White-billed Diver heaven

Hunting Ground for Mega Rare Birds

13th May 2011. Met Tormod 12:45 off the ferry having spent the morning with the seabirds of  Hornøya.  Stopped for a quick lunch at the Polar Hotel in Vardø (famous base camp for Nansen and co. ) and headed north.

Polar Hotel in Vardø and nearbv Nansen’s statue and plaque (tells you when he arrived and then returned from just failing to reach the North Pole).

A large break-water outside Vardø is an excellent gull spot.  An adult Glaucous Gull was stunning and Tormod told me about adult Sabine’s and adult Ross’s Gulls, same day the previous May in a snow storm.  Duck in the harbour included 6 King Eider, 2-3 flocks of Steller’s Eider, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Mergansers and several Black Guillemot.

We drove north and through some amazing terrain (the 1st summer female Stejneger’s Scoter is currently present off this section of coast- so I can visualise where it is!).  The two things are the eerie landscape, which was a filming location for ‘extra-terrestrial’ elements of the James Bond movie “Moonraker”, and the second is the sheer richness of the sea.  It’s hard to keep going from the road, you can see its cram jammed with sea duck (Long-tail Duck numbering up to thousands), Scoter, Eiders and loads of gulls – each flock containing several  Glaucous Gulls, the odd Iceland and one or two “hybrid” types.

‘Moonraker landscape’, NE Varanger. Rong Ouzel, pallid looking Red Fox, White-tailed Eagle and Rough-legged Buzzard all seen from the car. The sea is full of birds. There’s currently a young female Stejneger’s Scoter somewhere on the sea seen in the photo.

Saw several of these, including this one in Moonraker land. Most Red Foxes seemed to have much denser fur and paler isabelline ‘plumage’ than British foxes. Arctic Foxes are further inland in Varanger and require a set of skies to see. The Red Fox has ousted them in many areas.

We finally arrived at one of my favourite spots.  Hamningford. The tiny community of houses looked perfect for rare passerine vagrants, and as if to demonstrate I soon located European Robin or maybe it was a ‘Russian Robin ssp. tataricus, a new bird anyway, for Tormod in Varanger.

Here’s me clambering above the tiny community of Hamningford.

White billed Diver heaven.

Tormod and I sea-watched for a couple of hours locating 18 White-billed Diver, including a single flock of ten just beyond the surf plus several Blue Fulmar, Long-tailed Duck and a variety of auk.  We didn’t see any but it’s a place where Beluga (the white whale!) come close in shore rubbing their bodies against the rocks.  Returning back to the houses, only a couple of hundred yards from the sea-watching spot, we opted to look for passerines.  There’s no real vegetation so I went into ‘Shetland mind-set’.  Singing Fieldfare and Redwing drew us to pick up a large, first summer, Peregrine.  It’s close to the border to where people say you get Tundra Peregrine.  I don’t know if it was one or not – have a look.

Around the gardens we found Northern Golden Plover, Snow Bunting, Tundra Bean Geese, Pink-feet Geese, Arctic Hare and 2 Red Fox.  I picked up a movement, set up my scope and clocked a Tree Sparrow.  So I turned to Tormod and said, “How often do you get Tree Sparrow in Varanger?”  He replied “I’ve never seen one.”  So I said “Are they rare?” to which he replied he didn’t think there’d been any records.  So I did that cheeky little thing and said “There’s one in here” and pointed to my scope.  A few moments later a second and then a third bird appeared.  That evening 3 Tree Sparrows were mega alerted for Varanger on the Norwegian bird news. Sorry rubbish photo.

Seriously! I think this place look like an awesome spot for Eastern vagrants- maybe a place to look for a new species of passerine to add to the Western Palaearctic list. Just musings…maybe I will organise a trip for next September- any takers?

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