15 October 2011

The Hornøya wind shelter and birdhide

The birdcliffs of Hornøya is one of Varangers main attractions. This is the easiest accessible birdcliff in Norway. From the harbour of Vardø it takes no more then 10 minutes by boat to reach this truly spectacular place. The nature reserve is home to 150 000 seabirds. Unlike most birdcliff reserves you can walk around it, under and above it. The birds are extraordinarily confiding, and even those armed with no more then a mobile phone with a camera will go home with decent bird pictures. Hornøya is visited every year by roughly 3000 birdwatchers and photographers, and this number is increasing. We aim to make this a good as possible experience for all the visitors, at the same time it is important not to disturb the birds. This is after all their home, allmost like a city for birds - truly an ecological community. Biotope designed a wind shelter / birdhide at the entrancepoint of the reserve. Its design and location makes it a natural place to be for birders and photographers. It gives shelter from the arctic winds, and at the same time you have perfect views of the birdcliff. All photos by Tormod Amundsen / Biotope - copyright 2011. 

Razorbills - one of many seabird species on Hornøya.

Brünnichs Guillemots - one of the most sought after species of Hornøya. A high arctic breeder.

Alcids coming in from the Barents sea. Outer Varangerfjord holds enormous amounts of seabirds all year. A true wildlife spectacle. This is intact nature at its best!

Vardø is its closest neighbour. The easternmost point in Norway.

Peoplewise Finnmark is a very sparsely populated place - only 70 000 people live in an area the size of  Denmark. Birdwise it is another story -Very crowded - now imagine the sound of 150 000 seabirds..

Unlike many other seabirdcolonies you are allowed to walk around inside the bird colony (there is a path that takes around the island of Hornøya - both over and under the colony). Biotope is now working on improving this path with better viewpoints, small shelters and benches. After 30 years of scientists and researchers working on Hornøya, the birds have become very confident. People simply do not pose a threat to the birds - and they know it. Off course calm and predictable behaviour, meaning staying on path and not waving and shouting, is important.

Fantastic photo opportunities is the reward.

A Shag relaxing, but with a sharp eye on the visitor. 

Before building the birdhide we made a 1:1 sketch of the plan to find the exact placement in the terrain. Very early in the prosess we decided on taking advantage of the slope facing the birdcliff.  Vardø town in the background.

The guys at the Vardø Harbour Company ( was hired to build the hide. These are the same guys that does everything from handeling cargoships to driving birders to Hornøya. All the materials for the hide had to be driven out by boat.

The hide was build after all the birds had left the birdcliff (in September/oktober 2010). This ment that we could build it without having to disturb the birds in the breeding season. Local carpenter Thomas Semenoff was also hired to take part in the building. Using local people for the project was important, and having the guys at Vardø Harbour on the project was great.

The birdhide was financed by the Norwegian environmental authorities - the County Governor of Finnmark (Fylkesmannen i Finnmark, miljøvernavdelingen). Here on inspection of the completed hide.

The birdhide / wind shelter is also the place for information about the island and the birdcliffs. Here you will now find information on where you can walk (and where not to walk),  restrictions and guidlines for visitors and off course a map of the island and of the trail to the lighthouse. There is also information about all the bird species breeding in the reserve and som more about the research that has taken place here for three decades. For this purpose we made this 2-page info sheet that is handed out to visitors.

For visiting birders Hornøya is a great experience. With the fasilities in place we are now making sure that both birds and people can enjoy the place. 

Having a basecamp close to the boat pier and with great views of the birdcliff means less walking around trying to find a good place to stay and more time to just enjoy the spectacle.

This is not only architecture for ´the specialists´ or the hardcore birders, it is a place that aim to make Hornøya accessible for everyone. This photo is from the opening day where the local kindergarden had the honors of cutting the ribbon. They all brought a scissor and had a cut-the-red-ribbon-to-a-million-pieces-bonanza, followed by birdwatching from the hide with champagne (soda..) sponsored by the Nature Warden (SNO). Birding to the people!

The hide truly comes to its best use after a long day of bird photography on the island in winter / early spring. The birds start arriving Hornøya in early march for the breeding season.

Puffins (lunde) arriving the Hornøya island in a snow blizzard in late march 2011. 

After a long day of bird photography the birdhide provides shelter from the arctic winds. The design of the hide takes all conditions in to consideration. In bad weather you can stay sheltered and look through your photos without being covered in snow.

A main feature of the hide is a wall in the middle of the hide. This wall divides the hide and you will allways find shelter from the wind on the one or the other side of this wall. With a static structure behind (and around) you the birds become much more confiding, as oppsosed to a person in silouette. 

Hornøya birdcliff - Puffins with views of the Barents sea.