Finnmark March 2012

I travelled for four days to Finnmark with Bjørn Olav Tveit at a time when traditionally there is little coverage and we hoped to find some rare gulls (thinking Thayer's, Ross's, Ivory, Glaucous Winged etc). We feared that the weather would be atrocious but in the end we had mostly great weather, it was cold (-2C) but there was little wind and mostly blue skies although on the last day there were occasional snow storms. The days were long with over 12 hours of daylight although if it was cloudy the afternoon light was not too good. We were in the field from around dawn every day (5am) and birded for 4 or 5 hours before breakfast and then were out until dusk.
Bird wise we did not score the big rarity that we had hoped for but we did have fun going through the gulls and playing with tricky identification challenges concerning hybrids and subspecies. We also had outstanding views of Steller's Eider and Hawk Owl which are way up there amongst my favourite species.


Thursday 22 March 2012.
Flew Oslo to Kirkenes. Collected hire car and drove the 240km to Vardø although after Vadsø it was too dark for birding. Spent time particularly at Munkefjorden, Nesseby, Vestre Jakobselv and Vadsø. Spent the night in a self catering room in a private house in Vardø.
Friday 23 March 2012
Based in Vardø we birded Vardø island, Svartnes, Kiberg and all the bays to Vadsø including those at Ekkerøy. Spent the night again in Vardø
Harbour breakwater in Vardø, with Bjørn Olav. Hornøya is to the left in the distance
Hornøya from a little over 1km. Note the swarms of birds flying around the cliffs
Saturday 24 March
Followed the same route as yesterday although we spent a lot more time at Svartnes looking at the gulls which came to bathe in the fresh water stream here and finished the day in Vadsø. Stayed at the Rica Hotel in Vadsø and ate at what is reputedly the world’s northernmost curry house.

The interior was still snow decked
Vardø harbour with the Hurtigruta Ship in town
Sunday 25 March
Before breakfast we birded east of Vadsø as far as Skallelv. After breakfast we  drove west, stopping at Vestre Jakobselv and Nesseby. We had intended to drive to Pasvik but saw that time was against us so went to Tana Bru and the Tana valley instead. On the drive to Kirkenes airport we checked out Munkefjord again.
Nesseby Church

Species List with both English and Norwegian names

White-billed Diver (Gulnebblom)
6 birds seen in total, 4 singles and two together. All sightings were in bays between Kramvik and Ekkerøy a stretch of about 40km. None of the birds were in summer plumage and were most likely 2K.
Black-throated Diver (Storlom)
2 birds seen alongside White-billed Divers
Red-throated Diver (Smålom)
2 birds seen alongside White-billed Divers
Cormorant (Storskarv)
Odd birds seen including a tight resting flock of 30 that could well have been newly arrived migrants.
Shag (Toppskarv)
Common around Vardø
Greylag Goose (Grågås)
A single bird at Kiberg
Mallard (Stokkand)
Given the time of the year surprisingly widespread in shallow bays.
Common Scoter (Svartand)
A number of small flocks between Vardø and Vadsø.
Velvet Scoter (Sjøorre)
Seen regularly in small numbers (never more than 4 together)
Common Goldeneye (Kvinand)
A single bird in Munkefjorden
Long-tailed Duck (Havelle)
Common with flocks of upto 100
Red-breasted Merganser (Siland)
Seen regularly in small numbers
Common Eider (Ærfugl)
Very common with many flocks/gatherings of 100+ birds. In Vardø harbour we also had a small number of birds with obvious “sails” indicative of the Svalbard/Iceland race Borealis including one male with a very distinct yellow bill.
Common Eiders in Vardø Harbour
"Northern" Common Eider ssp Borealis. Note "sails"

"Northern" Common Eider ssp Borealis, note yellow bill

Common Eider flock with male King Eider (right-hand side) and hybird (8th bird from left)

