Thursday, 21 March 2019

Lapland 13th - 17th March 2019

It’s not often we do something spontaneous, and  a week away booked a fortnight in advance is just about as spontaneous as we are ever likely to get. Our destination was Finland. We started with a flight from Heathrow to Helsinki, transferring on to Ivalo in the north. Chris had done plenty of research to find lodges with feeders and had also been in contact with a Finnish ringer that we met while in Georgia.

After a drive of an hour or so on snow and ice covered roads we reached our first overnight stop Neljän Tuulen Tupa, Kaamanen.

14th March

A quaint awakening as the squirrels skittering about beat the alarm to waking us. We were out before breakfast, trying to photograph the speciality species that we’d come to see. Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay and Pine Grosbeak were all most obliging.

Siberian Jay

Siberian Tit

Pine Grosbeak, male 

Red Squirrel

Siberian Tit

Pine Grosbeak female

We enjoyed a lengthy breakfast, still watching the activity at the feeders, then after a final try for a last few photos set out for Vadsø. Bird sightings for the morning, Pine Grosbeak (many), Siberian Tit ( up to 3 at one time), Siberian Jay (up to 3 at once), Arctic Redpoll (1), Willow Tit (2), Great Tit (few), Blue Tit (1), Greenfinch (2), Bullfinch (1), Hooded Crow (2), Magpie (3). 

Finland is 75% forest with only 5.5 million inhabitants. Most of the population lives to the south of the country. This year the snow came very late, so late as to create a lot of problems in Lapland in that there was less snow and skiing and ski-doo activities were affected. When the snow came late, there was more than usual.

Roads were completely snow covered, often with snow banked up along the edges. 

Speed limits were usually 80 to 100 km per hour - no problem with snow tyres. Worse thing was not being able to pull off the road unless there was a cleared lay-by. 

There wasn’t much wildlife along the way, but we did find our first Reindeer. Birds included Willow Ptarmigan (8 on the road) in Finland. 

After crossing into Norway we saw a first year Golden Eagle. We kept looking for Hawk Owl but had no luck. On reaching Varanger Fjord we stopped off at Nesseby, seeing our first large numbers of Purple Sandpiper, Red-breasted Mergansers (c50), Common Eider (20), King Eider (8) also Kittiwakes and Ravens.

The church at Nesseby


   At  Vadsø there were more eiders on the fjord including some Steller’s Eider (16) feeding close to our hotel , King Eider (27), Long-tailed Duck (25), Common Eider and a lot of Purple Sandpiper.

Long-tailed Duck

Steller's Eider

Purple Sandpipers

15th March

Snowshoe hare in the blue light of morning.

Having failed to get the faintest chance at the Northern Lights due to heavy cloud, it was nice to start the day with Snowshoe Hare seen just a few metres from our bedroom window. The day was earmarked for a drive to Vardø. As we drove on the landscape became more open, sometimes with rocky outcrops, all coated in thick snow.

Varanger Fjord

The inland section of the fjord was frozen, as were small bays and inlets along the route to Vardø.

Glaucous Gull

Nesting Kittiwakes at Vardø by the harbour.

The church at Vardø

View of Vardø 

In the havn there were Steller’s Eider (4), Long-tailed Duck (4), King Eider (5), many Purple Sandpiper, Kittiwakes and a couple of Glaucous Gulls in with the commoner species. A Grey Seal was also seen.

Buildings are cut off from the road by the snow. Cars are left by the
road side and people have to walk to their homes.

We went to the point opposite the seabird colony and watched the activity around the two islands from the Biotope birding shelter. The views of Puffin, Guillimot, Black Guillimot, Brunnich’s Guillimot, Razorbill, Shag, Cormorant and many Kittiwakes were mainly distant. After returning through the tunnel we went to the harbour at Svartnes.

Adult Glaucous Gull

Male King Eider

Steller's Eider

There we had 18 Steller’s Eiders, 2 King Eider, 11 Long-tailed Ducks, 9 Glaucous Gulls (6 adult & 3 first winter).

Kigby allowed for more harbour viewing with more Steller’s Eider (59), a Long-tailed Duck, Common Eiders, Purple Sandpipers and gulls.

It is common to see drying racks by the shore, but this one at Kigby was actually in use.

