Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Trip to the Arctic

For this months post, and given it is Christmas, I thought I would take you on a small journey out of the UK, up through Lapland and into Arctic Norway. Back in the summer of 2010, I made arrangements to spend 10 days on theVaranger Pennisula at the the top of Norway which was to be my first overseas photography trip. Now I could right pages here on the visit but will just stick to the highlights. If you want to read the full account then please visit my blog and 'Inside the Circle' into the search bar.

There are two notable points about Varanger in June. Firstly it is still very cold and secondly being well inside the Arctic Circle has 24 hour light. The latter plays havoc with your body clock and you seem to completely lose track of time, especially when the birds seem to start their dawn chorus at midnight. I will never forget the song of a Willow Warbler as one was constantly singing outside my bedroom window as I battled to try and sleep in the perpetual light.

I flew into Finland and drove northwards. Driving through mile upon mile of pine forest becomes a little tedious after a while and I stopped en route to call in at a well known feeding station located around the back of a roadside motel and cafe. This immediately produced two new species for the camera in the shape of Pine Grosbeak and Arctic Redpoll.
As I headed further northward into Norway these tree became smaller and smaller until they eventually disappeared from the landscape. After only half a mile of heading down the road on to the Varanger Pennisula I had already spotted 2 white tailed sea eagles, a Rough Legged Buzzard and Arctic Skua chasing groups of Arctic Terns. It was looking promising even if the weather was not.

Over the next week I spent my days travelling around various parts of this large pennisula seeing what birds I could find to photograph. It is a place that is beautiful in its bleakness. Here is a small selection of what I encountered.

The following four species were all found on the very small Vardo Island which is connected to the the land by a small bridge.

Red-necked Phalarope were a common bird. These tiny waders, although very confiding, are quite tricky to photograph as they constantly spin on the water surface when feeding. Here is a pair mating. An interesting feature of these birds is the female is more brightly coloured than the male.
Another northern specialist, the Red-throated pipit busy collecting insects for its brood.
Despite several attempts I only managed to get a few photos of the northern coloured Bluethroat. This bird was mimicking the sound of pinging cables of a nearby radio mast which sounded very odd.
Those long distance travellers, the Arctic Terns had formed a large noisy colony at the northern end of the island.
I would frequently stop on the virtually traffic free roads if I spotted a bird and use the car as a mobile hide (blind) for species such as Short-eared Owl. I think that is what you call a penetrating stare!
Out on the areas on tundra there was still large drifts of snow and half frozen ponds despite it being June. I really enjoyed the time on tundra which required using a whole range of different field skills in order to get close to the birds for photography. Arctic Skua were particularly tricky and required crawling over long distances. A dark phase bird.
...and a pale phase bird in flight.
I also encountered Golden Plover on my journey across the tundra tracks. This bird appeared to be fascinated by the appearance of a car and walked over and spent quite a while walking around it.
On the half frozen ponds I found Long-tailed duck in summer plumage and the tiny Temmincks Stint walking around the snow covered margins.
A took a day during my visit to go across to see the sea bird colonies of Honoya Island off Vadso.  Where 'puffin fever' struck. This is a terrible photographers ailment that strikes when in the presence of the charisimatic little birds which invokes obsession to the point of ignoring the other species around you.
Whilst on the island I slipped on a large guano covered rock and nearly broke my arm so to recover decided to lie down on the landing platform to photograph some gulliemots at water level.
There are quite a few photos of other species I could add to this post including cuckoo, raven, shag, kittiwake, oystercatcher, velvet scoter and willow warbler but I am aware this is turning in to a very long post. So I fill finish off with a couple of photographs of one of my favourite species from the trip, the Ruff. These are a bird species I have always wanted to see in their breeding plumage and they did not disappoint. I spent quite a few hours with these birds but unfortunately their favourite place to hang out was on top of a 3ft deep accumulation of decomposing seaweed on one of the beaches. It takes very little effort for me to recall the diabolical smell. Below is just some of the colour variety shown by the male birds.
I intend to return to Varanger in 2014, when hopefully the weather will be a bit kinder for photography.

So with that I will sign off for this year which just leaves one task remaining which is to Wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Bird filled 2013.


  1. Wow, gorgeous birds and photos! Great post!

  2. Magnificas capturas,las del Frailecillo son espectaculares.Feliz Navidad.Saludos

  3. Such colorful birds you have there, great photos.

  4. oh my Rich, this sounds like a most successful trip judging by your photographs shared here. They are the best and I can't really say which is my favourite. Thanks for a super delightful post and best wishes

  5. Some really amazing bird photography Rich. Breathtaking! What exciting birding in those northern European latitudes. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  6. Thanks for the comments. I love the trips abroad. I have an agreement with my better half that I can do at least one week away each year. My journey for 2013 is already booked with a trip to Romania (eastern Europe is amazing) which includes 3 days on the Danube Delta. Can't wait :).

  7. Awesome post and photos! I can't tell you which one I like best; they are all fabulous, but the Ruff must rank near the top. Looking forward to seeing photos of the birds you didn't include in this post. Merry Christmas! Wish you a great birding 2013!

  8. Truly awe-inspiring photos. What a wonderful variety of gorgeous birds. Merry Christmas!

  9. Magical photographs of truly beautiful birds. I am in awe of your photography skills. Sounds like you had a wonderful adventure.