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A Report from

Finnmark and Pasvik National Park and the Varanger Peninsula, June 24-29, 2009,

Jan Landsverk

My three sons (Erlen, Aleksander and Ole Einar), Leif Bjørn Lunde and myself went on a short visit to the northeastern most part of Norway ultimo June 2009. Finnmark was the only of the 19 counties I hadn’t been to. But the main reason for our trip, was the four species that only breed in this part of Norway and which I hadn’t seen (in Norway) before: Brunnich’s Guillemot, Red-throated Pipit, Arctic Warbler and Siberian Tit. All my sons had seen them earlier - after having visited the same area summer 2005. Therefore they could be my guide, as they knew exactly where to find these species.

We borrowed a car from my wife’s brother (or rather his wife) all the days. He and his family live in Kirkenes (see map). He picked us up at the airport and delivered us the same place June 30. Leif rented his own car – a station wagon where he could sleep. We slept in a tent.

Already the first afternoon we went to Grense Jacobselv – a place by the sea at the Russian border about 50 km from Kirkenes. This is a fascinating place also visited by many tourists from all over Europe.  We also found time to check out the harbour of Kirkenes (empty except for a couple of rusty Russian fishing boats that had been taken arrest by Norwegian authorities) as well as an area just southeast of the town where we found some Divers, Ducks, Waders and Gulls.

In the evening of June 24 we went down to Pasvik. Leif had gone before us and had already located the Arctic Warbler at Strand. But when we came there at nine o’clock, we weren’t able to find it, even if we used playback.

arctic warbler

Before we met with Leif again we visited the bird-tower at Skrøytnes. Here we spent more than an hour and saw many species of Ducks – among them 32 Smews, Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler. A Short-eared Owl lifted from the marsh before we found it was time to meet with Leif again. On our way we both saw and heard Little Buntings, a bird that is quite common in Pasvik.

The sun was still shining when we went to bed after midnight – at the roadside.

Thursday June 25

We went up as early as half past four hoping to see a bear along the road – our main target today. But no luck. We drove all the way into Pasvik NP – 9 km on a bad road. Unfortunately we didn’t see much this morning. The most interesting was probably a family of Siberian Jays that were curious on us, like they normally are.

We were really surprised when this day turned out to be hot – 25 degrees in maximum and 20 degrees just after eight a.m.  We stopped at Gjøkåsen after a while where we tried to find Siberian Tit. It popped up as soon as we used the playback. It was only here that we saw it, but didn’t spend much effort in finding them later on.

Siberian Tit

Football (Soccer) was next on our program here at Gjøkåsen and we played for about an hour and a half. We finished the game by taking a bath in the lake. It was of course cold, but because of the fact that we were warm after the match, it didn’t feel unbearable. I would guess it was about 13-14 degrees in the water.

After this break we tried some small roads hunting new species. It wasn’t much to see actually and we ended up at another lake and river where we met some guys that were walking the border-trail for about 150 km. As we were up early this morning, we found time for a little nap before we late afternoon ended up at Blankvassåsen – a nice place where you have good views of a big wetland-area with lakes and marshes. We hoped to see a bear, but only found a mouse far away. It is also a good place for Pine Grosbeak, so we used the cell phone as playback. Soon one beautiful male was sitting close by up in a small pine tree. This place is good for many species actually, but we were a bit impatient because of all the mosquitoes that bothered us.

On our way back we spent some time by the dam and found Great Grey Shrike, heard a Black Woodpecker and saw our first Whooper Swans.

At Nyrud no one is living except for the two policemen that stay here during the summer months. We were invited in and listened to one of them briefing us of what the job was about, and not surprisingly it had something to do with the closeness to the Russian border. He said what they did wasn’t very useful, that the job was actually quite unnecessary, but interesting though. You got the impression that the Norwegian government had a man at this station in order to please the Russian authorities. But he enjoyed his stay there as well as his job.  He told us that he saw bears from time to time.

By now it had started to rain a little, so we went early to bed.

