Varanger Fjord And Bird Island And More In Arctic Norway

Varanger beach 1

After two nights at Batsfjord we again crossed the tundra and headed for the spectacular Varanger Fjord one of our favourite places to see birds in the world. A combination of the wild landscape, an amazing array of breeding birds and the real chance of something special turning up make Varanger a must visit location.

Breeding plumaged Ruff are always a delight to watch doing their stuff!

At the very east end of the massive fjord we stopped to watch our first Bar-tailed Godwits of the trip and a gang of White-tailed Eagles, it is crazy to see so many of these awesome birds. Further west we walked out on to the headland at Nesserby Church, a lovely place with great views up and down the fjord. A small pool on the peninsula held breeding plumaged Ruff, Wood Sandpiper and a Red-necked Phalarope. Not so many birds out on the sea, some distant Puffins and a few Arctic Skuas and Common Eider.

Brambling 2017 1

Brambling are stunning birds in their breeding plumage.

A nearby caravan park was perhaps not the most obvious place to go birding but we knew there were bird feeders here. After a short wait the hoped for Arctic Redpoll flew in, Phil managed some good photos of this mobile bird. Brambling and a brief Willow Tit here too.

Lovely to see many Arctic, or mountain, hares here unlike in many parts of the UK.

We then continued to our hotel in Vadso and settled in; we were here for three nights. After dinner we went for a walk on the island, reached by a bridge from Vadso. A lovely walk around the circular path which passes a small pool which held more Red-necked Phalaropes busy feeding on the calm water. Arctic hares were common and easy to see here too. Offshore lots of Kittiwakes were feeding and these attracted piratic Arctic Skuas.

Next morning we left Vadso and headed west for Vardo, stopping along the way to watch a hunting Short-eared Owl and a group of Pink-footed Geese a good bird up here. At Vardo we took a fast rib out to bird island just off the small fishing town of Vardo. The island was teaming with birds; the cliffs above us were crowded with auks and Kittiwakes. Lower down Puffins and Shags were nesting all around us, fantastic sights, sounds and smells! We quickly picked out some Brunnich’s Guillemots amongst their Common cousins, great to see these Arctic auks at close range. Lots of Razorbills here too and we watched Rock Pipits feeding amongst the boulders by the path. Plenty of White-tailed Eagles were on the slope opposite the main seabird cliff we counted 17 birds! Lots of Common Eider here in the bay too and thousands of auks of four species loafed on the calm sea just off the island, bird over load. Back on the main island of Vardo we explored around the town visiting the fort where a pool held waders including displaying Ruff, Temminck’s Stints and Sanderling. We also found our first Red-throated Pipits of the trip. The memorial to the witch burnings at Vardo was terrible to see, a staggering ninety-one witches were burnt to death in this small community. The reasons for being a witch are listed and included such terrible crimes as giving salt to a cow! Worryingly with events in the UK recently these times could return!

Brunnich's Guillemots one of the many highlights on Bird Island.

In the evening we again ventured out after dinner to look for Gyr Falcon that had been seen near our hotel the previous evening but sadly this ace raptor didn’t show.

Next morning we set off with great anticipation as we had heard of good birds not so far away! Turning off the main road we followed a track and stopped a good distance from a small cliff. We soon saw what we were hoping for, an old White-tailed Eagle nest now occupied by Gyr Falcons! Through the Leica telescopes we could see the fluffy chicks moving about in their huge stick home. We counted four heads in the nest, brilliant that these rare raptors were rearing such a big family. We waited and as we waited we were surprised to see a Rough-legged Buzzard nesting close to the falcons, perhaps a safe place to nest? Or not! Suddenly there was movement near the nest an adult Gyr Falcon had taken off from the cliff, how had we not seen it? This wonderful massive falcon circled the area, lowered its legs and let out a very large stream of “white-wash”! The Gyr flew around, allowing us to soak up the views, and then landed back on the cliff just above the nest and out of sight. We were totally elated and left these wonderful birds to hopefully fledge four more awesome Gyr Falcons.

Eider 1 Ythan

Lots of Common Eider up here and we always checked the flocks for rare species.

Back to Varanger Fjord and we drove west, stopping to watch a nice mixed flock of geese which comprised Tundra Bean Geese, Barnacle Geese, and Grey-lag Geese and new for our Pink-footed Geese. We again headed out to Vardo and the point the overlooks the sound between the town and Bird Island, where we were the previous day. We had news that a young male King Eider had been seen here, so we set up the scopes and scanned. Plenty of birds here with lots of Common Eider, Common Guillemots, Puffins, Shags but no sign of our wanted duck. But we kept looking, at last Alan spotted the regal eider but a long way out, it was tricky to see amongst the other Eiders and the swell hid the bird most of the time. It was very frustrating knowing the bird was there but so hard to share with everyone. Then the King Eider was no longer with the group of Common Eider! Where did it go? Oh there it is! Much closer in the channel on its own and showing nicely in the scopes whew!

These two White-billed Divers were thrilling to watch, and a huge relief to find.

Leaving Vardo we followed the fjord shore out to Hammingberg making many stops along the way to scan the calm sea for our next big target – White-billed Diver. Lots of birds to enjoy with White-tailed Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzards, Long-tailed Ducks, Black Guillemots, Bluethroats, Arctic Skuas, so many Goosander, and a nice sighting of a minke whale. But no big divers, we did enjoy both Red-throated and Black-throated in their breeding finery. We made our way back toward Vadso, stopping and scanning each bay and just when it seemed we not find that diver Alan spotted one! It was a long way out and in non-breeding plumage but it was a huge White-billed Diver. Everyone had a look through the scopes then we jumped back in the minibus and shot along the coast to try for a closer view. Jumping out Alan raised his binoculars and could barely believe his eyes, not one but two White-billed Divers pretty close in and even better the second bird was in full breeding plumage, just stunning! We headed down to a small cove to get the best possible views and set up the scopes, frame filling views were just the best we had ever had of this species here. We were all thrilled!

Not so thrilling was the amount of plastic washed up on this remote Arctic beach, so sad to see. We did a beach clean and took a big pile of plastic away, only a tiny thing to do but if everyone did this….

Back to our hotel to enjoy our dinner and raise a glass to the amazing birds we had enjoyed in just one fabulous Arctic day.

Come and join us in May – June 2020 to see over 200 species of birds and some very special mammals!

Amongst the many highlights of this years tour, (2019), we enjoyed the following species of birds...

Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, White-billed Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Whooper Swan, Tundra Bean Goose, Taiga Bean Goose, King Eider, Garganey, Long-tailed Duck, Smew, White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Rough-legged Buzzard, Osprey, Merlin, Hobby, Gyr Falcon, Hazel Grouse, Willow Grouse, Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Common Crane, Dotterel, Temminck's Stint, Purple Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Ruff, Jack Snipe,Woodcock, Whimbrel, Spotted Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Long-tailed Skua, Little Gull, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Caspian Tern, Brunnich's Guillemot, Puffin, European Pygmy Owl, Great grey Owl photo above, Short-eared Owl, Hawk Owl, Tengmalm's Owl, Ural Owl, Wryneck, Black Woodpecker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Red-throated Pipit, Waxwing, Thrush Nightingale, Red-spotted Bluethroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, River Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Siberian Tit, Crested Tit, Red-backed Shrike, Siberian Jay, Rose-coloured Starling, Common Rosefinch, Arctic Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, Lapland Bunting, Snow Bunting, Little Bunting, Rustic Bunting.

We also enjoyed some amazing mammals too - brown bears, moose, minke whale and lemming amongst them.

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