Saturday, 29 March 2014

GULLFEST 2014 - Part 3 - Fjord and Tundra Birding

One thing that I will always remember from Varanger is how you don't just get a handful of a single get a very impressive number! Living in Lancashire and North Wales, away from most Purple Sandpiper populations, it was a real joy to be around such fantastic numbers of Purps. I would estimate over 600 Purple Sandpipers seen. Not only was there a great number, but they were also remarkably tame. We had a fantastic stop at Ekkerøy being less than 5 metres away from a feeding flock of 180 Purps.

Also along the coast were up to two White-tailed Eagle. Having been in Sweden and Scotland several times, I am certainly no stranger to White-tailed Eagles, but every time you see one 'eclipse the sun', they make an amazing impression!

Also, whilst birding as many bays as we could, Tormod picked up a very distant Diver sp but lost it almost instantly which was frustrating. I scanned and scanned as hard as my eyes would stretch and within 5 minutes I picked it up again. It was strikingly pale headed with a strange 'custard' hue. It soon became apparent that it was a White-billed Diver (a lifer!) and it proved hard to do, but we eventually got everyone onto it. Even though it was over a mile away, it still left an impressive impression on me!

Moving around across Varanger, we went through some incredible habitat or should I saw lack of habitat! The high tundra at this time of year was just a white sheet as far as the eye could see with 1m deep snow all around. Every so often, the snow would come in and it would be almost impossible to see the horizon which was quite unsettling! Anyway, it didn't take too long before we came across several grouse flocks. Closer to the coast, these proved to be Willow Grouse with their white lores and chunkier structure, however closer to the top, we stopped a single bird in a bush...this seemed pretty chunky but being a female, it was hard to ID due to both Ptarmigan and Willow Grouse have white lores in females. Suddenly some birds took flight and after a few opportunistic record shots, I was very pleased to see the black lores of male Ptarmigans! A really nice flock of 15 birds. What the bird in the bush was, we're not entirely sure given the chunkiness and the sitting in a bush. I wonder if there are ever mixed flocks?

It was also really nice to observe up to 400 Reindeer throughout the trip. Beautiful animals and surprisingly small!

The resounding memory of arctic tundra has to be 'white!'. They was incredible amount of snow which made travelling, walking and birding all the more novel.

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