Thursday, September 20, 2012

Finally, heading south

After covering the Varanger Peninsula reasonably well since the start of my journey in July, it was indeed time to head south. My aim was to get to Tromso before the end of August, a distance of approximately 700 km passing the larger towns of Lakselv, Alta and Storslett. My first stopover was at Tana to meet up with my next host Rajan, who, like Arve, was a real inspiration for travelling. Rajan’s down-to-earth approach to life was infectious, and his hospitality without limits; I was treated to traditional Sami reindeer stew, sea trout cooked over coals, and lots of ice-cream. Rajan had a day off from work, so I joined him and his brother for a short fishing stint at the Tana Delta (no bites), before we departed ways. I headed a few kilometers north to set up camp at Kalbaknes, with a spectacular view over the Tana delta and surrounding mountains. My neighbours were two German couples who were touring Norway with their campervans and it was not long before we got acquainted. I was soon served pan-fried fish, bread and a couple of hot drinks to go with the great company. A guitar was later brought forth by one of the gentlemen, who played a few well-known English and German tunes while we watched the vast Tana delta bathed in moonlight. Another memorable moment…

The Tana delta in the late afternoon.

Well before the break of dawn I awoke to an astounding sight. There were literally thousands of Goosanders spread across the main river channels of the delta, riding the outgoing tide. I had never seen so many Goosanders together before, but the birds dispersed rapidly as the waters approached low tide. As the morning progressed, i scanned the mudflats for any exciting birds amongst the masses of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, finding the odd White-tailed Eagle perched on a sand bank. Arctic Skuas were also present, flying back and forth on the lookout for easy pickings. An Artic Redpoll made a brief appearance before I headed off to start the day’s cycle. Typical birds seen along the way, usually flushed from the roadside thicket, included Fieldfares, Redwings, Magpies, and Meadow Pipits. Redpolls, Willow and Great Tits were usually picked up by the calls, while the occasional Bluethroat was seen in willow thickets.

The only owl seen on this part of the trip!

The next two days presented some of the hardest cycling I had encountered yet. The 100 km stretch from Kalbaknes to Kunes via Iford had numerous climbs, some taking over an hour to defeat. But  the steep ascends usually meant that cliffs would not be far away, so it was not long before I was rewarded with good views of a flying Gyr Falcon. A Black Guillemot at one of the fjords was also a nice find, as I had not seen this species since late July at Vardø. Just outside the town of Iford I had great views of my first male Willow Grouse beside the road, but the close encounter made it hard to get the camera out without flushing the bird. Instead, I have a photo of a Hooded Crow, a species seen daily in Norway! 

Its signs like this that gave me the shivers, not the weather.

Hooded Crow, a common species seen daily.

I arrived at Kunes the next morning hoping to catch the grocery store to get some essentials for the day. Upon arrival, I soon realised that the only store in town was closed. I had lost track of time, it was already Sunday, a day when all stores in Norway are closed. My dismay quickly turn to bright cheerfulness when a town resident living close to the store ask if I needed help, and then invited me to join her and a friend for lunch! I was generously treated to bacon and eggs, and amazingly for this part of the world, freshly picked garden strawberries. This was a great stopover, and I was again grateful for the wonderful hospitality.

The ride from Kunes to my next destination, Lakselv, was an easier ride than what i had passed through before. Small lakes beside the road produced some waterfowl species, such a Wigeon and Common Teal, as well as my first Pintail. The only climb was the stretch to the Silfar Canyon, one of Northern Europe’s largest at a depth of 80 metres. The crystal clear water cutting through dolomite makes this canyon especially impressive. Unfortunately no cliff-loving raptors were to be seen in the vicinity.

A part of the Silfar Canyon.

The downhill ride from Silfar brought me into the Porsanger Fjord, which has the most expansive mudflats anywhere in the Finnmark County of Northern Norway. A stopover at a small lake beside the fjord produced a pair of Whooper Swans with four juveniles, but with the sun nearly set, there was not much time to explore the seemingly productive area any further. I pushed on to get to Lakselv before if got too late.

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