“I am a big Lady Gaga fan”
– Aron Anderson
End of the season in Falsterbo, time to come back to Barcelona, the city that can be considered my wintering range. In the last weeks, some people has asked me what do I think about Sweden. Well… bearing in mind that, apart from 2 seawatching days in Båstad and another one-day trip in March to Vombs Angar, Skryllegården and Hackebergasjon (in central Skåne), I’ve been the whole 8 months in the Falsterbo Peninsula, so it was impossible for me to give an opinion about Sweden. Hence, when Aron suggested that I should join him on his way to Kiruna (Norrland) my answer was yes.
The plan in the beginning consisted in renting a car in Malmö and driving all the way to Kiruna, stopping at some places to do some birding targeting the northern species that I’ve missed in Falsterbo. However, after realizing how expensive was to rent a car if you are not Swedish, the trip ended up in a 6-hour train from Malmö to Stockholm + a 14-hour train to Kiruna. Then, we were gonna burrow a car and carry on north, up to Andenes in the Norwegian island of Andøya. This guy down here is Aron in the train, and he is extremely happy for either going back home or the big burger he’s just eaten:
As soon as we arrived to Kiruna, I realized it was something completely different. I wouldn’t say the real Sweden, but admittedly the image of Sweden that we have in the south of Europe. Snow, forest and frozen lakes. Also some nice birds, mainly visiting feeders, like this Siberian tit.
Without more time for birding the area, we departed to Norway and we didn’t stop until we spotted a Northern Hawk owl sitting in the top of a tree, some kilometers before Abisko National Park. Even this is probably the only species of “northern owl” that I had seen before (bizarrely together with Snowy owl), still an stunning bird.
A walk in the National Park didn’t produce anything but a flock of Willow tits, nice landscapes and a warming cup of coffee in Aron’s former work place.
It was already dark night when we crossed the border, a step obviously accompanied by Aron’s classic quote “welcome to Norway, fucker”. The weather forecast made me forget about Northern Lights: it was meant to be raining/snowing all day long the day after. Maybe even more worryingly, the birding was going to be hard. Of course, when you’ve been ringing for one month in a row, need a day off and there’s rain forecasted, it’s always wrong. In the other hand, when you only have 2 days for exploring such an amazing place like Andøya, the forecast is right and the birding hard.
However, we managed to see some good birds: there were several Little auks around Andenes harbor, Greater scaup, Black guillemot, Red-throated diver… but no sign of neither King eider nor Yellow-billed diver. We decided to check as many harbors as possible, so we started with Bleick, a small village in the west coast of the island. No northern specialties again, but hundreds of Purple sandpipers feeding in the seaweed.
Since the west coast didn’t look so promising, we decided to cross to the east. The central part of the island is just stunning. Pure tundra surrounded by high snowed mountains. The rain was annoying, but this landscape must be seen in a cloudy day. The icing on the cake was an adult female Gyr falcon sitting in a mossy rock. I would never forget this image!
The day finished with the feeling that there were loads of birds in the island, but the weather and the lack of information had led us to miss the good stuff. The forecast for the day after was promising: really strong westerly winds and cloudy, but no rain. The whole Lofoten archipelago was in orange alert due to the winds, but, as usual when this happens, we were happy.
The first thing we did early in the morning was to check Andenes harbor again. As soon as we arrived, we realized it was a completely different story to the day before. There were at least 40 Glaucous gulls of all ages, big flocks of Long-tailed ducks, a similar number of Little auks than the day before and a female King eider among some Commons.
Seawatching in the west coast was almost impossible due to the strong winds and the lack of sheltered places. Hence we crossed again to the east coast, where the sea was completely flat and the birds easier to spot. From the tiny Myre’ harbor, apart from a surprisingly high number of Slavonian grebes, the highlight of the day was a flock of 8 King eiders (sadly all females again) and a stunning landscape.
Time to head back to Kiruna, under a strong snow shower and already thinking about coming back to Andøya. The island offers very good birding possibilities. The lack of information (almost no reports at all in November) and the bad weather conditions forced us to invest one day in exploring the island looking for the best places. Of course, the already limited number of light hours doesn’t help neither. However, the number of birds (mainly sea-ducks, auks, gulls and divers) is impressive and with good weather conditions it’s probably possible to see most of arctic specialties. The landscape, as in the rest of the Vesterålen archipelago, is impressive, in my opinion especially in winter time.