Thursday, 10 July 2014


I will just start this post with apologizing for not keeping it all up to date. I have the last weeks spent all of my time out in the field, and had no proper access to phones or internet for most of the time. Some happy news since the last update is that when ticking off the Lesser white-fronted geese in Valdak we saw a wigeon that both my friend and myself identified as an American wigeon (amerikablesand). This is an American vagrant to Europe, and only the second bird in Norway this year. The distance was very long indeed and the day before, another very experienced birder had seen it much closer and identified it as a possible hybrid because of its drab looking appearance and lack of extensive green in the head. My friend and I both agreed on that we could not see any clear signs of hybridization of the bird but could not rule out hybrid either because of the distance. Anyway, as the weeks have passed, more birders have seen and photographed the bird on a more comfortable distance, and the bird is indeed an American wigeon. The tricky part with this bird was just that it was in very early molt compared to the accompanying Eurasian wigeons (brunnakke) and therefore was very hybrid like in its appearance in the beginning of its stay. I therefore have chosen to include this bird on to my list.

After the last update, I did another 10 days guiding photographers in Svalbard.  As mentioned in the previous post, I only had two birds that I was pretty sure to add to my list up here – namely the Long-tailed skua (fjelljo) and the beautiful Sabine’s gull (sabinemåke). I got lucky with the skua, but the gull needs to wait a bit.

Long-tailed skua (fjelljo) resting on an ice floe in Svalbard.

After this, I went straight to the magnificent Varanger area. Varanger is arguably one of the most interesting birding areas in Europe during summer. Here, the west meets the east and the Arctic meets the south. The number of rare birds recorded in this area over the years is just amazing. Kirkenes, the town I flew into is actually situated as far east as Istanbul in Turkey. Because of its eastern locations, this area also hides a few breeding species difficult to find anywhere else in Norway. At least one visit to Varanger is just a must during a Big Year.

17 June
Arriving in the evening, I did the one hour drive straight to a famous location for Arctic warbler (lappsanger). This species has its westernmost distribution in this area and this is one of Norway’s most range restricted breeding birds. It is very rare on migration in Norway, and this species was the very reason I booked my ticket up here already a month ago. The Norwegian population is probably less than a 100 pairs. As Neiden is visited by many birders, I didn’t want to do playback to the birds to make them start singing. I therefore had to wait for almost 3.5 hours before I finally could tick this one on my list. This species also is a late arrival into Norway, and this bird was actually the first one known to arrive this year. It was heard for the first time only a few days before I arrived, so my timing could not have been better.

Arctic warbler (lappsanger) - one of the most range restricted breeding
birds in Norway. Its total population is probably less than 100 pairs.

Apart from the song and contact call, Arctic warbler is recognised by its
long supercillium (which often goes upwards at the end), and obvious wing bar.

As the news of a male Harlequin duck (harlekinand) had been on for almost 10 days, I continued straight to Sandfjord, close to the famous Hamningberg area. I was stopping here and there along the way, as the decent number of Rough-legged buzzards, Short-eared owls and young foxes and Moose along the road made the two hours drive quite entertaining. The richness of this area is like coming to another country compared to the rest of Norway. Very exciting indeed! I arrived Sandfjord at about 2 am, and started to search the area immediately. The bird was reported yesterday, so my hopes were high to add this bird onto my list. This is actually the third year this extreme rarity is seen in the area. It is probably the same male that is returning, and it usually stays a couple of weeks until the ice goes away on the lakes higher up in the mountains. I searched the area and all its rivers until about 10 am, but could not find the bird. Many Red-throated pipits (lappiplerke) singing was nice to see, and was of course an addition to my Big Year list. As was a pair of Red-necked phalaropes (svømmesnipe). Despite searching again after a few hours sleep and again the following days by several others and myself it seemed that this time I was a day too late….

New birds: 3
Total: 265

18 June
After another search for the harlequin duck, I did the short drive out to the famous abandonned fishing village of Hamingberg. This remote place is famous not only for its narrow access road going through a bizarre moonlike landscape, but also for being one of Norway’s biggest rarity magnets. The treeless landscape makes the birds normally fairly easy to find. I have never had any great luck here, and so was it this time as a few more red-throated pipits was the best birds on my visit as well as two tree-sparrows (pilfink) – the latter a local rarity even though there are very small population in the nearby towns. A willow warbler (løvsanger) was optimistically singing from the only bush in the area.

