Tuesday 14th June 2016
LAPLAND & VARANGER - ARCTIC BIRDING ADVENTURE
Tuesday 14th - Monday 20th June 2016
The group met bright and early at Heathrow for our first flight of the day to Helsinki in Finland. Unfortunately, there was a delay of 45 minutes due to a passenger not wanting to sit near a screaming child but after this had been sorted we missed our place in the queue, so the pilot had to reapply for a new takeoff slot.
Once underway we headed eastwards over Holland, Denmark and Sweden before touching down in a bright and sunny Helsinki. With time to kill before our next flight, we found a reasonably quiet spot where we had our lunch. Time soon flew by and we headed to our gate to find it had changed. This meant that we ended up where we’d started from, although it did give us some exercise before boarding!
Our flight to Rovaniemi took off on time and just over an hour later we landed on the edge of the Arctic Circle. After meeting up with Pirita our guide for the week, we loaded up the minibuses and Pirita took us into town to a Mexican restaurant for our evening meal.
This went down really well and set us up for our drive of around 280 kilometres north to the town of Ivalo. The journey was pretty uneventful bird-wise with several FIELDFARES plus BLACK-HEADED GULLS, COMMON SWIFT, SWALLOW, YELLOWHAMMER, HOODED CROW and MAGPIE. Non avian interest was provided by several REINDEER along the way.
Just after the halfway mark, we stopped to look for Broad-billed Sandpiper but this coincided with a heavy shower that sent us back to the vans. We did however hear WILLOW WARBLER and REDWING singing from nearby woodland.
The onward journey was pretty wet as we drove through many heavy showers and eventually we arrived in Ivalo at around 23.15 with the sun shining high in the sky. After checking in at our hotel we headed straight to bed after a long day travelling.
Wednesday 15th June 2016
A few eager members of the group ventured out before breakfast and noted LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, COMMON SANDPIPER, GOLDENEYE, FIELDFARES and a distant calling BRAMBLING.
The rest met at 7.00am for breakfast which was a great spread with plenty of choice. Afterwards we loaded up the van and made a short drive to an area of bog and pine trees just outside Ivalo. It wasn't long before we located a singing male LITTLE BUNTING on top of a tree and managed to get closer views whilst a few of the group stayed back on the main track. They were rewarded with a male NORTHERN BULLFINCH that flew past uttering its trumpet-like call.
After another drive of around one hour we made several stops at a vast pine wood. The first gave us fantastic views of several male BRAMBLING and a little further along the road we struck gold with two SIBERIAN JAYS that flew in and fed around a group of pines before vanishing deep into the forest.
By now we were in need of a refreshment break and Pirita took us to an excellent café, which apart from the coffee had extra attractions. The attractions were lots of RED SQUIRRELS plus several SIBERIAN TITS and the star of the show, four PINE GROSBEAKS! These massive finches gave stunning views as they came into well placed feeders in the garden.
Delighted by seeing one of our targets, we headed inside for a hot drink and from the windows had point blank views of the grosbeaks. With time getting on, we drove northwards and didn't get too far when an adult HAWK OWL was seen perched on roadside wires.
Getting out of the vans we enjoyed brilliant views of this bird before it flew off into the Birch forest. On the opposite side of the road were SPOTTED REDSHANK and WOOD SANDPIPER plus a displaying TREE PIPIT.
Our journey was interrupted several kilometres on by a group of three SIBERIAN JAYS that flew across the road but by the time we had stopped, they had vanished. We did however, have superb sightings of a pair of WAXWING perched atop of small pines in front of us.
By now our stomachs were rumbling so we carried onwards, stopping close to the Norwegian border for an excellent lunch. Afterwards we filled up wth fuel and supplies but even this was interrupted by a second year GOLDEN EAGLE that flew past whilst being chased by a female MERLIN!
It was then northwards over the border into Norway and once again we were distracted by several HAWK OWLS plus COMMON CUCKOO along the way. One of the days' highlights proved to be another HAWK OWL perched close to the road. We carefully pulled up and had outstanding views of this female and suddenly it was joined by a male with a BANK VOLE which it proceeded to give to her. She flew off and we discovered at least two chicks close by. Speaking to a local woman, apparently there were seven HAWK OWL chicks in total!
