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A Report from

The Arctic is going crazy and the Dotterels,too... ,

Lutz Lücker

9th journey to the Barents Sea, June 26th- July 28th, 2009

Male & female Dotterels fighting about childcare. Unprecedented observation ! (Still taken from a video clip)

Illustrations on



Introduction (same as in 2002-2008):

Travel :

By car from Geneva. Petrol less expensive in Finland, most expensive in Norway. Crossed Baltic Sea at Fehmarn (Puttgarden/Rödby) and Helsingör. There are lots of automated petrol stations in Fennoscandia but they do not all accept foreign credit cards. Better have a few small banknotes ready, especially in Finland...!

Maps :

Used mainly the Norwegian Cappelens 1 :400.000 Troms og Finnmark map (main reference for this report). For local use the 1 :250.000 Statens vegvesen VERGKAART, blad 21 (Varanger) is very good. There are better maps for hikers (1 :50.000), but very small and expensive. An excellent bargain is the Statoil Scandinavia atlas NORDEN for 200 skr: the whole of Scandinavia on a 1:300.000 scale! But it does have some imperfections: a yellow road may turn out to have thousands of potholes, a red one may not be tarmaced.

Daily route, weather and highlights

Weather in the High Arctic was often cold, (down to 1.8 degrees C at 350 m asl), and quite windy this year. Bad for mosquitoes. 40 h of snow showers in early July. Statistics on

But not too much rain, mostly drizzle. Bad for spectacle wearers. And a few marvellous, sunny days, too. Spring had been early and humid, few snowdrifts left, especially on the NE slopes. Again no Lemmings on the tundra. Not ONE Rough-legged Buzzard, no owls, very few Skuas & no Skua nests! Mosquitoes scarce this year, only on the very few calm, warm days on the tundra. Lots of species were rare or seemed absent like Skuas (Raubmöwen, Labbes), Buntings (Ammern, Bruants),or Willow Grouse . But I spent little time in forest areas. I had no special target species since I had already seen anything one could expect on previous journeys. I wanted to have a real holiday and spent 4 weeks in my cabin on the Fjell studying Dotterels.

Sorry, but some of my friends will have to learn a few English names of more or less "common" Arctic Fjell species so I have set up a Glossary:

RTD: Red-throated Diver
LTD: Long-tailed Duck
LTS: Long-tailed Skua
AS: Arctic Skua
TS: Temminck's Stint
PSP: Purple Sandpiper

The highlights:

Thu 25th June

As usual, 11 Lesser white-fronted Geese at their moulting ground at Hudiksvall lake. Good views at less than 20 m distance. 2 Three-toed woodpeckers and a Goshawk by the road 20 kms south of Sundsvall.


A warning Whimbrel near an E4 car park by the Baltic Sea near Lulea.

Sat 27th June

The only Rough-legged Buzzard of the whole journey north of Kemi!

3 Waxwings and a Curlew at the Petkula bog. The first Wood Sandpiper in Ivalo, the first RTD and 2 LTD as usual at Kongsfjordfjellet pass, another RTD on a roadside nest at Gednje junction. Arrive at my cabin near Batsfjord at 11 pm

Sun 28th 5°, windy , sunny with showers

A Snow bunting and a Shore Lark in front of the cabin. Meet Bärbel on the Fjell. In her study area 2 Dotterels as well as a 3rd bird on a nest, 1 Turnstone and 1 Arctic Skua,AS.

Mon 29th June Cool, fair and milder in evening, wind 1-4.

In my study area Ringed Plovers, Shore Larks, 3 Long-tailed Skuas (the ONLY sighting in 4 weeks here), 2 Dotterel, 4 Golden Plover.

Adamsvatnet: 2 RTD, displaying. In Bärbel's study area 1 Dotterel, & 1 Shore Lark

Tue 30th June 9 – 15°, overcast, then fair with short showers, wind W 4-5 to N2.

In my study area 1 AS, 1 Temminck's Stint, TS, Shore Larks, Snow Bunting, and a hesitating male Dotterel that after a long wait eventually leads me to its nest.- I find (Arctic ?) Fox droppings in a Dotterel nest that I had left with 3 eggs on 22nd July 2008 !

4 LTD on Adamsvatnet, 2 Snow buntings by the cabin; 1 RTD flies overhead, calling.

There is still some ice on a smaller lake NW of the cabin at 400m asl; 6 Purple Sandpipers sit at the edge, pecking at plancton the wind has pushed along on the surface. With 4 (6 ?) Snow Buntings, 1 Black-throated Diver, 1 LTD. Further on, 1 Golden Plover & on the way back to the old road, plus 2 feeding female Dotterels.

