700

When we started to plan the Big Year, one of the birders we turned to for advice was Bosse Carlsson, Swedish WP lister. Bosse thought that maybe 650 was a realistic upper goal for a Big Year, later on when the  planning started to become more detailed we realized that maybe even 700 was attainable. Now that we’re at 700 before the end of August we’re starting to fantasize about 750.

It wouldn’t have been possible to be at 700 now without all the massive amounts of help we have received from birders in WP. You are too many to mention, but you know who you are. Thank you !!!!!

On our way back from Madeira we did a short stop in Lisbon to pick up some additional birds. First off were two Cat-C birds in the Tagus estuary.

Yellow-crowned Bishop
Yellow-crowned Bishop
Yellow-headed Weaver
Black-headed Weaver

The next morning we hung at the gate of privately held Sesimbra Nature Park where a Pie-billed Grebe has been residing for quite some time now.

Got better views of the Iberian Chiffchaff than on our last visit to Iberia at the place of the Grebe.

Iberian Chiffchaff
Iberian Chiffchaff

Finished off by driving all the way to Tarifa in southern Spain, same place where were we earlier in the year and ticked Iberian Chiffchaff and White-rumped Swift. This time we found the Rüppels Vulture almost ridiculously easy. The first place we stopped, and for me, the first vulture I looked at in the scope was a clear Rüppels. We also got the opportunity to compare the bird to the more common Griffon Vulture. When watching the Rüppel in the scope and a Griffon came into the same scope view, the two vulture species are really different.

Rüppels Vulture
Rüppels Vulture

So, according to our iGoTerra list this was bird number 700. However, we have a few questioned birds already up on the list. In particular.

American Herring Gull. This was the bird from southern Portugal originally identified as an AHG by Mårtens friend Pieter Adriaens. The bird starts to look bad though. Pedro Nicolau wrote us: “By the way guys, I’m not sure if you’re aware but the American Herring Gull you’ve seen in Portugal is a heavily controversial bird, and will most likely be dismissed as a michahellis. As the moult progressed the bird was showing red orbital ring and yellow legs.. to me the bird is a michahellis. I’d go for another one.”

We’ll see what happens with this bird.

Pale Martin.  Highly controversial bird, but recently confirmed by Lars Svensson to be a Riparia Diluta, Pale Martin.

Long-toed Stint. The Stint found by Erik in Kuwait, we’re still working this bird since we’re still convinced it’s an LTS. KORC has tabled the bird until additional information is presented. Pics and video of that bird on our Google Drive

Maybe some or all of these three questioned birds eventually has to be removed from our list.

Well back in Stockholm, we got picked up at Arlanda by Andreas Bohlin. We do look confused.

Confusion
Confusion

Andreas drove us to Hjälstaviken close to Stockholm. Quite a few Lesser White-fronted Geese there, so if we remove the American Herring Gull, we’re still on 700.

Lesser White-fronted Goose
Lesser White-fronted Goose

 

Madeira – Pelagic heaven

Madeira is a must for sea watching and pelagics. We flew directly from The Azores to Madeira. We had arranged previously a three day trip with Wind Birds. Wind Birds with Catarina Fagundes and Hugo Romano organises very professional sea watching pelagics off Madeira. Compared to the pelagic we just did on The Azores, Hugo and Caterina truly know their stuff, especially the chumming techniques that they have fine tuned over the years.

The first day we went east, heading out beyond Ponta de São Lourenço with the aim of seeing Zino’s Petrel. This is the price bird of Madeira with an estimated number of below 100 breeding pairs. The Zino’s breed on cliffs at the highest mountain peek of Madeira, very hard to access the breeding grounds.

Zino's Petrel breeding grounds in the distance
Zino’s Petrel breeding grounds in the distance

The Zino’s Petrel is very similar to the Desertas Petrel, but it is possible to distinguish the two in the field. Desertas is a chunkier bird, with a noticeable thicker bill. We saw our first Desertas just outside the port of Machico, no pictures of those birds though.

They drove the Rib Boat, aptly named Oceanodroma, eastward for almost two hours and eventually picked a spot and threw in the chum. A 15 liter bucket of frozen, chopped fish together with some shark liver oil as well as some alleged secret sauce.

