27 January 2012

GULLFEST - the Arctic birding highlight of 2012

In collaboration with Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers we have put together a new birding event: the Arctic GullFest! 

Everyone who ever thought of visiting Varanger - this is a very good opportunity to do so! There is a lot happening in the arctic north. There is much talk of the North East Passage opening new global possibilities in trade, oil- and  gas explorations / exploitations - We aim to put birds and nature on the map. Varanger has for a long time been a well known birding destination, and for good reasons: This is where the Gulf stream meets the climate of the arctic. Seas are kept open and the shallow Varanger fjord is facing east and is therefore protected by heavy waves caused by typically heavy westerly winds, on top of this (and because of) is one of the richest fishing fields of Norway. All this combined makes ground for spectacular birdlife. We want to promote and protect this as best we can, and make these natural qualities count when the future of the arctic north is being decided. 

At the same time we want to make this a great experience as possible, for those who are engaged in birds and nature. The first Arctic Gullfest is from 13 - 17th of April 2012 and you are invited to join us for this very exiting birding event! 


This will be five days of great birding experiences, inspiring and educational talks and slide shows.
We invite you to come to the town of Vardø, one of the most bird rich places in the famous birding destination of Varanger Fjord. 

Our GullFest base camp will be a large Lavvo  (Samí / indigenous people inspired tent) at Hasselneset with great views of Vardø harbour and the Hornøya Bird cliff. Here all facilities will be in place : fantastic birdlife, warm local food, shelter (bird hide architecture in ice!) and a lavvo fireplace to keep you warm. You see the dark ´clouds´on the water on the photo above? -that is huge rafts of alcids: Brünnich´s Guillemots, Razorbills, Guillemots and puffins. They gather 100 000´s around Vardø and the outer Varanger fjord.

From the base camp we will chum heavily for gulls every day, thanks to the good help from the fishermen of Vardø. With gull enthusiast and Birdlife consultant Frode Falkenberg we are doing a color ringing scheme. This will give us the possibility of close studies of the Arctic gulls (possibly also gps-tagging of gulls, with 1:1 streaming on a digital public map). Expect thousands of gulls at close range. 

Every evening we have inspiring talks by Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers on the following subjects:
1) The New Approach to identifying gulls
2) Age it before you identify it (key aspects of ageing large gulls)
3) Stop Reading Books and start watching birds! (Get a different perspective and you will find more birds)
4) What are we missing? The rare gulls still waiting to be found. 

We also have talks and slide shows by Frode Falkenberg, Tristan Reid and others (programme still being finalised)
Frode: Identification of Northern gulls -Norwegian ´gullery´.
Tormod: Architecture and nature - new perpespectives in bird conservation and destination development.

Tristan Reid of the Talking Naturally Podcast will broadcast from the GullFest 

Nils Van Duivendijk, author of the exellent and groundbreaking Advanced Bird ID Guide books will give talks and run a ´Mystery Gull´ competition (see review, it is an intant classic!) 

 Iceland Gull above, Glaucous Gull below - the day record for Glaucous in April 2011 was 3300+ birds..

Every day we will have trips to the spectacular birdcliff Hornøya (just 10 min. by boat from Vardø harbour). Here more then 100 000 seabirds will give exellent photo opportunities. Brünnich Guillemot, Guillemot (incl. ssp. hyperborea), Razorbill, Puffin, Black Guillemot, Kittiwake, Glaucous Gull (our record count from last spring was 3300+ birds on one day!), Iceland Gull, Herring Gull and more. Remember to bring enough gigabytes and battery life! Also wide angle lenses are advisable : the birds come very close (photo below taken with a Leica d-lux3 23mm lens compact camera).

King Eider and Arctic seaduck photosafari by boat: In winter and early spring rafts of 4-5000 thousand King Eiders gather around Vardø. We will set up trips by boat for exellent photo opportunities of these magnificent high arctic seaducks. The last day we will spend in Vadsø (inner Varanger Fjord) where we will have great opportunities for close studies of Stellers Eiders by boat (also great views from land). 

´The Fishermans Pelagic´: we will have the possibility of joining a fishing vessel to sea. This must surely be the ultimate Gull pelagic! 

The Talks will be held at both the Vardø Hotel (with views of the harbour) and the ´North Pole Pub´ (Nordpol Kro) - This is where the polar explorers Nansen and Amundsen stayed before their arctic expeditions, the last civilised outpost, and a favoured pub by fishermen for 150 years! 

+ more to come : We are still sorting out more birding niceness for the GullFest!