Wed 1st July Overcast, showers, cool 4 – 6°C, wind NNW 4-6. Brrr!

1 fem. Dotterel eating little stones on the roadside at km5 of the Batsfjord-Gednje (B-G) road..
2 fem. Dotterels in Bärbel's study area.

Thu 2nd July Snow showers, 2 – 4°C, N 4-6...winter in July!

1 RTD on the small lake by the cabin.

Fri 3rd July Snow showers, 1,8° in the cabin at 9 a.m.!!! What shall I do first? Make a fire or go to the toilet??!! Wind N 4-6. Worst weather in 9 years!

1 Snow bunting by the cabin (what else..?), and I hear 1 Dotterel calling in the air. They seem to be everywhere this week!

Sat 4th 3-5°, drizzle, wind N 4-5. Hope springs eternal!

3 LTD on the lake, 1 Snow Bunting and a Wheatear by the cabin, 1 Shore Lark on the old road where I will find their nest later.

Sun 5th

Some LTD on the lake as well as 5 Arctic Terns flying over the pass. Very rare here!

Mon 6th 4-6°C, overcast, little sunshine, a little drizzle, NE 5, then 3

Shopping in Batsfjord; 15 LTD in the river mouth, 3 more on Adamsvatnet. Snow Buntings and a Turnstone by the small lake, 1 Golden Plover, 1 Dunlin & 2 Lapland Buntings in the bog by the old road, 1 mile from the cabin. 1 Dotterel flies over the cabin.

Tue 7th NW 5-6, drizzle, 1% sunny, 3-5°C

2 or 3 Dotterel in my study area seeking food., 1 in Bärbel's. At Gednje T-junction a Redshank, 2 Red-necked Phalaropes, 1 Dunlin, 2 RTD. One more flying over the cabin.

Wed 8th Overcast,then sunny, 6-10°C, E-SE 2-3 (1)

2 male Dotterel in my study area, feeding, 1 male Ptarmigan by the road and I stumble upon a Golden Plover's nest. In Bärbel's area we spot 2 female Dotterels near her camping car. They are very tame & B. throws them some mealworms whereupon they approach at less than 1 m! We spend hours taking pictures and filming them. Then I see another bird 400m away disappear behind a ridge. When I arrive there – incredible stroke of luck – I raise my spot a female on her nest (no 2), about 30 yds away! Another female incubates nest no.1.- 1 White-tailed Eagle soars in the distance above Gednjajavri, we see RTDs, Dunlin and Lapland Bunting. Lovely day!

Thu 9th fair, then overcast, a little rain, W then SSE to E 5, then 1.

An AS at km 11, and a Golden Eagle (the first I have seen in this area since 2000), then a White-tailed Eagle arrives and sees the other away. The same Ptarmigan as yesterday by the road, at least 2 TS, Shore Lark, Golden Plover, 1 Dotterel and a Lapland Bunting. But very few birds on the whole.

Another Dotterel by the old road. There used to be twice as many!

In Bärbel's area 2 males on the 2 Dotterel nests, 2 ASs, 2 RTDs.

Fri 10th 19°C, then 13°, fair, then 4 hrs of rain, SE 4-5 (6).

I explore the old road between the old Batsfjord airport and km 16. By a small lake with a RTD's nest, 1 hear a Spotted Redshank. Strange, tens of miles from the nearest coniferous trees!

By Bärbel's camping car a flock of 15 LT Skuas are roosting in the drizzle. 1 hour later they disappear, never to come back. No food!- 1 Shore Lark.

Females on both Dotterel nests. 2 LTDs on a pond at km 19.

Sat 11th Fair, 22°C, the loveliest day of my stay.

My friends Pat and Audrey from Switzerland arrive. We explore the area around the cabin. 7 Golden Plovers fly by; why don't they breed this year? 2 Snow Buntings by the small lakes and 1 Dotterel. Coming back to the car, Pat stumbles on a new Dotterel nest with a male! 750 m from the cabin! I knew that they must be here! Can we call this a garden bird?

In my study area we realize that nest 2 has not been abandoned. But the breeding bird runs away when we are still 100 m from the nest. Incredibly shy. I had not seen that bird since 30th June!

On Bärbel's Dotterel nests, both males incubate.

Sun 12th Fair, 24°C, incredible! But only 15° in the evening. Wind E 3, then N4.