Varanger Fjord and Nesseby Church

A look around the residential streets of Vadsø, where the taller trees grow, failed to turn up Hawk Owl again. The night was overcast with no chance of seeing the Aurora Borialis.

16th March

King Eider

Snowshoe Hare

A swift check of the harbour before breakfast, one last look at the Snowshoe Hares and we were on our way back to Finland, via some of the residential areas adjacent to the fjord. Our main hope was to find a Hawk Owl, but no joy. A few feeders in one of the gardens turned up Arctic Redpoll, Northern Bullfinch, Great Tit and Willow Tit. A White-tailed Sea Eagle passed overhead as we watched. There were fantastic views to be had from the elevated position above the fjord.


At Varangerbotn we saw four Elk, and another adult and calf on the road after crossing back to Finland. As we travelled to Santa’s hotel we dropped into the lodge where we’d spent the first night and got a few more photos at the feeders in the afternoon light.

Pine Grosbeak male

Siberian Tit

As we drove south it became increasingly cloudy. This, being our last chance of seeing the Northern Lights, we retraced our route some 10km north of Ivalo to a lay-by next to a lake. Soon after 9pm in temperatures  around minus 8 we finally saw the lights. Photography was difficult but when cars passed it was possible to take photographs, giving at least some images of the natural phenomenon.

Aurora Borealis

17th March

A long drive today, punctuated with a few brief stops that didn’t involve walking off the track. We started off by going up to the chairlift. No birds to be seen there, although very good in the summer. Starting to drive south, we had a walk around Tankavaara,  a goldmining attraction that has nicely cleared paths, finding the usual species attracted to feeders, and eventually locating the feeders too.

So cold, Chris actually used the neck warmer - never could
get him to wear the hat 'though.

Some other cafes with feeders in summer, were found to have feeders either empty or removed, a bit disappointing when they are needed most during the harsh winter weather. We also tried some dams, entirely frozen, due to them being hydro-electric facilities that do not heat water during the process. One brief bonus was six Crossbill, seen flying over a lay-by as I had stopped to take a photo of snow laden trees.

We drove 475km crossing out of Arctic Circle through snow, sleet and eventually rain. Temperatures ranged from -10 degrees from the outset to +2 when we reached Oulu.  

Friday, 8 March 2019

North Norfolk - 27th and 28th February 2019

27th February

We were up for a couple of days with limited birding time due to other commitments. On the first day, an unseasonably warm day, we dropped in at Titchwell for the afternoon.

Titchwell Marsh, high water levels, high temperature and not a cloud in the sky.

View along the beach towards Brancaster

We arrived when the tide was close to its peak and sightings on the sea included two Great Northern, two Black-throated and three Red-throated Divers, Red-necked Grebe, three Slavonian Grebe, two Guillemot and Red-breasted Merganser. 

Reed Bunting male

A Hen Harrier was seen skirting the edge of the brackish marsh. There was a flock of Linnet, with some Twite mixed in with them, as the flock went up one was heard and picked up in flight. There were 31 Mediterranean Gulls on the fresh marsh and despite the high water level there were waders, Knot, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Avocet, Turnstone, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin crowded onto the limited dry areas. Brent Geese and a variety of ducks were present. 


Drake Teal

Visiting the screened pool, Marsh Harriers could be seen flying over and returning consistently to the same patch of reeds.

Canada and Greylag Geese


28th February

The following morning we started with a quick look at Thornham Harbour, hoping for Twite that seemed to have moved on.


Thornham coal barn

Moving on next to Holme, the chilly wind made a marked contrast to the previous day. It was misty. The warden felt that many birds had ' cleared out' with the good weather. 

Holme beach

Poor visibility - not a wind turbine in sight

Maximum of 200 Wigeon on the sea

Some Sea Buckthorn berries still remain

The sea had two Great Northern Divers, single Red-throated Diver, two Red-necked Grebe, three distant Black-necked Grebes, four Eider and 26 Red-breasted Mergansers. The remainder of the reserve was fairly quiet with a few Pink-feet on the Marsh, and a few of the common duck species.

Afterwards we dropped into Sculthorpe Moor NR, but has left it a bit late, getting there are 2.30, and with the reserve closing at 4, did not give us time to do it justice. On the various feeders we had a Common Redpoll, two Brambling, Marsh Tit, and also a Chiffchaff in the woods.