Friday June 26

Temperature today was much lower – about 16 degrees, but the weather was nice. Today we were about to finish our stay in Pasvik, but wanted to have another look at the lake from the bird-tower. It didn’t bring us anything new from yesterday. Yellow Wagtail and Bluethroat are breeding here. Close to Svanhovd/Svanvik we observed several Little Gulls very close.

Now we looked forward to find the Arctic Warbler in Strand that Leif had seen two days before. Now the bird was very willing to show up when we used playback, but it was difficult to take pictures of it. So we tried a bit further ahead where they had observed one four years ago.  After a short while suddenly three of them were out in the open, and as they were coming very close (less than 5 meters), we got some good pictures. Happy for this great experience we headed for Kirkenes again. (Nyrud is about 90 km from Kirkenes).

Because Aleksander didn’t get his bag when we arrived (it had ended up at a hotel-room in Paris. A Norwegian, who had got it by accident, called and told him), he was allowed to shop clothes for 2500 Norwegian Kr., which he did in the afternoon. (He still hasn’t got his bag a month after it disappeared. He got one bag at his door two weeks later, but it was not his, so this has turned out to be something you can only laugh about. Now he has got money from the insurance company).

After having bought new clothes we hit the road again. Today we had planned to drive along the  Varangerfjord and ended up at Vestre Jakobselv, where we found a nice place to wild-camp at ten p.m. But before we ended up there, we stopped many places to check out the bird life. Our first stop was the special and famous Neiden church. Here we heard and saw another Arctic Warbler, but not much more of interest as we didn’t use playback.

We stopped at both Karlebotn and Varangerbotn, but no rare wader. Terek Snipe is found around here most years, but no luck for us, even if we checked many “promising” places. Early evening we ended up at Nesseby – at another very nice church right by the sea. The area around Nesseby church is good for many birds. There were a few common waders, but the most exotic was definitely 30 Long-tailed Skuas – a bird I hadn’t seen since 1981.

We disagreed if we were staying overnight here, but eventually found out that we were going to check the river at Vestre Jakobselv before we ended the day. Unfortunately the river went high, so very few birds were seen. Before going to bed, the boys played a little football as we were camping close to a small football field.

Saturday June 27

Cloudy today but also a little sun and a little rain – temperature 12 – 14. We were ready to go about 8 in the morning and stopped many places along the road. The first main stop was east of the center of Vadsø town – on the other side of the bridge. I looked forward to seeing all the Red-necked Phalaropes in the small lake here. We found more than 100 of them and took a lot of pictures. We also found our first Red-throated Pipit  – one of four on my target list. Unfortunately no Steller’s Eider was seen. It is normally found here in the bay or harbour of Vadsø.

Red-throated Pipit

On our way to Vadsø we saw three Pink-footed Goose flying along the main road and a few White-tailed Eagles were also seen.

After Vadsø we stopped at Ekkerøy – a nice place with beautiful beaches on each side. This “island” is also famous for its cliff with thousands of birds – quite a sight. But apart from that there weren’t that much to see. A few hundred meters north of Ekkerøy the Song Lark is supposed to breed. So also this year, it seemed.

We tried several small roads which didn’t bring us much to report about and definitely no Snow Owl, which has become very rare. And this year wasn’t a lemming year either, so one couldn’t expect to find many owls at all including the Great Grey Owl that is found in Pasvik in small numbers any year.

On our way to Vardø we saw one Bean Goose, many Long-tailed Ducks as well as Black Scoter and thousands of Red-breasted Merganser. There aren’t many trees around, so maybe it’s therefore we find the landscape very fascinating. It is also “fascinating” to find a kind of “slum” in Norway, like Ytre Kiberg and also Vardø itself.  I didn’t know it existed in our country at all, but the problem is that people tend to move away from such places and no one is doing maintenance. The decay has come a long way unfortunately. It is quite sad actually. Here we see the decline of two fishing towns and there are several of them up here north that we didn’t visit. Their peak time was in the fifties and sixties and partly the seventies when there were plenty of fish and many people made a living out of it. But the times change and so do we.

Between Vadsø and Vardø we observed our first Horned Lark, but also a Glaucous Gull and a Peregrine flew by. At the mountain pass after Ytre Kiberg (close to Vardø) we also saw our first Greater Scaup in a small lake by the road.

