Author Archives: tormodamundsen

Blue Fulmar Pelagic – April birding in Varanger

By Tormod Amundsen

Fulmar Blue type dark side view flight Vardø April 2014 crop sign Amundsen Biotope

At the Biotope office we have just bought a small boat, and yesterday was the first chance to take it to sea. A 13 foot boat is admittedly not a boat you would take out for a pelagic in the icy Barents Sea. The idea is to rebuild the boat into a floating photo hide. We have some very cool opportunities we would like to explore. However, yesterday we could see loads of Fulmars circling fishing vessels quite close to land just south of Vardø island. Of course I could not let this opportunity pass: I packed my camera gear and bins, put on layers and layers of clothes and headed out in the snowy and windy Barents Sea. Already less then 2 kilometers from land the curious Fulmars started circling my boat. In April in Varanger most Fulmars are of the arctic dark blueish type. Truly stunning birds!

Getting the photos was however not so easy. The smallish but still choppy waves made it difficult to photograph. A couple of hours of standing up in the boat, photographing while trying to keep my balance proved to be a major work out. But persistence pays off. The below photos show some of these beautiful Fulmars. It was also great to see the plumage variety. The darkest type birds are just amazing. While the paler birds with their stylish uniform plumage should perhaps be named Silver Fulmars?! Another great birding experience only minutes from the office. I figured these images is worth sharing here on Birding Frontiers. Yesterdays little pelagic reminded me of one of the first trips I led in Varanger, and it is where I first met Martin too. Check out Martins Blue Fulmar Pelagic story from the May 2011 Varanger trip, or read the full trip report which was the first post on the Biotope site.

Blue Fulmar pelagic in 13ft boat, south of Vardø island

Blue Fulmar pelagic in 13ft boat, south of Vardø island

´Blue Fulmar´ in snow

´Blue Fulmar´ in snow

Semi dark type Fulmar

Semi dark type Fulmar

Pale type Fulmar

Pale type Fulmar

Semi dark type Fulmar

Silver Fulmar!

semi dark Fulmar

Semi dark Fulmar

Darkest type Fulmar

Darkest type Fulmar

Fulmar in Norwegian is called ´havhest´, litterally meaning ´sea horse´. This is the dark horse.

Fulmar in Norwegian is called ´havhest´, literally meaning ´sea horse´. This is the dark horse. Stunning birds!

Best wishes from Arctic Norway

Tormod Amundsen / www.biotope.no

 

Semipalmated Plover and other rarities: Varanger is hot!

by Tormod

The dust have not settled in Varanger. With a very active jungle-telegraph, or rather “tundra-telegraph”, more then 250-300 birders have now seen the stunning looking Harlequin Duck. There is no doubt that summer in Varanger is a hot season for rarities in the Arctic. Last year we had the Stejnegers White-winged Scoter and the Glaucous-winged Gull (Biotope Gull article) at this time. Of course the quite large numbers of visiting birders has a lot to do with this: more birders = more finds. This story however of finding the rarity is about skills and persistance. Again it is my hard core birding friend Anders who strikes. Basically Anders, when in Varanger, has a 16 hour birding day – every day. And few birds pass his bins or ears without being identified. A couple of days ago he found Norways second Semipalmated Plover! No doubt a bird that separate the birder from the birdwatcher?!

Studying details (Anders to the left)

Little beauty

The bird was first detected by its call – a Ringed Plover, but not! Just minutes after Anders got his eyes on the bird he was certain it was an Semipalmated Plover. He called me and every other birder he knew that was in Varanger. We gathered faster then mosquitos on a nude in the Finnish woods. Within minutes we had our bins and cameras on this very cool little guest from across the Atlantic. Looking at it now it seems like quite the obvious bird. With the rather clearly visible pale-yellow eye ring, very narrow breast band, slightly shorter bill, very little white eyebrow and overall “cuter” look. However the Ringed Plover in Varanger are not straight forward business: I guess a closer look into the subspecies hiaticula vs tundrae is high on the agenda. Some of the birds we see here are quite small, with very narrow breast band. More research needed, and with the Birding Frontiers resources hopefully it will be a post to come soon.

The Ringed Plovers above show some of the variation. All photos taken at the Sunddammen site in Vardø, where the Semipalmated Plover was found. By the way it is still present on its 4th day, and birders have been flying in from southern Norway for this hard-to-get bird.

The defining details: the semipalmation between the central and outer toes is very obvious. We also noted that there was barely any dark above the bill, between bill and the white front patch. The white front patch was also quite wide and it was allmost like a 50-50% black and white front, unlike the other present Ringed Plovers, with their 20-30-50% black-white-black front (note that this varied quite a bit). Is this a character to look into? It certainly helped us when locating the bird – time after time. A great learning experience and a great bird!

