Monthly Archives: April 2012

Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit

Beautiful Woodland Colours

With retinas full of Hawk Owl we retired to the best Taiga Bird Cabin you have ever seen! 2 species very quickly in evidence (and much wanted) were the Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit. There were several of each to go around. What was very cool and rather expected was the way the plumage colours of both these species actually blend beautifully with the colours of wood and bark around them. The match of the colours on the Siberian Jay is particularly striking. Don’t believe me? have  a look (not sure you will see that in a field guide!):

Siberian Jay

(this lovely one is by Tormod A. The rest are mine)

The snow was melting; the cause of this ones wet look in the less than freezing conditions.

only in the snow did they look more conspicuous

Siberian Tit

The old world counterpart of the North American ‘Boreal Chickadee’, Siberian Tit looks very similar but with whiter rear cheeks and white on fringes of some flight feathers. Siberian Tit is perhaps the ultimate Taiga dweller ranging from here, across Siberia to Alaska and NW Canada, where the ranges of both species overlap. Respect! According to the Tit, Nuthatches and Treecreepers book (Harrap and Quinn)- no systematic studies done on voices of the 2 species. Anything changed since then I wonder?


What it takes to crack a nut…

…looks like a fair bit of effort is being put into this, don’t you think?


again more conspicuous in the snow:


Amazing Taiga Birding: Part one

April 2012 Pasvik, Arctic Norway

I have struggled with this blog post. I feel I am going to fail even before I have started. The whole Gullfest trip surpassed even my normally optimistic expectations. It was a very vivid 3D experience and it feels like I just can’t do it justice on a 2D screen. So count this as just a taster, and I apologise it won’t give even half the feel of the experience- ask the guys- it was a whole lot more!

Reindeer Soup and Cloudberry desert before a firepit in a Viking Long House. So began our arctic adventure in 2012. Photo: Tristan Reid

An icy blast greeted our arrival at Kirkenes airport, a first real experience of the arctic for many of our group. Glad the minibus tires were metal studded as the road became increasingly white with ice and snow on entering the Taiga zone. On arrival at Birkhusky, after lovely welcome from Trine we were soon tucking into Reindeer Soup before an open firepit in a Viking Longhouse. With the Russia only a few hundred yards away across the mighty Pasvik river and a the distant green flicker of aurora borealis on the skyline, it was a fine introduction to arctic life!

Early morning meant time for pre-breakfast wander. Sunrise was around 3 am, so you could get up very early! The immediate ‘cabin zone’ held a couple of these ‘Arctic Red Squirrels’ (don’t know much about them so range/ taxonomy of these would be interesting if anyone knows?). About 60 Snow Buntings (colloquial ‘Snow Sparrows’) regularly perched in the trees and gathered around the garden feeder, while a male Arctic Redpoll occasionally sang.


Watching Snow Sparrows and Arctic Red Squirrel in the trees

Tris went out earlier and walked further and collected Willow Grouse, Pine Grosbeak and Siberian Jay. Also seen near the Birkhusky cabin: Black Grouse, Whooper Swan, Northern Bullfinch and Siberian Tit.

The Great Dog Sled Run

Getting ready to drive dog sleds. What have we let ourselves in for?!

Mrs Garner with new Husky friends. P.S. see those woolen boots she is wearing. Amazing and counter intuitive. Much warmer than anything sold in UK even if water seeped in- which it did!

Vincent and Tris head off…

Flavour of Dog Sled fun– have a look at these:



After about 1.5 hours on the sleds we were just short of arriving at our special destination, when Nils spotted this Hawk Owl. It wasn’t guaranteed here so I was delighted when it hung around for the next hour or so for everyone to see- very well. Was a bit crazy for a short while after our arrival, as there were at least 4 new bird species for some, buzzing around at amazing close range, and I am sure folk didn’t know which way to look next!


photo by Tormod Amundsen


Even did a little trick when Trine and I made a Reindeer pelt lure. Used only once it brought the Owl to within a few feet of our group. Not a bad way for some to see their first Hawk Owl!

Arctic Norway’s Bird of theTrip: Spring 2012

I confess- not a gull

But this individual; beyond its normal range, stunning views, a delightful surprise and life tick for me. What a cool moment. Rather unforgettable!

Not my photo and more on what and who on this later, but for now I will if you haven’t guessed; have a think. Wonder what surprises next year will bring?

Answer to Israel Raptor Quiz

Nice One!