They drifted over the area with the chum over and over again. Once the chum started to melt/shrink they threw in onother 15 liter bucket. Alltogether 3 buckets in a session. Good numbers of Great Shearwater, Bulwer’s Petrel and Cory’s Shearwater came inspecting the smelly goo.

Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer’s Petrel
Cory's Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater
Great Shearwater
Great Shearwater

The first really good bird that came were Wilson’s Storm-petrel. A spectacular bird that dances on the water with it’s long legs, dipping into the chum, feeding. It looks as if they are running on the water. The Swedish apt name of the bird is Sea-runner.

Wilson's Storm-petrel
Wilson’s Storm-petrel

A diagnostic feature of Wilson’s Storm-petrel is the yellow webbing on the feet.

We've got yellow webbing
We’ve got yellow webbing

Long-tailed Jaegers came feeding on the chum.

Long-tailed Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger

So did a Blue Shark, not good.

Chum massacre
Chum massacre

Finally towards the end of the day, a clear Zino’s Petrel came close enough to be safely identified and photographed. Earlier in the day we have had a few Petrels that were too far away to safely id. Note the slim body and the thin bill. Nice article about Zino’s here.

Zino's Petrel
Zino’s Petrel

Day two was much windier, I asked Hugo how bad the weather must be for them to cancel. He answered that they don’t cancel for bad weather, they cancel for good weather. They’re called Wind Birds for a reason, and this second day, with the wind we headed straight south from Machico, far out off shore. The wind turned out to be good indeed, the amount of Bulwer’s Petrels was staggering, we estimated over 500 Bulwer’s this day.

The first really good bird to show was a Barolo’s Shearwater. This was unexpected and the Barolo is clearly one of those birds we could have missed entirely on the Big Year. Luck. Later in the day we saw yet another Barolo’s Shearwater.

Barolo's Shearwater
Barolo’s Shearwater
Barolo's Shearwater
Barolo’s Shearwater

Similar to the first day, quite a few Cory’s and Great Shearwaters as well. After a few hours on the sea the next super bird comes feeding, White-faced Storm-petrels. These birds run on the water similar to the Wilson’s Storm-petrel, close to the boat providing excellent views. At this point we were in heaven.

White-faced Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel

Just as we’re enjoying the White-faced, Band-rumped Storm-petrels start to show on the slick (oily surface of see surrounding the chum). These are most probably of the Madeiran variety, not Grant’s but its difficult to tell.

Band-rumped Storm-petrel
Band-rumped Storm-petrel

As we photograph the various Band-rumped I looked at one of my out-of-focus shots and saw indications of a forked tail. We started looking closer at the Band-rumped Storm-petrels and soon Hugo identified one, or maybe two Leach’s Storm-petrel amongst the Band-rumped. We were not able to get any sufficiently good photographs of the Leach’s but Martijn Verdoes did and we’ll got a copy of his shots. It was far from easy to identify these Leach’s Storm-petrels but the id was verified by Nils Van Duivendijk, Brian Patteson and Bob Flood which is hard to argue with.

Leach's Storm-petrel
Leach’s Storm-petrel

Not an entirely satisfying experience, we would have thought it would have been easier to distinguish a Leach’s from a Band-rumped – apparently not.

Day three we headed back eastwards again, to the same waters of day one. Our primary goal was to get better views of Desertas Petrel. We saw several Desertas in the day, some close enough to be photographed and safely identified.

Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel

Compare the chunkier body and the thicker bill to the Zino’s Petrel.  Day three was by far the slowest day, mostly due to the wind. Apparently high winds (and bumpy rides) are what is needed. Desertas Petrel is recently split from Fea’s Petrel which breeds on Cap Verde. It’s not possible to distinguish Fea’s from Desertas in the field, thus this is pretty much a geography tick.

We saw quite a few Dolphins and whales in the three days. Flocks of Cuvier’s beaked whale, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and Atlantic Short-nosed Common Dolphin. Spectacular to have a group following the Rib Boat, jumping. 20170825-IMG_5267

Finally, Madeira host a few land birds too. The pelagics started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and went on into the dark, thus we had the mornings free to explore the island. Two endemics, the Madeira Firecrest  and Trocaz Pigeon.

