Steller's Eider - Scott Guiver

Anyone for a Steller’s?

Varangerfjord, Norway - Scott Guiver
An ominous looking view across Varangerfjord in arctic Norway

I probably should have written this post when memories of Fennoscandia weren’t quite so distant. But so it is that May 2015, or more relevantly , that individual days of May 2015 have blurred into one or the other, but what I do remember is that we all really wanted to see Steller’s Eider, badly! Infact, what we really wanted to see were those handsome males, a pretty special sea duck and sadly decreasing in numbers and listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. Alas, we knew that we were relying on a little bit of luck as it was late in the season, with the Steller’s typically spending the winter in our target area of Varanger in northern Norway before heading off to Siberia to breed.

Kittiwakes - Scott Guiver
Kittiwakes in the colony on Ekkeroy

Ekkerøy is a traditional fishing village on the northern shore of the Varangerfjord in Eastern Finnmark, Norway and this was to be our base while in northern Norway. On the map, Ekkerøy looks like a peninsular that is one big wave away from becoming an island.

Fish drying rack, Norway -Scott Guiver
Fish drying rack, Ekkeroy, Norway

For Eider of all sorts we would head for Vadsø and Vadsøya island. Word on the birding grapevine was that this was the place that would give us our best chance for Steller’s. But on arrival and after chatting to several birders it didn’t look good.

We walked to the shore closest to the open water of Varanger fjord, we scanned the water where there were hundreds common Eider, which is not a sight to be sniffed at. Finally when we’d accepted that this wasn’t going to be our crowning moment we noticed that one distant blob of brown Eider seemed to stand  out from the rest. They were notable by their behaviour, actually – formation…a tightly packed group which in every direction they turned they stayed close together , they even dived at the same time. There was a disbelieving spontaneous realisation that we had a group of female and/or immature male Steller’s Eider in our sights, glory, happiness..and hugs!

Steller's Eider - Scott Guiver
A tightly packed raft of Steller’s

Such is human nature we now felt more driven to find at least one resplendent male, they must have been there somewhere, surely.

We went to more sites, we found more brown Steller’s….more than we expected to find I think.

Steller's and Common Eider - Scott Guiver
Spot the odd one out!

Then there it was , on a sunny evening when the sun was to come closest to setting at 2am , the climax,  which for me anyway was felt as more of a relief than any outpouring of joy..well, maybe I did have a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye for quite some time after. Cheers!

Steller's Eider - Scott Guiver
Male Steller’s Eider, a gem in the arctic

Steller's Eider - Scott Guiver

Trip members:

Scott Guiver

Dr Ian Burfield

John Pilgrim

Kate Spink




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