Birding is of course the main focus, and the species will include:
Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Kittiwake, Herring Gull (northern argentatus), Great Black-backed Gull, Common Gull and any other gull we can find, hopefully of an even more arctic (or eastern!) caliber..
Also we will see most if not all of the following: King Eiders, Stellers Eiders - both in thousands, Long-tailed Duck, Scoters, Divers - inlcuding White-billed Diver, Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl (never certain, but they had a great 2011 in Northern Norway), Purple Sandpiper, many thousands of alcids (including Brünnichs Guillemot), Arctic Redpoll, Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay, Willow Grouse, Ptarmigan, White-tailed Eagle and more. Max number of species is not our focus - remember this is the arctic, however seeing a maximum number of birds is! We will also see several species of mammals: Reindeer, Arctic Hare, Otter, several species of Seal, Orca and more. 

Varanger in early spring provides a grandstand view of the Arctic's wildlife and very rich birdlife - a beatifull spectacle of nature! 

You are welcome to be a part of this event : Join Martin Garners group or simply just show up in Vardø on the 13th of April! Contact us and we can help you with advice and contact info for accomodation and flights (we will help you find the best deals). 

The Itinerary map:

This festival is a prototype, and being the first of its kind, we have some very good friends who are helping us with everything from cooking great local food at the base camp to financing and getting fish livers for chumming. In short : what we deliver will be of high quality, but at very affordable prices! We will charge 10 GBP / Kr pr day to be paid at the Gullfest base camp (or by joining Martin Garner extended trip, with the Pasvik Taiga included). We will offer a range of great birding experiences at very affordable prices. The fee includes access to all talks, reduced prices on trips, very good (and very nicely priced) food at the base camp, free access to the Gull chumming and ringing activities, free guiding by organisers Martin Garner and Tormod Amundsen and free help with advice on flights, accomodation, birds and sites to visit before your trip - and we are still improving our programme, so stay tuned for updates!

Our friends are: the hospitable people of Vardø, the local fishermen, Vardø Friluftsforening, Destination Varanger, the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management (the Natural Heritage Programme / Naturarvprosjektene). Thanks to the effort of these, in cooperation with Biotope and Birding Frontiers, we are now able to provide you with this very affordable and great-value-for-the-money birding event! 

Check out our (still evolving and improving) programme:

Feel free to join us, and please forward the info about the Arctic GullFest

Flight / travel / accomodation proposal (with costs): 

We have proposed the following to and from England, after looking at several possibilities (there are also flights for cheap prices most days after 11April, so people can join in according to their own schedule). We have checked airlines norwegian.no and sas.no 
The below suggest is the cheapest, and most convenient (several possibilities here). Contact us for more help if needed.

April 11 


334,- NOK 
36,01 GBP 

Change from Norwegian to SAS at Gardermoen airport. 

Oslo (Gardermoen) - Kirkenes(Høybuktmoen)
Depart 17.55 - Arrive 20.00
1164,- NOK
125,51 GBP 

Retour : April 18. 

Kirkenes (Høybuktmoen) - Oslo (Gardermoen)

12.00 - 14.05 
299,- NOK 
32,24 GBP 

249,- NOK26,85 GBP 

Total 220,61 GBP
= 2040,75 NOK 

Prize accommodation in Vardø 

Skagen bo og havfiske:
double room (500,- NOK) 53,62 GBP

Vardo hotel: 
Singleroom (1070,-NOK) 114, 75 GBP 
Double room (1170,-NOK) 125,47 GBP 

We can also help you with find affordable accomodation in other places in Vardø (we know the right people..) 
Prices from 25 GBP pr person pr night. Contact Tormod. 

Prize accommodation in Pasvik:
Birkhusky  B&B overnight / accomodation (500,- NOK) 53, 62 GBP 
A whole day of Dog sled, food included (1790,- NOK) 192 GBP for whole day 

Price Coastal Express (ship) & transport (RIB) to Hornøya Bird cliff, in Varanger 

Hurtigruten (Coastal Express) from Kirkenes 12.45 - Vardø 16.00 (only one ferry a day) 
(341,-NOK) 36,5 GBP This is a great pelagic!

Hurtigruten (Coastal Express) from Vadsø 08.00 - Kirkenes 09.45 (only one ferry a day) 
(159,-NOK) 17,05 GBP 
(Corresponding with 12.00 flight to Oslo) 

Boat to Hornøya from Vardø (access to Hornøya Bird cliff) 
(270,- NOK) 28,95 GBP 

Contact info: 

Tormod Amundsen / Biotope                        Martin Garner / Birding Frontiers                             
www.biotope.no                                              www.birdingfrontiers.com
email: tormod@biotope.no                            martin.go@virgin.net            
mob: +47 99 33 49 82                                    mob: 07789982226
twitter: @BiotopeOffice                                   twitter: @birdingfrontier

 Vardø seen from a fishing vessel : the birders capital of the Arctic!

Welcome to the GullFest of 2012

Tormod A. / Biotope