on an old jetty with Black Guillemots. A bonus came near the junction with a pair of Little Stints showing us their flashy summer plumage. Further stops in the mountain produced similar birds to earlier in the day.
Mammals: Reindeer (c), Harbour Seal (6)
June 12th: Båtsfjord, Syltefjord, Berlevag. Weather: Rather mixed with snow showers and sunny spells on a W wind 3C.
The day started with snow showers around the harbour at Båtsfjord which came and went throughout the day at regular intervals. The usual birds were around the harbour and adjacent area. Just outside the town border we turned towards the abandoned fishing village of Syltefjord which is reach along a picturesque valley with fast-flowing rivers, birch scrub and towering cliffs. The pools held Smew, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Eurasian Teal and Red-throated Divers. In the river a White-throated Dipper was seen before flying upstream. A check of willow and birch scrub revealed Bluethroat, Willow Warbler, Common and Arctic Redpolls and several European Greenfinches. A bonus came when a Willow Grouse was seen by the side of the road allowing good views. Back to the main highway with stops producing now familiar birds plus a single Rock Ptarmigan in winter plumage. A diversion onto a dirt track eventually led to Anders finding a pair of Eurasian Dotterel feeding on a grassy slope. From here we progressed to the junction and headed back to Berlevag with a stop for lunch at a parking spot. Nearby views of Fieldfare, Redwing, Common Snipe, Temminck's Stint and White Wagtail. Before reaching Berlevag a visit to the lighthouse which again produced little of note so we progressed towards the harbour area. This proved to be a master stroke as it set the group off on a run of gulls. Firstly on a warehouse roof a first summer Ross's Gull was located by Anders which gave us exceptional views. This is an extremely rare gull of NE Siberia and across parts of North America. By the outer jetty up to five Glaucous Gulls were joined by single Lesser Black-backed and Iceland Gulls making this a true gull-fest of Arctic Norway. Proceeded back to base a very happy bunch of birders.
Mammals: Reindeer (c), Grey Seal (2), Fin Whale (2)
June 13th: Båtsfjord, Tana Valley, Varangerbotn, Kirkenes, Svanvik. Weather: Cloudy with a NW wind 7C.
Checked out of Båtsfjord and headed back over the mountains towards the Tana Valley. A stop en route added similar birds to previous visits including close views of Lapland Buntings and Eurasian Dotterel. Within the Tana Valley a stop for the Northern Hawk Owl on its favourite perch proved to be a popular stop. Lunch taken at Varangerbotn followed by a visit to the estuary and mudflats nearby. The open waters had Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, Velvet and Common Scoters, Goosander and Red-breasted Mergansers and a group of Eurasian Teal. The muddy fringes attracted Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, Common Redshank and a Greenshank the latter being new for the tour. In the birch scrub singing Redwing, Fieldfare and Willow Warblers. A Short-eared Owl flew over the marsh and landed briefly on a large rock. On the road to Kirkenes a roadside habitat of birch forest and marsh had a distant calling Common Cuckoo. On arrival into Kirkenes a site near the new hospital gave us great views of Red-throated Divers, Black-headed and Little Gulls. It was time to enter the Pasvik Valley and our final base at Svanvik. A bonus came with a Eurasian Woodcock sitting quietly in the open by the road - fantastic views. Turned off to Svanhovd a former farm now being used for research into plant and vegetable growing at these latitudes. The entrance road had a male Pied Flycatcher and on the feeders Common and Arctic Redpolls gave good comparisons. Other birds present included Great Tit, Brambling, Chaffinch and a single Eurasian Siskin. Checked in for our final three nights in Norway.
Mammals: Reindeer (c), Grey Seal (2), European Stoat (1), Moose (1)
June 14th: Svanhovd, Pasvik Valley, Nyrud. Weather: Sunny spells on a SE wind 13C.
A later breakfast today followed by an exploration of the Pasvik Valley which is sandwiched between Russia and Finland. The feeders at the centre had the same birds as yesterday afternoon. Anders decided to visit a remote lodge in the forest reached by a dirt road. At the entrance singing Redwing and a Yellowhammer the latter being a rare summer visitor to Finnmark. I then located the scarce Siberian Tit searching for food low down on the forest floor, good views followed. On reaching the feeders we were greeted by several Pied Flycatchers in full song, of which several were using the numerous nest boxes. Waiting by the feeders paid off as up to six Pine Grosbeaks showed up along with Great, Willow and Siberian Tits, European Greenfinch and Brambling. Back to the main road to travel south towards the hamlet of Nyrud. A farm attracted a pair of Barn Swallows and on a nearby lake Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye and Common Scoter. Further down the road luck was with us as a party of Siberian Jays put on an excellent performance by the road. This can be a hard bird to find in the breeding season. At Nyrud a walk down an old road through pines and bogs produced at least three Common Cranes, Tree Pipit, Song Thrush and displaying Common Snipe. On the return journey to Svanhovd three Eurasian Kestrels were seen at various locations. Close to Svanhovd the group heard a Little Bunting and observed two Woodpigeons a scarce bird this far north. After dinner some of us embarked on a short drive towards the Pasvik River where Whooper Swan, Common Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Eurasian Wigeon were recorded.
Mammals: Reindeer (c)
June 15th: Svanhovd, Skroytnes, Pasvik Valley, Nyrud. Weather: Cloudy with a SE wind 16C.
The usual birds were around the feeders and gardens of the lodge. Our first birding stop was at a recently ploughed field which held European Golden Plovers and three Eurasian Dotterels. Skroytnes was next on the agenda an area adjacent to the Pasvik River with a range of habitats from farmland and marshes to woodland and scrub. The sheltered parts of the river had Whooper Swan, Common Goldeneye, Goosander, Smew, Tufted Duck and Eurasian Wigeon. A bonus was two Lesser Black-backed Gulls a rare visitor this far north in Europe. An area of bushes added Willow Tit and Grey-headed Wagtail to the day list. Next on our list was a lodge with feeders and extensive gardens. On the feeders Common and Arctic Redpolls, European Greenfinch and at least two Eurasian Bullfinch of the larger northern race. Pied Flycatchers were attracted to nest boxes within the garden. Our journey continued down the Pasvik Valley and a visit to a remote farm overlooking the Russian border. A walk down towards the riverside provided views of Little Gulls (up to 70 birds), Arctic Tern and a Common Redstart calling from trees in the garden. Back at the bus a Spotted Flycatcher was briefly observed. The last site of the day was a dam close to Nyrud and it proved to be quite successful as the first stop produced Spotted Redshank and a Parrot Crossbill. On the main reservoir the group eventually caught up with Bohemian Waxwings whilst the open waters and islands attracted Black-throated Diver, Common Sandpiper and a fishing Osprey. On the return journey we were rewarded with a group of Taiga Bean Geese resting in a field a fitting end to the day.
Mammals: Red Fox (1), Wood Mouse (1), Red Squirrel (2), Muskrat (1)
June 16th: Svanhovd, Strande. Weather: Warm and sunny with a S wind 18C.
Our last morning in Norway started with a short visit to the birch woods around Strande. We were in luck as at least two Arctic Warblers were on territory chasing each other around and singing their distinctive songs. Good views were obtained of this long distance migrant which winters in SE Asia. At 1030 Anders dropped us off at the airport for your flight south to Oslo where the tour concluded.