It was with reluctance that we had to leave but there were other exciting birds to see.
We stopped at a viewpoint overlooking a river where we added RAVEN, GOOSANDER, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, COMMON TERN and both HERRING and GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS to the list. Eventually the trees started to vanish and we were soon on the amazing Norwegian highlands. A roadside stop produced two pairs of SCAUP plus LONG-TAILED DUCKS and a brief sighting of a LONG-TAILED SKUA.
Moving along the road we found a RED-THROATED DIVER on a nest before heading on to another birding spot. On arrival, a BLUETHROAT was heard and over the next thirty minutes we saw at least five males of the red-spotted race. Northern race WILLOW WARBLERS sang from the low Willow scrub and a few NORTHERN WHEATEAR were seen. Rather fleeting was a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE that flew behind a distant hill and disappeared.
Further down the road we found a BLACK-THROATED DIVER on a large lake whilst on the crash barrier we watched displaying male TEMMINCK'S STINTS.
A kilometre or so northwards we pulled over to watch some GOOSANDERS and found a pair of summer-plumaged LAPLAND BUNTINGS foraging around before singing and making display flights. Several more BLUETHROATS were seen plus WOOD SANDPIPER and GOLDEN PLOVER of which we found a roadside nest containing four eggs.
With time running away from us, we had just a couple more sites to visit before going to the hotel and the first produced DUNLIN, RED-THROATED DIVERS, LONG-TAILED DUCK and at least five male RUFF in breeding plumage.
Our final site gave us stunning views of a pair of adult LONG-TAILED SKUAS which showed well both in flight and on the ground before we climbed up the track and parked. A walk was taken to look for Dotterel but despite a good look, we failed to find any, although we did locate a group of SNOW BUNTINGS in their smart summer plumage.
We then headed straight to the hotel in the coastal town of Batsfjord where we unloaded and checked in before heading to our rooms. We had some time for a shower before meeting for dinner, when we were immediately greeted by an excited Pirita who had found a female KING EIDER in the harbour. We all managed to get good scope views of this target bird before heading inside for our evening meal which went down a treat!
It was time to retire for the evening after a cracking days' birding, very much looking forwards to the following days.
Thursday 16th June 2016
Some of the group met at 6.30am for a walk down to the harbour which located the female KING EIDER in the harbour whilst in the main harbour, we found a fine GLAUCOUS GULL roosting along with HERRING GULLS of both argenteus and argentatus races.
Scanning produced lots of KITTIWAKES plus a single dark phase ARCTIC SKUA which flew past giving good flight views.
It was then back for breakfast which was very welcome after our walk around the harbour. We made sandwiches and then loaded up the vans before driving back down to find the Glaucous Gull that had been seen earlier. Unfortunately, it had moved so we headed out of town, making several stops to check the beaches and waters’ edge.
Luckily we found a different GLAUCOUS GULL roosting on the rocks and on closer inspection, found it had a Norwegian ring. Good numbers of GOOSANDER and GOLDENEYE were found loafing around before we headed off into the highlands.
Several stops were made along the roadside for Ring Ouzel but we drew a blank due to high winds although we did have some compensation with a superb SHORELARK which ran around the hillside plus two PTARMIGAN that were seen briefly.
Moving on, we stopped by a large lake where a pair of RED-NECKED PHALAROPES were noted plus two RED-THROATED DIVERS flew past and a small party of ARCTIC TERNS flew through.
Further along the road was another pool that held five PINTAIL, TEAL and WOOD SANDPIPER which gave good views and a few minutes later we took up positions close to the edge of another lake where a female RED-NECKED PHALAROPE gave stunning views at close range which was amazing!
The journey northwards produced several WHOOPER SWANS, LONG-TAILED DUCKS and lots of GOOSANDER plus more RED-NECKED PHALAROPES and several WHITE-TAILED EAGLES.
We spent some time scanning an area of cliffs in a traditional area for Gyrfalcon but there was no sign. We did however find SHAG, CORMORANT, RAVEN and several RED-THROATED PIPITS which were displaying.
