Norway, Varanger 11th to 19th of July 2003

And again to Varanger!

We relaxed only two days after our friend from Catalonia left. Then we loaned the same VW Golf again from Hanna’s father and started our next holiday trip to Inari Lapland and Varanger. My old friend from Oulu Juha Heimovirta joined us. Juha isn’t that much a birder but he is a photographed, and there is a lot of photographing in Varanger, at least birds!

On Friday 11th of July we got our car packed and begun our way to north again. Juha joined us in Kontiomäki, where he came by train.

I have been driving some too much to Rovaniemi in my life so we decided to drive now by different roads. So we drove through Kemijärvi to our first tenting place to Pelkosenniemi Saunavaara.

Some twitching on the way

So we weren’t in Saunavaara by accident: It was not just a good place for tenting, it was also good place to see a Pallid Harrier. There had been one male bird hunting whole summer. Somebody said there could be also female and perhaps a nest too. So after some sleeping (I slept very bad – the ground was too hard and Rustic Bunting family was calling too loud and some fucking Pirkka Aalto was making the beeper call all the time) I started to watch over field in 5 a.m. And soon I found first Short-eared Owl and after that a 3 c-y Pallid Harrier male flying over the field. I woke up Hanna and Juha but they weren’t fast enough. Next time I found the bird Hanna and Juha managed to see it too.

Hanna and Juha continued sleeping but I decided to digiscope the Harrier. And I was lucky, the bird landed to sit on a pole and I managed to get one some kind of picture. After one hour that P.Aalto with his friend Petri Piisilä and after some waiting we saw the Harrier again. There was also Little Bunting singing.

With Pirkka and Petri we went to wake up Hanna and Juha. Soon it came to rain very heavily but we could pack the tent somehow before it was totally wet. Pirkka and Petri continued to Kemijärvi to have some birding and we continued our way to north.

In Sodankylä we stops some times, and we saw some Common Scoter (one family too), Smews and from car we saw one Hobby and one Peregrine Falcon, I think the fist one was better bird in that north.

Our next more important stop was in Inari Kaamanen where we twitched two female Pine Crossbeaks which were staying in one restaurants feeding place. First summer record for me ever of this bird, which can be the most common bird in winter in some years in Oulu area.

Hiking on the top of Ailigas

We arrived to our first main place to Karigasniemi Ailigas in afternoon. We had to wait for an hour that rain went over mountains, but finally we could start hiking to the top of Ailigas mountain. Some Arctic Redpolls were flying around, but soon I saw a very good surprise: I saw a Gyrfalcon flying beautifully against the mountain. It was so hard wind that Hanna and Juha couldn’t hear what I was shouting so they both missed the bird they just saw me jumping and acting like a crazy. Soon we heard some voices of Long-tailed Skua from the sky but we couldn’t find the birds from the blue sky. But now Hanna and of course Juha got lifers. After some climbing we reached the top of the mountain. Juha sat down against the rocks when I said:” There is some Ptarmigans running three meters from you”. So that stopped our relaxing, of course we had to take photos of the birds. While photographing I started to wonder where Hanna was. So I called her:” Here is Ptarmigan came and photograph”. And Hanna answered:” Well here is a family of Dotterel. Should we change?” And that’s what we made. First we took some photos of Dotterels and then climbed back to the top, but Ptarmigans were gone. But now there was funny looking Snow Finch youngster running under the buildings.

Later we started our way back down and then we found the Ptarmigans again and also Hanna could take photos. We had our tent pretty high on the mountain and it was amazing to sleep while Whimblers and Golden Plovers were calling outside.

A BIG mistage

Next morning (13th of July) we walked some hours at Piesjänkä bogs. It was very hard and there were not a lot of birds: just some Arctic Redpolls, two Long-tailed Skuas, Spotted Redshanks, Red-necked Phalaropes, Rough-legged Buzzards…

But pretty early we decided to continue to north. At Nuvvus Ailigas we stopped to play some CD for Ring Ouzel. And soon we heard just similar calling from the bushes. I decided to take some photos of the bird but then I realized my telescope is missing! Soon I realized I had left it to Piesjänkä 70km back way against the small wooden toilet. I think this is the biggest mistake that birder can do! Leave his telescope, amazing!

