Itinerary - Birding in Varangerfjord
You will be picked up by myself and our guide at Kirkenes, Norway, and undertake a three-hour journey to Vadsø, in the Varangerfjord itself.
As we reach the rolling Arctic tundra, its monotonous landscape is deceptive, because the area is teeming with breeding waders, skuas and passerines. We will not be making any prolonged stops at this point, but the likely species we might see from the roadside include Golden Plover, Redshank, and Ringed Plover. The tops of shrubs are good vantage points to proclaim territories and Bluethroats and Lapland Buntings are likely to be seen singing their hearts out if a nice sunny day. A Gyrfalcon and Rough-legged Buzzard may be soaring high in the sky.
Our hotel is situated on the Vadsøya Island with convenient access to the sea for those early morning strolls along the shore.
We will spend three days exploring the Varangerfjord and its habitats: tundra, lakes, bogs, the coast and the sea.
We will undertake a few short walks deeper into the tundra in search of its breeding inhabitants, which includes numerous waders in their vibrant breeding plumage. Those include species such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Redshank, Whimbrel, Little Stint and Temminck’s Stint. A Shorelark, Laplang Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Northern Wheatear and Snow Bunting will fill the air with their thrilling songs. However, the highlight perhaps, for the majority of us, could be a Red-necked Phalarope delicately scooping insects from the water surface. Arctic Skuas are common and encounters with them are inevitable here, but seeing the less abundant Long-tailed Skuas is also possible. The many lakes hold breeding pairs of Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver and Long-tailed Ducks. This is also the domain of the Snowy Owl, but their numbers fluctuate from year to year, according to vole and lemming cycle, so seeing them is not guaranteed.
White-tailed Eagles have a healthy population here and, no doubt, we will see them hunting along the shore, as well as Rough-legged Buzzard.
We will undertake a special excursion through a moon-like landscape dotted with spectacular cliffs and magnificent beaches to the deserted town of Hamningberg “at the very end of Europe”. Apart from offering one of the best waffles in the Varangerfjord area, Hamningberg also accommodates one of the biggest populations of seabirds in Northern Europe. We might be too late for the mesmerizing passage of thousands of divers and eiders, but Stellers Eider, King Eider and White-billed Diver are Varangerfjord's specialties and we will look out for those. Other birds such as Red-throated Pipit and Arctic Redpoll breed in the area and are also possible encounters.
As we move along the coast, we might come across substantial flocks of Mergansers and Goosanders who come here in their hundreds to moult. Their plumage at this time of the year can be confusing and telling the two species apart is tricky.
A stop at Ekkerøy, one of the oldest fishing villages on the Varangerfjord and connected to the mainland by a sandy isthmus, will provide the opportunity to explore the colony of 20,000 pairs of Kittiwakes on 50 m high cliffs. A small colony of Arctic Terns is also present on the shore.
We will undertake a half-day excursion by boat (weather permitting) to the large seabird colonies on the islet of Hornøya. The Hornøya Nature Reserve is the most eastern protected bird colonies in Norway and home to thousands of Kittiwakes, Puffins, Shags, Guillemots, Black Guillemots and Razorbills. The rare Brünnich’s Guillemot, with only a few colonies in Europe, also breeds here and we will make an effort to find them too. The island provides great opportunities for bird photography. We will take a walk to the top of the island, where a lighthouse is located and where an excellent view stretches over the Arctic Ocean.
Today, we will drive south to Pasvik and after passing by numerous lakes and bogs, we will eventually reach the boreal forest. En route, we will make some short stops to listen out for Arctic Warbler, who should be back by now from their wintering grounds further south.
If time allows, we will also visit one of Europe's best known breeding sites of Gyrfalcon.
We will have a day to explore Pasvik's boreal forests in search of Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Pine Grosbeak, Two-barred Crossbill and Waxwing. In the past few years, the three former species were frequent visitors to local feeders and if we are lucky, we might get pretty good close up views. Three-toed Woodpecker, Northern Hawk Owl and Great Grey Owl also inhabit this forest and are possible encounters, whilst we should also listen out for Little Bunting, Rustic Bunting and Arctic Warbler (they should be back by the time of our visit)
Nearby wetlands will not be ignored either and possible species seen here might include Smew, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper and Little Gull. In the evening, we will venture into the night in search for Broad-billed Sandpiper and Jack Snipe, whose displaying flight sounds like galloping horses.
Pasvik is one of the best areas in Scandinavia for the Brown Bear and, although, no special effort will be made to find one, we can’t exclude the possibility of seeing one.
If time allows, we will do some morning birding in the forest, before travelling north to Kirkenes and undertake our return flight home.
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