Category Archives: Arctic Norway

Cuckoo or Oriental Cuckoo?

without hearing it…

One of the trickiest ID’s in the Western Palearctic region has to be how to tell a Cuckoo from an Oriental Cuckoo without hearing it. The key features are spelt out here but they are ‘soft characters.’  Does the slight brownish tone to some upperpart feathers and pale tipped primaries make it a first summer (2cy) bird? If you have any tips…

Anders Mæland perhaps the leading rare bird finder in Varanger got in touch. Kudos to Colin and Denise Shields for asking the questions. I know Skallelve- as brilliant spot for Arctic Redpolls in early spring and good wee migrant trap for both passerines and non- passerines. Saw my first Siberian Snow Bunting there (vlasowae) with Tormod Amundsen and both types of Bean Geese…

 

Hei Martin!
How are you? have you seen any good birds lately?
I am in Varanger now and met a British couple, Denise and Colin Shields that had photographed this Cuckoo near Skallelv (Between Vardø and Vadsø).
They noticed the  dark mantle, yellowish undertail covers and the broad barring. These are features at least associated with Oriental Cuckoo
Any thoughts?
All the best!
Anders
cuckoo sp, Skellelv, Varanger. 3rd  June 2014 Denise Shields

cuckoo sp, Skellelv, Varanger. 3rd June 2014 Denise Shields

cuckoo sp, Skellelv, Varanger. 3rd  June 2014 Denise Shields

cuckoo sp, Skellelv, Varanger. 3rd June 2014 Denise Shields

Pacific Eider: news from Varanger

Still there today!

Tormod Amundsen and Martin Garner

v nigrum

 

Following its stunning surprise appearance reported HERE. Over a month later and the bird is still present. Seemingly eluding detection during the Gullfest it left its mark in the most bizarre- and for some frustrating way. The now famous King Eider/ Eider VORTEX was enjoyed again by Gullfest goers. Some took photos of Eiders in flight- of course. First Tormod, then Jonnie Fisk discovered amoung their photos (see above) that they had actually taken pictures of the Pacific Eider, Mr V-nigrum. Which kinda means their retina would have picked up the bird- as we used to say “can they tick it on assumed retinal capture?”

It was seen again in harsh conditions this morning -30th March 2014.

Meanwhile here’s some stuff on the occurrence of Pacific Eider off West Greenland and the range in NE Asia as far west as Yana river- presuming the Varanger bird is most likely to have come from the NE Asian population rather than the Alaska one.

Frontiers in Birding

p169: “While investigating the subject of origins and identification of Eiders it became apparent that there was real potential for Pacific Eiders to mix with Northern Eiders off the Canadian Arctic and occasionally abmigrate bringing them into the North Atlantic. Coincidentally, not long after the publication of ‘Norther Eiders in Scotland- are they being missed?’ (Garner and Farrelly 2005) , Bruce Mcatavish found Newfoundland’s first Pacific Eider, mixed in with flocks of wintering Norther Eiders. While it might surprise some, the potential for this stunningly beautiful duck to reach Western Europe is very real.

Pacific Eiders off West Greenland

Speaking about the Eiders occurring in the Davis Straight off w and sw Greenland, Palmer (Handbook of North American Birds Vol 3) writes:

Furthermore both typical and atypical v-nigra have been taken, not breeding: details, including meas., in Schiøler (1926). Perhaps a few v-nigra in the Canadian arctic join flocks of borealis (or even of King Eiders) which fly to molting and wintering localities to sw. Greenland. Schiøler stated that they occur there every winter. Presumably any such progeny would show some v-nigra characters. This assessment is contrast to that of J.C. Phillips (1926), who regarded the birds in question as “merely individual variants and not true Pacific Eiders.”

 

Boertmann (1994) Birds of Greenland on v-nigrum status there:

“SUBSPECIES: The breeding population in Greenland refers to ssp. borealis. ssp. v-nigrum from northwestern North America is a scarce winter and spring vagrant in West Greenland. Since Salamonsen 1967 it has been recorded on 15th May 1967 (Asvid 1974) and several times since 1972 (Salamonsen unpublished).”

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Pacific Eider in NE Asia

from Birds of North America (online) : S. m. v-nigrum Gray, 1856: Pacific Eider. Breeds from Coronation Gulf, Nunavut (east to Jenny Lind I.) west along coasts of Beaufort Sea and Bering Sea, Alaska (Kodiak, Cook Inlet, Glacier Bay), Aleutian Is.; in Asia as far west as Yana River (about 137°E), New Siberian Is., locally around Chukchi Peninsula (west of Chaun Bay and Aion I.), Bering Strait near Diomede Is. and St. Lawrence I., Commander Is. and Kamchatka Peninsula, including disjunct population in ne. Sea of Okhotsk (Tauisk Gulf east to Penzhinskaya Gulf). Winters in ice-free regions around Bering Sea, with both Asian and North American populations probably concentrated in Aleutian-Alaskan Peninsula area (Palmer 1976). Has occurred east to Newfoundland and w. Greenland (Peters and Burleigh 1951,Boertmann 1994) and south to interior Canada (Manitoba: Lake Manitoba, Giroux, near Winnipeg, and Patricia Beach) and central Great Plains (near LeCompton, KS; Mlodinow 1999). Largest subspecies; male typically has black V on chin (sometimes absent, especially birds in Sea of Okhotsk), bill color vivid orange or yellow-orange; frontal lobes narrow and pointed as well as positioned higher, more toward midline of forehead than other races; skull large, resulting in greater distance of eye from bill; feathering in loral region notably rounded at anterior margin (not as wedge-shaped as other races); extensive green on head of male, extending from nape in fine line under eye; adult female plumage typically dark brown.