Well I drove like Ari Vatanen and Juha and Hanna were sitting eyes shut and after one and half hour we were back in Nuvvus Ailigas trying to hear Ring Ouzel. At least I tried to be like nothing were happened but I don’t know how was others. It was now very windy so we couldn’t find the Ring Ouzel anymore so we decided to move on to Norway!

And real birding begins

After the Norwegian boarder we began to keep species list. Of course we had begun a list already when we took Juha from Kontiolahti, but now we were collecting Norway species. And this time the first one was Hooded Crow.

In Varangerbotn there was again a lot of birds! No mind fucker -feelings this time but again a lot of birds! Strange looking Eider male, Velvet Scoters, Common Scoters, Goldeneyes, Goosanders, Gulls with also some Kittiwakes, Arctic Skuas, some Black-throated Divers, male Scaup… Before Nesseby church we saw also hunting Short-eared Owl.

At Nesseby church it was already evening. It was also raining. So we were just sitting on car and waiting the weather getting better. On the beach there was 20 Shellducks, 13 Steller’s Eiders, Whimbrels and a flock of 94 Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Sandpiper, Pintail, Red-throated Divers and a flock of 10 Little Gulls. When the rain stopped we put our tent up to the island behind the church and went to our sleeping bags.

Some seawatching

At morning we woke up to have some seawatching and some photographing. Soon I found a flying Great Skua (a lifer!). Others were as far as possible photographing but they ran to see the bird against the fells very far. Now there was 19 Steller’s Eiders, there was also easy Oystercatchers and Dunlin to photograph. And of course the breeding pair of Arctic Skuas were very brave (nice pale and dark birds). But we couldn’t find the Sabine Gull which our friend Jari Kontiokorpi had seen less than week earlier. Kittiwakes were mostly too far on the sea.

Next we stopped in Vadsö, where the closest swimming bird was a Fulmar! I got it digiscoped when swimming less than 100 metres from us and Hanna got a flying photo. There was also funny young Hooded Crow and Raven which made everything to get photographed. In Vadsö islands small water place there was 60 Red-necked Phalaropes, Tufted Ducks, Ruffs, Little Stints and on the beach amazing amount of Arctic Terns. Soon were again in car and were driving on.

In Eckerö we were wondering again the amount of Kittiwakes. We took some photos too, but there was nothing more interesting. In Krampenes there was an old White-tailed Eagle sitting on the shore and in Skallelv a Shore Lark flew over the road. We parked the car and tried to find the Lark where I saw it landing. We took only few steps from the road when Hanna found a fledling of Shore Lark. Very nice bird! Of course we took a lot of pictures and soon mother came there too to call us. When mother realized we are not going to eat its child it started to eat calm. It was very windy but I managed to get some pictures of the adult bird too.

In the evening we found from Vardö a nice place to tent. It was nice to watch to bird islands from the door of the tent. It was very windy but I managed to recognize even Brunnich’s Guillemot to a tent tick. We also had a shover in Vardö hotell (of course it cost a little) and bought the tickets to Hornöya bird island for the whole next day.

To Hornöya bird island

It was 9 a.m. in Norwegian time (10 in Finnish) when we jumped on the boat in Vardö harbour. This time we were going to the island. And this was why we were there in Varanger, in Eastern we couldn’t get there and then we decide we have to come back!

There were also one Norwegian and couple from South Africa (which came there by their own car!). When we came closer the islands we realized how different it was this time: Hundreds of Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills. Cliffs were black of them – thousands! Swimming birds were very close. When we jumped from boat to island there were some Common Guillemots sitting on the stones and we begun to photograph.

We took a lot of pictures! First there were Black Guillemots on the rocks, Common Guillemots swimming on the shore, Shags were calling on the cliffs. After some climbing there were a lot of Puffins sitting on the cliffs very close the track. They were very easy to photograph. They were always too close to digiscope! There were also Razorbills only a little further. Common Guillemots were hundreds pretty far on the cliffs and first we couldn’t find Brunnich’s Guillemots at all. And of course thousands and thousands of Kittiwakes!

Soon we saw an surprise when we saw a Common Guillemot dropping own to rocks. It just lost air under wings. But it didn’t hurt at least badly, but jumped to the sea from next edge.

