Category Archives: Arctic Norway

Gullfest 2015. Joy and envy

Gullfest 2015 is happening as I write

I have a tad of Gullfest envy as we can’t be there. So bear with and see why :)

Gullfest 2015 poster A2 - Vardø aerial biotope

Lars J. is in de building




Brünnich’s will be flashin’Brunnichs (1 of 1)


Gyrs will be aboot like they was when Darren Woodhead was drawin’ back in ’13gyr drawings (1 of 1) gyr drawings 2 (1 of 1) gyr drawings 3 (1 of 1)


and Lars can draw Gyr’s too


and he did some Steller’s Eider using his big momma scope

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 13.35.19

I think he’s not bad- I’d give him a passScreen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.29.07


 and he’s tellin’ them about “drawing what he sees not what he knows”

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 13.23.50Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 13.24.04


Then the ol’ Sami tent going up for the cool views and amazing food and atmospheric fire pits

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.29.21


and that NORRRRFulk lad James McCallum is back in his fave zone doing what he doose bestScreen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.29.55Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.30.53


and Jonnie Fisk – 2 years running? Needs to go find that flippin v- nigrum Eider so he can actually tick it! He also does very cool art:

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.30.04

and the Biotope hides- including brand spanking new ones are inspiring a generationScreen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.30.33B_-hqLhUIAERfZi



and one of my favourites  – there is community transformation a going on…

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 13.24.53


So you see Mrs G and me should be there. We will be back because the work of Tormod and Elin and the Biotope team is a friendship and a partnership that has been a huge boon to us.

All power to their hands and their plans…

mg arctic (1 of 1)my beautiful wife (1 of 1)


and a bit more art from Lars and couple of photos from me (from auk island viewable from the Sami tent)

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.31.08 shag 2 (1 of 1)

The Shags are always very cool and the hyperborea Guillemots- ‘ave em!

Guillemot hyperborea (1 of 1)


argentatus Herring Gull wing tips and travels

Remarkable Movements

Martin Garner

It’s what they do, where they go, how far they travel,  the ‘gull narrative’ that adds to the wonder. While Gullfest 2015 is cooking in Vardø and folk visit the mighty Hornøya  Island. Here’s one of those stories.


JX347:  Hornøya to South Yorkshire and back again and back again

JX347 having been rung on Hornøya has wintered in South Yorkshire- two years running! As a first winter bird and as a second winter bird- and been well photographed. The variety in young northern argentatus Herring Gull is quiet considerable. This one is not an easy ‘pick-out’ on plumage. And what route did it take to reach the UK? Over the arctic top like this Great Black-backed Gull or through the Baltic? Both are possibilities. Have  look:

First Winter plumage 

(poached from excellent  Barnsley Bird Blog – photo by Steve Denny)


Second Winter plumage

In Sheffield last month- (photo by Andy Deighton)

shefield 2


Thanks to Andy Deighton and Morton Helberg for following:

CR-Code Black ring with white code: JX347 LBM;RBNW(JX347)
Ringing Centre Stavanger Museum (Norway) Ring number 4193850
Species Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
Sex Unknown Age Pullus

Date Place Coordinates Observers Days/km/°
29.06 2013 Hornoya, Vardo, Finnmark, Norway 70°23’16″N 031°09’21″E Lyng, Torben
26.02 2014 Anglers Country Park, Wintersett, West Yorks, Great Britain 53°38’19″N 001°25’56″W Leeman, Brian 242/2464/237
02.03 2014 Wintersett Reservoir , West Yorks, Great Britain 53°37’42″N 001°25’57″W Denny, Steven 246/2465/237
02.03 2014 Wintersett Reservoirs, Great Britain, Great Britain 58°38’00″N 001°26’00″W Denny, Steven 246/1994/245
11.02 2015 Warren Street, Sheffield, South Yorks, Great Britain 53°23’21″N 001°26’41″W Deighton, Andy 592/2489/236

 to compare- a similar 1st winter was photographed at Vardø April 2012:

argy first winter  vardo (1 of 1)

