Friday, 27 March 2015

An Arctic Adventure 19th - 24th March (Day 2)

After two hours sleep, and feeling surprisingly refreshed, we set about arranging for our hire car to be transferred from the airport to our hotel. The weather was fantastic, still and sunny with a cloudless sky that belied the conditions we had experienced overnight, although the fresh covering of snow was very evident. The plan today was to drive north to Batsfjord, and as we had a long drive ahead we were keen to get moving.

View from the Scandic Hotel - Kirkenes

Our car arrived within half an hour, and in a matter of minutes we were on our way, well almost. Whilst loading up the car we were continually being distracted by a small flock of Waxwings that were flying around the town. On a couple of occasions it appeared that they would land in a nearby tree, so we had our cameras at the ready, but they didn't. But as we were leaving the town we stumbled across a flock of over 100 birds feeding on berries. With the morning light being so good we couldn't resist stopping.

Waxwing - Kirkenes
Waxwing - Kirkenes
Waxwing - Kirkenes

With time pressing on, a long journey ahead of us and feeling slightly nervous about the driving conditions we were soon on our way. We were hoping the see the eclipse of the sun at 11am but as we left Kirkenes cloud was already building, and as we headed north it became decidedly thicker. It was a great relief to feel how the studded snow tyres dealt with the compacted ice on the roads, and we were soon making good time. One of the areas we were hoping to bird en-route was the Tana Valley, as it was a good area for Hawk Owls, but by this time the weather had really taken a turn for the worst. Not only had the light gone, due to the eclipse, but the blizzard conditions made visibility very poor. 

We were aware that the mountain pass to Batsfjord was only passable in convoy, with a snow plough in front and a support vehicle behind. There were set times when they crossed the pass, the next being 14:30, we were one of 11 vehicles in the convoy and made it through without a hitch.

The Convoy North to Batsfjord

We arrived in Batsfjord at around 15:30 to a very wintering scene of light snow and bitterly cold conditions, but then we were in the Arctic. As the light was failing we decided to do a bit of birding rather than check into our hotel, and at our first stop we picked up a couple of Steller's Eider roosting on the snow, one of Si's target birds. There were also a couple of Common Eider on the water but otherwise it was just gulls.

Steller's Eider - Batsfjord

We continued exploring and soon found a flock of roosting gulls near a fish process factory. The flock included several Glaucous Gulls, of mixed ages, Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, of the nominate race argentatus, Kittiwakes and a single Iceland Gull

Adult Glaucous Gull - Batsfjord
1st Winter Glaucous Gull - Batsfjord
Adult Glaucous Gulls - Batsfjord

A summer plumaged Black Guillemot and a handful of Long-tailed Ducks were the only birds to speak of on the water, but a flock of roosting Purple Sandpipers were a nice find. There were over 200 birds present roosting on the side of a seawall, and as is quite usual for the species, they were very approachable. Simon spent a bit of time photographing them but I had foolishly left the car without my hat and gloves on, and could only grab a few shots before having to head back to the car to warm up. The picture below highlights just how effective the insulation of birds feathers are, as the snow was laying on top of the birds.

Purple Sandpiper - Batsfjord

With the light now all but gone we headed to the Polar Hotel, which was our accommodation for the night.

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