Madeira Firecrest
Madeira Firecrest
Trocaz Pigeon
Trocaz Pigeon

Furthermore Berthelot’s Pipit and Plain Swift reside here as well as on the Canaries.

Berthelot's Pipit
Berthelot’s Pipit
Plain Swift
Plain Swift

 

 

Graciosa Pelagic

One more of the small Islands of the Azores to visit. This time Graciosa. Small place with just a few thousand inhabitants and very few tourists. Here the Monteiros Storm-petrel nest and we had booked a pelagic trip with Calypso Azores. The place to visit is called Bank of Fortune and is situated at least an hour off shore. On the way out we enjoyed the massive amount of Cory’s Shearwater. They gather in rafts, floating.

Cory's Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater

20170820-E20A9688

On the way out to the Bank we also see a few Bulwer’s Petrel. A lifer for all of us.20170820-E20A9510

Once out on the Bank, the Crew spilled about a liter of shark-liver  oil into the water. The oil has a very strong smell and it almost instantaneously started to attract Storm-petrels.

Bulwer's Petrel
Monteiro’s Storm-petrel

20170820-E20A9341

 

The Monteiro’s Storm-petrel nest on the Islets outside of Graciosa. It’s a summer breeder. The id of these birds is difficult (to say the least) . Alternative birds are Grant’s Storm-petrel which is a winter breeder. The Grant’s should arrive to Graciosa now, or maybe soon. Yet another alternative is Madeiran Storm-petrel. They exist on the Azores, there are sound recordings of Madeiran from the colony of Monteiro’s.  We believe the birds above are Monteiro’s though. A good id article can be found on Birding Frontiers.

On the way back, we enjoyed the Cory’s again, as well as quite a few Bulwer’s Petrels. We saw thousands of Cory’s, maybe 15 Bulwer’s and 3 Great Shearwater. Inside a raft of Cory’s we found a lone Manx Shearwater.

Manx Shearwater
Manx Shearwater

The bird we were hoping for didn’t show up though. The Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel has been seen off Graciosa this time of the year in recent years.

We returned to the port of Praia later in the evening, and got good scopes views of a pair of Sooty Terns nesting on the Islet.

Sooty Tern
Sooty Tern

Next day, we had planned for yet another pelagic, it got cancelled due to bad weather. And today, when I write this the weather is even worse. Thus, of three days on Graciosa, two were spoiled due to weather. Thus, most probably Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel is a lost bird for us on the Big Year. This makes it the third bird which is definitely lost, the other two being Goliath Heron and African Skimmer from Egypt.

Terceira – The Azores

For quite some time we have had a scheduled trip to Madeira. A trip focused on Tubenoses (Petrels, Storm-petrels and Shearwaters) with three days of pelagics. On short notice we decided to go to the Azores prior to the Madeira trip. A few heavy-weight rarities have been present on the Island of Terceira for a while. It’s surprisingly easy and cheap to go a place as exotic and far away as the Azores. While fiddling with the rental car at the airport a birder approaches us and asks – Are you going for the Tattler. Hey yeahhhhh. We hung out with WP twitcher Thierry Jansen for two days. Terceira has one pond, called “The Quarry”.

The Quarry
The Quarry

It’s fed by tidal water and boy is that a good pond. It’s just a few minutes drive from the airport.  We immediately went there together with Thierry and the Gray-tailed Tattler was there.

Grey-tailed Tattler
Grey-tailed Tattler

The Tattler has been present in the quarry for the better part of the summer. It has proved to be a tricky bird though, this was the second trip to the Azores for Thierry. We were lucky, it just stood there begging to be photographed. Phuuuwww. Flying all the way to the Azores and dip would have been horrible. The quarry was teeming with waders. Mostly Sanderlings, Kentish Plovers and Turnstones.

Turnstone
Turnstone

Quite a few Semi-palmated Plovers were feeding in the pond.

Semi-palmated Plover
Semi-palmated Plover

Soon though – Erik screams – or rather makes funny noices. A White-rumped Sandpiper was there.

White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper

Earlier in the year, we were very very close to a Hudsonian Whimbrel on our England twitch tour in January. At the time, we decided to skip that Whimbrel, it’s not an IOC species and we were in a hurry.  We got it now now though, in the quarry. We love the quarry!!

