Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In the beginning...

I arrived in Vadsø on the Varanger Peninsula of northeastern Norway on 12 July, with the bike still firmly wrapped in its box. I had spent the previous three weeks in Svalbard counting seabird colonies on Hopen Island with my Norwegian colleagues (many thanks to Eirik Grønningsæter for the arrangements). Now i was on my own, and needed a place to stay while i waited for the touring wheels for my bike to arrive from the UK. I had a decent set of wheels made to stand the test of long-distance bike touring.

I happily camped on Vadsøya, the island in front of the town. This gave me ample time to explore the surrounds on foot for the few days that i waited for the wheels. On the island itself it was easy to see the following breeding species: Redpoll, Common Redshank, European Wheatear, Willow Warbler, and  Red-throated Pipit. The latter was certainly the highlight for me. 

Male Redpoll on Vadsøya

Red-throated pipit on Vadsøya
Along the shorelines there were Common Eiders, European Oystercatchers, Goosanders, Great Black-backed, Herring and Common gulls, while there were good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlins (a major rarity in South Africa by the way) patrolling the shores at low tide. Cormorants and Long-tailed Ducks kept to the deeper parts of the bay between the island and mainland. I also saw my first White-tailed Eagle, gliding effortlessly over the island. I was to be impressed even more with later sightings of this species. There is something majestic about a very large eagle perched on rocks with waves crashing close by...

East side of Vadsøya island showing Red-throated Pipit habitat

The small dam on the island held up to 40 Red-necked Phalaropes and a small group of Tufted Ducks. Although i have seen Red-necked Phalaropes in South Africa, it was good to see them at the other end of the world. Now i know what they are up to when they are not spending the South African summer feeding at the Velddrif salt work ponds on the West Coast.

Is it one or two? Red-necked Phalarope on Vadsøya
The small dam on Vadsøya, with a part of Vadsø town in the background

With the arrival of the bike wheels on 17 July (thanks to Stian and Svein at G-Sport!), it was time to leave Vadsø for a more northerly destination, Vardø. A cycle up the coast to the extreme north east of the peninsula was sure to deliver some good Arctic birds. After a weekend with generally fantastic weather at Vadsø, i departed for Vardø with a good headwind for company. The best way to describe the relentlessness of the wind would be to report that my average speed was consistently below 10 kilometres per hour, dropping to 5 km/h when faced with a gentle incline. Despite the wind and regular drizzle, i steadily made my way to the first stop along the way, Ekkerøy, some 15 km further north along the coast. Once a fishing town, it now serves as a popular holiday destination. For birders, the main attraction is the large cliff on the east side of this 'semi-island' (connected to the mainland by only a sand bar). 

The Kittiwake cliff on Ekkerøy

The cliff supports up to 20 000 Kittiwakes, although smaller numbers of guillemots and Razorbills also occur. Having seen many Kittiwakes in Svalbard, what i was really looking for was the resident pair of Gyr Falcons, which made a brief but impressive display of their skill at harassing kittiwakes. With another sighting of White-tailed Eagle, i was ready to continue north into the wind. I never made the 72 km from Vadsø to Vardø in one day, mostly due to the lengthy stop-over at Ekkerøy, so ended up camping beside the road after covering 50 km. Beaten but not defeated!
The wind continued until the next morning, and throughout the rest of the day. I must admit i was in not much of a mood for birding most of the day; must have lost it with the wind... However, i was generously rewarded with a single female Steller's Eider at the small harbour of Kiberg. With renewed excitement i headed out of town, only to be called over by a curious resident. He had been watching the Tour de France, so insisted i come in and knock off my shoes for a while. After some Norwegian salmon, boiled eggs and homemade bread (and a few hours later), i was off again. Great hospitality! The energy-sapping climb up to the top of Domen Mountain was the second last hurdle to Vardø, followed by the nearly 3 km tunnel that connects this island town to the mainland. This impressive tunnel, built in 1983, is 88 metres below sea level. Speeding down the one half was great, but the uphill was something else; but the absence of wind (for once!) made the climb a delight.

The Vardø subsea tunnel

More on Vardø next time, as i need to get back on the road, but i leave you with this...


Thanks for reading!!     


  1. Wonderful to read about your journey and see the photos.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hi Eric,

    Only heard about your journey today, have fun and be safe.
    From Johan, Lara, David and baby Katya.
    God Bless and have a good “fahrt”!

  3. Lovely photos Eric, and must be amazing to see so many Kittiwakes!
    Enjoy and take care, Tania

  4. Have a safe and enjoyable trip. Thanks for sharing your experiences.


    Ken Buk

  5. The blog looks great Eric! Good luck with the weather. No doubt you shall experience all the variations of it that mother nature can generate! Here to many hospitable strangers along the way and special feathered friends!


  6. Hi Eric

    What a wonderful adventure! Well done for taking the step! Wishing you many special encounters and a wonderful time