Saturday, 13 August 2016

Postcard from Finland and Norway...Twitch and Tundra

No one gets rich from sleeping
Sami proverb

Four of seven Little Stint feeding along with Dunlin (alpina ssp)

I'd just had lunch of reindeer venison and came out to find amazing light caused by sunlight through the breaking cloud, but difficult to catch a true image.
By now all tour participants felt enriched!

White-tailed Sea Eagle

White-tailed Sea Eagle

White-tailed Sea Eagle
Our continuing watch along the Arctic coastline brought ever more sightings including regular White-tailed Sea Eagles and Rough Legged Buzzards.  Our final two nights on the Varanger Peninsular were to be spent at a more northerly point at the Polar Hotel, Batsfjord, but before heading in that direction we were to experience what can only be termed an Arctic twitch.  There was a White –winged Scoter in the area and we were off to see it.  I was told it was a male of the sub-species Melanitta deglandi stejnegeri from Eastern Siberia.  Who’s this guy Stejneger I wondered?  Well now, having read Audubon to Xantus, The lives of those Commemorated in North American Bird Names by B and R Mearns (one of my best reads this year now that I have finally got round to reading it fully), I find that he was quite a significant character and I’m now after getting my hands on his biography of Georg Steller.  I’ll be writing a blog about Stejneger in the future, such is my interest in the naming of bird species.  Getting back to the actual White-winged Scoter I can say we did find it quite easily, although our initial sighting was a poor one as the bird was seen against a dark background on the shore line.  Initial disappointment soon evaporated with further excellent and close views of the bird being obtained.  Through the scope the head shape and bill colouring (significant pointers for telling the two sub-species apart) were clearly seen.  I’ve seen the other sub-species in British Columbia and now await the expected split.  I did wonder why we were alone and why we weren’t surrounded by excited Nordic twitchers, then I found out that the bird had been around some time.  An excellent sighting and a bird which is almost creeping into my top ten rated bird species of the trip.  A Bluethroat appeared as we were watching the sea.

White-winged Scoter.  Heavily cropped but I believe still showing ID markers outlined in Collins Bird Guide indicating stejnegeri ssp
On arrival at Batsfjord I found it rather bleak, but I soon warmed to the place and the Polar Hotel was warm and comfortable.  If bleak in June I wondered what it would be like in winter.  Well I may find out as Sam and I have thoughts about a return.  There was a Russian boat in the harbour and we found another Glaucous Gull here too.  Our exploration of the surrounding high fell/mountain and tundra area was yet another highlight of the trip.  My minds playing tricks, but I think it was here that we found a group of three Golden Eagles above our heads and then later a single Golden Eagle.  The lakes held species such as Black-throated Diver, Red-throated Diver (good to see on a background of snow), Long-tailed Duck, Pintail and Scaup et al.  I have to say at this point Nordic chocolate is wonderful and can probably be thanked for helping us stay warm, along with Dick’s constant supply of bananas.  I tasted reindeer/venison on one occasion, but the thought of eating whale steak was a step too far and all of our group members ensured a change was made in the menu.

Golden Eagle

Rough Legged Buzzard 

Long Tailed Duck
I had my closest ever encounter with Ruff but sadly stuck in the back of the van at the time I could only photograph them through glass.  Yes, it could get frustrating at times.  I had much better opportunities with Snow Buntings actually seen on the snow and with snow in the background.  Lapland Bunting and Shore Lark were also seen again.  Ptarmigan showed really well, at times in pairs, and on one occasion flew across the road in front of the van.  Willow Grouse were seen again but on this occasion far more distantly.  Dotterel were seen again, but this time not well enough for photographs.  A lone Wood Sandpiper showed wonderfully and Whimbrel was also seen well.



Wood Sandpiper

One species which seemed to elude me was Arctic Redpoll, but I eventually did have a sighting.  I have to admit that the sub species of Redpoll still present me with difficulty of identification.  The difference between Arctic Redpoll and the other species of Redpoll was first noticed by Carl Peter Holböll, a Danish zoologist associated very much with Greenland.  A description of Arctic Redpoll appeared in the 1840s and the bird was named after J W Hornemann, a Director of the Botanical Gardens, Copenhagen.