Hudsonian Whimbrel
Hudsonian Whimbrel

Off from the quarry to the southern end of Terceira where a Snowy Egret had been reported. This has also been a tricky bird, people have searched for it for days without finding it. When we came, with our usual luck, it just stood there with it’s yellow legs and lore.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

At the same place where the Egret hung out, there was a colony of terns with mostly Common Terns but quite a few Roseate Terns. Our original year-plan was to get the Roseate Tern on Ireland, they were very easy to find here.

Roseate Tern
Roseate Tern

From a rarity point of view a very good bird we found at the site with the Roseate Terns was a Bridled Tern, apparently the 17’th find on the Azores.

Bridled Tern
Bridled Tern

After lunch we obviously had to go back to the quarry – and what do you know – a few new birds had arrived. Self found Semi and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Semi-palmated Sandpiper
Semi-palmated Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper

What a place – the quarry. Next time we go the Azores we’re definitely going to plan for a stop on Terceira.

Next morning, new birds again in the quarry. A Pec stood there.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper

 

Lofoten Röst

Quick trip to northern Norway. Eva Wikström and Anna Bohlin joined up on this short touristy trip. Two target birds, a Snowy Owl on Röst and a 3-year-returning White-winged Scooter in a fjord inside of Bodö.  There are actually cheap direct flights from Stockholm to Bodö, this is a place I will return to, next time with bins and my fishing gear!! – it’s sport fishing mecka. Once on Röst, we were able to find the Snowy Owl easily – thanks to the folks on Röst Fuglestation.

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

Here is a pic of the gang – post tick. Chilling.

Post tick
Post tick

Röst is a pretty little place, and the village by the harbour has a hostel which is mostly occupied by Kittiwakes.

Occupied hostel
Occupied hostel

Once back in Bodö, we went for the White-winged Scoter. This is a returning bird that has spent the summer in the same fjord the last couple of years. It usually leaves in the beginning of August so it was far from clear that the Scoter would still be there. It was – albeit far out and tricky to id among all the Velvet Scoters.

White-winged Scoter
White-winged Scoter
White-winged Scoter
White-winged Scoter

 

Euro trip part 2

After the successful twitch of the Elegant Tern in Valencia we flew to Corsica. The Island hosts a number of endemics and specialities. The first morning we woke up in the dark so that we could be at the spot for California Quail well before sunrise. Mårten and his friend Martin Berg slept in this very same vineyard almost ten years ago. We playbacked the quail at first light and after a couple of minutes we hear a response from inside the forest. We go closer and position ourselves silently, hidden, waiting for the Quails to come out into the vineyard. The male responds several times and soon we see a few birds poorly some distance away. We playback some more but eventually go closer. The family group took to the wings and flew into the forest. No pics, but decent quick views. The Quail is supposedly difficult to hear and see, so I guess we were lucky.

We moved on towards a spot known for Marmora Warbler, we stopped abruptly on the mountain road instead because we saw Siskins along the road side. And, yes, for sure the Corsican Finch were abundant in the right habitat.

Corsican Finch
Corsican Finch

With that cleared up we continued to one of the spots for Marmora Warbler. This is July and nesting season is over, birds are in principle not singing any longer. The Marmora Warbler responded to playback as if there was no tomorrow though. With non-singing birds, finding a skulky Sylvia without playback would be a most time consuming activity.

Marmora Warbler
Marmora Warbler

Last endemic was the Corsican Nuthatch. After a fantastic breakfast in a little mountain village we drove higher, into the high altitude pine forests and almost immediately found a family group of Corsican Nuthatch.

Corsican Nuthatch
Corsican Nuthatch

That was fast, all four of Corsicas specialities cleared up in a single morning.

Also common on the Island as a whole was the Mediterranean

Mediterranean Flycatcher
Mediterranean Flycatcher

Flycatcher. This picture shows nicely the lack of spots on the belly, it’s not a Spotted Flycatcher.

