A business trip to Bergen gave me this chance for a short taster to the magic of birding in the extreme north of Europe - something I had always hoped for, having a well read copy of the inspirational "Wild Wings to the Northlands" by Stan Bayliss Smith. High on my list of target species was Bluethroat, having failed on various other occasions to see this bird.
With only a few days available, I decided the best course of action was to fly from Bergen to Trondheim airport (about 1 hr), hire a car, and then drive the relatively short distance (c. 1.5 hrs) over into Sweden to do some birding in the Lake Annsjon area - which sounded really good from descriptions on the Internet and also the short piece in John Gooder's old "Where to Watch Birds in Europe".
Before travelling, I had made contact with the Lake Annsjon Bird Observatory (contact details below), which is situated in Handol, and is manned during the summer by a team of birders doing bird census work and ringing. Also, they provided a good source of local advice about locations etc, and even led me to the Great Snipe lek at Storlien (more of that later!).
Accommodation in this remote area is not plentiful, especially out of high season, and many places were closed. There was no sign of any hotels in Enafors, despite what the dated Gooders book says. However, the Pensionat Handol (contact details below) provides modestly priced cabin-style accommodation, in close proximity to the bird observatory, and opened during my stay. The cabins have their own cooking facilities, but when I was there good cooked meals were also available. If arranging to stay, it is advisable to check thoroughly with them beforehand (preferably by phone) that they have your booking recorded. When I arrived late in the evening, there was no sign of anyone and nothing about my reservation (there were notes for others about which cabin to stay in, but not me!). So I had to search around for an unlocked cabin to sleep in. The proprietors appeared at lunch time the next day, to open the place properly for the summer, but had no record of my reservation, and were somewhat surprised to find an extra cabin occupied! Only then did I get sheets and a key!
This short trip certainly gave me a taste for northern birding, but I didn't really get to gripes with the forest species which clearly need a lot of walking through the sparsely populated (by birds) northern forests to get to grips with. Maybe I will find an opportunity to return for a longer visit sometime in the future...
This is a very large lake, with reserve areas on the north and west shores. A good viewpoint over the lake can be reached along a track which goes off the main road, just past the village of Ann (has a shop!). In calm conditions, this produced a good collection of water birds, including Velvet and Common Scoters, Scaup, Black-throated and Red-throated Divers, some of these close by, other distant ('scope needed). But on another visit in windier conditions, there was nothing at all! According to one report, the track leading to this spot, and the surrounding region, is reputed to be good for all sort of northern specialities, but I didnt see much sign of them.
The reserve itself is best accessed from the main road in Ann - look for the bird signs. A brief excursion into the reserve (first hide only) was disappointing - only Brambling. Longer visits, further into the reserve would no doubt produce more.
Behind the bird observatory, there is a tower which looks over wet areas, with sections of the lake behind. This was good for Black-throated Divers, Whimbrel and Arctic Terns. The grounds of the Pensionat had Pied Flycatcher and Siskin.
Over the road from Pensionat there was a bushy area around the river which had an elusive but voluble Icterine Warbler.
This is small village is on the Norway/Sweden border, and is higher up than Lake Annsjon. There was an excellent area around a caravan park.
On arrival, I heard and then soon saw my first Bluethroat - singing just beside the railway track - excellent views until a train went by! Further down the track were some excellent pools which had at least 5 very tame Red-necked Phalarope, 3+ Wood Sandpipers, 3 more Bluethroat and a Whimbrel over.
Storlien is also notable for its Great Snipe lek - way up on the mountain side above the village, reached along a track (about a 3/4 hr walk, steepish at times). To see them, you need a very late evening visit (around 11pm or later), and the exact location of the lek would be difficult to find. I went with some birders from the Observatory, and would recommend anyone else does the same. This was a truly memorable occasion - excellent views of several displaying birds in the gloom, with superb mountain views all around. Shame about the rain and mosquitoes - a good repellent was essential! We got back to the cars around 12pm, but it was still light enough to see where you were going OK.
This tiny hamlet is on the north shore of Lake Annsjon, and is reached by a small road, which ends in a fieldy area just east of the buildings. Here there was a Redstart and also Whinchat. Proceeding by foot further to the east, there is a track which goes through some promising wooded areas. Others have had northern specialities such as Siberian Jay around here, and it also looks good for Capercaillie, but I was out of luck during my visit.
Further on, this path emerges into open boggy areas, and connects with the back of the reserve reached from Ann. I went along a track to the right which went close to the lake, but the only notable sighting was a Redpoll - the northern form (flammea) which had a lot of red on it.
Road from Storlien to Annsjon
Arriving quite late, I had Woodcock over some trees, and I also surprised an Elk (Moose) by the road!
Road from Handol to Storulvan
This road goes up hill from Handol, and gives good scenic views over the area. The dwarf birch by the road had lots of Redwing etc. At Storulvan there is a track which goes further up a valley with access to wild fell areas. Could well be worth exploring for things like Bluethroat and even Long-tailed Skua, Rough-legged Buzzard etc, but I didnt have the time or energy to do this.