Another boat took Dick Forsman and his group to island. We had met Dick already earlier in Vardö hotel. He told us that there was somewhere on the cliffs a breeding Fulmar. But he didn’t know the exact place and there was some 10000 other white bird (Kittiwakes) breeding. But we thought we do can find it if we just try.

And more photos

After two hours photographing we realized, that it was amazing hot! Last evening it was really cold so we had two trousers and three jackets. And now it was amazingly hot and could be in just t-skirts. We continued climbing up to watch views and more birds.

When back down we had some breakfast and photographed three species of Pipits: Meadow, Rock and Red-throated Pipits. While doing dishes we got attacked by Black-backed Gull which had a small youngster on the shore.

Soon we went back to photograph some Guillemots. Now we found quite many Brunnich’s Guillemots and I digiscope them. There was also Common Guillemots with (ringvia) and without eye ring. Puffins were flying very close of us and sometimes they almost hit us. All those birds had different kind of voices: Shags and Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins were pretty easy to recognize from voice. Kittiwakes were crying like babies and calling more like other gulls too.

Fulmar on its nest!

After some more digiscoping and photographing I and Hanna decided to find the breeding Fulmar. And amazing or what in 15 minutes Hanna found it! It was breeding very high on the cliff above many Common Guillemots between many Kittiwakes. I took of course photos of it and soon we spread to different directions to continue photographing.

At afternoon we noticed there was a ringer climbing on the cliff! Soon the ringer came down and we could change some words with him. We told him about the Fulmar, which he said that it is maybe not breeding. Fulmar can be just sitting on a cliff for years just practising breeding. Ringer told nobody has seen another bird.

When the ringer left the island I went to have another check of the Fulmar and surprise another bird flew to nest. The first bird which was sitting on a cliff checked few times underneath itself if there is all okay. The pair was also acting like lovers (more than any bird I have ever seen and I don’t mean anything just action). Soon male shouted twice and left back to sea. I think they were really breeding.

Later I was digiscoping Brunnich’s Guillemots again it happened again, one of the birds drop just to my legs and I caught it. And I was happy because it was a ringvia bird. Now every one of us got very close views of this bird. The bird has very sharp bill it really hurt when it bit. Soon we let it free again.

Nine hours in the island went very fast. That was the right time to be there. I wouldn’t have left any earlier. Such a paradise it was at least for digiscoper! We had paid 50 krones more to be there extra three hours and it was worthy. There was even no one but us. Unfortunately we didn’t have more films and memory sticks, so they were almost full when we left. We left the island by some kind of rubber boat which wet really fast. We were back in Vardö harbour in some minutes.

At the end of the World

When back in Vardö we tried to find a place to buy dia film but we couldn’t find any. I also loaded my batteries in Vardö hotel. Then we continued to Hamningberg.
One White-tailed Eagle was sitting on the shore somewhere on the way and in Persfjorden we found one King Eider swimming with a huge flock of Eiders. At Hamningberg we tried to find first a good place for tenting without reindeer shit. It had been pretty good day again!

16th of July I woke up first as usually to have some seawatching. And there was a lot of sea to watch. It was very nice weather with no wind at all, but pretty bad light. I had watched only 20 minutes when there was something else but Fulmars and Gannets. I found a lifer when Shearwater was flying up and down between the small waves. But the light was so bad that I couldn’t be sure was it a Manx or something else. Soon I found two Shearwaters more but I again I couldn’t recognize them. Soon Hanna came also to have some seawatching and finally we found the first sure Manx Shearwater. Soon I walked a hard way to another place to continue sea watching and soon I saw another Manx much better. Somehow I think the first birds were different, Sooty Shearwaters maybe? There were also three big Divers but also too far and too bad light.

Later it started to wind again and air began to wave too. Wind made the weather also much cooler so when I couldn’t continue seawatching wearing just t-skirt I stopped doing it. When you are on holiday you can’t make any misery birdwatching!


Soon we decided to start our way as far back as possible. On the way we met Dick again, and with them we saw 2 male and two female King Eiders. We had been concentrating more to flying birds which explained also that we hadn’t seen any Yellow-billed or Great Northern Divers that Dick’s group has seen.

After a big work we found more film for Juha in Vadsö. Next better birds were in Nesseby. Of course we climbed over Nesseby too, but nothing else than Kittiwakes. At Nesseby it was very windy but a lot of Fulmars were flying all the time to the bottom of the fjord. But the light was again that bad that we decided to go around the bottom to the other side.

