I met up with Murray on a pre-breakfast bit of birding; we enjoyed the by now usual spectacular views of Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck and Steller’s Eider. A nice flock of Snow Buntings contained the siberian-type located by Martin the previous day.
After breakfast Tormod, Vincent, Ian, Seamus, Murray and me met at the jetty for the ‘Blue Fulmar Pelagic’ The rest of the group would be heading out on the second trip. Once we had put on our survival suits we piled onto the rib and motored out into the Barent Sea. It was a bumpy ride as we launched off every wave; but pretty epic! The first bit of chumming attracted a large number of gulls; predominantly Scandinavian Herring Gulls and Glaucous Gulls. Vincent also got me onto a very intriguing gull that we assume is a Viking Gull.
We went further out into the Barent Sea and the chumming soon attracted in a couple of Blue Fulmar. Although these were not the darkest of individuals, they were certainly darker than any I had seen previously.
This trip was a fantastic experience both because of the birds we observed and because of that slight feeling of mortality!
Once back on land; we set off up the coast on the mainland courtesy of a vehicle kindly organised by Tormod. One of the first harbours we came to was amazing. There were not only large numbers of gulls (including a few Glaucous Gulls) present, but an astounding 240+ Steller’s Eider showing at close range!
However the best was yet to come! We started scanning the bay beyond the harbour; Seamus picked out a pod of five Killer Whales. This was an amazing sight; the pod included one huge male! This was a first for many of us; and a species on my ‘most wanted’ list! Epic!
On our way back to Vardø we had nice views of an adult White-tailed Eagle that was perched on a rock not far from the roadside!
We met up with the rest of the group back at base camp. After some more delicious Reindeer or Reindeer-less Soup we were soon on the task of scanning through the gulls. Martin chatted to us about reading the wing pattern of Herring Gulls on perched birds whilst we waited for the gulls to take the bait. We had views of another White-tailed Eagle as it flew overhead! A colour ringed Greater Black-backed Gull was present; this bird had been ringed at Pitsea Landfill Site in Essex (UK) a few years previously; this bird could well have been ringed by Richard Cope who is currently on his 3rd season at Lista Bird Observatory)! An amazing 20+ plus birds were successfully trapped for ringing.
It was great to see so many local people involved in this experience. It was also amazing to see so many children with Herring Gulls under their arms waiting to be processed! On a more personal note, it was really good to see the variation in wing-tip pattern of argentatus Herring Gulls at close range.
There were two ‘controls’ trapped; one was a bird bird ringed in Poland and the other was this very intriguing small and dark mantled individual with a very unusual wing pattern that was ringed in Russia.
Morten Helberg and Arlid Breistøl did a fantastic job in making the ringing part of the festival a real success!
Back at the hotel we had another superb evening meal and then it was time for the evening talks. First up was Nils Van Duivendijk. Nils was part of our birding group and a real pleasure to spend time with. Nils started off his talk with a frightening gull quiz (I didn’t do very well). Gulls are scary!
Canadian ornithological research scientist Mark Maftei gave a fascinating talk about amazing behavioural observations of Ross’s Gulls; along with some breath-taking pictures! Nils was up again and after giving the answers to his quiz he gave another talk with an insightful talk about how he came to write the instant classic ‘Advanced Bird ID Guide‘ .
It had been another epic day in Varanger; what would tomorrow bring…..