Pacific Eider in Norway. A New Western Palearctic Bird!

One Year Anniversary!

19th, February 2014

The Magnificent Eider in Magnificent Varanger!

Tormod Amundsen / www.biotope.no  & Martin Garner

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Warning: Please excuse exuberant excitement. We have dreamed about this one- more than most!

Who will be going?  For sheer iconic beauty, rarity value and surely a stand out taxonomic full species- The (magnificent) Pacific Eider- latin name v-nigrum from Alaska. Never recorded in the Western Palearctic Region. Once definitely recorded in the North Atlantic, off Newfoundland by Bruce Mactavish. And for any who came to the ‘Pushing the Boundaries’ tour- this was one we featured and predicted as a vagrant to …. VARANGER!

Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Hotline: Varanger- East Yorkshire today, 19.2.14

Just an insight in to our world but it’s been a very exciting, tweeting and phone calling day between East Yorkshire and Arctic Norway this afternoon! Why? Simply this is one of our all-time DREAM birds!

Tomorrow Morning,  20.2.14

From before daybreak tomorrow Tormod and Alonza will be on the hunt to relocate the beast. For Western Palearctic Listers, any news will break on the BIOTOPE accounts on

1) TWITTER and

2) Facebook and on

3) BIOTOPE webpages- as well as all things Birding Frontiers.

Gullfest starts in one months time. Perfect BOOM!

Alonza finds a monster First

The rafts of eiders are back in outer Varanger Fjord. Numbers are building and from the Biotope office we are enjoying increasing numbers of both Common, Stellers- and King Eiders from our office window. As we are very busy with several bird projects at the moment we have not had much chance to go birding in Varanger. But today it seems Varanger struck gold again! Alonza Garbett, architect and birder at the Biotope office, documented this striking looking eider today after lunch. At first thought to be a ssp borealis, known as Northern or Borealis Eider. However after closer examination of the photos it looks very much like this is the first ever record of Pacific Eider Somateria (mollissima) v-nigrum in the Western Palearctic!
Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

The birds’ bill is strikingly bright orange tending towards redd-ish at the base of the bill. Immediately your eye is drawn to the deep arching curve of black on the lower edge of the black cap. On the Common Eiders the lower border is relatively straight. Adding further to the peculiar look of the head. the overall head/bill profile seems very long-looking and sloping, so the bill has unusual droopy look to it. Just visible caught in Alonza’s photos is the green coloration on the nape, and how it fades into the cheek sides and horizontally under the black cap. In both ssp borealis and ssp mollissima the green nape separates distinctively from the white cheek. According to Alonza he thought he saw the other big feature- a diagnostic black V under the chin. Due to less than ideal weather conditions (snow storm), unsurprisingly this was not confirmed a 100%.
Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Legal speed limit 😉 ?

Unfortunately for me (Tormod) I spent the day in Vadsø on a business meeting (about bird projects, of course!). I saw the photo posted on twitter by Alonza on our way back to Vardø, and got a phone call from Alonza shortly after. Martin Garner had already, after seeing the tweeted photo, raised the question whether this could possibly be a v-nigrum eider.  This resulted in some less than legal speed driving back to our office in Vardø. The bird however had drifted south accompanied by some 50 of its mollissima Common Eider friends. In scope view from the Biotope office we could find several rafts of King- and Common Eiders. Before the evening darkness made birding impossible we managed no more than registering approx 2500 Common Eiders and 750+ King Eiders in the waters south of Vardø, but did not connect with the possible v-nigrum eider. But we will try again tomorrow!
Still it is a most amazing and exciting find. One we have dreamed of and talked about. Now living in Arctic Norway, birdifying Varanger- another dream is coming true – well spotted and documented, Alonza!
Small eider raft seen from the Biotope office (iphone photo from yesterday by Tormod Amundsen: our standard garden birds in February, March and April)

Small eider raft seen from the Biotope office (iphone photo from yesterday by Tormod Amundsen: our standard garden birds in February, March and April)

The Biotope office is the white house by the shore, just below the church. Our view of thousands of King and Common Eiders explains why we chose this place!

The Biotope office is the white house by the shore, just below the church. Our view of thousands of King and Common Eiders explains why we chose this place!

Now it seems a uber Western Palearctic first record may have found its way to our door step. Quite literally.

A little closer?

(Carefull you’ll need sunglasses- even in a snow storm!)
Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

 

Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

 

Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Cape Spear, Newfoundland, March 2005

MG, Having found several of the ‘early’ borealis Northern Eiders off the North coast of Ireland- and chatting to Bruce MacTavish about them and the possibilities of dresseri and v-nigrum, – Bruce unforgettably emailed images of this bird just found. A slam dunk v-nigrum and the first confirmed for the North Atlantic. So read the story on Bruce’s blog, check out the photo and compare with the Vardø bird from today. From:

>>> Bruce MacTavish Newfoundland Birding Blog <<<

IMG_0589--v

“Exceedingly rare – but how rare?- is the Pacific Eider (S. m. v-nigrum), currently regarded as a race of Common Eider.  See the monster eider with the carrot-coloured bill in this picture? This bird photographed off Cape Spear in March 2005 is as far as I know the only concrete proof that this ‘subspecies’ from Alaska, Russia and western Canadian Arctic has occurred in Newfoundland and perhaps the Atlantic Ocean. At the time in 2005 I checked around and could get no solid evidence that it has reached the Atlantic. The research was short of exhaustive.  It does appear there are small numbers semi-regular in western Greenland in winter.  More research is needed. This Cape Spear bird is a perfect in every feature for Pacific Eider.” 

 

 

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