It was then back for lunch which was enjoyed in the sunshine before moving further north towards Brelevag. A stop at Kjolnes Lighthouse yielded a single GANNET plus a flock of COMMON SCOTER, EIDER and lots of BLACK GUILLEMOTS.
With the sky in the distance looking black and uninviting, we headed back to the highlands. A stop was made producing a brief adult LITTLE STINT and a few RED-NECKED PHALAROPES plus a TEMMINCK'S STINT nest was found and both RED-THROATED PIPITS and LAPLAND BUNTINGS displayed overhead.
The best bird was a male WILLOW GROUSE that gave reasonable flight views before landing on a grassy mound allowing us all to see it well through the scopes.
It was then time to head back towards base and the journey gave us better views of a PTARMIGAN plus RED-THROATED DIVERS, LONG-TAILED DUCKS and several LONG-TAILED SKUAS.
We arrived back at base in good time and it was a bonus to have a coffee or tea before heading to our rooms for a shower before dinner.
Our evening meal was once again superb and everybody went off to bed happy after yet another good day in the Arctic.
Friday 17th June 2016
The pre-breakfast walk produced the usual suspects including GLAUCOUS GULL, COMMON EIDER, TEMMINCK'S STINT and the addition of a single TREE SPARROW in the Birch scrub.
It was then back for breakfast and afterwards we loaded up and left Batsfjord, driving up to the highlands in perfect conditions.
We made another try for Ring Ouzel in a ravine and this time it was a case of third time lucky when a pair of RING OUZELS showed well on the slopes opposite us. A male MERLIN was seen flying at great speed across the Tundra before perching on a distant rock.
Just as we were leaving, a DOTTEREL was seen briefly in flight so we drove a little way and took a walk onto a plateau where we located the male DOTTEREL running around. Eventually he settled on a nest and his camouflage was remarkable!
Leaving him in peace, we drove southwards and again stopped close to the road to try for Willow Grouse. Unfortunately none were seen although we did find BLUETHROAT, COMMON SANDPIPER, ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD, GOOSANDERS and SEDGE WARBLER.
Moving on once again to another lake that held at least three RED-NECKED PHALAROPES which gave amazing views right in front of us. Whilst enjoying these birds, a pair of LONG-TAILED DUCKS chased each other around.
We then made the long drive around to Varangerfjord and along the way noted many WHITE-TAILED EAGLES and several stops were made. We had flight views of two WAXWINGS plus a good selection of alpine plants, VELVET and COMMON SCOTERS, BAR-TAILED GODWITS, DUNLIN, GREYLAG GOOSE, ARCTIC TERNS, KITTIWAKES, more RED-NECKED PHALAROPES and COMMON EIDERS.
As we neared the end of our journey, we stopped for a walk around an area of scrub near the town of Vadso which produced 15 RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, RED-THROATED PIPIT, ARCTIC HARE, RUFF and thousands of KITTIWAKES.
It was then time to head to our next hotel on the island of Vardo which meant heading to it under a two mile road tunnel, 88 metres under the water!
We checked in and had some time to relax before meeting for our evening meal which was fantastic. After completing the bird list we headed off to bed after yet another good day!
Saturday 18th June 2016
Breakfast was at the earlier time of 6.00am to enable us to fit in some extra birding during the morning. We spent the morning driving and making many stops on the road to Hamningberg. This produced some good birds including over 150 LONG-TAILED DUCKS, 75 COMMON SCOTER, ARCTIC & MEALY REDPOLLS, RED-THROATED PIPIT, LAPLAND BUNTING, ARCTIC SKUAS, RED-THROATED DIVERS, SHORELARKS, GLAUCOUS GULL and lots and lots of GOOSANDERS in the bays.
It was then back for lunch which we enjoyed on the jetty at Vardo harbour and we met on the quay to join the boat over to Hornoya Island, but due to tides this was put back by one hour. This meant we had some extra time birding around the harbour where KITTIWAKES, ARCTIC & COMMON TERNS flew back and forward and a family party of COMMON EIDER were seen.
At 1.00pm we joined the boat and headed out of the harbour. It was pretty choppy as we made the 10 minute crossing to the island but as soon as we disembarked, we were greeted by a fantastic sight and wall of sound as thousands of birds flew over us!
