Thursday, September 6, 2012

A short trip to Grense Jakobselv

After visiting Pasvik I was keen to try out another detour, to Grense Jakobselv, which was highly recommended by a British couple I met earlier on my journey. Grense Jakobselv lies on the Barents Sea and is the northern-most border area between Norway and Russia. It is also listed as a worthwhile birding spot, where good numbers of seabirds can be seen. It was a 60 km trip from Kirkenes so I decided to cycle there and back in two days, to make up time for the impending southward journey through Norway. The scenery during the first half of the trip to Grense Jakobselv was pretty much the same as what I had been used too in these parts of Norway, but it was the second half that blew me away. Passing the Jarfjordfjellet Mountains, where the rock is some of the oldest in Europe, was something to behold. This was followed by the spectacular descent into the valley of the Jakobselv River, which reminded me of the drop from the escarpment into the Lowveld in South Africa (something I have unfortunately not had the opportunity to do often enough).  

A portion of Jarfjordfjellet Mountains, some of the oldest rock in Europe.

It was after the drop into the valley that I met Frank and Lill, who invited me for a cup of tea at Lill’s mother’s house. Sitting outdoors around a fire drinking tea in the company of great people was the perfect way to round off the day’s trip. It turned out my new Norwegian friends were old friends of Ronny in Kiberg; what an amazing world! After saying our farewells, i was on my bike again to complete the last few easy kilometers to the mouth of the Jakobselv River. The river with its stretches of sand banks and lush riparian woodland kept reminding me of South Africa. Was I homesick already? Never! Or not just yet. I think i experienced an epiphany during this part of the trip, coming to the full realisation that everything is one, everything is connected somehow, and like i have read somewhere before, 'all is everything, everything is one'. So no matter where we find ourselves in this world, our planet is still one organism, and all life is a continuum. 

The Jakobselv River.

The birds were quiet as it was already early evening, but it was not long before i reached the sea. With still enough good evening light, i did some scouting for shorebirds and others at the river mouth and beach, picking up the usuals such as Oystercatcher, Common Eider, Herring and Great Black-backed Gull, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser. A small flock of Red Knots in non-breeding plumage amongst a rocky patch along the beach was an exciting find. Next morning revealed numerous Cormorants, Shags, Kittiwakes and Arctic Skuas flying back and forth just offshore. The latter were harassing the Kittiwakes as usual. Some Black-throated Divers were also not too far off. 

Overlooking the fjord at Grense Jakobselv.

The mudflats at the river mouth lagoon were surprisingly quiet in terms of shorebirds, although there were hundreds of roosting gulls and good numbers of Hooded Crows. I searched the gull flocks for an out-of-range Glaucous Gull, which would stand out like a sore thumb because of its large size, but no luck. Fieldfares and Redpolls occupied the areas with denser shrubs while Meadow Pipits were common in the vegetated dune fields. My lifer for the day was a pair of Willow Tits in the riparian thicket, a species I would see many times in the following weeks.

Looking back at the Jakobselv River valley, with mudflats on the left.

The trip back to Kirkenes was again spectacular, especially with the sun managing to break through the clouds more often than the day before. Along the way I was again pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the locals. I was stopped by a family, with members of three generations present, and after answering enthusiastic questions relating to my journey, was handed a box of Russian chocolates! Later that evening i met up with my host, Arve. Chatting to people who are passionate about traveling is truly inspirational, and one can learn so much from their ‘out-of-the-box’ life experiences. Unfortunately there was not much time to chat due to Arve’s busy schedule, but I am most grateful for the opportunity to have met him.

Willow Tit

On the way back to Varangerbotn I spent a night close to Neiden, in a last effort to get Little Bunting the next morning. With an early visit to the chapel at Neiden where the buntings had been recorded in the past, I was greeted by a host of other species instead, such as Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Redpoll, Willow Warbler and my first Bluethroat with a blue throat. It was actually just a small patch of bright blue on an otherwise brown bird. Nonetheless, it was exciting enough to see as all previous individuals I had seen in Pasvik and Kirkenes had no bright colours at all. Moving on west I had good views of a juvenile Cuckoo beside the road, as well as a female Tufted Duck with ducklings. Arriving late at Varangerbotn, I again visited the bird hides in the hope of catching up with Temminck’s Stint, but it seemed that things were no longer the same since my visit two weeks earlier. I got the feeling that the shorebirds, especially the small waders, had perhaps begun their southward migration. Even the mosquitoes seemed to have moved on, as I had no trouble getting a good night’s rest on the bench in the bird hide.

Having reached Varangerbotn, I was now ready to begin the southward journey through Norway. I had visited some great birding sites in the north-east of the country, but it was now time to make progress, or I would get caught by the Norwegian winter.


  1. Hi Eric. I am so glad that you are enjoying your travels so much and that it seems that the people are treating you nicely. I love the blogs and enjoy it so much to read it - feels like a break from reality here in SA. Good luck with the winter. I hope you have enough warm clothes. Miss you very much.

  2. Hi Eric, I am the polish guy you met on the bridge on Lofoten. It seemed that the weather was getting shitty. I am still impressed about your journey. I've just seen your beautiful photos and I am curious about your observations on Lofoten. As a layman I have not noticed many kinds of birds there. I'm waiting on your next post and hoping you are doing well.

  3. Hi Krzysiek

    Good to hear from you, and hope you are doing well too. I hope you enjoyed the rest of your time in Lofoten. When i left Moskenes for Vaeroy and Rost Islands the weather was indeed not great, but i had an amazing three days on the islands with good weather. I hope it was the same for you in Lofoten! I am trying to catch up with the posts for the blog, but i have been pushing hard to get south so have not had much time. Hopefully soon. All the best, Eric