Our plan for the third day, was to rise early and explore the nature reserve at eastern end of Vadsoya Island where the hotel was located, before hitting the road and winding our way eastward along the north shore of the fjord. Our final destination for the day was to be a reconnaissance visit of a known ruff lek site which we planned to check out for hopefully our first session with the birds the following day.
As the blackout roller blinds zipped upwards, after an early alarm, the view out the window of the shaking scrub bushes showed a strong wind was blowing in from the north. The sky a mix of clouds, with the occasional blue clear patch, being whisked along quickly overhead by the brisk wind. Temperature outside was about 3 degrees C before taking account of any wind chill. Stepping out the front door of the hotel, the strong wind's sharp icy edge that cut right in to you, became very apparent. Any small birds would definitely be lying low in these conditions. Fortunately the forecast, which to be frank is not too reliable, showed that the wind would ease down the next day. We would just have to try and make the best of the prevailing conditions.
We headed out on foot into the biting wind onto the Vadsoya Island nature reserve. We decided to head off in opposite directions and meet up later by the pond. My first stop was near the entrance with a Hooded Crow hanging on to the top of some scrub in the wind.
I headed off round the island in a clockwise direction. It seemed very quiet for birds and during my wander I came across a group of half a dozen of the island's resident mountain hares in a tight group. Creeping up on single mountain hares is difficult enough but the problem is multiplied when there are six pairs of eyes on look-out duty. Fortunately between me and the hares was a line of scrub that I could use as cover to get close and a few photos of them. They varied quite a bit in colour as a result of their change from winter to summer coat.
As I came around to the pond, I was surprised to find very low numbers of Red-necked Phalarope with only half a dozen female birds present. During my last visit the island supported good numbers of birds across a range of species but this seemed not to be the case now. The Arctic Tern colony at the eastern end of the island was completely empty and few birds were present on the beaches.
As the sun was appearing intermittently I thought I would spend a bit of time with the Phalarope. Typically oblivious to my presence, the photography of these hyperactive birds was made tricky by the large waves rolling across the pond. It felt a bit like trying to photograph a cork being tossed around on a North Sea storm. One moment it was there and the next it had gone over the crest of the next wave and dropped into the trough.
Thought the photo below would give some impression of the size of the waves rolling across the pond.
After a long, slow breakfast, we left the hotel and into the sabre-toothed wind once more. This time we got in the car crossed the bridge into Vadso and headed along the coast road eastward to see what we could find. The first birds we encountered that could be put in front of the camera were some Red Throated Pipit. These are attractive birds with their brick red throat patch.
Brace position against the wind.
Time to move on, passing by some distant White-tailed Eagle loafing around the beach and a very long furred red fox heading over a ridge. By this time the sun has burst through the rushing clouds above. Its always good to have some sunlight for photography but in these cold climates it comes at a cost which it almost an instant development of heat haze. I have mentioned this before and the devastating effect it can on photography should not be underestimated. Basically it makes it nearly impossible to get a sharp image and the only thing you can do is take a lot of photographs and minimise the wobbling air between the camera and subject. We suffered this problem with the next pair of birds we tried to photograph which was a pair of dark phase Arctic Skua. We spent a very brief time with them, as the red mist typically descended with these birds as we approached and they initiated their characteristic swooping attacks. This meant the female had got up off the two eggs on the ground and we were concerned the effect that the bitter wind may have on them if left uncovered for any period. We backed off rapidly and she quickly returned to incubation duties. Off the photographs taken, I only kept one which was just about passable, with the rest ruined by heat haze.
We continued our bumpy and uncomfortable journey along the track and soon came across a Golden Plover for which we stopped to take a few photographs. The short tundra vegetation always makes for a colourful and attractive setting.
Eventually we came to the end of the track and the ruff lek site next to a medium sized lake. There were ruff present but mainly as heads popping up through the vegetation of a marshy area at the southern end of the lake. Across the lake we could see a distant nesting Black-throated Diver with the male holding station in open water close by. Occasionally they would let out their wailing call which is one of my favourite bird sounds as it seems to encapsulate the essence of these remote places. It was difficult to say with any certainty where the ruff lek was going to be but a relatively flat area of short vegetation close to where we were parked looked like a strong possibility. We would find out when we returned the next morning.
We made our way back along the bumpy track and picked up a solitary Whimbrel to photograph before we reached the main road.
We headed back to Vadso. We had worked hard that day in the the challenging icy wind and it had produced a good variety of interesting birds species but all in low numbers. There just strangely seemed to be relatively few birds around. Back at Vadso, and with it being Sunday evening , we struggled to find any food and ended up having some weird kebab made with a folded nan bread stuffed with meat and sauce from a take away at the back of the Indian. More fuel than food really. This seemed to be the only place open in town that was selling food. Back at the hotel the daily battery charging, photo downloading and back up ritual was gone through before hitting bed relatively early. The alarm was set to stun mode at 3:30 am with the exciting prospect of attempting to photograph Ruff on a lek. This was the main objective of our trip but would we succeed?