Monday, 26 March 2012

Day 4 Finnmark March 2012

The changing of the clocks meant we woke up at 0530 this morning. Vadsø was gloomy with strong winds and snow but this soon changed to blue skies although later in the day the winds picked up and we had more snow. Temperatures were around -2C all day.
Before breakfast we managed to check the harbour in Vadsø and then drive half way to Vardø to Komagvær bay checking the bays along the way. Good numbers of Steller’s Eiders today with 170 at Vadsø and a flock of 200 near Ekkerøy. Two Black-headed Gulls in Vadsø harbour were maybe new in although 2 were also reported a month ago to the day. A single adult Common Gull also but otherwise only a handful of gulls in the harbour. It looks like the industrial fishing harbour has closed down here which would explain the lack of gulls.
Two White-billed Divers together at Krampenes were a nice sight although as with all our other sightings were too far out for a picture. We had two sightings of the same Red Fox which looked to be in very good position except for a tail which lacked fur in a big ring (see pictures). We also had a pod of around 100 Porpoises which were actively hunting a shoal of fish.
After breakfast at 11am we headed south towards Varangerbotn. Little of interest along the way but a single adult White-tailed Eagle made up for their complete absence yesterday. In Varangerbotn we made the choice to head up towards Tana Bru and check the valet here where we knew we would have a chance for Hawk Owl, Siberian Tit and Gyr Falcon.
We scored big time with Hawk Owl with a bird right by the road. We watched it very well at a range of about 75m as it sat in a tree on the look out for food. It made a hunting attempt whereby it flew to the middle of a field and hovered very low over the snow where it must have heard a mouse but it didn’t dive into the snow. Whilst watching we occasionally heard a quite screeching which sounded very like a female Hawk Owl (which I heard nearby last May) but we failed to see another bird. We then continued along the valley to a well known breeding site for Gyr Falcon. This is a well visited site although birds have apparently not bred here since 2008. We found the nesting ledge quite easily due to the large amount of white excrement on it and a nearby rock. No birds to see here however.
On our return the Hawk Owl was sitting in a tree only 20metres away and gave great views although vegetation prevented a great photo. It then launched itself into a hunting flight and again hovered over the field but without making a dive into the snow (unfortunately trees stopped me from being able capture this digitally). It returned to perch close by before again moving to the other side of the field. We again heard the screeching and this time located the female sitting 150m away by an old crow’s nest. She called often and this was presumably “encouragement” to the male to bring her food which is presumably part of the pair bonding ritual or maybe a precursor to egg laying. We had some great views of the owls and it was interesting to watch the male who took no notice of us or passing cars and just seemed intent on picking up the sound of a mouse under the snow . We waited a long time here hoping to be able to watch and photograph a hunt but to no avail. During this time the female was calling more and more frequently although the male seemed to be playing it cool.
The male Hawk Owl close to the road

Hawk Owl

Here you can just see the female Hawk Owl by the old crows nest

It began to snow whilst we watched the owls

Hawk Owl plumage is actually quite good camouflage

After this we tried Tana Bru for Siberian Tit but only located Great Tits, a circling pair of White-tailed Eagles and a Sparrowhawk (a good bird so early).
Adult White-tailed Eagle
After this we were running out of time and had to make our way to Kirkenes airport without time to visit Pasvik which had been our intention.
Never mind though, a most enjoyable trip was had even if we lacked the “big” rarity. Finnmark and Varanger in particular is a truly exceptional birding destination with a special landscape and remoteness that just makes you want to plan your next visit (June?).
Red Fox with abnormal tail. Proving that there is something to eat for predators!

Snow swirling over the road. Driving conditions were sometimes tough today

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