Friday 15 August 2014

Røst Pelagic

30 Jul – 9 Aug
Another ten days of guiding around Svalbard was setting an end to this year’s Arctic season for me. About 50 passengers, mostly from Australia, were taken to some of the best wildlife experiences Svalbard has to offer by myself and my colleagues from Aurora Expedition. A lot of ice around the island made it difficult for many ships to reach their planned destinations, but a very competent crew on our ship and with our experience in Svalbard waters we managed to go to all of our favorite destinations this time as well. The ice did however make it a bit more difficult to get close to many of the bears as the ice floes were just a bit big to push around even for our ship. However, no new birds for my Big Year list but fin whales from zodiacs, 17 polar bears (4 close and two seen during landings) excellent walrus, close up ivory gull (ismåke) in ice and the biggest glacier calving I’ve ever seen were some of the highlights during this trip as well as great passengers.

A large Fin whale (finnhval) surfacing 30 meters from our zodiac in Svalbard.

Ivory gull (ismåke) is one of the most sought after birds in the Arctic.

Ivory gull in blue ice.....can it be any more beautiful?

11 Aug
One of my absolute favorite bird species in Norway is the little known British storm-petrel (havsvale). A bird that is rarely seen in daylight anywhere, but has its peculiar behavior in starting its breeding season in Aug/Sept when it comes to land during dark and enter its nest burrows (often used puffin nests) along the coast. Apart from a very few places in Norway, very few nests have actually been found from this species in Norway, and a lot is still to be discovered about the life of this starling (stær) sized sea bird. I’ve always been fascinated by this species, and the normal way to see it is to do playback on the outer skerries of Norway to lure it in from sea and catch them with a mistnet to ring the birds. However, I’ve heard rumours that Lofoten Birding, a small bird guide company based in the famous Lofoten Island in Northern Norway have tested good spots to see this bird during daylight.

I contacted them, and for once, wanted to combine some photography of a rarely photographed bird in Norway with adding it on to my Big Year list. Lofoten Birding organized the whole trip and off we went with a fishing boat at 13:00. Only about ten white-tailed eagles (havørn), one golden eagle (kongeørn) and 1,5hrs later, we were chumming for petrels outside the famous bird island Røst. Just as we stopped, a Manx’s shearwater (havlire) hurried past and became Big Year bird number 277. The chum had only been in the water for about fifteen minutes before the first British storm-petrel arrived. At first keeping its distance, but as the flock of gulls and the two Arctic skuas eased off a bit, the petrels started to come closer….and closer. We waited for about 3 hours in hope of attracting Leach’s storm petrel (stormsvale) as well, but it didn’t want to show this time. At the end, at least 50 storm-petrels were foraging around our boat. A fantastic experience with one of my favorite birds.

Small hut on one of the islands we passed on our way to the storm-petrel spots.

In the evening, I got the message from one of the other guys- Martin – that he had found a Pectoral sandpiper. This is a semi rare shore bird in Norway, that I have already been looking for some time. My guide and some other birders rushed out to see it but despite searching until sunset, no pectoral sandpiper was found.

Despite searching until sunset, we didn't find back the Pectoral sandpiper (alaskasnipe)
This is a herring gull (gråmåke) taking off.

New: 2
Total: 278    

12 Aug
Up early to try to relocate the Pectoral sandpiper. Some searching and a lot of birds later I finally managed to find it. Well hidden in a grassy pool, and at first – because of very weak breast markings I thought it had to be a juvenile bird. Something that would have been very interesting as there was a displaying pair of pectoral sandpiper seen earlier in the summer in this area. In Svalbard, we have every year 1-3 displaying pairs of this species, but so far only one breeding is confirmed from Europe (Scotland in late 1990s?). Anyway, some closer look at the images shows, that it anyway is an adult bird with worn plumage – especially greater coverts – so the first breeding for Norway still has to wait a bit. It was Big Year bird number 279 for me and a great addition to the list.

A Pectoral sandpiper (alaskasnipe) and a rock (the pec sandpiper on the right).

At midday, we again went out to chum for petrels. It took twenty three minutes until the first storm-petrel turned up. In the end, about the same number as yesterday came in but even greater experience with the birds as they approached on only a few meters. However, photographing these birds is not easy, as the boat moves up and down in the waves and the birds are quite fast. The pictures shown on this blog are anyway some of very few images of this species at sea from Norway. Just before we were about to end the show, a very close Manx’s shearwater (havlire) again flew by. This time, I was ready with my camera and yet another rarely photographed bird in Norway was documented for my Big Year. The only small disappointment was that no Leach’s storm-petrels (stormsvale) were seen today either. But as I will go back to this island in mid September, I still hope to add it to my list later in the season.

British-storm petrel (havsvale) a rarely seen, yet photographed bird in
Norwegian waters.

This white bar on the underwing is amongst the feature to look for to
distinguish it from other storm-petrels.

Manx's shearwater (havlire) - one of very few photograph that exist of this species
from Norwegian waters.

At the moment, I am on a scientific cruise doing some bird surveys in the Barent’s sea. We will be in open sea for most of the next 4 weeks. Not the best place to do a Big Year, but hopefully I won’t miss too much on the mainland even though this is a dangerous time what rarities are concerned.

For excellent storm petrels and other birding in Lofoten. Go to Lofoten birding web site: Lofoten Birding

New: 1
Total: 279


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