Thursday, September 27, 2012

Of Lesser White-fronted Geese and more

I spent a cold night in Lakselv, so was looking forward to the day, which promised to be a good one judging by the amount of blue sky I could see from inside the tent. My first stop on the way north from Lakselv was the Stabbursneset headland and Valdakmyra marsh in the Porsanger Fjord, an important staging area for the Lesser White-fronted Goose. I found the usual wetland species at the marsh, such as Mallard, Wigeon, and Greylag Goose, as well as some species still somewhat unfamiliar to me, such as Pintail and Common Shelduck. I also saw my first Grey Herons for the trip. I also made a short trip of a few kilometers to Stabbursdalen valley, where the world's most northerly pine forest occurs. Though the forest was quiet, i did get to see some species close up, such as Siberian Jays, Bramblings and Willow Tits, as well as a pair of Red Squirrels. 

Siberian Jay in the Stabbursdalen valley

Back at the headland at Stabbursneset, which overlooks the southern end of the Porsanger Fjord, i met Tomas and Ingar, both ornithologists who were there to undertake various bird surveys, including a population count of the Lesser White-fronted Goose. This species, which had not yet arrived at the headland and marsh from their breeding grounds, is unfortunately in decline. Tomas mentioned that the number of pairs returning each year to the Porsanger Fjord was decreasing each year; the last counting being shockingly low. What makes it tricky finding out the reasons for the decline, is that no one really knows where these birds spend the winter once they leave the fjord after their short stay. And so it was that I did not get to see the Lesser White-fronted Goose, as I could not afford to wait until their arrival, but I was more concerned about their future survival than adding the species to my life list.

It was great experience chatting to Tomas and Ingar, and learning more about Norwegian bird life and research from such dedicated field ornithologists. To top it all, we were rewarded with great views of a Gyr Falcon flying by, before making a dashing attempt at harassing a flock of Hooded Crows on the marshland. With time running short, I had to leave if I was going to make it too my next destination, the town of Alta. Moving further north along the western side of the fjord i spotted Goosanders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Greylag Geese, Common Eiders and White-tailed Eagle. At some fresh water lakes to the west of the fjord I found my first Slavonian Grebe, in non-breeding plumage. A little further I was pleased to find more grebes, especially since they were still in breeding plumage and feeding their young. I spent quite some time here, when I should have been off cycling! Before I could leave, Tomas and Ingar arrived; they had driven the same route to conduct some surveys. So we spent some more time discussing birds while watching the adult grebes dive for food to feed their hungry offspring.  

Slavonian grebes, sometimes also referred to as Horned Grebes

Later that afternoon at a small town called Olderfjord, I passed the turn-off to Nordkapp, probably the most popular site in Norway for touring cyclists to start or end their journeys. It was nearly a 300 km detour so I resisted the temptation to see what Nordkapp looked like, and continued west to Alta. I passed some areas with rolling hills that were perfect for Rough-legged Buzzards, which were seen regularly when it was not raining! 

Should i go or not? I skipped the chance to visit Nordkapp to save time
Great habitat for Rough-legged Buzzards on the road to Alta

After arriving in Alta, I made a beeline for the public library to check emails, so I could make contact with my host, Stig-Martin. I eventually ended up in the Barila Pub across from the library, as the latter had no internet service for the day. I soon realised that my host lived 25 km outside of town, and I would have to take the same road I had just cycled to get to his place! My dismay at this realisation was noticed by an Alta resident who was visiting the pub with her friends. She kindly offered to drive me to Stig’s place, an offer i could not refuse considering that I had already cycled 90 km for the day. After checking again that she was okay making a 40 km plus detour to drop me off, we were loading my bike and panniers into her Toyota Hi-Ace. Once again, i was overwhelmed by the friendliness and helpfulness of the people I have met on this journey. There is a lot of good in this world, if we choose to see it. How we see this world depends on how we choose to see it – choose to see the bright side and the bright side will find you. 

Stig was a great host, who prepared a great ‘cyclist’s dinner’ with rice, egg and sausage scrammed together. His humour was fantastic and I enjoyed his stories about being hungry while touring, something I could easily relate too after being in the saddle for over a month… 

Watch out for these guys in Olderfjord if you plan to visit Nordkapp!

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