New birds: 0
Total: 265

19 June
As this area has midnight sun, I like to turn the day around as birds tend to be more active during night time. They normally have a quiet period between 22 and 02, and then very active during the early morning. I try to adopt my day (night) rythm to this as well to get the most out of my short stay here. This day was spent searching for waders and shore birds along the coast. Stopping wherever it looked promising and walk along the shore line ensured numbers in the hundreds of birds like Little stint (dvergsnipe), Ruff (brushane), Bar-tailed godwit (lappspove), Red-necked phalaropes (svømmesnipe), Dunlin (myrsnipe) and a few Red knot (polarsnipe), Sanderling (sandløper) and of course the ever present Temminck’s stint (temmincksnipe). All in beautiful breeding plumage. The little stint was a big year list addition. Inland there were hunting Rough-legged buzzards and Long-tailed skuas here and there. I guess it is unecessary to mention that I had a very good time!

In the evening I arrived to Komagbukta, a several kilometers long beach where there had been reported a White-rumped sandpiper (bonapartesnipe) a week earlier. Since then, it had not been any updates, but I thought the area anyway might be good for waders so I decided to try my luck. It didn’t take long before I found the nearctic vagrant amongst the other species. This was only the second time I see White-rumped sandpiper (bonapartesnipe) in Norway, and I enjoyed it very much despite the hard north easterly wind picking up.

Maybe not so easy to see in this picture, but elongated backwards, and pure
white underneath, with arrow shaped black markings along the flanks makes this
bird relatively easy to pick out amongst the dunlins. In flight, a pure white rump
confirm the identification of this White-rumped sandpiper (bonapartesnipe).

Alarming other birders in the area that this rarity was still on site, I suddenly got a message that a long staying Ross’s gull (rosenmåke) that had not been seen in a few weeks was back in a village only 4 hours drive away. I speeded up….and despite the horrible weather setting in with blizzard over the mountain and only 50 meters visibility and strong gale force winds I made it over the mountain safely and arrived Berlevåg at 23:00 about an hour after the bird had left the roost. However, as this river outlet was well visited by thousands of kittiwakes, and as most of them left on high tide I decided to stay at least until low tide. The only problem was that low tide wasn't scheduled to happen before 4 am. I was thinking to go to sleep for a few hours until low tide at 04am, but as there was constantly birds arriving back to the roost I changed my mind. I parked my car, with a good view to the roost and carefully checked every kittiwake coming in from sea. Five long, but exciting hours later a beautiful 2nd year Ross’s gull was suddenly sitting at the edge of the flock! I must have missed it coming into the roost as it was already sitting. My plan about going to sleep until 04 am could have worked as the time of rediscover was actually 03:58….I enjoyed this enigmatic bird for over an hour before I left the bird and found a time and place to park the car and get some long needed sleep.

Ross's gull (rosenmåke), a dream for every European birder to see. This is a
first summerbird, and albeit having its neck ring, it still lacks its pink
color underneath. The bird is the one swimming on the right.

In flight, it is quite similar wingmarkings to the young kittiwakes of same age.
It can be tricky to find - especially considering there was some 4000 kttiwakes at this roost...

New birds: 3
Total: 268

20 June
I woke up at noon, and my plan was to drive back up in the mountains and search for Snowy owl (snøugle). These areas are amongst the best in Norway for this species, and I was here also in February (see my February blog). Despite the weather had eased quite a bit, it was still heavy rain and partly snowing, and visibility was far from ideal. I searched the rivers and lakes in the area as this is also a place the harlequin duck had been seen in previous years. I managed to find a male Gadwall (snadderand) – a local rarity up here, and a flock of bean goose (sædgås) as well as many long-tailed skuas. However, the only mountain bird I need for my big year list is snowy owl. Because of the very bad visibility, I decided to rather go back to the Varangerfjord area in the lowland to search for birds there.

New birds: 0 
Total: 268

21 June
The day and night spent searching the coast for gulls and waders. Nothing very exciting to find. Since I still miss Gyr falcon (jaktfalk) on my list I decided to do a proper search for this fairly rare breeding species. Before long, I was actually watching a pair mating! Incredible to see Europe’s largest falcons like this. This was an unknown nest site for me, so a proper find as well and it just shows that with some knowledge about species ecology and a systematic searching technique one can succeed with most species. The usual, but still very exciting, selection of Varanger birds was seen here and there and I did another visit to the harlequin duck place without any luck before it was time to head towards the forest of Pasvik. The westernmost taiga forest of Europe, and a very exciting place indeed.

