Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Birding the Varanger Fjord

After attending to business in Vadsø on 30 July, I was off to the island in front of town, Vadsøya, to do the final round of birding. This would be my last trip to the island as I had to head west to get around the fjord to reach my next destination, Pasvik. Things had changed somewhat  around the small dam on Vadsøya since my weekend stay there some two weeks earlier; the Common Redshanks had moved their young further from the dam, the adult Red-necked Phalaropes had all left, leaving only a handful of juveniles, and the male Tufted Ducks had departed, leaving two females with newly hatched ducklings. Much to my surprise, a Spotted Redshank flew in at sunset while I was having a quick dinner. What a way to end the day! After that I was on the road heading west to Varangerbotn, at the very end of the fjord, which would be the turning point before heading to Pasvik. 

Sunset over the dam on Vadsøya

The 70 km trip from Vadsø to Varangerbotn took two days, mainly due to frequent rain showers. Along the way I saw the usual common species in the roadside thickets, such as Bramblings, Redpolls, Fieldfares, Willow Warblers, and Redwings. The first stop was at Vestre Jakobselv, where I spent some time getting a load of laundry washed at the local campsite. The river mouth at Jakobselv delivered some Common Ringed Plovers, as well as my first little Stint for the trip and four Spotted Redshanks. A juvenile Black-headed Gull and adult Arctic Tern where amongst the usual gull species (Common, Herring and Great Black-backed Gull). 

Little Stint at Vestre Jakobselv, along the northern shore of the Varanger Fjord

Further along the road I stopped at the Varanger Sami Museum and cultural trail, where the traces of human occupancy dating back over a period of more than 10 000 years is still visible. The trail takes one on an informative walk amongst ruins, Sami sacrificial sites, tombs, and sacrificial stones. The tent and house foundations are now nothing more than depressions in the ground – if only we could leave such a legacy after our generation! 

The foundation of a subterranean house dating back to 1500-1000 BC
The next stop was the town of Nesseby, and in particular, the Nesseby church. This quaint little church, built in 1858, stands between two prime shorebird mudflats. After picking up the usual Dunlins and Common Ringed Plovers, I was rewarded with my next lifer, Common Shelduck. A flock of eight birds were spending time in the small pond a short distance behind the church. Next morning, at low tide, there were also Black-tailed Godwits, Greylag Geese and a pair of Yellow Wagtails to be seen, but not much else. The wind and occasional drizzle forced me to the next stop, Varangerbotn. But fortunately, I was generally sponsored with two light-duty rain ponchos from two Norwegian birders, which certainly made my traveling in wet weather more comfortable. 

Prime shorebird mudflats at lowtide at the Nesseby church

At Varangerbotn there were two nicely positioned hides for watching shorebirds. Besides Dunlins and Common Ringed Plover, there were more Little Stints and one Curlew Sandpiper, which was a pleasant surprise. Spotted Redshanks were also heard in the vicinity but not seen, while Greylag Geese, Goosanders and a Black-throated Diver kept a distance. I was still waiting to get Temminck’s Stint, which is occasionally seen here, before the incoming tide quickly sent the last of the shorebirds off to a distant roost. With no shorebirds to scrutinise for Temminck’s Stint, I intended to make a quick trip to the local store for some groceries...

It was here that I met brothers Deniz and Bilal, who promptly invited me to their neighbouring restaurant for a cup of tea. Before I knew it, I was ‘sponsored’ with a large meaty pizza (to build strength for the ride, as Deniz put it), and the short trip to the grocery store turned into a six-hour sit-down in the local restaurant. Its times like these that make a journey unforgettable... Over several more cups of tea and a second meal, Bilal and I discussed life philosophy, about regaining ones individuality, living in the moment, and living life without fear. Somehow, this conversation was meant to be… 

The next day, still full after all the protein-loading from the previous day, I took on the 130 km route to Kirkenes, the gateway to Pasvik. Although I was more focused on cycling to cover the distance, I did spot a Hawk Owl (a daytime hunter) and a Three-toed Woodpecker on a wooden pylon, both lifers for me. 

A posting on the trip to Pasvik, which supports pristine pine forest and the vast Pasvik River, will follow shortly. I hope to get some maps up shortly too, showing the sites visited, so please do return. Thanks for reading! 


  1. Hawk Owl's and Three-toed Woodpecker; shouldn't be too long before you are visited by Siberian Jays . . . . Forest camping just a little further south should guarantee them, and that will be yet another magical experience . . . .
    Enjoying your news. Cheers

  2. Great read!! Hope you get more of those "sponsored" treats along the way! Keep well.

  3. Good going Eric......looking forward to some more stories and pix ! August winds are on time and causing havoc with veld fires our way...hope they bring early Spring rains.

  4. Brilliant stuff. A life experience for you indeed, and a pleasure to share.