04 January 2013

GULLFEST 2013 - introducing the arctic bird festival

We have the pleasure to invite you to take part in the worlds only arctic birding festival - GULLFEST 2013 - in Varanger, arctic Norway. Join us in Vardø, outer Varangerfjord:
Thursday the 21st to Monday the 25th of March, 2013. 

Latest news from the Gullfest organisers, pr March 1st :

We are launching a news update very soon on www.biotope.no 
Grand news: World class bird / nature artists Ian Lewington and Darren Woodhead are talking and exhibiting at Gullfest. We cant wait to see their work and take on Varanger.
More news to come with the program launch very soon!

We also just got news that the hotel in Vardø have many more rooms to offer, due to a building company just cancelling their room reservations during Gullfest. Meaning more room for birders! Welcome to Varanger and the Gullfest event. 

We also have two places left on the Taiga Adventure, the Gullfest prologue. Read more below. 

Gullfest 2013 is timed to meet some of the finest birding the arctic has to offer. 

Late March in Varanger combines the best of winter and early spring birding. The huge rafts of wintering arctic seaducks are an amazing sight. A 5000 individuals strong raft of King Eiders is always breathtaking. The world rarity Stellers Eider also have their stronghold in the shallow Varanger Fjord. During Gullfest you will have great opportunities to study these beautifull birds at close range. In late March great numbers of alcids have returned to the Hornøya bird cliff and the waters around Vardø island. 100 000 seabirds make the Hornøya bird cliff one of the densest inhabitet places in northeastern Norway. Even armed with no more then a mobile phone you can do some very fine bird photography. Puffins are fighting over territories whilst Glaucous Gulls reach their peak numbers in late March. 

Gullfest - the arctic birding highlight of 2013

This event is still in its starting phase. It is an event in the making, just like Varanger itself is evolving as a birding destination. It is still a relatively small scale enterprise, and it is safe to say that every birder and nature enthusiast joining Gullfest will make a difference. We are still fine tuning the program and adding new events, keynote speakers and more. Check out coming posts on the Biotope website for more info during the coming weeks. We got more niceness planned than can be described in this introduction article.

We have widened our local collaborations, and are now very happy to have the support of the local Vardø Hotel. They will provide nice accomodation prices for Gullfest participants. They will provide room for the talks, and serve ecxellent local food at the Gullfest base camp on Hasselnes. An exhibition at the hotel will showcase art, photography and much more, specially designed for the Gullfest. More information to come soon. 

We are also collaborating with the guys at local fishery, and several of the Vardø resident fishermen. No doubt we will make a better Gullfest with the support of these great guys! They surely made the Gullfest 2012 base camp a lively place with the nearby chumming from fishing vessels. This year we will do both chumming and hopefully be able to provide trips with fishing vessels too. We aim to make a festival for the gulls too...

Tickets to the Gullfest can be bought through our friends at Vardø Hotel (contact info) from Thursday 10th of January. We have set the price at 750 Norwegian kroner (= 100 Euro / 83 GBP / 135 $). We have also been fortunate to get support from our regional Destination company Destination Varanger (www.varanger.com) and the official Northern Norway portal (www.nordnorge.com). With their help we are able to invite keynote speakers and bird guides, and they also support our ringing scheme. All effort and support will go into the making of Gullfest. Stay tuned! Still - as with Gullfest 2012 the good company and participation of everyone really makes the Gullfest a great event.

The Gullfest 2013 ticket will include the following niceness (+more being planned):

- Free admission to all the Gullfest talks / workshops. World leading birders will provide us all with new knowledge and inspiring talks.
- Free lunch at the base camp, served Friday, Saturday and Sunday (made by brilliant chef Tor Emil from Vardø Hotel).
- Free guided trip to Hornøya bird cliff
- Free use of the new photo hides in Vardø (harbour photo hide, Purple Sandpiper dedicated hide, and more)
-Free access to all base camp activities and fascilities, included the Gull ringing scheme.
-We will provide info and advice on birds to see, sites to visit, booking of accomodation, rental cars, etc. In short we will make sure that you are included and provided with the information to make this a great event for you and your friends.
-Freely Join on-site mini-workshops / talks like ´Redpolls of the Arctic´ , ´Gull identification´ and more to come.
-We will have several feeding sites set up in advance. The extent of this will be determined by how many birders that will join Gullfest, but we hope to be able to attract both passerines, gulls and birds of prey. 

-There will be additional activities that you can join for bargain prices, such as ´Dog-sled Taiga trips´, ´King Eider safaris´, ´Arctic Seaduck photography from floating photo hides´, ´High Tundra snow mobile trips´ and more to come. (Limited placecs, if you want to take part in any of these aditional activities, contact us directly on: tormod@biotope.no).

By the way: within January 10th we will post an article with more info on travel, accomodation etc. We have spent days researching the best travel options, making sure that you can travel in a very economic and convenient manner. You will be surprised to see how cheap an arctic adventure can be. We will also provide those of you who book Gullfest tickets with the best possible advice on everything from the variety of accomodation in Varanger, possibilities of travel and car rentals. More to come soon. 