Svartnes (just before the tunnel going below sea-level to Vardø) is often good for waders, but Temminck’s Stint and Sanderling were the only ones of any interest when we were here early evening.

From Svartnes we proceeded to a small fishing village called Hamningberg – a place where no one lives permanently any more. But at weekends during summer there are plenty of former inhabitants that now use their houses as cottages/cabins. This weekend there was a party going on in a big party-tent, so we found a place for our small tent where there were less wind and noise close to one of the houses. People here north is quite different from people from southern Norway. Up here they are more open and always very helpful and kind. Before reaching our final destination today we were searching for a few species along the road and found among others a Horned Lark. It was between Vardø and Hamningberg that my sons in July 2005 were so lucky to find a very rare bird among all the Gulls: Laughing Gull – an American species. This time very few Gulls were around.

The wind was strong and we were glad to fall asleep around midnight.

Sunday June 28

There is sea on both sides of Hamningberg, so the first thing in the morning was to check out the western part. Erlen was the first to arrive and he found Lapland Bunting, Snow Bunting and Red-throated Pipit close to the sea. After finishing our photo seances we headed back to the other side where we slept. By the harbour we found a flock of Twites. Here was also a flock of Terns. I had a look at them, but I was too much occupied by doing playback of the Twites in order to take some good pictures. Suddenly one of the others called out: “Have a look at this tern. It is different from the others.”  And it was. Aleksander soon found out that this was a Whiskered Tern, and so did we – no doubt about it. This is the fifth observation in Norway of this Tern. This was big and we were all very excited. It became a bit hectic. The Tern flew west, and two of us tried to catch up with it by following it by car, but we never found it again. Luckily we saw it well – though only for a short time.

We left Hamningberg in order to catch the ferry from Vardø to Hornøya. But Leif took a road up a valley and found Gyr Falcon and Ring Ouzel.  As all the others had been to Hornøya, they didn’t want to pay an expensive ferry-ticket, so I went alone for about 3-4 hours. I was here mainly for the Brunnich’s Guillemot. There are a few pairs breeding up at the cliff and I got a good view in the scope. But I was also here in order to take pictures, and I did – more than ever in such a short time. The Red-throated Pipit was also here as well as Twite. Rock Pipit was only seen at the island. At Hornøya thousands of seabirds breed and the island has one of the best or easiest accessible nesting cliffs in Norway.

From Vardø we drove southwest again – back to Vestre Jakokselv, where we slept over at the same place as we did two days before. Weather today: Mostly overcast and about 12 degrees.

Monday June 29

Today was our last day of birding. We didn’t leave the wild-camp site until 10.30 a.m. and stopped at Nesseby. Some people had seen Steller’s Eider here the day before, but no luck for us. Nesseby is a very nice place to watch birds – around the small white church. Here we found our only Arctic Redpoll. There is also a small lake here, where Red-necked Phalarope breeds.

On our way back to Kirkenes we stopped at Karlebotn and Varangerbotn, but there were not much to see – no Terek Snipe this time either.

We made a stop at Neiden church in order to use playback for Wryneck and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We had met a couple of guys at Vadsø the day before that told us about these birds reacting to playback. Both species were very willing and reacted instantly at the sound, giving us good pictures. Also Robin was a “new” species for us, and the Arctic Warbler was still singing.

Weather was good today and about 18-19 degrees.

We spent an hour or so in Finland before we ended the day playing soccer in the big hall at Kirkenes.

Tuesday we left the airport at 12 noon in beautiful weather.

Species List

Explanation to the species list: V means Varanger Peninsula.
When nothing is mentioned it means we saw the bird both in Pasvik and at the Varanger Peninsula.
(Leif) means this bird was only seen by Leif, mainly the two days he stayed in Pasvik after we had left.

