Sunday, 29 March 2015

An Arctic Adventure 19th - 24th March (Day 5)

Today was to be our last full day in Norway and we were back on the road again. This time we were heading south past Kirkenes and to the Pasvik Valley, where we would spend the night at BIRK Husky. Our reasoning behind choosing this site was because it was a guaranteed location for Pine Grosbeak, one of Si's target birds, and other forest specialities. As with many of the sites we were visiting, they were often better later in the spring, when waders and other migrant passerines were passing through, the recent snow had made accessing many sites difficult, so we didn't know what to expect.

We set off early again as we were keen to get into the Pasvik Valley when there was still time to bird. A scan of the harbour before we set off produced a flock of Purple Sandpipers, Glaucous, Herring, Common, Black-headed and the dodgy Thayer's type gull, and the usual selection of eiders and Long-tailed Ducks. A distant White-tailed Eagle drifted over whilst we were scanning. We started to travel west along the E75, had a brief stop at Nesseby, but there was little to report, and pressed on, but no sooner had we got going a White-tailed Eagle came in off the fjord and flew right over our car. Si was the quickest out of the car and got some amazing photos as it drifted overhead. We continued east and before long had stopped two more times, both times for Hawk Owls, two at one site and one at another.

Hawk Owl - Nyborg Area
Hawk Owl - Nyborg Area

We continued east along the E75 and turned south on the E6 at Varangerbotn. We made good time on our journey, adding a couple more Hawk Owls on the way, before heading south on the 885. Heavy overnight snow combined with a fairly narrow and winding road, made driving conditions interesting, and didn't give much opportunity for stopping and we hence made better time than expected. 

Our first stop in the Pasvik Valley was the National Park Centre where we had good views of both Common (Mealy) and Arctic Redpoll on the feeders, but that was about it. We had been advised that the old birch woodlands were a good site for Three-toed Woodpecker, but the snow was knee deep and none of the trails were open. We decided to move on and continued south through Svanvik and then took a detour along a minor road towards Skrotnes. This road was apparently another good site for Three-toed Woodpecker and we stopped several times, but only saw Willow Tits, Greenfinchs and Ravens. Further along the road, and just as we were about to rejoin the 885, Si picked up a Goshawk; the views were unfortunately distant and the bird was flying away at all times.

We arrived at BIRK Husky and after dropping our stuff off in our room we headed out exploring. Our first stop was the feeders in search of Pine Grosbeak, and we didn't have to wait too long. There were four birds coming in, and when not feeding they tended to sit around on the tops of the pines, occasionally coming lower. Whilst waiting for good photo opportunities we also picked up Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Willow Tit, Bullfinch and Greenfinch.

Male Pine Grosbeak
Female Pine Grosbeak
Siberian Jay
Siberian Tit
Willow Tit

The most common birds on the feeders were redpolls, and they were present in their tens. We spent a long time working our way through them and considering their ID and I have to say that I came away from the experience feeling more confused than when I started. That confusion was not helped when I started doing a bit of research back home. I initially worked my way through the various images and tried to sort out the ID of each bird, but have also sort the advice of Simon Rix (Oslo Birder) who is far more experienced with Common (Mealy) and Arctic Redpolls than I.   

Bird 1 - I initially put this bird down as a Mealy, but deliberated over the ID for a while before doing that. However, Simon Rix thinks this birds probably an Arctic, it has a generally frosty appearance and a small bill with a pinched culmen. The undertail coverts are predominantly white, with the dark central feather, although he is concerned this maybe a bit too broad. Unfortunately I don't have any images that show all of the rump, but what is shown again is predominantly white with a small amount of streaking.
Bird 1 - Probably an Arctic Redpoll
Bird 2 - Common (Mealy) Redpoll
Bird 3 - I initially thought this bird was a Mealy Redpoll, but again there is a suggestion it maybe an Arctic. Unfortunately I don't have any images of the undertail coverts, and only one image showing a very small amount of rump, which is unstreaked. 
Bird 4 - Common (Mealy) Redpoll
Bird 5 - Common (Mealy) Redpoll
Bird 5 - Common (Mealy) Redpoll
Bird 6 - Common (Mealy) Redpoll
Bird 6 - Common (Mealy) Redpoll
Bird 7 - Coues' Arctic Redpoll

After a fair while at the feeders we decided to go and have a wander and followed a track through a patch of woodland to a frozen lake. It was very quite bird wise and the only birds of note were Willow Tit, Siberian Tit and a few more redpolls. After our stroll we nipped down to the river that bordered BIRK Husky. We were right on the Russian border at this location, with the boundary running down the middle of the river. Neither of us have ever been to Russia so we scanned the landscape looking for any birds for our Russian list. Si quickly picked up a Dipper (Black-bellied) that was feeding along the edge of the river, on the Russian side and then a Whooper Swan flew downstream, landing in front of us before swimming to the Russian side of the river.

Dipper (Black-bellied) in Russia
Whooper Swan in Russia

With the light now fading we headed back to our room, briefly popping out to pick up a couple of beers. Later in the evening a couple of other guess who were staying came in and told us that the aurora borealis were showing outside, we quickly grabbed our cameras and ran out but had missed the best of the display.

A faint Aurora Borealis display

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