In my previous article, I introduced to you the spectacular eider family, which I met in Båtsfjord harbour. I voluntarily concealed the other observations I made this morning, partly because it took me too long to edit all my pictures, partly because I wanted the content of the article to fit the title…
Thus, among those other species, there was one dear to my heart. I saw it on occasions in Denmark during winter, but only from a distance, and I was really looking forward to an opportunity to see it at close range, for it’s truly stunning.
Long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis)
Eiderology: the branch of knowledge that deals with eiders. Yes, branch of knowledge. Or science. And before you ask, no, eiderology doesn’t exist. Or well, didn’t exist until I invented it, two minutes ago. I’ve decided to specialize in this discipline, but more than the scientific aspect, I’m particularly attracted to the graphic aspect of those birds.
Eiders are sea ducks from the northern hemisphere, option Arctic. The most massive species is also the most common one; the Common eider (Somateria mollissima) nests as far south as France and Italy, and is very common in the Baltic Sea or along the coasts of Norway. After a year in Finland and a year in Denmark, it’s a very common sight for me. Remember, I saw this species migrating in Gedser: 1000 birds every hour 😮
Common eider (Somateria mollissima)
Båtsfjord. A small Arctic town, lost somewhere in the north at the end of a fjord (hence the name, maybe?). Isolated from its neighbours by a rugged landscape made of abrupt cliffs and rolling hills, the main activity there seems to be fishing. This industry has attracted workers from 40 different nationalities; many Lithuanians came directly there with their cars, as the registration plates could certify.
With so much snow falling down, I was afraid we couldn’t reach Båtsfjord the day after, for this little town sits in a remote bay, north of the Varanger peninsula. Our host for the night was not very reassuring either, when she said the road went up in the mountains and therefore was not very well cleaned…
As we drove along the fjords, all fears disappeared: the road was perfectly maintained. Sure, we were driving on ice, but that’s what studded tyres are made for.
After the storm, I woke up at 4 to see the sun rise. I emerged from the house in 50 cm of fresh snow: Sunday morning, a private yard, of course noone had cleaned the way up there. So I made my own trace in the pristine duvet, and roamed the streets of Bjørnevatn, which serenity was only troubled by the din of loaders moving the snow off the road.
We checked in at BIRK Husky, a place well known to the birding community for its feeders, which offer great opportunities to meet the local fauna, and particularly the taiga specialities.
Right after waking up, on my way to the toilets, I saw two Siberian tits (Poecile cinctus) at the feeders. A bit later, I spotted three or four squirrels in the vicinity, some chasing each other in the trees while other peacefully enjoyed sunflower seeds from the feeders. That was before birds woke up: usually, they are active at dawn, but that day it seemed that activity peaked a bit later, and the morning was slow to start.
Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
So there we were, flying north above a sea of clouds. I had awakened at 3.30 to catch an early flight to Oslo. There, I had met my friend Marci, and we had embarked on Norwegian flight DY310 to Kirkenes. The seat layout was a bit cramped up there, but my friend enjoyed the free wi-fi. Actually, I really saw no difference between this low-cost airline company and another non-low-cost one (except for the wi-fi). A good thing for travellers.
The trip was absolutely uneventful, until we arrived to the main airport of Finnmark. Under the clouds, we saw snow and sea pass by before our eyes, and just when we thought we would land directly with no fuss, the pilot pushed the throttle, and up again we went, for “a bit of sightseeing”, as he put it. Visibility was too low, so we tried from the other side, and managed to touch the ground (we assumed the crew used autopilot for the second attempt). However, the runway was kinda icy, and I felt the plane move from left to right after touchdown. The pilot had to add an extra bit of reverse thrust to take the plane to a halt. It was quite brutal, I had never experienced that, but it was effective: soon we were walking on the tarmac, trying not to slip on the ice while reaching the terminal. Needless to say, it was quite chilly. It was even snowing.