Previously, we heard how Alan and Ruth enjoyed endless days of birding and some amazing birds in Finland earlier this year. In the second instalment of their midnight sun diary, we hear how they fared in Norway. Their accounts of fabulous birds in the northern summer makes cheering reading to banish the gloom of dark autumn evenings.
Today we headed north into Norway and towards the tundra, which always makes for a thrilling day on our Finland/Norway trips. Of course, our drive north was full of birding stops. It’s always hard to make progress with black-throated divers, smew, rough-legged buzzards, white-tailed eagles and more all demanding a look.
Crossing into Norway we enjoyed our lunch overlooking a gorgeous fjord where we watched singing red-throated pipits, little stints, sanderling and more white-tailed eagles. Climbing up onto the tundra with our Ultravid 8×32 and 8×42 HD-Plus we enjoyed wonderful birding amongst the remaining snow fields. Long-tailed ducks and both red-throated and black-throated divers were on the melting lakes and we were entertained by lapland buntings, snow buntings and shore larks.
We then dropped back down to the coast and our hotel on the northern coast of Norway where we spent two nights. Just a few hundred yards from the hotel we found three Steller’s eider including two stunning drakes! They are amazing birds and we watched them for ages in perfect clarity through the Ultravids’ HD glass in the late afternoon sun.
After dinner we headed out to explore another nearby fjord and soon found a drake king eider! Further along we found more king eider and another of our most wanted birds – white-billed diver! We watched in awe as this huge diver showed off on the calm waters allowing us great scope views of that big up-tilted bill.
We went back up onto the tundra and enjoyed more of the birds we’d seen the previous day. We were also treated to the sight of several ptarmigan – including displaying males – a pair of taiga bean geese, red-necked phalaropes and 18 dotterel making a very colourful sight amongst the patches of snow.
We then followed the shore of another fjord and were rewarded with breath-taking scenery and lots of birds, all in sharp focus thanks to the 8x Ultravid HD-Plus’s wide field of view. We saw 100 king eider and over 50 Steller’s eider, which are amazing numbers for these Arctic ducks. purple sandpipers were easy to see along the coast here and it was a real treat to see them in breeding plumage.
Even as the day drew to a close, the sightings kept coming, as clear as ever thanks to the endless evening light and excellent transmission of our Leica Ultravid HD-Plus and APO-Televid 65 and 82 spotting scopes. Back at the hotel we again enjoyed the Steller’s Eiders in the harbour along with glaucous gulls and rough-legged buzzard hunting the hill above.
Today we moved on to one of our all-time favourite birding destinations – Varanger Fjord. To get there, we had to cross the tundra again, so were able to stop to enjoy wonderful birds once more, including both Lapland and snow buntings, dotterel, black-throated and red-throated divers and many more.
Having arrived at Varanger, we soon found an Iceland gull, several white-tailed eagles, common and velvet scoters, Arctic redpoll and rough-legged buzzards.
We walked out onto a headland and watched 16 red-necked phalaropes feeding on a pool – these are such amazing little waders and it’s always a pleasure to see them. But that wasn’t all: masses of kittiwakes were feeding just offshore and being attacked by gangs of Arctic skuas. More Steller’s eider showed well in the harbour, where Arctic terns dived just offshore.
After an excellent dinner, we explored further east and a mammal stole the show. Becky spotted a seal on a sandy beach. After a closer look through our Leicas, we were amazed to see that it was a bearded seal! This amazing animal usually lives on the pack-ice and is a rare sight here. We were mid-way between Vardo and Vadso, so it seemed a good nickname for the large seal to be called “Fatso”!
We headed along the fjord and took a boat trip out to “bird island” where masses of seabirds breed. The views were simply amazing and we were surrounded by Brunnich’s guillemots, common guillemots, puffins and kittiwakes. Hannu spotted a gyr falcon sweeping over the island and it was an incredible thrill to see this huge, rare raptor.
Any trip to a seabird colony is a thrilling experience, but when you have gyr falcons and red-throated pipits as the icing on the cake, it makes for a very special day indeed. We also watched two great skuas on a sunny slope opposite the quayside. The photo opportunities were amazing and our Leica V-Lux was in overdrive with puffins by our feet, Brunnich’s guillemots just above our heads on the cliffs, and ravens grabbing eggs from the cliffs. It was a real case of not knowing where to look next!
On the mainland once more, we birded our way back along the fjord, seeing more great birds. We watched an Iceland gull standing next to two glaucous gulls, more Steller’s eiders, king eiders, rough-legged buzzards, white-tailed eagles, red-necked phalaropes and many more. We also called in at the beach and were delighted to see “Fatso” the bearded seal was back in the same spot and we enjoyed more wonderful looks at this chubby, hairy-faced seal.
Today we travelled east to the end of the road at Varanger. The coast road here follows the rugged and beautiful coast and we made numerous stops to photograph the amazing scenery. We added twite to our huge list of birds for the trip, which by this point included more than 200 species!
A sea-watch from the far end of the road produced fulmars, gannets, and puffins, lots of Arctic skuas and a few common scoter and red-throated divers. Once more, we enjoyed crystal clear views of rough-legged buzzards, including one mobbing a white-tailed eagle and one on a nest above the road. As we basked in the warm sunshine over a picnic lunch, we watched a peregrine beating up a pair of ravens: always great stuff. With the picnic packed up, we paid a late afternoon to an Arctic tern nesting colony and had wonderful views of these long-distance travellers right above us.
Again, it was great for photos and the Leica V-Lux got another outing. We watched two short-eared owls hunting the small roadside fields, where Ruff were displaying, and a tundra bean goose also showed well. Nearby, we had great views of singing bluethroats and Arctic redpolls in an area of willow scrub by a stream.
Sadly, all things must come to an end, and it was time to leave Varanger and head south back towards Ivalo in northern Finland, but not before some final birds. Stopping by some spectacular cliffs, we enjoyed great raptor sightings: a pair of hunting peregrines, a pair of rough-legged buzzards which mobbed a white-tailed eagle and a young golden eagle. Back in Finland, we stopped for another coffee at the Pine Grosbeak café. Numerous Brambling in their lovely breeding plumage, plus a Siberian tit and plenty of red squirrels went some way to make up for the absence of the big finches we had seen on our previous halt here.
There was just about time for some more birding locally before we took our flight from Ivalo down to Helsinki and then home to the UK. A bird tower overlooking a large marsh proved to be a superbly productive place. It was a breeding spot for common cranes and we were able to watch and listen to them displaying.
We saw a drake garganey, which was a good record this far north. In addition, on the pools were wigeon, teal, tufted duck, goldeneye, wood sandpiper and common snipe. Both rough-legged buzzards and short-eared owls hunted over the area. We also enjoyed last looks at waxwing, brambling, and grey-headed yellow wagtails. It was a lovely end to our two weeks of amazing birding and we can’t wait to be back here next year.
To read about the first week of the trip in Finland, read Alan and Ruth’s earlier blog diary here.
For more information about birdwatching trips across the globe with Alan and Ruth, visit www.birdwatchingtrips.co.uk.