And to make the birding experience complete: the Harlequin is still hanging around, a Sabines Gull was seen for a day in Svartnes Harbour and a local farmer just found and identified a Rose-coloured Starling. For birders visiting Varanger this meant that Harlequin, Sabines, White-biled Diver, Stellers Eider, King Eider, Rose-c Starling and the Semipalmated Plover where all available within 30 min driving!

Our other guests:

I made an article on our local birdfinders in Varanger – seems visiting birders are facing some competition!

Birders enjoying the Semipalmated Plover in Vardø

I expect more mega news will come from Varanger this summer. Anders will be birding the region the whole summer along with many hundreds of visitng birders. For those with an extra interest in Varanger I have just launched a twitter bird news service (in collaboration with www.birdlife.no): follow us @Finnmarkbirding

Best wishes from the northern frontier

Tormod Amundsen / www.biotope.no

Varanger – The “Harleking”

From the Northern Frontier

by Tormod

I was planning on writing a rather elaborate first Birding Frontiers post, about designing maps that are dedicated to birders. I will have to come back to that idea later. Living in a premium birding destination means things don’t always go according to plan. Instead I´ll make a short birding mega news-post…

from Varanger: the Harlequin Duck.

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I was settled for another busy Sunday with a bird shelter that I needed to finish designing, and then packing my gear for a trip to the high tundra by helicopter for a bird registration project. With my family and my good birder friend Anders Mæland, I was just going for a short Sunday trip to Hamningberg, officially known as ´The end of Europe`.  This is a 40 km drive from my home and office in Vardø, basically through non-stop good birding areas. The outer Varanger Fjord always (except November & December) holds good numbers of birds. Today was the second day of summer – meaning the second day for a very long time with no wind and more than 10 degrees celcius, and the midsummer night is on! Everything looked very good. As we drove through Persfjorden we discussed from where we should stop and look at the birds on the fjord. We decided to stop at the same place where the 2011 Stejnegers White-winged Scoter was seen. Good choice. Persfjord is situated at the outer Varanger fjord, and is a favored place for sea ducks. Typically it holds good numbers of Velvet Scoters, Black (Common) Scoters, both Mergansers and Long-tailed ducks can easily be seen in thousands in May. In summer this is also a good place to find the few over-summering King Eiders in the Varanger fjord. After scanning the sea for 15 minutes we picked out two young male King Eiders. Nice. Happy with this, and with a 3.5 year old who wanted to keep going we where about to leave. Anders just had to look closer at this one very distant bird. It stayed close to the surf and would not show very well. The distance and the sun also meant heavy heat haze. Anders being a solid birder, did not want to let this one go without a safe id. When he got into a stuttering, exaggarated mode I understood he was onto something good. Yes – clearly in the distance there was a dark looking bird with unmistakable white markings. Harlequin Duck! The scenes that unfolded are familiar to any birder! If you where to define enthusiasm and euphoria then this would be the scene to use. What a stunning bird. An adult male in its most striking plumage. The coolest blue, and the deepest red with sharply defined white marks. I have seen the Harlequin in both Iceland and Hokkaido, Japan, and I have been hoping for this bird to visit Varanger. Without any warning it is surfing the waves in the Varanger fjord on a beautiful summer day. I got a few docu-style photos diciscoped with my iphone. I must admit that I kind of like those unsharp, dodgy rarity photos that you find in some ‘rare birds’ type publications. The photos I got are of the same kind. Unsharp, blurry, yet unique and I guess with a sense that no other bird could matter at the moment! Lets hope the bird will stay around longer than last years duck mega. Remember this Stejneger’s Scoter?

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A very cool face to find in the distant surf, joined by a Long-Tailed Duck

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Very happy birders: Elin, Anders and two lucky german birders that almost passed us as we found the bird. They must have seen something was going on by the waiving of arms and big smiles.

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The landscape: the bird must have found the place in Varanger that looked the most like Iceland.

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If you are in Varanger the above map shows you where to look. Vardø island to the right.

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Common and highly uncommon..

Hope you enjoy these not so good photos of this fantastically good situation. I will be back with more articles from Varanger. An article on the less photographed plumages of Steller’s Eider is on the sketch board, along with an article on pro-birder map design. Thanks to Martin for inviting me to join the Birding Frontiers project! By the way, we continued on to Hamningberg, and noted five White-billed Divers and two King Eiders. And quite a few birders have now seen the Harlequin Duck.

Best wishes from Varanger – the Northern Frontier…

Tormod Amundsen
www.biotope.no