From the other side of bottom we could watch those Fulmars much better. They were also flying pretty close. There was about one hundred Fulmars, Gannets, one Shearwater (which seemed to be very dark), also three Slavonian Grebes were seen as a Norwegian ticks. But soon we had to continue to inner land.

From sandbeach to high fells

Of course we stopped again in Gyr Falcon edge, even we had heard some rumours that birds had already left their home. We hadn’t got our neck hurt yet when I found a young Gyr Falcon flying over the fell towards us. .The bird landed on the top of the cliff and we could get some views of it with scopes. I managed to get two pictures of it before it flew away again.

In Högholmen we concentrated only to photograph some of the craziest Arctic Terns. They were hitting even the car while driving. Juha tried to get a picture of the Tern when it is soaring against the big fell but he got only pictures without the fell. On the silt there were some Sandpipers walking: Dunlins, tens of Temminck’s Stints, eight Curlew Sandpipers, 27 Bar-tailed Godwits with one Knot, 18 Red-throated Phalaropes and a Ruff.

Our plans to stay overnight at Högholmen couldn’t be done because of the area was protected and there was only one tenting place pretty far. So we continued our way to high fells to find new places to stay.

Road to the fells was very beautiful it went very high to the fells. On the lakes there was some Long-tailed Ducks, a family of Black-throated Divers, Rough-legged Buzzards were flying in some places, all Skuas were amazingly still just Arctic Skuas. Finally we found a good tenting place pretty high fro fells where there was a small river and amazingly green. And first time there was also mosquitoes pretty much.

Hard walk

When woke up we continued our way to Syltefjorden. On the lakes there were again Long-tailed Ducks, Black-throated Divers, one mail Scaup, finally we found some Long-tailed Skuas too. We reached the bottom of Syltefjord about ten o’clock a.m. First we cooked some meal and then begun our 11 km hike towards the Gannet colony!

The hike was very tough! It was almost just round stones which were very hard and dangerous to walk. We had to climb up and down some fells too and they were pretty high and steep. First we climbed 400 metres up from the sea level over a high fell. Hanna and Juha were carrying backpacks, my packages were little smaller but I had to carry my Zeiss with tripod and I had also all drinks in my back. – And we had a lot of drinks with us.

Soon we saw a cliff on the other side of fjord which ad a Cormorant colony breeding. The cliff was almost whole white because of the birds shit. Other birds were very few. Main reason was of course that we were pretty high where is almost nothing growing, but another reason was because we had to watch all the time to our steps to that we are not falling.

After two hours hiking the route came down the fells to the valley. There we had to get over some small rivers by foots. There was one Ptarmigan drinking at the first river. It was funny to see a Ptarmigan only some twenty of meters from the sea level.

Soon we climbed again up the fells and later back down to a empty fishers village. There we relaxed a little before it started to get cold and we moved on again. There was one pair of Twites sitting on the rocky fence of the village. It was nice to see these birds in their breeding views.

On the way we had met one pair from somewhere South-Europe which told us to walk as high the fells as possible to reach the colony easiest. That’s what we made.

Gannet colony

Last four kilometres were vey hard climbing. The track was marked with stone piles. We hiked from pile to another hoping we finally would be there at colony, but always there was another hill with another stone pile to climb. Finally we reached the top which started a six kilometres long edge with amazing 150000 pairs of Kittiwakes. But right above us there was tens of Gannets flying and much more sitting on a rock bench where the colony was. The birds were sitting there and shouting.

Hanna and Juha came there after me and it was a disappointment for Juha to see how far down the colony was. The birds were far too long for photographing with normal camera. The colony was about 250 metres below us. They were just sitting on their nests and flying pretty low. They didn’t fly higher almost at all.

I do started to digiscope the Gannets and Hanna was almost Happy just seeing those amazing birds even without photographing. But Juha started to find a way down closer the colony. He really wanted to get photos, and I did understood him after 11 kilometres walking.

More than ten White-tailed Eagles were soaring up the sky, once eight together. Snow Finch was carrying food to its nestlings to a hole on a cliff. Even the wind wasn’t bordering us because it was behind a top of the fell. It was very nice!