Time to move on, we had no fresh information on the Albatross in Sylt, so that – in combination with very expensive flight tickets to Hamburg made us decide to just fly to Paris and decide there and then what to do next. Once in Paris, we opted to go to London instead of Hamburg. There were quite a few good birds waiting for us on the English east-coast. We drove north from London and slept halfway. When we woke up, we received some boring news. Two of the target birds on the east-coast were gone, and American Golden Plover and a White-rumped Sandpiper had decided to move on the day before. We went for the remaining Pectoral Sandpiper which we failed to find. Just as we’re about to leave the reserve, a local birder found the Sandpiper. Nice.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper

Spectacular sanctuary with awesome birding in general. The brits have some amazing birding areas.

Black-tailed Godwits
Black-tailed Godwits

At this point we were at a loss what to do, nothing more for us in England really. It’s not especially easy to be spontaneous while traveling in England. We have become used to proper Internet connection while driving. This is just not the case in England and it’s irritating. We did see quite a few signs advertising “Psychic Mediums” though and Mårten suggested that – maybe that is how they communicate here.

However a report came in showing that the Albatross had been seen in Sylt the day before. We found cheap tickets from Manchester to Hamburg and immediately embarked on the quite complicated trip to Sylt which including a car train out to island itself. We drove to Niebull, parked as number two the queue for the train and slept a few hours in the car. Took the first train at 5 in the morning. Arrived at the spot and the Albatross was not there, and it also started to rain and we didn’t really have proper rain gear with us. Had breakfast and waited for the rain to stop. Went back to the area where the Albatross had been seen most of the times and the bird still wasn’t there. At this point we started to argue about tactics, and then suddenly it just came flying in. What a twitch.

 

Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross

 

Valencia

The Elegant Tern was the sole reason for us going to Valencia. We had earlier given the Tern 2 days, driving all the way to Calais and dipping was hard. Furthermore, when we were in souther Spain, in the Gibraltar area an Elegant Tern was reported in the harbour of Cadiz. That was just a single report, so we decided to not go for the Cadiz bird.

When we arrived at Valencia thing started to go sour, first the car rental agency under performed Secondly on our way to the booked hotel, we call them and they say that they have no rooms. Later we get an SMS from that same hotel, where they say that they have another house for the same price. Fine we drive there only to be told that the house is not available. Booked another hotel, arrive there and there is no booking, nor any available beds. Bad start on the Valencia twitch.

Saturday morning, we park ourselves on the beach, between the litle lake with a Sandwitch tern Colony and the sea with the idea of catching the terns when they move between the nesting colony and the sea. Lots of Sandwitch Terns pass by between morning and noon, no terns with orange beaks though. Lots of Common Tern though. Mediterranean Gulls and Audouin’s Gull are patrolling the beach. Different age classes.

Audoins Gull
Audouin’s Gull
Audouin's Gull
Audouin’s Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull

 

Little Bittern
Little Bittern

 

Finally we can connect with the Elegant Terns – What a twitch.

Elegant Tern
Elegant Tern

 

 

Euro trip

We’re on a Euro trip, picking off birds here and there. Lithuania, Poland, South Germany, Calais France, back to Germany, Gibraltar, Mallorca, …..

The first bird was Aquatic Warbler in Poland. It was a close call that we went for the Albatross that had been seen regularly on Sylt, north-west Germany but the Albatross decided to leave just as our Euro trip started, so we went to Poland instead.

Our original plan was to try for the Aquatic Warbler during migration. We were told that it’s reasonably easy in Portugal during migration, late August. It’s also a possibility in Holland during migration. We felt this was a bit random and decided to twitch it at one of the breeding sites in Poland instead. Flew to Lithuania and drove to Bialystok in eastern Poland. Arrived late at the site and slept in the car. At dawn the warblers were singing in the marsh and we were able to locate a singing male fairly easy.

Aquatic Warbler
Aquatic Warbler

Off to Germany and their two iconic Cat-C species. The Yellow-headed Amazon in downtown Stuttgart and the Swan Goose in downtown Heidelberg. Both were easy to find.

