09 October 2011

The surfbirds of Vardø

About knowing the sites and times to visit

Vardø in Varanger is well known for its very rich birdlife. We will make a post later that will cover many of the key sites. Many of these sites are visited by thousands of birders every year, like the birdcliffs of Hornøya. This is a spectacular birdcliff with more then 100 000 seabirds in a very easily accessible place. If you leave Hornøya without great photos of a wide variety of seabirds, then the camera is not to blame. 

Then there are the smaller sites or microhabitats, that are often overlooked. Sandvika in Vardø is such a place. It is a very small beach not pointed out on any map or given a sign in Vardø, but this is actually a very birdrich little place. The beach faces north, and a massive belt of kelp often cover the beach. The rotting kelp and upswirled sea makes this a perfect feeding place for waders. During spring and autumn migration this is a place all birders should have a look at. The beach can hold pretty good numbers of birds for such a small place. For bird photographers it is important to know very precisely where and when to visit a site, and what to look for. This is a tip for birders / birdphotographers that plan an autumn visit to Varanger: It seems that every year during the two first weeks in August this beach is the favored place in outer Varangerfjord for young Red-necked Phalaropes. The phalaropes ´play´ around in the surf and pick of food from the sea. Watching the birds so effortlessly finding food and surfing the waves is quite a spectacular performance - and a great photo opportunity. When planning a trip it is important to know about the possibilities of a place, so this is one that deserves some attention. The birds are very confiding, and on the best days I have counted more then 600 phalaropes (mid August) around the beach and the nearby breakwater (molo). It is a great little place and always worth a visit (remember to ignore the ´driving prohibited´-sign at the turn-off road to the beach. It is there by old habit, and no-one minds..). It is also one of the best places for close up views of Purple Sandpipers in early spring. A map of Vardø with Sandvika is added. The following photos are the result of a few hours spent at the beach this august. All photos are taken with a nikon d300s + 300mm F4. 

Sandvika, Vardø. On the photo you see Hornøya birdcliff in the background (high, in centre of picture)

Red-necked Phalaropes finding food in the surf

It is all about timing. Lift-off just before the wave hits requiers skills

Most birds do so effortlessly and with style

Others just barely make it

 and few still need to work on their timing

A visit to Sandvika in Vardø in early august is a highly recommendable experience. For next autumn we are working on setting up a bird ringing station i Varanger - a venture not previously done in Varanger in this time of the year. Most birders visit from march to july, and the autumn migration in Varanger is pretty much a new frontier in birding. That is another story, to be continued later..