24 April 2012

GULLFEST 2012 - birding to the people!

 Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus Polarmåke

Gull ringing at the Gullfest base camp

The 2012 Arctic Gullfest in Varanger is just finished. It was a long-weekend of fantastic company, inspiring talks, great food and of course great birds and birding experiences! We are quite overwhelmed by the number of people who visited the Gullfest and contributed to its making. It will require several articles to cover this event. Some 300 locals visited the Gullfest base camp at Vardøs Hasselnes during the festival,  a 100++ people joined us at the opening day (and night..) at Nordpol Kro (´the North Pole pub´) and approx 50 birders from Spain, England, Ireland, Netherland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Germany and Canada found their way to Varanger and Vardø! 

Now, only a few days after the Gullfest we are recieving lots of mails with feedback on this first ever Arctic birding event in Varanger. We are so thankful for all of you who took part in this event and made it great and memorable!! 

"Only one word can describe birding the Varanger Fjord and periphery…..WOW!"
- Tristan Reid / Talking-Naturally, Gullfest keynote speaker

"So many thanks for the amazing experience that was 'GullFest'! Your efforts, attention, vision and support were so much appreciated by me on what was a fantastic visit to your splendid town and area. The friendliness and attention from your colleagues and fellow townspeople towards us, reflected your attitude and approach which made the whole experience such a delight." 
- Ian Wright, GullFest pioneer.

The Gullfest base camp was the senter of this event, with a 35 man lavvo (tent) with a fireplace and warm food made by the allways exellent chef, Tor Emil at Vardo Hotel. At our base camp we had telescopes, bird magazines (many 100s sent by our good friends at www.birdlife.no Thanks!). Many thanks to bird ringers Morten Helberg and Arild Breistøl we could run a gull ringing scheme. A huge success both for birders and locals.

The Gullfest base camp seen from Hornøya bird cliff. Vardø town in the background and the Varanger tundra in the far background. A flock of gulls are gathering over the gull trap, that is filled with herring from the local fishery.

The Gullfest was in reality a birdfest, with lots of species ´on the menu´, but the gulls undoubtedly played a key role. An exiting group of birds, with hybridizing, unclear species boundaries and with very much still to be explored. Gull are clearly a birding frontier. 

Birders and Gullfest pioneers Daniel Lopez-Velasco, keynote speaker, and Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers, keynote speaker and trip organiser. On Hornøya bird cliff.

The Gullfest was officially opened at Nordpol Kro at 20.00 on the 13th of April, with a talk by Tormod from Biotope, who introduced the contributors, the locals in Vardø who helped make the event possible and a gave summary of the recent years birding destination development in Varanger / Arctic Norway. Varanger has evolved from a ´titting and måse´-destination to a destination where people are proud of the regions unique birdlife and are familiar with the arctic specialities like Steller´s Eider. By the way: ´Titting and måse´ is north norwegian for little bird and big bird, or rather sparrow and gull, and any bird will fit into one or the other category!

The pub was filled with people - birders from all over Europe and locals. Martin Garner gave an introduction to his fascination with Arctic Norway and Varanger, and birding in general. Varanger bird photographer Knut Sverre Horn showed a series of his outstanding bird photos - the best of Varanger! Thanks Martin and Knut Sverre for exellent talks and photos!

The rest of the Gullfest talks where held at the Vardø hotel conference room - with a view to the bird rich harbour in Vardø. We had a series of very inspiring talks by Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers on gull ageing, gull identification and how to keep an open mind and discover more. Thanks Martin! Educational and good food for thought. Tristan Reid of Talking-Naturally gave a talk on bird conservation in Turkey, with a slightly different approach! Mark Maftei of the High Arctic Gull Research Group / Canada spoke of birding in North Americas Arctic and his research on Arctic Gull species. Daniel Lopez-Velasco, from Spain, educated us all with his investigations on Japanese / Pacific gulls. Nils Van Duivendijk spoke of his work on the highly acclaimed ´Advanced Bird Identification Guides´. Impressive work! Thank you all for sharing knowledge and inspire to more curiosity and exploring. Tormod also introduced more of Biotopes bird projects in Varanger, outlining our approach to bird promotion and conservation and destination development. More info on the talks to come soon, with summaries and video.. Stay tuned..