I accompany my visitors to Syltefjord where I spot 3 White-tailed Eagles. 6 LTDs on the lake at the pass, and a flock of Redpoll in a roadside bush just after the end of the tarmaced road by the creek. A stop and see.... a splendid white adult male Arctic Redpoll among them. Good bird!- Dotterels: males on nests 1, 2 and 4, a female on no 3 ! Lovely shore lark by Bärbel's car.

Mon 13th Fair, then a thunderstorm, 16°C, E 1-3

Another Golden Eagle south of the B-G road at km 16, harrassed by 2 Raven.

Snow Bunting by the cabin, Shore Lark nest 80 m away. When checking on nest 4, we realize that the chicks are hatching. Male on the nest but there is also a female Dotterel about 200 m away.- Golden Plover and RTD in the air over the old road.

Tue 14th Rain, fog, 15°C, then 10°, E 4-5 (3)

Miserable day. When the rain stops I check on nest 4. All chicks have hatched & leave the nest 20 mins. after my arrival. No trace of the female. Seems to be an early brood, the eggs being laid around 20th June, with no further female participation.

Wed 15th NW 4-6, 10°C, then 5§C !!! drizzle, fog, then rain.

Everything OK on Dotterel nests 1 and 3. No further activities.

Thur 16th Fair, then overcast, short shower, then fair again. E 1-2, then 4-5, then 2

Big surprise at 9 am ! On nest 2 there is a bird that does NOT run away! A female! And while observing her, I can hear feeble sounds that indicate that her chicks are hatching! I run back to the car and fetch Bärbel. First time since her late husband photographed a female Dotterel with chicks in July 2002! That bird left the nest after chick no.2 had hatched. But OUR bird stays! We see chick no.3 hatch. The adult takes no notice of our presence and carries all the eggshells away, leaving us alone with her chicks! Incredible. She also chases a Ringed Plover away that had come too near.

But then...the male arrives. Not shy at all. He waits at a distance of 4-5 m until the firstborn chick starts on its first long excursion. When the male tries to brood the chick, it starts screaming, not being impregnated by the male's voice. It does not seem to recognize its father. So the female rushes at the male and furiously drives him away. This goes on and on for hours until we decide to interrupt the survey, temperatures having dropped. That sort of behaviour has never been described in literature. Normally females only stay around and warn the male of imminent danger but they were believed not to interfere with childraising. Unprecedented!

At midnight, the female Shore Lark is brooding her chicks on the nest in the ditch.

Fri 17th Sunny with cloud, then rain. 7°C, then 5°, W 3, then 5.

When I open the cabin door, a White tailed Eagle flies overhead. A good sign!

We check on nest 2 before it gets colder. Big surprise: this time it is the male who is brooding the 3 chicks, still on the nest! When the sun gets warmer, they finally leave the nest for good. No trace of the female. What happened during the night? We shall never know. But we have made a unique observation which will have to be published.

The chicks in nest 1 have also hatched, there is just one egg left. No trace of the birds. A male Dotterel on nest 3.

Sat 18th Sleet showers, 3°C, then 5°, N5, then W4 (3).

My friend Denis arrives with his family at 11 am. Despite the wet weather, we walk on the old road, hoping to see at least ONE bird. Big surprise. When we get out of the car, there are EIGHT Dotterels by the road: a male with 3 chicks, 300 m from nest 4 (not a VERY big surprise..) but there are 3 MORE chicks 300m further down...led by a FEMALE !!! Another unprecedented observation! No one to my knowledge has ever seen a female Dotterel leading chicks! On the other side a lone Purple sandpiper sits on a rock, warning. 1 Snow Bunting, 2 Lapland Buntings, 2 TSs at km 11 of the B-G road, the Golden Plover still on its nest, and on our way back to the cars, we stumble on a Ptarmigan nest with 11 eggs. The hen tries to lure us away; we happily do as if we had been fooled by her & disappear. Poor weather but lots of birds. Denis is thrilled.

Afternoon walk with Bärbel. We find a female Red-throated Pipit at km 4 + a male Lapland Bunting. No Willow grouse which have bred here.

Sun 19th Sunny with showers, 5-8°C, Windy: W6, later 3

The Shore Larks by the cabin have left the nest.

Still the female Dotterel with 3 chicks where I found her yesterday.

2 TSs at km 11, the Ptarmigan still on her clutch, the Golden Plover, too.

Male Dotterel on nest 3. All's well...

Mon 20th Sunny with heavy showers, NW 6-7, windiest day of my stay, 5°C, 8° in Batsfjord..

2 RTDs in Batsfjord, as well as the only Steller's Eider (a female) I heard about this year, in the river mouth. 2 Arctic Skuas fly over the cabin, still no signs of their breeding.

