31 December 2014

The Dark Knights

Arctic chillout

Purple Sandpipers are some of the toughest birds on the planet. Too often these birds go by unnoticed, and they are rarely on any ´top birds list´. In fact in Varanger we often make that mistake too. The striklingly beautiful King Eiders and Steller´s Eider grab our attention. It is about time we make a tribute to the toughest of birds. These guys are found in Varanger all year, and somehow they manage survive the arctic winter.
When all the other sandpipers fly south to Africa or more comfortable parts of Europe, the Purple Sandpipers stay.  

I must admit that after spending a few years in Varanger, Arctic Norway, these birds are becoming some of my favourite birds. I enjoy walking around Vardø harbour when the arctic winter is at its harshest, dressed in multiple layers of wool and wind proof clothes. When you have a warm fire place to get home to being outdoors is an easy thing to like. Which is why I really admire the Purple Sandpipers. Their survival skills are just beyond belief. In raging snow storms, freezing temperatures and near complete darkness these birds seem just to go about their ususal business. These small sandpipers are about the size of a Starling, but they still manage to find food and stay warm despite extreme conditions. In Varanger a proper winter storm in December og January can last for two to three weeks, with temperatures down to minus 25 celcius. Add gale force winds on top, and the wind chill factor approaches minus 50 celcius! 

The Biotope office is found by the shore in Vardø. We have great views of the Barents Sea. Arctic Sea Ducks, Guillemots and Purple Sandpipers are our garden birds. During this December and December 2013 I have spent quite a few hours flat on my belly in on the office "beach". Appropriately dressed in a survival suit, camouflaged by dark clothes on top. The following are a few photos I wanted to share with you all, of the amazing Purple Sandpipers. They may not be spectacular or striking in colour, but they are without a doubt some of the coolest birds in the Arctic. I hope you enjoy these photos. They are taken at the lightest hour of the day in December. That is one short hour of dusk. The rest is dark blue and complete darkness. I enjoyed taking the photos - and I enjoyed going in doors after..

Purple Sandpipers chilling out, waiting for a snow storm to pass 

Snow storm passing south Vardø. Photo from outside the Biotope office 

Purple Sandpipers flying by in the dark 

Purple Sandpiper facing a snow storm

Purple Sandpiper - still around when the light slowly returns in late January

Check out more winter birding in Varanger on this Steller´s Eider in January blogpost
Follow our adventures in the Arctic and beyond on www.facebook.com/biotope.no 
and on twitter @Biotopeoffice

We also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone we have worked with in 2014, or who have followed us and supported our work as pro bird and nature architects. Thanks all! And to be continued in 2015!

Tormod A. / Biotope