We spent around two hours on the island where our main target was the Arctic breeding BRUNNICH'S GUILLEMOT which gave good views on the mid-level cliffs. There were also thousands of PUFFINS, COMMON GUILLEMOTS, RAZORBILLS, SHAGS, KITTIWAKES plus a few nesting ROCK PIPITS.
It was then back to the mainland where we drove back to Hamningberg and along the way we found more WHITE-TAILED EAGLES, RUFF and a stop overlooking a bay produced a male KING EIDER. A sea-watch from Hamningberg produced small numbers of GANNETS and FULMARS flying past but the wind was bitterly cold and quite strong.
We headed back to the hotel for a hot shower after a very memorable days birding!
Sunday 19th June 2016
We awoke to find the weather had changed considerably with drizzle and strong winds blowing and it made us feel lucky that we had managed to get over to Hornoya Island the previous day.
After breakfast, we loaded up the vans and began the long journey back to Ivalo in Finland.
A couple of WHOOPER SWANS were seen on a pool as we rejoined the mainland and as we drove along the coast road we made several stops along the way.
A pair of WILLOW GROUSE showed well close to the road as did a male RED-NECKED PHALAROPE. Our first of 12 WHITE-TAILED EAGLES was seen perched on seaside rocks and offshore we watched lots of COMMON EIDER, LONG-TAILED DUCKS, GOOSANDER and RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS.
Other goodies included RUFF, ARTIC SKUAS, BAR-TAILED GODWITS, BLACK-THROATED DIVERS and VELVET SCOTERS.
Just after reaching the Finnish border, we drove up a track to the top of a hill and on getting out, it was blooming freezing and drizzling! We wandered up to the summit noting a pair of GOLDEN PLOVER along the way and after a few minutes our target, a superb female DOTTEREL flew in and gave us amazing views!
It was then off to get lunch at a roadside restaurant where a hot meal went down a treat. We carried on southwards and revisited the cafe which once again produced two adult male and one first-year male PINE GROSBEAKS plus a family party of SIBERIAN TITS, RED SQUIRRELS, BANK VOLE, PIED FLYCATCHER and calling WAXWING.
With time getting on and still a fair way to drive we left with reluctance and moved further south towards Ivalo. The drizzly conditions were not great for birding but we still managed to add new birds to our list including SHORT-EARED OWL, MISTLE THRUSH and SLAVONIAN GREBES which were on a lake plus WOOD PIGEON!
Several stops were made to find Arctic Warbler but weather conditions hampered finding them. At around 7.00pm, we arrived at our hotel in Ivalo and after time to relax and repack our luggage we met for our last evening meal of the tour which was delicious!
Monday 20th June 2016
Breakfast was at the usual time of 7.00am and afterwards we loaded up the vans and began our journey south towards Rovaniemi.
The weather was still drizzly and cold as we started the three hour journey and after around one hour we made a stop to try once again for Broad-billed Sandpiper but the water levels had increased significantly over the last week and there was no sign.
We did however, find a pair of COMMON CRANE plus WHIMBREL and CUCKOO out on the marsh before it was time to carry on.
The journey was uneventful except for four COMMON CRANES close to the road which allowed some good views. Other species of note included BARN SWALLOW, HOUSE MARTIN, WHITE WAGTAIL, HOODED CROW and RAVEN.
Close to Rovaniemi we made a stop to pick up lunch and have coffee and in the car-park were a small flock of JACKDAWS plus HOODED CROWS.
We arrived at Rovaniemi Airport in good time and after unloading the vans we said our goodbyes to Pirita who was travelling back to Oulu and who had been an excellent guide.
After checking in for our flight to Helsinki, we had some time to relax before boarding. As we taxied on the runway, we added GOLDEN & RINGED PLOVER plus LAPWING to the day list and a SKYLARK to the trip list for the week. The flight arrived on time and we made our way to the gate for our flight back to London Heathrow.
The flight took off a few minutes behind schedule but we made up time arriving to a sunny Heathrow at just after 6.00pm.
After getting our luggage, we all said our goodbyes after a superb tour with stunning landscapes, amazing birds and other wildlife that was shared with a lovely group of customers!