Snow Bunting with snow


Sam photographing birds in the snow.

  The mammal list had continued to grow and over a few days we had sightings of Red Fox, Mountain Hare, Otter, Common Seal, Grey Seal and Harbour Porpoise.  During a discussion that Sam and I had with fellow guests we heard that they had seen two Humpback Whales in the area, but sadly they were not recorded by us.

June snow on the Varanger tundra

Apart from Sam and I, the group had not found Twite, but eventually success came and we all had good close sightings.  Despite some hard work Ring Ouzel also proved difficult to find.  Eventually calls were picked up and later two male Ring Ouzels were recorded.  Gyr Falcon and Peregrine Falcon were also seen again.  We also had more practice in identifying geese species.  Tundra Bean Geese (or were they taiga? :-)) along with Pink Foot Geese, were seen as was another Glaucous Gull.

Pine Grosbeak female

Pine Grosbeak male

I was really enjoying being in such habitat but our time on the Varanger Peninsular was drawing to a close and we were now to head back to Ivalo, Finland for an overnight stay before catching our flight to Helsinki in the morning and for Sam and I our onward flight to Heathrow and then to Newcastle (on what turned out to be a very relaxing flight back to Northeast England as the sun set).  We didn’t leave Varanger before on one occasion recording thirty-one individual sightings of White-tailed Sea Eagles during one day.  Thanks for the count Ken.  Apparently far from a trip record.  Our journey back to Ivalo included a stop off for more sightings of Pine Grosbeak, Siberian Tit and Brambling.

Siberian Tit 


 During our final evening Dick christened the group the banana group such was the number of bananas we had eaten.  We found that we had covered 3,100 kilometres in the vans during the two week tour, so the bananas and the chocolate were both needed (note to self…check to see if the chocolate is available on Amazon).  My personal count of bird species seen on the trip was 192 with 19 of them being lifers for me.  Bird of the trip?  Well I think it has to be Great Grey Owl.  I’ll get a list put on my blog at some point for anyone interested.  My expectations of the trip had been high, but having had a long time now to reflect upon it I can honestly say that even those high expectations were well and truly surpassed and this, with me having almost no run in with mosquitoes, which for someone like me who reacts badly to them showed how well the tour had been timed.

Tana, Norway
I’d like to thank Killian and Dick for their leadership.  Both of them being top blokes, each with a good sense of humour, and it felt as though we were out birding with mates.  Long days in the field always felt relaxed. The individual participants all added to the positive feel of the group and we had many laughs, so my thanks also go to Joyce, Doug, Chuck, Lillian, Carolyn, Roy, Lesley, Ken, Terry, Liz, Nick, Robin and of course especially Sam.

Tana Cliffs, Norway
I’m two thirds of the way through the book about the Sámi peoples and will move on to the Lapland book next.  My local birding has been limited over recent weeks but I did get to see the Bonaparte’s Gull in Northumberland and of course had the visit to Coquet Island.

If you have stuck with the saga I hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.  It brought back some great memories.

Beaivi Sun God
Bieggalmimái Wind God
Ancient Sámi Gods

On a painted sky
Where the clouds are hung
For the poet's eye
You may find him
If you may find him
On a distant shore
By the wings of dreams
Through an open door
You may know him
If you may……………….
As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the sun
God will make for your way
Lyrics Neil Diamond from the album Jonathan Livingston Seagull


  1. I definitely wish I'd been with you all! Even seeing the Golden Eagles overhead will have felt magical, let alone the White-tailed Sea Eagles. Out of the other species I would really liked to have seen, the Pine Grosbeaks would be high-up on the list.

  2. Thanks for the comment Mark. Pine Grosbeak was one I was really looking forward to seeing. They are big beasts, but you can't really tell from the images. Cheers.

  3. You're welcome, it looks like it was a brilliant holiday! Yeah I wouldn't have had the Pine Grosbeaks down as large birds. I might see if I can find some close up pics of them online.