Red-throated Diver
Black-throated Diver
Great Northern Diver Grense Jakobselv and Hamningberg
Northern Fulmar  Hamningberg and Hornøya
Northern Gannet  Grense Jakobselv and Hamningberg
Great Cormorant
European Shag  Grense Jakobselv, V and Hornøya
Whooper Swan
Bean Goose  Indre Kiberg
Pink-footed Goose Between Vestre Jakobselv and Vadsø
Greylag Goose  V
Common Shelduck  Nesseby
Northern Pintail  Pasvik
Northern Shoveler  Pasvik
Eurasian Wigeon  Pasvik
Common Teal
Greater Scaup  V
Tufted Duck
Common Eider
Black Scoter
Velvet Scoter
Long-tailed Duck  Ekkerøya and
Common Goldeneye  Pasvik
Smew  Pasvik
Red-breasted Merganser
White-tailed Eagle  V
Eurasian Sparrowhawk  V
Peregrine Falcon  V
Merlin  V
Gyr Falcon Hamningberg (Leif)
Willow Ptarmigan  V
Capercaillie  Pasvik  (Leif)
Black Grouse  Pasvik  (Leif)
Common Crane  Pasvik  (Leif)
Eurasian Oystercatcher  V
Ringed Plover  V
European Golden Plover  V
Sanderling  Svartnes
Turnstone  V
Dunlin  V
Broad-billed Sandpiper  Pasvik  (Leif)
Temminck’s Stint  Svartnes
Wood Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper  Pasvik
Common Sandpiper
Spotted Reshank  Pasvik
Greenshank  Pasvik
Bar-tailed Godwit  v (About 800 at Nesseby)
Eurasian Curlew
Eurasian Woodcock
Common Snipe
Jack Snipe  Pasvik  (Leif)
Red-necked Phalarope  V  (More than 100 in a small lake at Vadsø)
Arctic Skua  V
Long-tailed Skua  V (More than 30 at Nesseby)
Black-headed Gull
Mew Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Little Gull  Pasvik
Black-legged Kittiwake  Ekkerøya and Hornøya
Glaucous Gull   1 between Vadsø and Vardø
Common Tern  V
Arctic Tern
Whiskered Turn  1 at Hamningberg – a sensational observation (the fifth one in Norway ever)
Atlantic Puffin  Hornøya
Black Guillemot  Kirkenes, Grense Jakobselv , Ekkerøy and Hornøya
Common Guillemot  Kirkenes, Grense Jakobselv and Hornøya
Brunnich’s Guillemot  Hornøya
Razorbill  Hornøya
Rock Pigeon
Common Wood  Pigeon  Pasvik  (Leif)
Common Cuckoo
Short-eared Owl  1 Pasvik
Black Woodpecker  Pasvik
Great Spotted Woodpecker   Neiden Church
Three-toed Woodpecker  Pasvik  (Leif)
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker  Neiden Church
Eurasian Wryneck  Neiden Church
Sky Lark  1 a few 100 meters from Ekkerøy
Horned Lark  Between Vadsø and Vardø and close to Hamningberg
Sand Martin
Barn Swallow
House Martin  V
Rock Pipit  Hornøya
Meadow Pipit 
Tree Pipit  Pasvik
Red-throated Pipit  V and Hornøya
White Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail  Pasvik
Bohemian Waxwing  Pasvik
European Robin  Neiden Church
Common Redstart  Pasvik  (Leif)
Northern Wheatear
Whinchat  1 Grense Jakobselv
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush  Pasvik
Ring Ouzel  Hamningberg  (Leif)
Sedge Warbler
Willow Warbler
Arctic Warbler  Pasvik (Strand)
Common Goldcrest  Pasvik 
Spotted Flycatcher  Pasvik
Pied Flycatcher
Great Tit
Blue Tit  Pasvik  (Leif)
Willow Tit  Pasvik
Siberian Tit  Pasvik  (Gjøkåsen)
Great Grey Shrike  Pasvik (at the dam)
Black-billed Magpie
Siberian Jay  Pasvik
Hooded Crow
Common Raven
House Sparrow
Chaffinch  Pasvik  (Strand)
Twite  Hamningberg and Hornøya
Common Redpoll
Arctic Redpoll  Nesseby
European Greenfinch
Eurasian Siskin
Common Bullfinch  Pasvik
Pine Grosbeak  Pasvik  (Blankvassåsen)
Crossbill sp.  Pasvik
Reed Bunting
Little Bunting  Pasvik
Snow Bunting  Hamningberg
Lapland Bunting  V


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