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map from  Laputan Logic 

The  Vortex 

Graham White writes:

“Then out by boat into the Eider Vortex. Now I am not an ‘OMG’ person; it’s a bit cringe-worthy, but, OMG!  Around 25,000 Common and King Eiders flying past, over and behind you is one of THE wildlife spectacles to be found anywhere.  As it turned out, it was even more OMG than usual, as Tormod later spotted a Pacific Eider in his photographs that must have flown by us on the day. I’m still searching through mine!”

Graham White

The Grumpy Ecologist
King Eider Vortex Vardø Varanger Gullfest 2014 Amundsen Biotope

.king eider vortex 2

click on photos to really appreciate what’s going on…

 

Thanks to Marshall Iliff for extra info

Arctic Guillemot ssp. hyperborea

Still Identifiable

Hypothesis: Despite not even being recognized as a valid taxon in some quarters, some Arctic Guillemots ssp. hyperborea may be identifiable within and outside of their range (as wanderers/vagrants) by dark crescentic barring over the underparts. NGB birders report:
 

Gullfest 2014,  Zac Hinchcliffe,  Next Gen Birders

check out this fella picked out by Gullfesters yesterday:

Arctic Guillemot ssp. hyperborea, Hornøya Island, Varanger. 21 March 2014, Zac Hinchcliffe. The breeding guillemots here are of the Arctic form. Some have dark crescentic marking across the underparts which may be a character only found in this taxon. This individual takes the character it to a whole new level!

Arctic Guillemot ssp. hyperborea, Hornøya Island, Varanger. 21 March 2014, Zac Hinchcliffe. The breeding guillemots here are of the Arctic form. Some have dark crescentic marking across the underparts which may be a character only found in this taxon. This individual takes the character it to a whole new level!

 

hyperborea- Identification possible?

reblogged from 2012 – MG

I’m back on 13th May 2012 on  Hornøya Island, Varanger, by myself for the best part of 4 hours. Just a wonderful time amoung the auks. Specifically Arctic Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins and Brünnich’s GuillemotsAlso Shag, argentatus Herring Gulls (including the kind of pale “is it a hybrid” types we get in winter in Britain). Otter, White-tailed Eagle, Scandinavian Rock Pipit and a lone Chiffchaff all add to the interest. Here’s a taste ; )

One which I spent a bit of time on were the Arctic Guillemots, ssp. hyperborea.

3 old taxa:

Southern Guillemot (ssp albionis) 

Northern Guillemot (nominate aalge)

Arctic Guillemot (ssp hyperborea)

Very crudely  southern albionis breed in England and Wales, and nominate ‘Northern aalge breed  in Scotland. N. Ireland probably has a bit of both (mostly Northern).

Arctic Guillemot ssp hyperborea presumed to be a rare vagrant.

Arctic Guillemots however don’t move so much (BWP) and seem to be genuinely rarer in British waters. The ‘Birds of Shetland’ (Pennington et.al.) lists just 3 records attributed to hyperborea based on measurements of tide line birds. There is a clinal aspect to characters and some features (such as extensive dark underwing ‘spotting’) while commoner in hyperborea can regularly be found in other forms.

Do Southern (albionis) and Northern (aalge) Guillemots ever show these dark crescentic marks?

Some Distinctive

So what I found was, while variation existed; some bird perhaps not really being detectable in British context, others were quiet distinctive. Most especially in having very extensive dark flank steaking. This extended right down to the legs and then out from the flanks becoming fine dark ‘crescents’ (formed by dark feather tips), which made the ‘dark streaked zone’ really very extensive on the body sides. On some these dark crescents,while weakly marked were easy to see on scope views extending right across the white underparts.

Dark spotty underwings are well known as a feature which increases in frequency as you move from Southern through Northern to Arctic breeders:

BWP indicates that while other taxa have pre-breeding moult which ends in March, hyperborea is later (from mid-April to late May). Thus these breeding adults are in spanking fresh plumage which includes, in some, obvious dark crescentic tips to the white underpart feathers. Combined with the blackish plumages, very extensive dark flanks marks, extensive dark underwing spotting- I wonder if you could ID one in Britain? Does the post breeding (July to November) moult produce this same dark crescents and if so would they be worn of in mid winter?

Do Southern (albionis) and Northern (aalge) Guillemots ever show these dark crescentic marks?

