Monday, July 30, 2012

Starting at road's end

Many thanks for all the messages and comments received so far in response to the blog; when i get some more 'office' time i will respond accordingly. 

Having spent a few days in Vardø, I set out for Hamningberg, which lies a further 40 km to the west. Hamningberg is referred to as ‘Road’s end’, as it is literally where the road in this part of Varanger ends. Hamningberg used to be a busy fishing village in its day but was eventually forced to close down nearly four decades ago for various reasons. It is now mainly a vacation and tourist destination, and a very nice one at that too. 

A view over Hamningberg, showing nearly half the village.

I set out for Hamningberg at 22h00 on 24 July as the weather was great and traffic would be quiet on the narrow winding road. I was blown away by the magnificence of this rugged coastline under the midnight sun, absolutely fantastic! I cycled a total of 42 km in under four hours (actual cycle time), and arrived in Hamningberg at around 05h00 the next morning. So I spent quite a bit of time birding and photographing the magnificent scenery.

The midnight road to Hamningberg

I saw my first mainland Snow Buntings along the way, as well as Red-throated Divers in the small lakes beside the road, and large rafts of Red-breasted Mergansers and Goosanders in the small bays.  A number of White-tailed Eagles added to the excitement of cycling such a great route.

On arrival at Hamningberg, I squeezed in a couple hours of rest, before resuming the birding. Heading out to the small headland at Hamningberg quickly produced good numbers of Black Guillemots, Kittiwakes, gulls, Common Eiders and Gannets passing by, as well as the odd Arctic Skua. It was great to see gannets again; which reminded me of the Cape Gannets I was viewing on the West Coast of South African not that long ago. After scanning the ocean a little longer, i saw what I was hoping to get here; a group of five Yellow-billed Divers! Two adults and three immatures. Unfortunately they were too far to photograph or get cracking views of, but the next day I did get scope views thanks to a kind birder from Germany. I now know why European birders use scopes almost all the time when birding!

A juvenile Red-necked Phalarope was found wading in the small pond not far from my tent, and then later also a flock of five Black-tailed Godwits along the rocky shore in front of the village. Another one for the mainland list. Common Redshanks, Golden Plover, and Ruff were all seen around the camping site.

Black-tailed Godwit at Hamningberg.

What was strange is that I did not see a single House Sparrow in the village, but rather Tree Sparrows, which are far out of their range here.

On a short afternoon cycle on the road leading to Hamningberg, i added Black-throated Diver to my lifer list, and again got good views of Arctic Redpolls at Sandfjorden, located 5 km before Hamningberg. 

On the second day, however, it was time to leave and start the ‘official’ journey, by making my way from the 'end of the road' to Vadsø and further south. The return trip along the Hamningberg road to Vardø was again fantastic, with the weather being very kind most of the way. 

View of the sea and lagoon mouth at Sandfjorden, 5 km from Hamningberg.

After stopping at Vardø to get supplies, I headed south on the road to Vadsø getting as far as Kiberg, where I had seen the Steller’s Eider the week before. Next morning after breaking up camp, i headed down to the harbour and managed to relocate the bird, and got some photos. A single Purple Sandpiper was also hanging out in the harbour, adding another species to my mainland list. 

Female Steller's Eider at Kiberg harbour.

Cycling further south I recorded the following species, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Whimbrel, a pair of Magpies, and then the highlight of the day, a pair of Long-tailed Skuas. The birds where busy feeding on berries and where quite approachable. I had my best views yet of this elegant species. 

Long-tailed Skua hunting berries.

Time moved on, while cloud cover moved in, quickly. Within the short time i spent with the skuas, the sun had vanished. Cycling on I got to see a Rough-legged Buzzard, another lifer. However, the cloud cover that had set in a little earlier produced a strong drizzle that set me off again on the road, subsiding a little later to allow me to admire a Short-eared Owl hunting over a marsh and its surrounds. This reminded me of the Marsh Owls I had seen not too long ago around Kimberley back in South Africa.

While watching the owl, I notice another birder setting up his scope beside the road. After some quick introductions (he was from south Norway) I joined him for some shorebird viewing along the beach. Much to his delight, we flushed a Snipe from some moist grassland on our way to the beach (a Finnmark tick for him!). At the beach, which had great potential for shorebirds, we picked up Common Ringed Plovers, Dunlin (mainly juveniles with pale bellies), Oystercatchers, Common Redshanks, gulls (Herring, Common and Great Black-backed) and a Black-throated Diver. With the drizzle returning in force, it was time to move on, so we parted ways. 

A good shoreline for shorebirds. Just mind the weather!

While cycling in the rain, I realised my hard shell jacket was not as water resistant as I had hoped, so i was soon looking for shelter! After an attempt to do some shorebird watching in the rain at the town Skallelv, i finally decided to pitch the tent and call it a day.  Next morning a visit to the beach produced some good birds, including a pair of Grey Plovers (with characteristic black ‘arm pits’ in flight), Ruddy Turnstones and a pair of Red Knots amongst the rocks. Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, Common Ringed Plovers, Dunlins, and Whimbrels were also patrolling the shoreline. Cormorants, Shags, Common Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, and Goosander were in the deeper waters.

I headed for Ekkerøy in the hope that I could get there while the good weather lasted, but this was not to be. On arrival the rain had set in for good, so it was time to pitch the tent again and wait it out. A break in the clouds late in the evening gave me a chance to admire the Kittiwake colony one more time, and to scan the beaches and rocky shores for waders. A single male King Eider, in eclipse plumage, was a big surprise. The reduced ‘knob’ on the bill and the ‘sails’ on the back were quite obvious, despite the dark plumage. I had probably missed several King Eiders on my way to Hamningberg and back, due to not having a scope. Observing eiders bobbing in the water at a distance calls for more glass! But to carry a scope would be too much extra weight on the bike.

The next morning the weather held and I had another chance to visit the Kittiwake colony to get photographs and to watch the juveniles getting flying lessons. After that, I was off to Vadsø to start the next leg of the journey.

A young Kittiwake learning to fly at the Ekkerøy colony.
Kittiwake adult and young at the nest.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Eric, Wow, you're on your way! I only heard about your blog this weekend while on a GBC outing. Excellently written and beautiful photos!! The Black-tailed Godwit looks amazing! Good luck. Hou bene hou!