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Varangar 2013

Tour Leader: Pieter Verheij
Tour Guide: Anders Faugstad Maeland
Trip Report Auther: John Brooks
Day 1 - 26th May
We all met at noon at Kirkenes airport and were soon in our mimi-bus heading south along the Russian border. The weather was excellent with above average temperatures and blue skies. In fact these conditions lasted the whole of the tour except for a few hours..
IMG 1863---BluethroatOn our way down to Pasvik National Park we stopped by a beautiful lake and here we saw our first birds. Whooper Swans, Goosander, Goldeneye and good views of Bluethroat. The whole journey took an hour driving along empty roads through pine and birch woods interspersed with rolling countryside.
We arrived in time for a late lunch at our Lodge which was part of a scientific centre. Set in open country with small woods and near to the river it was the perfect place to stay for 3 nights.
In the afternoon we birded the grounds and river finding Mealy Redpoll, Brambling. Willow Warblers were everywhere in full song. Golden Plover and Bar-Tailed Godwits were resplendent in their summer plumage, and Wood Sandpipers were in the trees and fields. Pintail, Little Gull and Common Tern were found by the river and on our way back we saw Hooded Crow, Fieldfare, and Redwing.
Our evening meal of Reindeer stew finished the day for most but a few decided to go out again as we were in the Land Of The Midnight Sun and they found Woodcock and Spotted Redshank.
Days 2-3  27th - 28th May
We set off at 7.30 to go to an observation tower on the river bank and there we saw the only Crane of the tour. Looking across to Russia we counted Smew, White-Tailed Eagles, Red-Throated Divers, with Bean Geese flying over. IMG 0116---Bohemian-WaxwingLater walking in the mixed forest we had fantastic views of Waxwing, Siberian Jay and Redstart. We were a little disappointed because we heard several target species singing but  they remained elusive.
Spring was just coming and all the birch trees were sprouting new leaves and there were many Brambling and Willow Warblers in full song. The countryside is made up of gently rolling hills, woods, and many lakes and small streams with many easily walked tracts.
We once again birded the grounds of our Lodge but again woodpeckers remained impossible to see.
On our third day we explored new forest tracts as well as swampy areas finding Siskin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Yellow and White-Tailed Wagtails, Willow Grouse, and Rough-Legged Buzzard, Many of our previous sightings were seen again including Waxwing and Brambling.
In the river we had Red-Throated and Black-Throated Divers, Barnacle Geese, Wigeon, Pintail and Tufted Ducks, and Red-Breasted Mergansers. But the shot of the day was a male Ruff in full breeding plumage.

Day 4  29th May
We started the morning in the Park and added Whimbrel and Reed Bunting amongst others. IMG 0246---Pomarine-SkuaThen we drove the hour to Kirkenes to catch the 13.00 Hurtigruten Ferry to Vardo on the Varanger Peninsular. Although there was low cloud it forced the birds down and we had superb views of Pomarine Skua, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Gannets, and Common Eiders. Common Guillemots flew past in small flocks. The 4 hour crossing took us to the most north-easterly town in Europe sitting on the Barents Sea. Our hotel overlooked the harbour where we had good views on an Iceland Gull as well as many other species including Oystercatcher and Turnstone. The food turned out to be first class as the chef was trying for a Michelin Star. A real bonus as we stayed here for 5 nights.

Day 5 30th May
A memorable day for us all. We went by boat for a 10 minute trip to  Hornoya Island. IMG 0765---PuffinThis small island is home to tens of thousands of seabirds during the breeding season and the activity was everywhere. It was difficult to know where and what to look at. As access is restricted they are not frightened of humans and so it was possible to approach to with 2 meters of most of them. The season was in full swing and there were nesting birds everywhere with a constant stream of birds flying out to fish and returning with full beaks. The first chicks had just been born and could easily be seen.
Here we saw Brunnich"s and Common Guillemots, Kittewakes, Puffins, Razorbill, Raven, Shag, and Greater Blacked-Gulls on the cliffs and hillsides. Good sightings were also had of both dark and pale morph Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas and Arctic Terns. But the highlight of the day, if not the tour, was the discovery by Anders, our guide, of only the second recorded sighting in Norway of a Lesser Short-Toed Lark.
In the evening we went around the inlet and found Black Guillemot, Purple Sandpiper, Little Stint and Ringed Plover.

Day 6  31st May
We drove along the coast road stopping often to scan the bays, cliffs and tundra. IMG 1232---King-EiderHere the landscape was barren with no trees and only a few stunted bushes. Bogs and small lakes were everywhere. A highlight was to see White-Billed Divers and a lone King Eider. Long-Tailed Duck, and thousands of Kittewakes were seen on the cliffs of Ekkeroy. White-Tailed Eagles and Rough-Legged Buzzards were seen in plenty, as were many of the birds previously seen. Along the shore were hugh flocks of Knot.
Excellent close-ups were had of Shore Lark, Red Phalarope and again Bluethroat as we picnicked on the headland by Vardo in glorious sunshine.

Day 7  1st June
Today we drove along the coast road north-west to the small fishing village of Hamningberg IMG 1481---Red-necked-Phalaropeagain stopping often to scan the cliffs and bays but unfortunately, whilst there were many birds, few new species were seen, but the rugged and spectacular scenery made up for the shortage. However we did have close-ups of Lapland Buntings and Dunlin. In the evening we went out again around Vardo and found Short-Eared Owl, Curlew Sandpiper, Velvet Scoter, Temminck"s Stint, Snipe, Glaucous Gull and Scaup. But the highlight was a lek of up to 9 displaying male Ruff which was even more exciting to watch when the occasional Reeve appeared. We birded until nearly midnight as the light was so strong.

Day 8  2nd June
The weather changed today and was distinctly cool. However that didnt spoil the day as we started by birding the tundra driving many kilometers up a wide valley where we found Greylag Geese and Lapland Longspur. IMG 2263---Ruf-LekSnow still lay on the ground in protected areas but flowers were in full bloom. Here we saw Long-Tailed Skua to complete the set, and another lek of Ruff. This time there were over 20 birds all displaying to 1 Reeve and we must have watched them for over an hour. Again their antics were comical and yet acrobatic but the thing that struck us most was the incredible colour variation, from deep chestnut to black to white. Spectacular.
Later we took lunch in the grounds of a lodge where Artic Redpol kept us amused and then we birded our way back to Vardo hunting for Stellers Eider but with no luck but we did see Tufted, Mallard and many other species of duck. White-Tailed Eagles were common..

Day 9  3rd June
In the morning we transferred back to Kirkenes Airport but this time via the coast road. It was a 4 hour drive through beautiful scenery. Then we said goodbye to our new found friends and we all flew off in different directions, having said a sad farewell.