Finally Juha came to tell us that it do is possible to get down there closer the colony. Just up the colony there was a canyon, about 45 degrees steep, and just small rocks, but we thought it really is a possible way to get down. Cameras with us (and I took of course the scope) we climbed very dangerous way down. We had to be sure all the tie there is no one underneath or up from us because of the rolling stones. When we on our halfway it started to rain and it came much more slippery and dangerous of course. It took about half an hour to get down to the colony. But it was really worth to get there! The colony was just 50 meters from us! They were now little higher than us but now we all could take some photographs. It could have been even better to photograph from another rock bench, but it was too slippery to climb over it and you should have to walk there using 40cm wide track.

Finally the rain stopped, and we could begun to photograph. The lighj was still pretty bad but the Gannets were now so close that Juha and Hanna could take nice flying pictures too and I had to climb little further to get the whole bird to picture. Some Gannets had nestlings, funny looking white hairy birds. All the time there was new birds coming from the sea, some birds were stretching their wings and some birds were fighting against their neighbours. Only two meters up from us there was Kittiwakes breeding and calling those funny voices.

We photographed the Gannets more than an hour and all our films and memory sticks begun to be full. Hanna was the only who still had room for some photos. I had only room for eight photos and Juha had room for only four photos. So we decided to climb back. It was much easier to climb up than it was to get down. Of course it was tougher but when going with “four-wheel”, it wasn’t even close as dangerous.

Finally we got up to our rest luggage. Soon we had our tent up only three meters from the cliff just up from the colony. While putting the tent up a Gyr Falcon flew over us. What a pity we hadn’t had our tent up, so I couldn’t get very good tent tick which you have to see or hear from tent. Snow Finch and Ermine were there watching us. Soon we were all sleeping (of course Juha as doing this and that at least half an hour like every night).

To the way back

Next morning we slept late. We had again a long walk back to our car. We had some seawatching if we could find some seabirds or whales because it was amazingly still, but we found only thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills and tens of thousand Kittiwakes and some White-tailed Eagles. Soon we had al our luggage packed and we started our way back. The hike back was pretty easy. Of course we had much less to carry because of food and drinks were destroyed. In four hours we were back at car. On the way we saw some Ptarmigans again and Hanna and Juha found Actic Skua with a young still non flying bird.

After a small lunch we packed the car again and were ready for a long way back home. When we found again a place where our mobiles were working, all our phones were calling a lot. At least 5-10 messages for all of us. I had to make some calls to Parikkala so I could be sure that I can start my work in Health Centre after two days.

On fells we saw again Long-tailed Ducks, Arctis Skuas and finally also pair of Long-tailed Skuas which were possibly to photograph. On our way to Syltefjord we had seen this same pair but now we found their nesting place, and we found also nestling. So now we had to take all pictures we had left. But this was a must to get photos.

At Högholmen it was much less birds than last time so we continued our way pretty fast. At Gyr Falcon place we didn’t even stop. So now we were driving pretty fast!
In Skippagurra we decided to drive to Utsjoki using Norwegian roads which were much faster than Finnish roads. There were also good shops to do some shopping. At least we needed much more to drink; it was so hot in the car.

Very tired driving

We drove pretty fast through North-Lapland and nothing interesting happened. In Saariselkä we had a shower in Riekonkieppi hotel of course no free). Late night we saw some birds: first in Sodankylä we saw Siberian Jay and then we twitched a calling Quail at Sattanen (we tried this also when we drove to north). Juha was driving until midnight, and I was driving the last 100 km. We slept again in Pelkosenniemi Saunavaara.

Early morning we woke up and continued our way without any bird records. In Rovaniemi county we twitched Grey Wagtail male and Dipper at Auttiköngäs. In Pudasjärvi we dropped Juha to bus station and we ate some lunch too. After that we drove directly to Parikkala. We bought of course some ice-cream on the way twice. After all we were home about 7 p.m. at Saturday evening. So we had still time to relax before our works at Monday.

We had had pretty good three weeks holiday! We drove in our both trips together 5555 kilometres. In this Lapland-Varanger trip we drove 3555 kilometres. With Catalans we sae 152 species and in this another trip we got 140 species (88 in Norway). Together in these trips we saw 204 species and in June-July – pretty well!