Yellow-headed Amazon
Yellow-headed Amazon (shot through bins)
Swan Goose
Swan Goose

At this point, we had a few options available. A White-winged Scooter in Scotland, the possibility of the Albatross becoming twitchable again as well as an Elegant Tern that had been very stable close to Calais on the English Channel. We opted for the tern. This was also close to forests with known populations of Reeve’s Pheasant. We twitched the pheasant easily. Our friend PAC said that these pheasants are not tickable, however other birders (on Netfugl) tick Reeve’s Pheasant around Calais and until some French birding committee  says that these birds are cage birds we tick it. The former population on Îles d’Hyères is apparently extinct.

Mårten trying to flush a Reeve's Pheasant
Mårten trying to flush a Reeve’s Pheasant

These birds, the pheasants are assisted by humans. They are bred and released for hunting. OTOH, so are Ring-necked Pheasants, all over Europe. We tick the Ring-necked Pheasant without hesitation (unless you are Dutch)

Then we went for the tern. It had been seen regularly amongst a colony of Sandwich Terns on a beach just north of Calais. We arrived at the beach in the evening and scanned through the Tern colony. Next day we started at dawn, and searched and walked the beaches to no avail. The Elegant Tern just wasn’t there.

Sandwich Terns
Sandwich Terns
Searching the beaches
Searching the beaches

Eventually we gave up on the tern and drove all the way back to Stuttgart to return the car and fly on to Malaga, southern Spain. (Today, when I write this, we see that the damned Tern is back again)

Two important birds in the Gibraltar area, the first one – where we had received a good spot from Mårtens friend Rafa Benjumea (from Ecotonobirding ) for Iberian Chiffchaff. We played our mobtape, which has proved extremely successful. No Chiffchaff appeared so we gave up and went to another spot, a spectacular cliff overlooking the strait of Gibraltar. The bird which was possible here was White-rumped Swift. We scanned the area for a few hours. An Eleonora Falcon came flying – this was a year tick and a lifer for Erik and me.

Eleonora Falcon
Eleonora Falcon

Balearic Shearwaters flying outside the cliffs, also a good bird. Far away, but identifiable.

So – with this streak of bad luck, dipped Tern, no Chiffchaff nor the Swift we had lunch. No time to relax, just push on. We eBirded another point for the Swift and went there, just north of Gibraltar. Lots of swifts in the air, and after maybe an hour, we found two White-rumped Swifts flying. We got good views in the scope but no pictures. Phuuu, at last, now it’s turning. Went to a strange hotel very close to the site for the Chiffchaff, the idea being that we jump up very early in the morning looking for it again. Just as we park the car at the hotel, an Iberian Chiffchaff shows well in the hotel garden. Dang.

Move fast, next day we flew to Mallorca. Two important birds there, the newly split Mediterranean Flycatcher which was very easy. They were virtually everywhere on Mallorca.

Mediterranean Flycatcher
Mediterranean Flycatcher

Harder bird to find was the Balearic Warbler. We tried first one place close to Port de Pallenca where it had been reported, we only saw Sardinian Warblers there though. Next we tried a valley close by. Walking into the stony valley, Mårten and Erik hear the bird calling faaaar away. Hyper-hearing. It’s in the bushes, and they sort of hear it maybe calling very low. I cannot hear a thing, but we make our way through the thorns and suddenly we flush a small dark bird. It lands maybe 100 meters away and we can see it, it’s the Balearic Warbler. It came in closer as we playbacked the song and the call and we got excellent, but short views.

Balearic Warbler
Balearic Warbler

Mallorca cleaned up, next stop before we go to Corsica is Valencia where a pair of breeding Elegant Terns appears to be possible.

 

 

 

Svalbard

We decided to go to Svalbard quite some time ago. There was a twitchable Ivory Gull in Germany this spring, the bird was slowly dying on a muddy field in Germany and we wanted better. The Ivory Gull is the breeding price bird of Svalbard, all the other species are in theory possible to get at other, more easily accessible places. Thus, we went for 3 full days of birding on Svalbard.

First day was spent birding in and around Longyearbyen and we fairly quickly racked up all the expected species – except Ivory Gull. First bird was Snow Bunting, singing through the hotel windows. Common everywhere.

Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting

A walk along the estuary at Longyearbyen is awesome birding. Fairly few species but high quality birds. Unexpected – to us – was the amount of Purple Sandpipers, they were everywhere. All time high for all of us on that bird.