A few more shots of Arctic Guillemots:

Showing appearance on water, inc. extent of flank streaking

I notice some still moulting out of non-breeding plumage (2nd cal yrs?) nevertheless had the same extensive flanks streaking when viewed on the water. More northerly breeders more often have full dark band across the throats in winter plumage than southern birds.

One on right with more of an ‘inverted V’ where dark meets white on neck, though not as striking as on Brünnich’s Guillemots. Bird centre left with weak pale gape or ‘tomium stripe’.

And in flight, flank streaking appearance from less to more obvious (dark crescents visible on the lower one):

 

 

Varanger: GULLFEST 2014

Is about to begin

watch out for all the news, views and stories to come…

1) TWITTER and

2) Facebook and on

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

Hornøya Guillemot Lomvi-sverm March 2014 med res Amundsen Biotope n

 Full mix of auks on Hornøya- taken TODAY! Nearby: 

12,000 King Eider

17,500 Common Eider

4,000 Stellers Eider

43,00 Long-tailed Duck

 

and ONE of these needs to get refound boys and girls!

 

Pacific Eider. v-nigra. 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)

Here’s the programme- what a feast!

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Already some special guests have arrived

A Bearded Seal from the High Arctic

 

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 Top artist Hans Larsson from the (Swedish) High Arctic

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 An Ivory Gull from… the High Arctic 

 

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another gull- a young Kumlien’s Gull amoung the Iceland and Glaucous from the Canadian Arctic

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WHERE ?… HERE!Bi3k0NQCMAEuZVE

He’s ready :)

 

watch out for all the news, views and stories to come…

1) TWITTER and

2) Facebook and on

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

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,

Båtsfjord: the King’s Harbour

GULLFEST dreams

Another Gullfest  event will be reporting again from Varnager, Arctic Norway later this month. Now in our third year one of the focused goals from the outset was to engage local people, in the world of nature around hem and that belong to them in some way to change the perspective and opportunities of local folk.

Which is why this is an unashamed re-blog form last year. Enjoy the rubbery faced dude in the video – hope it communicates a little of the wonder…

For all things info and comms and INSPIRATION go >>> HERE <<<

king eider drake 2 resized

Twice I have donned brightly coloured Arctic jumpsuits and headed out in a zodiac from a base in Båtsfjord Harbour on the exposed northern fringe of Varanger, Arctic Norway. Both represent unique Arctic experiences. The first was the ‘Blue Fulmar Pelagic’ in May 2011. The second, (last week) was one of the closest encounters with Arctic Sea Duck currently available on the planet. Båtsfjord kinda means ‘innermost part of the fjord’. It could also be dubbed ‘THE KING’S HARBOUR’.

Both events involve local ex-fisherman turned bird guide, Ørjan Hansen and of course Tormod Amundsen. Here’s a wee vid explaining what’s happened from inside the magic floating bird hide. You’ll hopefully get a ‘real time’ feel of what the views and experience is like:

Tormod’s post here is well worth a read with full detail of the vision developing and how the hide eventually went from crazy idea to awesome reality. READ here

king eider drake 5

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King eider fem

.King eider female 2

King eider female 10

This video show just how close the birds can be:

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King Eider imm maleA first summer male (2cy) King Eider

Steller's Eider ad male 2 smallerTrying to photograph a male Steller’s Eider but the male King kept trying to butt in in on the action!

Steller's Eider ad male

steller's Eider female 2

steller's Eider female 5female Steller’s Eider have a marvelously richly patterned plumage and the bill looks liquid with a fish lips bill tip. Positively prehistoric appearance at times.

Long-tailed DUCK MALLong-tailed Duck  ad male

Long-tailed Duck 2Male and female Long-tailed Duck were part of the action too

common eiderdrake Common Eider. Plenty of these completed the seaduck set.

Little auk 22 Little Auk were close in the harbour and had begun moulting into breeding plumage.

Glaucous Gulls ad and juvThese Glaucous Gulls, and Iceland Gull and bunch of Northern Herring Gulls were amoung the larids present.

The harbour, though, still belonged to the KING:

king eider drake 6

Pacific Eider in Norway. A New Western Palearctic Bird!

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.” 

 

 

King Eider. VORTEX!

Magical Moments 2013 #4

by Martin G.

king eider drake threeOne is very beautiful

King Eider males 52 are extra nice

King Eider vortex 32,000 is really impressive… PS I know it’s not 2000 here but need to find smaller flock :) Can you see the Long-tailed Duck?

King eider vortex bussesundet march2013 Amundsen Biotopeking eider vortex.jpg 2

king eider vortex 220,000 is ridiculous! These are just very small sections of a vast whirling flock (suggest enlarge the photos by  clicking on them…)

What: King Eider, King of the Arctic. King

WhoTormod Amundsen, Elin Taranger and visitors to Gullfest 2013

Where: Varanger Fjord (the Mighty)

When: March 2013

Why: You are kidding! Is that a serious question?

Martin Garner & Ian Lewington king eider safari march2013 Amundsenwith Ian Lewington in the middle of the King Eider Vortex.