A visit to Hornoya was another significant highlight of our trip to the Arctic Circle – you just can’t beat visiting seabird colonies, especially when you can get close to the birds and take in the whole experience – the constant to-ing and fro-ing of the birds, the sound, the smell! Looking across, or down, at a colony from a distance away just isn’t the same.
The island is particularly well known as arguably the easiest site for Brunnich’s Guillemot in Europe… so the first thing we did after an entertaining RIB ride across from Vardo was to scan through a big raft of auks just offshore. Can you see any? (If you want to make life a bit easier, click the photo for a larger image!)
I reckon there’s at least 8 in there!
With a bit of practice, they were actually quite easy to pick out in flight, too – compare these two shots: Brunnichs first, then Common.
The Brunnich’s best-known feature is the white ‘tomium stripe’ on the gape line – but in practice, it was the flank and underwing pattern differences that stood out most readily. Common Guillemots are well streaked on the flanks, and tend to have a variable amount of dirty smudging on the base of the underwing – by contrast, Brunnich’s is pretty clean. They’re also a subtly different shape, more compact and dumpy and with a clearly shorter, thicker bill. Finally, they’re genuinely black and white, very crisply coloured compared to the somewhat brownish Common Guillies.
In several regards, then, they’re a bit like a Razorbill with a slimmed down bill. Razorbill were not especially common when we were there, and Puffin were scarcer still – they hadn’t started returning to their burrows yet, we were probably just a few days too early.
For some much better photos of Puffins, and other Arctic seabirds, take a look at Tormod Amundsen’s ‘Biotope’ website. In particular, his series of shots of the young Gyr turning on an over-bold Raven is superb – would’ve loved to have seen this unfolding above us! See this Gyr vs Raven page.
We contacted Tormod in advance of our trip, hoping to benefit a little from some local knowledge, and were absolutely delighted with the amount of detailed info he passed our way – many thanks for your help!