To those who correctly guessed the four raptors. Same birds different photos below were, left to right:

Black Kite, Greater Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle and Steppe Buzzard (click on photo below for bit bigger size)

All circling together! Actually its a big of a cheat because I had picked up the Greater Spotted Eagle and noticed that Black Kite and Steppe Buzzard were in same frame. It was only when ‘chimping’ the back of the camera I noticed the Booted Eagle sneak in the frame too. A jammy moment.

Bit more if interested in the ID from the photo:

Black Kite. the second commonest large raptor after the uncountable numbers of  Steppe Buzzards. Of course field ID easier than trying to identify from a single image, as the familiar shape soon emerges as the hang-dog wings circle around. Many birds here look ‘eastern’ with lineatus (Black-eared Kite) characters. The photo shows a bird with 6 ‘long primary fingers’ and familiar paler headed look of Black Kite.

Black Kite with ‘eastern character’s. Eilat March 2012

Greater Spotted Eagle

Needs a bit of practice, I got one misidentified Lesser Spotted early on the help with my learning! This bird in the quiz photo looked pretty dark overall and somehow a bit bigger and beefier (Lesser Spotted were seen more commonly) with heftier wing tip. All subtle and touchy feely. More specifically the underwing coverts are clearly darker (even blackish) compared to paler underside of flight feathers and there is only ONE obvious white arc  and base of primaries (not two) = Greater Spotted.

and to compare, the other aquila eagle sp., Steppe Eagle. Actually most of these we saw were immatures with more massive size and obvious pale panel through centre of underwing.

immature Steppe Eagle with Steppe Buzzards, Eilat mountains, March 2o12

Booted Eagle

The one that sneaked on. Notable  square tail, pale inner primaries and especially the headlights (little pale patches either side of the head)- sorry, but latter not visible in first pic

Steppe Buzzard

The right hand most bird, a bit paler than some and no big dark carpals as in Long-legged Buzzard.

here’s another ‘vulpinus‘ from Yotvata in March 2012 (I didn’t tire of these):

Quiz birds: 4 Mystery Raptors

Eilat, late March 2012

Much to share on Arctic Norway and Israel. Perhaps do some alternate posts for a while. So for now a little quiz photo– just for fun.

Raptor migration is truly remarkable in southern Israel. I took this shot early one morning in the Eilat mountains. 4 species present flying close together.

What do you think they are?



Arctic Norway Begins

Tomorrow actually!

Sharon and I arrive with guests and friends for a couple of days in the Taiga forest before heading north to Varanger and the Gullfest 2012. There has been plenty of interest in this event. If you were disappointed not to make it this spring- we hope to pave the path to make this a regular and very special event in the birding calendar. It’s only just beginning.

I wonder if we will end up looking this?And HOW is he wearing fingerless gloves?!

Tormod Amundsen: Varanger’s visionary birder and architect

Varanger: dream destination

Blue Fulmar Pelagic. Remember this from last May (that’s me sat down and waving). A new Western Palearctic experience. Wonder if Mrs G will be joining me if we go again?

This young Gyr Falcon is currently hunting the cliffs of auk island

Hawk Owl, and there is very good chance of seeing one or more of these!

King Eiders in these kind of numbers- a unique opportunity to see these and other exquisite sea ducks.

Maybe we will just about jam in on some of this- aurora borealis

and the gulls- just wait and see!!

vittata Pied Wheatear

1st for Israel

It began with a text message. My introduction to the remarkable spring this year in Southern Israel began with  a text received at Heathrow airport. It was Dutch birders Arjan van Egmond and Marc Guyt trying to grip me off even before I’d  arrived ! ; )

Great news: they’d found Israel’s first vittata Pied Wheatear. Thankfully it stayed and I got to see it a couple of times. Definitely a bit of an enigma. Is it a rare morph of Pied, the product of hybridization (between Eastern Black-eared and Pied) or someting else? The question remains unanswered I think…

Even more remarkable for a British birder. Only recently the first British record of Pied Wheatear (Isle of May, 19th October 1909) was reviewed by Andy Stoddart and found to be (or re-instated) as a first winter male ‘vittata‘. Birds are remarkable!

vittata Pied Wheatear, Eilat, Israel, March 2012. Marc Guyt, AGAMI

vittata Pied Wheatear, Eilat, Israel, March 2012. Marc Guyt, AGAMI

vittata Pied Wheatear, Eilat, Israel, March 2012. Yoav Perlman, Birding in Israel Blog

vittata Pied Wheatear, Eilat, Israel, March 2012. Yoav Perlman, Birding in Israel Blog

… not pretty, but for my own memories- my pics taken in the dark of first full day in the Eilat area: