Varanger – The “Harleking”

From the Northern Frontier

by Tormod

I was planning on writing a rather elaborate first Birding Frontiers post, about designing maps that are dedicated to birders. I will have to come back to that idea later. Living in a premium birding destination means things don’t always go according to plan. Instead I´ll make a short birding mega news-post…

from Varanger: the Harlequin Duck.


I was settled for another busy Sunday with a bird shelter that I needed to finish designing, and then packing my gear for a trip to the high tundra by helicopter for a bird registration project. With my family and my good birder friend Anders Mæland, I was just going for a short Sunday trip to Hamningberg, officially known as ´The end of Europe`.  This is a 40 km drive from my home and office in Vardø, basically through non-stop good birding areas. The outer Varanger Fjord always (except November & December) holds good numbers of birds. Today was the second day of summer – meaning the second day for a very long time with no wind and more than 10 degrees celcius, and the midsummer night is on! Everything looked very good. As we drove through Persfjorden we discussed from where we should stop and look at the birds on the fjord. We decided to stop at the same place where the 2011 Stejnegers White-winged Scoter was seen. Good choice. Persfjord is situated at the outer Varanger fjord, and is a favored place for sea ducks. Typically it holds good numbers of Velvet Scoters, Black (Common) Scoters, both Mergansers and Long-tailed ducks can easily be seen in thousands in May. In summer this is also a good place to find the few over-summering King Eiders in the Varanger fjord. After scanning the sea for 15 minutes we picked out two young male King Eiders. Nice. Happy with this, and with a 3.5 year old who wanted to keep going we where about to leave. Anders just had to look closer at this one very distant bird. It stayed close to the surf and would not show very well. The distance and the sun also meant heavy heat haze. Anders being a solid birder, did not want to let this one go without a safe id. When he got into a stuttering, exaggarated mode I understood he was onto something good. Yes – clearly in the distance there was a dark looking bird with unmistakable white markings. Harlequin Duck! The scenes that unfolded are familiar to any birder! If you where to define enthusiasm and euphoria then this would be the scene to use. What a stunning bird. An adult male in its most striking plumage. The coolest blue, and the deepest red with sharply defined white marks. I have seen the Harlequin in both Iceland and Hokkaido, Japan, and I have been hoping for this bird to visit Varanger. Without any warning it is surfing the waves in the Varanger fjord on a beautiful summer day. I got a few docu-style photos diciscoped with my iphone. I must admit that I kind of like those unsharp, dodgy rarity photos that you find in some ‘rare birds’ type publications. The photos I got are of the same kind. Unsharp, blurry, yet unique and I guess with a sense that no other bird could matter at the moment! Lets hope the bird will stay around longer than last years duck mega. Remember this Stejneger’s Scoter?


A very cool face to find in the distant surf, joined by a Long-Tailed Duck


Very happy birders: Elin, Anders and two lucky german birders that almost passed us as we found the bird. They must have seen something was going on by the waiving of arms and big smiles.


The landscape: the bird must have found the place in Varanger that looked the most like Iceland.


If you are in Varanger the above map shows you where to look. Vardø island to the right.



Common and highly uncommon..

Hope you enjoy these not so good photos of this fantastically good situation. I will be back with more articles from Varanger. An article on the less photographed plumages of Steller’s Eider is on the sketch board, along with an article on pro-birder map design. Thanks to Martin for inviting me to join the Birding Frontiers project! By the way, we continued on to Hamningberg, and noted five White-billed Divers and two King Eiders. And quite a few birders have now seen the Harlequin Duck.

Best wishes from Varanger – the Northern Frontier…

Tormod Amundsen

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3 Responses to Varanger – The “Harleking”

  1. OMG WOW!! I sooo want to be there. Not just for The King of Ducks, but for the place. It has a certain kind of magic spell over me. Been there only once, two years ago now, but still miss it like nothing else. Expect me on Gullfest 2013.

  2. Good to hear from you Tormod and feel your excitement. Ian

  3. tormodamundsen says:

    Thanks for comments Janneke and Ian. No doubt there is something magical about Varanger! You are welcome to join the next Gullfest. Slightly eariler this year, with more King Eiders. I´ll be back with more details on that soon. Also hoping to see you again in Varanger sometime Ian! You are allways welcome. Thanks for great company on Gullfest2012. By the way, seaducks in june is pretty cool as well: we had Harlequin Duck, Steller´s Eider, Common Eider, King Eider, Velvet Scoter, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck within an hour of birding. The Harlequin is still present and has now been seen by lots of birders. Expecting some very nice photos to be found soon on the web. Best wishes Tormod

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