Steller’s Eider (Stellerand)
A few birds at Nesseby and then very common from Vadsø to Vardø. On the 23rd we counted all the birds we saw and had in excess of 1200.
Steller's Eider Kiberg

Steller's Eider Kiberg

King Eider (Praktærfugl)
Seen regularly in small numbers in both Munkefjorden and Varangerfjorden but at Vardø there were a couple of flocks in excess of 1000 birds. An interesting hybrid seen at Krampeness which was far closer to Common Eider than pictures I have seen of other hybrids which could indicate it being a second generation, i,e Common Eider x (Common x King Eider).
Hybrid (possible second generation) Common x King Eider

King Eider pair

White-tailed Eagle (Havørn)
Surprisingly scarce with only a handful of birds seen – far fewer than in May 2011
Sparrowhawk (Spurvehauk)
One in Tana Bru
Purple Sandpiper (Fjæreplytt)
Seen along all coast, both on rocky coasts and feeding in muddy bays.
Black-headed Gull (Hettemåke)
Two adults in Vadsø – early birds
Common Gull (Fiskemåke)
An adult and 2k in Vadsø harbour, the 2k was well seen and showed characters of the Russian subspecies Heinei. Two adults at Svartnes, one of which was ringed and showed features of Heinei including a pale eye.
2k Common Gull presumed ssp Heinei

Adult Common Gull presumed ssp Heinei

Herring Gull (Gråmåke)
Common but not as numerous as we had expected probably because there were no significant presence of fishing boats in any of the harbours. Many of the adults of had very little black on the wing tips.
Great Black-backed Gull (Svartbak)
Widespread in small numbers
Glaucous Gull (Polarmåke)
Only seen around Vardø. Not as many as I had expected but at least 50 birds, the majority of which were adults although we did have all ages classes. Two birds (a 2nd winter and a 3rd winter) were good candidates for hybrids with Herring Gull.

Iceland Gull (Grønlandsmåke)
Just two adults, one at Svartnes and one at Kiberg. Both very small so probably females. Given the record influx into northern europe this winter we had expected large numbers of Iceland Gulls and had hoped they would bring far more exciting gulls with them.
Kittikwake (Krykkje)
Already back on the breeding cliffs at Hornøya. Many (tens of) thousands
Kittiwakes nesting on buildings in Vardø
Hawk Owl (Haukugle)
A pair seen in the Tana Valley.
Hawk Owl, Tana Valley

Puffin (Lunde)
Small numbers already back around Hornøya
Razorbill (Alke)
A single bird seen from Vardø looking towards Hornøya
Guillemot (Lomvi)
Many thousands around Hornøya and Vardø.
Brunnich’s Guillemot (Polarlomvi)
Ca. 1% of guillemots that we were able to identify were Brunnich’s
Black Guillemot (Teist)
Seen regularly in ones or twos
Rock Pipit (Skjærpiplerke)
A single early bird heard overflying Vardø
Great Tit (Kjøttmeis)
Birds seen in Vestre Jacobselv
Willow Tit (Granmeis)
One seen Vestre Jakobselv
Raven (Ravn)
Carrion Crow (Kråke)
Magpie (Skjære)
Widespread including birds seen far from nearest trees of habitation
Greenfinch (Grønnfink)
Seen/heard many places including Vardø
Arctic Redpoll (Polarsisik)
Two seen Vestre Jakobselv
Arctic Redpoll
House Sparrow (Gråspurv)
Surprisingly widespread and numerous wherever there were houses


Common Seal (Steinkobbe)
At least two seen
Grey Seal (Havert)
Seen in Vadsø. Vardø and Neidenfjord
Grey Seal Vardø
Bearded Seal (Storkobbe)
A single seen in Neidenjord
Bearded Seal
Porpoise (Nise)
Ca. 100 seen in Kvalnesbukta
Red Fox (Rødrev)
2 seen between Vardø and Vadsø were a sign that there is food (rodents) although it would have been nice to have seen Arctic Fox or Snowy Owl....

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