First off we went to check out a site for Willow Grouse. The first interesting observation we had at this site was a Snow Hare; this was a mammal we were all hoping to see, so a great start to our last full day in Finmark!
After a good bit of searching and wading through deep snow we were all rewarded with nice views of a Willow Grouse. Now this is where I (ahem) learnt something! For reasons that can only be explained away by my own ignorance, I didn’t realise that Willow Grouse went completely white in winter. So I think the Ptarmigan I claimed on the first day of the trip must have been a Willow Grouse…..you live and learn! At least we could be certain that this bird was a Willow Grouse, lacking the dark lores of Ptarmigan!
Next we made the journey up the Tana Valley which was both scenically beautiful and bird rich. A Rough-legged Buzzard and some White-tailed Eagles were a great bonus. We logged a monumental eight Hawk Owls along this route through the Taiga Forest! Epic is perhaps an understatement!
As we climbed out of the taiga we reached the high grade aesthetics of the tundra. I remember remarking on how quiet our group was during this part of the trip; everyone was in awe of the habitats vastness and obvious beauty!
The biggest surprise for us was when Willam noticed a rodent moving across the snow; we stopped and were amazed to see that it was the region’s only endemic vertebrate, a Norwegian Lemming! What was more spectacular was that it came closer and closer to us: at one point it was just a few meters away!
The mammal bonuses were not over yet as when we returned back to the taiga habitat we had great views of a [Mid-Russian] Red Fox; this is the large nominate form. Distinctly different from the form we see in the UK!
This was an amazing last day in Finmark; and I would be very sad to leave. It seems that the birds of Varanger had not quite said goodbye; as during the trip back on the Coastal Express the following morning a Siberian Tit landed on the boat!
I feel very privileged to have been able to attend the first ever Gullfest in Varanger. Tormod and Elin have done an amazing job in creating this unique event. Their passion, vision and philosophy have really inspired me and I feel really honoured to have met them both. The people of Vardø have also been amazing, they have been very welcoming and have really embraced this fantastic festival.
Both Martin and Sharon Garner have really made this trip special. They have been immensely supportive, superbly organised, and incredible people to spend time with. The people in our group could not have been better, every one of them had a great laid backed manner and the group instantaneously got on. It has been a real pleasure to have shared the amazing experiences of arctic birding with them.
Only one word can describe birding the Varanger Fjord and periphery…..WOW!