Purple Sandpiper
Purple Sandpiper

Many of them ringed by local ornithologists. Barnacle Goose were abundant as well as Pink-footed Goose.

Pink-footed Goose
Pink-footed Goose

You are not allowed to wander around by yourself on Svalbard due to the Polar Bear hazard. We never saw any Polar Bears during our three day visit, they are further north where the pack ice is. Regardless, in order to walk about you need a gun. We had brought a gun from home and were thus free to walk around as we wanted.

Armed birder
Armed birder
Armed birder
Armed birder

Other birds along the estuary were both Phalaropes, Dunlins, Glaucous Gull, Kittiwake, Arctic Skua and Common Eider.

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull

20170709-S57A3119

Dunlin
Dunlin
Red Pallarope
Red Palarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Red-throated Loon
Red-throated Loon
Arctic Skua
Arctic Skua

The Common Eider were nesting just along the road, next to the gravel.

Common Eider
Common Eider

Just as we stood looking at the cute Ducklings, and Arctic Fox turned up and smartly snatched one of the Ducklings.

Arctic Fox
Arctic Fox

After Lunch we walked the valley Björndalen, west of the village. There we found our first close and possible to photograph, King Eider.

King Eider
King Eider

Later we found a few female King Eiders too, they have a nice smile in their appearance contributing to our smiles.

King Eider
King Eider

On the way back from Björndalen we saw our only Ptarmigan on the trip. These Ptarmigans are clearly bigger than the ones we have at home. We heard that the Norwegians have already split it, calling it Spetsbergsripa.

Rock Ptarmigan
Rock Ptarmigan

No Ivory Gull though, there were quite a few recent reports of Ivory Gull from Longyearbyen and we searched all the Dog Kennels and the harbour to no avail.

Next day we went on a boat trip some two hours north of Longyearbyen. The goal was a known herd of Walruses. Birding on the sea from the boat was spectacular and we got excellent views of the sea birds. Especially the groups of fast flying Little Auk were nice.

Little Auk
Little Auk

Other sea birds were Brünnich’s Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin and Norhern Fulmar.

Brünnich’s guillemot
Brünnich’s Guillemot
Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar
Atlantic Puffin
Atlantic Puffin
Black Guillemot
Black Guillemot

We saw two Blue Whales in the distance and went closer. This is one impressive mammal. Eventually we arrived at the place for the Walruses. As from now on, we’re in love with Walruses, they way they look, move and fart is world class.

Walrus
Walrus

On the way back, close to Longyearbyen a Long-tailed Skua was resting on the water.

Long-tailed Skua
Long-tailed Skua

Still no Ivory Gull though. In the evening we took another walk up the valley from Longyearbyen. Pectoral Sandpiper had been reported there recently but we never found any.

Next, and last day, we took yet another boat trip, this time much further away to the most northerly village in the world Ny-Ålesund. Ivory Gull had been seen there just a few days by our friend Jens Wikström who works as a guide on ships that cruise Svalbard. This time the weather was even better than the day before, the sea was completely calm and the sun was shining giving us even better views and photographs of the sea birds. When we finally see the village we’re hyped to max, expecting the Ivory Gull. Just as the boat enters the harbour, I’m squeezed in by other passengers, Mårten is inside putting on his shoes, then Erik screams IVORY GULL. Any .. yeyyy, it came flying in.

Ivory Gull
Ivory Gull

Mission complete. We then spent a couple of hours in the village and never saw the Gull again. We were lucky – again. On the other hand someone once said that if you’re lucky all the time – then it’s skill.

 

 

 

Ural Ridge

The last leg of our long trip that started with Alexandrine Parakeet in a park in Amsterdam in March is a trip to the Ural Mountains.

Urals
Urals

It’s a wild mostly inhabited area with large spruce forests. The mountains themselves are not especially high, more like the mountains at home, the Swedish Fjällen.

We went by night train from Yekaterineburg to Serov, and then by bus to Severouralsk where we were picked up by Victor the driver/camp master and Galina, camp cook from heaven. We packed all the gear into their UAZ and drove to the first camp site, just below Kvarkush plateau. White’s Thrush and Red-flanked Bluetails singing whenever we made a stop. We spent in total 5 nights at the first camp site. Around the camp, one of the most common bird was Arctic Warbler, singing everywhere.