Tue 21st Cloudy with some sunshine, NE 2-3, then SE, 10°C

The Dotterel and Ptarmigan females are on their nests. By the old road, both male and female Dotterels with their chicks but I only see 2 with the male.

The female starts brooding the chicks at 9 pm; it is so cool that they will stay there for the night.

Nothing except Redpolls and Fieldfares down in the salmon river valley. 2 RTDs on Adamsvatnet.

Good Dotterel habitat behind the lake but not a bird....

Wed 22nd Fair, then overcast, 22°C, E 1-3, then SE 5 to 3

My Dutch friends, the Smits have arrived.

We check on the Ptarmigan & Golden Plover nests, everything OK. Then we meet an unknown male with 3 chicks, just 100 m from the place where I had found a family last year. So there were at least 6 -7 different families in our study areas this year. On less than 2 square kms ! Those birds seem to be much commoner than people think. Just very difficult to find.- 3 TSs as usual.-

A female Dotterel on nest 3.

By the old road, still both Dotterel families, both am and pm, as well as a calling Spotted Redshank!

The 2 RTDs and 3 LTD on Adamsvatnet.

Thu 23rd Fair, S 3-5, then E 4-5, 19°C, then 14°, 16 to 12° by the seaside.

The Golden Plover is sitting on 3 chicks & does not leave the nest.

On Dotterel nest 3, a male.- TSs and Lapland Buntings at km 4 by the car park. 5 Pintail on a pond S of Veines Village, a Red-throated Pipit in the rocks by the beach, another one near the ponds at the eastern end of Sandfjord Bay. No falcons at the 2004 nest site but an angry Northern Lapwing, perhaps the northernmost breeding site in the world!- Still a few Common Terns breeding in Kongsfjord harbour; I don't know any breeding sites further north! And a flock of 6 Twite a mile from the village by the road.- At km 1,7 of the Gednje-Kongsfjord road 2 (here rare) Wood Sandpipers.

Back home, still the male Dotterel with 1 (2?) chicks by the old road. Has been staying here for 1 week now!

Fri 24th Fair, 17°C, then 12°, ESE 3-5, coastal fog coming in at 11pm

The male of nest 3 tries to lure me away from the eggs which are all cracked. Hatching imminent!

The Ptarmigan is still brooding its clutch, the 3 Golden Plover chicks have hatched but are still in the nest.

The male Dotterel by the old road is still there with 1 chick but they have crossed the creek on the road. One more warning Purple Sandpiper by the small lake NW of the cabin, 2 Dunlin at km 25 of B-G road.

Sat 25th Fair, 14°C, then 12°, E 3-4, fog coming in after 5 pm

The chicks of nest 3 have hatched and are led away at 11.45 am by the male. No trace of the female which had often participated in incubation. Within 3 hours they have done more than 60 m.

A large Reindeer (Ren, Renne) herd runs across the area where the Ptarmigan is breeding. I find her 10 m from the nest, but no omelette. She is very calm and I leave her after taking a few pictures. -

The ONLY Merlin of my stay sitting by the G-B road at km 19.5

Sun 26th Coastal fog, cool, windy, later drizzle.

I decide to leave as long as the rain has not started. Some Redpolls at the Utsjoki bird feeder hotel 2 km S of the village. Before Ivalo, an ad. White-tailed Eagle at Lihavakalajärvet lake.

Mon 27th

A Three-toed Woodpecker at Valtavaara car park near Ruka/Fi where 2 French birders have just seen a Red-flanked Bluetail family. I've seen them there before & head towards the Kuhmo area to meet Kari Kemppainen. 3 Black-throated divers and an ad. + juv. Whimbrel on a stubble field N Lentiira. - I arrive at Viiksimo at the Russion border to watch Wolverines (Vielfrass, Glouton) from a hide, but see “only” 5 Brown Bears (Ours brun, Braunbär), a big male & a mother with 2 two-year old cubs. Sadly too late in the evening to make any pictures. More info on    4 Waxwings at Kari's border station hotel.

Wed 28th

2 Whooper Swans (1 nest) N Ranea/Sweden, one more near the Boden T-junction on my way back home.

Thu 29th

In Hudiksvall, still 10 Lesser-white-fronted geese by the car par at the S shore of the lake. Only 2000 more km back to Switzerland! Thanks a lot to my Swedish friends who put me up before I left Scandinavia & see you next year!

Lutz Lücker 5, chemin du Fort de l'Ecluse CH-1213 Petit-Lancy



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