Saturday, 28 March 2015

An Arctic Adventure 19th - 24th March (Day 3)

The primary reason for coming to Batsfjord was for the floating photographic hide that was located in the harbour. Both Simon and I are keen photographers and so the opportunity to 'get amongst the birds' really appealed to us, although the thought of floating over icy water for 5 hours was not top of our wish list. We need not have been concerned though, since before entering the hide you are provided with an all-in-survival suit, which kept everything warm......except our feet that is!

We met on the quayside at 5am with a handful of other like minded photographers and were quickly transferred to the hides. There are two floating hides in the harbour, and we were put in the smaller one. I think on hindsight we would have preferred to be in the larger hide, as the small one was less stable, and moved around with the tide quite a lot and also when one of us changed our position. That said, we were closer to the shore and therefore did get some better views of birds on or near the foreshore. 

The harbour was full of ducks when we arrived, Steller's, Common and King Eider and a handful of Long-tailed Ducks were all present but they flushed as we approached the hides in our rib. But it was not long before they returned and we were photographing our quarry. Initially the birds were slightly nervous of the sound of whirring motor drives, but they soon became accustomed to it, with some birds swimming right up to the hides, it was a fantastic experience.

Unfortunately the weather conditions whilst we were in the hide were not the best, and there were regular snow flurries and subsequently poor light. This did not damper our spirits and we were still able to get some reasonable photos.

Male Steller's Eider
Male Steller's Eider
Female Steller's Eider
Male Steller's Eider
Male King Eider
Female King Eider
King Eiders - Female Left, Male Right
Male Common Eider
Male Long-tailed Duck
Female Long-tailed Duck

After five hours we were ready to leave, our feet needed warming up, we were hungry and also had to head back south to our next hotel. After a shower and a spot of breakfast, we were heading back south across the pass, which was now open. I have to say, it was much more nerve-racking crossing the pass without the comfort of the support vehicles. Although it was open, visibility was at times very tricky, and occasional snow showers and drifting did not help. The scenery was amazing and we stopped on occasion to take some photos of the landscape, and a couple of Reindeer that were grazing near the road.

The Arctic conditions on the pass
Reindeer on the pass

After successfully crossing the pass we worked our way south through the Tana Valley. Snow was banked up on either side of the road and therefore it was difficult to find places to safely pull over, but was managed a few stops. We did see a few species on the way, including Willow Tit, Greenfinch, Great Tit and Hooded Crow in the roadside vegetation and Red-breasted Mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks on the Fjord. Our next hotel was the Vadso Fjord Hotel where we would be based for two nights. We stopped at Varangerbotn for a quick refuel and a bite to eat, and then headed east along the E75 to Vadso. 

We were intending to stop at Nesseby as there is a small fishing harbour there, and subsequently lots of gulls, but made an unscheduled stop when we picked up an adult White-tailed Eagle on the beach. Despite being about 300m away the bird flushed as we got our of the car, so it was a frustrating encounter. 

The Church at Nesseby

We arrived at Nesseby and stopped first at the church, overlooking a small bay. There were around 50 Purple Sandpipers feeding on the beach, and in the fantastic light we headed down to the beach to photograph them. Getting to them was interesting as the snow was thigh high, but it was worth the effort, as the birds were very confiding.

Purple Sandpiper - Nesseby

We moved on to the harbour and as expected were faced with a good selection of gulls, Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull and Kittiwake were the most numerous species; a lone Iceland Gull was a nice bonus. King, Steller's and Common Eiders were also in the harbour but we were now in gull mode. A small fishing boat was just offshore and slowly returning to the harbour, it was surrounded by gulls and as we scanned through the distant flock an immature White-tailed Eagle made an inquisitive fly-by but did not linger.

White-tailed Eagle flying over the gull flock

We had been up since 4am and were now feeling pretty jaded and so pressed on to our hotel where we were able to relax with a cold beer and reflect on the day.

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