Adult wing tips

Since the early 1980’s these have fascinated me (especially when the local county refused to accept the records!). The most interesting have usually been the ones with reduced black and more white in the wing tips. Some sporting the ‘thayer’ pattern on the outermost primary P10 and even on the penultimate long primary p9. What’s the thayeri pattern? As on an adult Thayer’s Gull, the pale/ white wedge on the inner primary runs right through to th white ‘mirrors’ near the tip and NO black cuts across the feather- as on the typical pattern of most dark winged Large Gulls.

Here is the thayeri pattern from  Banks from 1917- “The Status of Larus thayeri. Thayer’s Gull”

The pattern on the right show the uninterrupted white right through to the wing tip.


Thayeri wing tip Banks


So here’s some argentatus  with the thayeri pattern

from Gullfest 2013 at Vardø

ad argy white (1 of 1) argentataus adddb (1 of 1) argentataus adddbm (1 of 1) argentatus 1 (1 of 1) argentatus 45a (1 of 1)argentatus adult wing 13 (1 of 1)argentatus adult wing 4 (1 of 1)THAYERI ARGY3 (1 of 1)THAYERI ARGY4 (1 of 1)

not visible this just has thayeri pattern on p9argy wing not used

This one has nice long tongue but no thayeri

THAYERI ARGY6 (1 of 1)

Darker-winged adults

we also found darker winger birds- some with 6 black marked primaries which were intriguing. one of these had been rung further south in the Baltic.

argentatus adult wing 1 (1 of 1) argentatus adult wing 2 (1 of 1) argentatus adult wing 10 (1 of 1) argentatus adult wing 11 (1 of 1)


Ringed in Poland 

This next bird was trapped at Vardø already sported ring from Poland. Pink-legged and dark backed it was the darkest winged bird we trapped. 6 black marked primaries including dark band across p5.

argentatus adult wing 12 (1 of 1)

Gdansk ring b (1 of 1) Gdansk ring c (1 of 1)


another darker winged bird

back to those beautiful pale wing tip patternsargentatus c (1 of 1) argentatus extreme a (1 of 1) argy 3 (1 of 1)

How cold? Waiting to explore gulls and ducks…blizz (1 of 1)


Colourful ducks

with rubbery looking fish lips and amazing plumage tones- in both males and femalesstelers onee (1 of 1) fem steller's e (1 of 1)

and King DucksKing eiders (1 of 1)

and pretty smaller gulls

whose wing tip patterns we are exploring…

Kittiwake ne (1 of 1)

Glaucous Gull fest

Malted Milk

at the Northernmost Birding Festival… in the WORLD!

Gullfest 2015 poster A2 - Vardø aerial biotope

Here’s few shots of young Glaucous Gulls. Mostly taken in the harbour at Vardø, Varanger where the Gullfest 2015 is happening as I write. I can’t  be with the guys this time so I’ve dug out some old, unused and some intriguing pics from previous Gullfests.

Also I will throw in some scary unidentifieds and a little colour for those less gull- inclined :)

These are mostly juveniles or if in moulting, technically  first winters in March (2cy)

1st w Ggull (1 of 1) 1st w Glaucous (1 of 1) 1st w Glaucous b (1 of 1) 1st w Glaucous G n (1 of 1) 2cy Glaucous  (1 of 1)2cy pretty glauc (1 of 1) pale billed Glaucous (1 of 1)glaucous 1 (1 of 1)glaucous 2 (1 of 1) 2cy g ullll m (1 of 1)2cy glgg (1 of 1)

a couple of second winters (3cy) …2nd w Glauc (1 of 1) 2nd w Glaucous (1 of 1)


le flocksGlaucous g (1 of 1)


and a mystery gull (whatdoyathink?)