Arctic warbler
Arctic warbler

Day two we hiked up to the plateau, good birding along the path as well as up there. Weather was bad though, rainy and cold. We found a nest of Little Buntings along the path.

Little Bunting
Little Bunting

Up on the Plateau we spread out and searched for Grouse. Soon we found a few Willow Grouses.

Willow Grouse
Willow Grouse

The Siberian Rubythroats were singing from the bushes, their throats shining inside the grey foliage.

Siberian Rybythroat
Siberian Rybythroat

Great Snipe was displaying in the rain, and with playback we got to see one very well.

Great Snipe
Great Snipe

The bad weather forced us to go back. In general here, the weather was usually good or even very good early in the mornings, with heavy rain in the afternoons.

In the late afternoon we birded the lower areas around the camp. Black-throated Thrush was reasonably common.

Black-throated Thrush
Black-throated Thrush

Next day we drove with the UAZ to an area with an open marsh and wet forest. The habitat was ideal for Rustic Bunting and we split up into two teams searching. Nutcrackers were abundant in that area, flying around in loose groups making ruckus.

Nutcracker
Nutcracker

Eventually we hear the Rustic Bunting singing, and we’re able to get to the bird.

Rustic Bunting
Rustic Bunting

The next day we made yet another hike up onto the plateau. This time going further up. Singing Bluetails on the way up.

Red-flanked Bluetail
Red-flanked Bluetail

This was a bird very high up on my want-to-see list. Almost twenty years ago me and hacker/math/computer friends of mine started our first Internet company and we named the company Bluetail. Now I finally got to see the bird.

Once above the tree line, we stumble onto a family of Weasels.

Weasel
Weasel

And just shortly after that, a large Brown Bear stands on its hind legs looking at us, it takes off running and three cubs follow. Stunning.

Brown Bear
Brown Bear

We go higher, aiming for an area that from a distance looked good for Dotterel. We never found any Dotterels, however we found both a singing Lapland Bunting and Rock Ptarmigans. The Bunting is very rare in the area.

Rock Ptarmigan
Rock Ptarmigan

Next camp site was close to the Ridge. Here Bluetails were singing constantly around the camp. The price bird on the ridge is the Black-throated Accentor. First day was just rain, we walked halfway up to the ridge anyway and found a nest of White’s Thrush.

White's Thrush
White’s Thrush

Next day, we hiked up towards the ridge and soon hear singing Yellow-browed Warblers. This is a species we thought would be common in the area as a whole but it was only here, just below the ridge it was common.

Yellow-browed Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler

We started to search the forest which is known to hold the Accentors, and fairly quick, we hear a bird singing. It responds to playback and we get exceptional views.

Black-throated Accentor
Black-throated Accentor

This is a very good WP bird, and to be able to see and hear it singing at the breeding site is a privilege.

With Black-throated Accentor in the bag, we were now almost done in the Urals, only Siberian Tit remaining. The forest around our camp, and also along the path up to the ridge looked like ideal habitat for Siberian Tit. Next day we split up from the camp and started to search for the Tit. We haven’t even begun the actual search when Raul calls out, he found a pair just 50 meters away from our camp.

Siberian Tit
Siberian Tit

Cleanup in the Urals. We thought that maybe we had allocated too much time for our Russia trip, we hadn’t. It takes time to find these species. Also, quite a lot of time in Russia was lost due to rain and bad weather.

Night train back to Yekaterinenburg. Arrived early in the morning and this time, a friend of Sasha had located a nest of Azure Tit. It felt really good to be able to finally get the Azure Tit which we had searched so hard for. Cred to Ural Expeditions here, they knew we craved this bird, and found a nest in Yekaterinenburg for us.

Azure Tit
Azure Tit

This is last birding day in Russia, and we attempted a long shot. We went back to the place where we earlier had a few hybrids Yellowhammer/Pine bunting. No Pine Buntings, but quite a few Oriental Turtle Doves close to Monetny.

Oriental Turtle Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove

The Russia trip has been a success, we have found everything we wanted to find and more. Spent the last night in the city drinking copious amounts of vodka in bars and playing chess with Russians.