The base camp
With great views to Hornøya bird cliff seen in the background (right), was the centre of all the action during Gullfest: it was the meeting point, the gull ringing place, and social arena. Huge thanks to all who helped set up the base camp, with the two tents / lavvo, snow and wind shelters, toilet and more.  

Gullfest base camp with views north  

After joining the Blue Fulmar Pelagic (more later on that..), trips to Hornøya or doing general birding in the outer Varanger Fjord, the Gullfest lavvo tent was a warm and welcoming place. A fireplace and warm reindeer soup was served by Gullfest contributors Svein Harald, Bård and Kristi. Thanks for making the Arctic feel warm! 

Gull ringing was at the centre of the base camp. For the birders it was an opportunity to study wing tip patterns of northern argentatus Herring Gulls (we are all curious where the little, slightly darker Russian bird was ringed..), and for the locals it was an exellent opportunity to become familiar with the ´other locals´ - the inhabitants of the bird cliff.

Hasselnes in Vardø was the place to be. Both TV and newspapers visited the base camp. We even had a Gullophone (måsofon) made by Vardø school teacher Arne Borgersen and his students! Birding is more then seeing through binoculars and telescopes - it is very much an audio experience. Now thanks to the skilled guys at Vardø school you can now have a closer listen to the birds at the bird cliff.

Thanks to the fishermen of Vardø this event truly became a Gullfest! We had asked several owners of fishing vessels if they could gut the fish close to our base camp. This is usually done at the fishing fields out in the open Barents Sea, but for the Gullfest we had some spectacular Gull feeding frenzies at the tip of our bins! Thanks guys for making this event a Gull spectacle! Below is fisherman Svein Borgersen. Together with his wife Laila they also run a very nice guesthouse, Skagen bo- og havfiske. They had Gullfesters staying there during the weekend. Higly recommended!

There are many who deserves thanks for contributing to the making of the Arctic Gullfest 2012! This is just the first of a small series of Gullfest articles to come. So more people, birds and events to be introduced soon. We even filmed events and talks during Gullfest and are now editing a mini-web-docu from Gullfest - tune in to www.biotope for updates.

For now I recommend checking out Tristan Reids Gullfest blogposts on www.talking-naturally.co.uk. TN is Run by committed conservationists Charlie Moores and Tristan Reid, Talking Naturally is an independently-owned website that aims to inspire by talking about wildlife, conservation, and animal welfare through blogs, interviews, and podcasts with conservationists and wildlife/welfare experts from all around the world. Talking Naturally is also regularly commissioned to make podcasts by other organisations, and we are working with a number of partners from Europe, North America, and Australia. We are proud to have Tristan of TN report from the Gullfest!
Part 1: Pre gullfest birding
Part 2:  Day 2 - from the taiga to the gullfest
Part 3: Gullfest and the Hornøya Bird Cliff
Part 4: Survival Suits, Snow Buntings and Sea Eagles
Part 5: Reindeer, White-billed Divers and ten tonnes of Steller’s
Part 6: Gullfest the final day…..
Part 7: Gullfest…..the epilogue!
(podcast has been removed)

Also check out Gullfest participant and pioneer Vincent Van der Speks blog: The Babbler Times 
7 aftermath 1 – gulls at GullFest
6 OwlFest
5 more stuff from Varanger
4 Hornoya
3 Friday the 13th
2 Arctic update
1 and off I go again
(blog is down)

There are also more Gullfest material to be found on demenciaornitologica.blogspot.com and keseimbang.blogspot.com

Also check out Martin Garners www.birdingfrontiers.com

The Gullfest even made it to the national tabloids Dagbladet.

and on TV, see at 12min40sec: https://tv.nrk.no/program/DVNA60000512

More to come soon on the Biotope website as well! More Gullfest photos can be found on our twitter site @BiotopeOffice : https://twitter.com/#!/BiotopeOffice

Thanks all! and to be continued..

Tormod A. / Biotope