Viking 1 (1 of 1)Viking 2 (1 of 1)Viking n Glauc (1 of 1)

2cy gull interetsingd (1 of 1) 2cy gull interetsingh (1 of 1)

and a red thing from nearby :)

When you see Pine Grosbeaks flying around chasing each other through taiga zone trees and canopy,  they make wonderfully fluty calls


and a young red thing who will one day, look like the fella above (photo:Tony Davison)

Pine Grosbeak b 20.3.13


Northern Bullfinch

Wing bars in Males

Martin G.

Help requested- see below :)

male Northern Bullfinch, near Pasvik River on Norway/ Russian birder, March 2013. Birds in this area gave several call types including trumpeting but wing bar broad grey 'saw toothed' and flat topped. This one also has some pink feathering in the grey upperparts-  perhaps diagnostic of Northern- but I shouldn't be telling you that- so keep it to yourself- saving for next book. Martin Garner

male Northern Bullfinch, near Pasvik River on Norway/ Russian birder, March 2013. Birds in this area gave several call types including trumpeting but wing bar broad grey ‘saw toothed’ and flat topped. This one also has some pink feathering in the grey upperparts- perhaps diagnostic of Northern- but I shouldn’t be telling you that- so keep it to yourself- saving for next book. Martin Garner

I have mentioned this one briefly before but I thought I’d pitch again…

I am currently writing on the subject of Northern Bullfinch ID (nominate pyrrhula) versus the continental europoea and British pileata taxa. I found the male featured below along with 2 other Northern Bullfinches at Whitby, North Yorkshire in late October 2004 (the last big invasion year). Not the first or only Northern Bullfinches I have seen. But not seen another quite like it…

male Northern Bullfinch, Whitby, North Yorkshire October 2004. Martin Garner

male Northern Bullfinch, Whitby, North Yorkshire October 2004. Martin Garner


A big fat, chunky bad ass. Pink and pale grey. Beauty. Feeding at point-blank tame range right next to a footpath.

The curious feature I am asking about and trying to make sense of is the white wing bar. You can clearly see instead of having a flat upper edge to the white tips of the curved, then are curved with ‘U’ shaped edge and white bleeding up the outer webs of the feather. It becomes more pronounced on the inner  greater coverts which are slightly obscured by overhanging grey scapular feathers.


male Northern Bullfinch, Whitby, North Yorkshire October 2004. Martin Garner

male Northern Bullfinch, Whitby, North Yorkshire October 2004. Martin Garner

This pattern certainly exists in the far eastern taxon cassini (readily apparent on museum specimens). I don’t think this bird is from the core range of cassini. However I can’t easily explain where the pattern originates. Most Northerns I have seen and researched show usually broad wing bars with straight upper edge, sometimes ‘saw-toothed pattern’ but not with the white U shapes.

I wonder if this is a pattern is may be broadly related to intergradation with cassini which occurs in the Siberian population but much closer to / within the Western Palearctic?

Can anyone elaborate or share any more light?

Or indeed any more insights in those trumpeting calls or other variants in calls. I have heard trumpeting Northern near the Pasvik river on the Norwegian/Russian border give a variety of calls including ‘tooting’.


male Northern Bullfinch, Whitby, North Yorkshire October 2004. Martin Garner

male Northern Bullfinch, Whitby, North Yorkshire October 2004. Martin Garner

Happy Christmas and a wonder-filled New Year

to all our friends and followers

Thank you for following, reading, contributing, challenging and being part of all that is Birding Frontiers.

reindeer two

From Rudolph :) A Reindeer in Varanger.

Small notice too. Our little shop will not be dealing with orders from lunchtime today (23rd December) until 6th January 2015. You can still place orders but they won’t be dealt with until 6th. Thanks.


Hands-up who’s looking forward to 2015!

Who would like to find  one of these snowy-rumped beauties…

arctic redpoll nr Vadso April 2012

female Arctic Redpoll Vadso April 2012 c

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!
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).”



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.


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