New birds: 1
Total: 269

22 June
Arriving into the Pasvik forest at about 23pm the 21st June, I decided to just keep going through the night. Birds I was especially interested in was all Taiga forest specials like Little bunting (dvergspurv), Pine grosbeak (konglebit) and Siberian tit (lappmeis) which all will be new to my list. I started at Strand - the place I saw Little bunting for my very first time all the way back in 1994. I still remember I had to do a 4 km bicycle ride one way to get match sticks to fire up our “storm kitchen” when camping here. When arriving back to the camp, after succeeding in getting matchsticks from the local pub, my two friends had found a lighter in one of the many pockets in the backpack…Anyway – I digresse. I didn’t get my reunion with the bunting from 1994, but met 3 very big but friendly moose instead. I continued south upwards the valley, and was amazed by my friends' and my own effort back in the days when we cyckled this route with heavy backpacks. It went a bit easier with car, and in the Skrøytnes area, there was lots of short-eared owls (jordugle) hunting. At least five different territories over just a few kilometers road. As any owl species, this is one of my favorite species to see. I had decided to get to the Little bunting hot spots at about 02 am as this time onwards is the peak song time for birds. Just before Vaggetem, I was stopped by the police. He was curious of my slow driving but quickly understood what was going on as this was not his first meeting with birders this year. It turned out he had stopped my friends a few weeks earlier!  When out birding like this in the middle of the night – often at strange places it is not unusual I get stopped by the police. This is actually the fourth time this year. I usually end up having nice conversations about birds and wildlife with them, and I am happy they are as vigilant as they are. This time I got the information of the latest bear sitings as Pasvik is probably the best place in Norway to see Scandinavian brown bears. Later in the evening I found tracks from a small bear cub, but did unfortunately not manage to meet the bear himself. However, at Vaggetem I found a hunting Hawk owl (haukugle).

Hawk owl (haukugle) hunting from a power line.

The most important bird for this area was Little bunting, and during the next hours I managed to find 6 localities with singing birds - only two of them which I knew of from before). In total 9 birds. Very good indeed. Later in the morning I found a pair of feeding Pine grosbeak (konglebit) as well, but the flew away before I manage to take any pictures. Because of their silent way of living, this species is actually one of the hardest one to find of the forest specialties. Having had great success with the little buntings, I started to search more for Siberian tit (lappmeis). It didn’t take long before I heard the contact call from a few birds and searching them up made some very nice views of this forest speciality. Adding a few Bohemian waxwings (sidensvans), Three-toed woodpecker (tretåspett), a Hazel grouse (jerpe), some displaying Willow grouse (lirype), a few groups of Siberian jay (lavskrike), 3 displaying Jack snipe (kvartbekkasin) and a pond with Little gulls (dvergmåke) and Bisam (Bisam – Pasvik is the only place in Norway it is possible to see this introduced beaver like rodent) it should be obvious that my night in these amazing taiga forest was very successful indeed. At 10:00, it was time to park my car and get some sleep.

Singing little bunting (dvergspurv).  A very rare breeding bird in Norway.

Chestnut colored cheeks, and a white spot on the ear covert along with
its "ticking" like contact call is often how one identify this species outside
breeding range. 

New birds: 3
Total: 272  

23 June
I started this night visiting Noatun – famous for housing the cabin of the early explorer named Schaaning who was amongst the earliest “twitcher” in Norway travelling all around Norway to try to find and collect as many birds as possible to map their distribution in the 1920s. His work is still today important for understanding the avifauna of Norway and how it has evolved. At Noatun, Norway’s largest Little gull colony is also present, and I counted at least 27 adults hunting insects in the area. At Kjerringneset, close to Noatun, one of the very few breeding records for Red-flanked bluetails in Norways was done a few years ago. I spent several hours in the evening searching this area for singing birds without luck. A few Siberian jays and  a singing Pine grosbeak made the effort worthwhile anyhow. I had to leave the area already at two o’clock in the morning to make sure I was in time for a 5 o’clock flight to Svalbard where I was due to guide another group of photographers the coming week. On the way I found lots of more hunting Short-eared owls, and a new locality with two more singing Little buntings. I spent quite some time staring out over a couple of marsh areas for brown bears without any luck. However, on my way north again a Pine maarten (mår) crossed the road in front of my car. This is actually only the 4th time I see this hard to see yet fairly common species in the wild.

In the evening I was back in Longyearbyen ready for some evening birding and counted no less than 12 Grey phalaropes (polarsvømmesnipe) along the road. This year, about 20 pairs of this beautiful species are breeding nearby Longyearbyen. A few King eiders (praktærfugl) and Brent geese (ringgås) was still around, but otherwise fairly uneventful.

New birds: 0 
Total: 272

24 June
The day spent mostly in the office, but a short trip out to search for a Pectoral sandpiper seen a few days ago yielded no other result than the usual species up here as well as my first Svalbard ptarmigans for the season. This is just a subspecies of the mainland ptarmigan, but is very different built (much heavier and bigger) and who knows in the future – maybe my Big Yearl list increases because of a split?

New birds: 0
Total: 272   


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