- If you have proposals for events or talks or maybe something we have not thought of, please let us know. The program is still under development, and we aim to make the Gullfest a very memorable adventure for all!

Welcome to a unique winter / early spring experience in Varanger, Arctic Norway!

Vardø is the easternmost point in Norway. We are also well inside the arctic circle, far north and within the arctic climate zone. We welcome you to a true arctic birding experience, with the convenience of being easily accessible and with all fascilities and infrastructure in place. This photo was taken in early January flying over Vardø. The Barents Sea is one of the most productive waters in the world, and the perfect place for an arctic bird festival.

Vardø town seen from Hornøya bird cliff. Vardø island is separated by the mainland by the very bird rich Bussesundet. We will arrange boat trips to see the large rafts of King Eiders that typically favour these areas.  In Vardø everything is within walking distance. The Gullfest talks, dinners and evening events will be held at Vardø Hotel, with views of Vardø harbour. The hotel is the big building in the centre with many windows facing the harbour. In winter and early spring lots of birds concentrate in the inner harbour. Here they are sheltered from wind and waves and the local fishing industry always provide some scraps and leftovers for the seaducks and seals. We can promise great wildlife experiences from the dinner table! Have a look at the Vardø harbour eiders article from late February 2012.

A quick Gullfest rewind:

In mid April 2012 we arranged the first ever Gullfest in Vardø. The event was a fantastic experience. It was a mix of spectacular birding, great talks and engagement from both visiting birders and locals. Gullfest 2012 was launched in late january, and only two months later it all happened in big meet of positive pro nature energy. The event was pulled of thanks to the great contributions from all participants. Based on feedback from the first Gullfest we now aim to take off again - in a better and bigger fashion. While for the first Gullfest we had three Gull ringers we now have a team of 12 ringers that will make the Gullfest ringing scheme both very accessible and scientifically valuable. This year we will surely set the record for ringed Glaucous Gulls in mainland Norway. For those who want to closely study the wing tip patterns of northern argentatus / Herring Gulls this is the ultimate opportunity. At the Gullfest base camp we had a Lavvo (Samí-style tent) with a fireplace and warm food. We can now welcome you to a bigger and even better base camp experience! 

Gullfest 2012 made it to both local media, as well as mentions in national newspapers and even a report on one of the most popular TV shows in Norway (see the 5 min. report from  the ´Norge Rundt´ show, from the kids day at Gullfest) . In addition the event resonated with the global birding community. We hope that Gullfest 2013 will have the attention of people through the world of birding blogs and forums, and the main stream media. After all this is an event that celebrate the beauty and importance of birds, wildlife and nature of the Arctic. This is birding to people! We will make sure this event will bring something for both the wing-tip pattern enthusiasts, the eager bird photographers as well as beginning birders and nature lovers. This will be the best of arctic Norways Varanger, concentrated over a long-weekend! On Gullfest 2012 Tristan Reid of the excellent Talking Naturally podcast reported from the event. Have listen to his Gullfest report on Talking Naturally. Or check out his Gullfest blogposts on TN.

We have of course invited the birds too! They have promised to show up in massive scale. Far outnumbering people - and that is how we like it! All the photos in this new Gullfest 2013 article are taken in winter and early spring in Varanger. In daytime we will enjoy spectacular numbers of seabirds. The above photo shows a steady stream of incoming alcids from the Barents Sea. Photo taken from Hornøya, Vardø town in the background. 

By night you have good chances of seeing the magnificent northern lights / Aurora borealis. This is an experience that surely will stay with you for a very long time. The dramatic change from polar day to the polar night in Varanger is simply breathtaking. The photo above is taken during a bird photo workshop arranged in Vardø in late March 2012 (see article: Northern exposure 2012 - the Hornøya photo workshop). We cant wait to see what late March 2013 and a new Gullfest will bring...

At the centre of Gullfest is of course the rich arctic birdlife, but there is no doubt that enjoying this in the company of new and old friends, bird experts and nature enthusiasts makes everything even more rewarding. At Gullfest 2013 we will have a base camp with a Lavvo, fireplace, an exhibition, a Gull ringing scheme run by a dedicated group of ringers from both Norway and Britain. In the evenings you can enjoy numerous inspiring talks by world class birders. We are still working on the program and will release more information very soon. In collaboration with Gullfest2012-contributors like Martin Garner (Birding Frontiers) we are in dialogue with several people that undoubtedly will contribute to an unforgettable series of talks. This year we will also expand the program to include an artistic approach, with an exhibition at the hotel and even musical performances that will give you a new perpective on birds! Stay tuned to find out more about both the scientific and artistic contributors of Gullfest 2013

The birds & the birding

The great white - Early spring always sees great numbers of Glaucous Gulls in the outer Varanger Fjord. Our day record count is 3300+ birds in Vardø, but every year is different. The fisheries in the harbours in Varanger are favoured places to get close views of Glaucous Gulls. For Gullfest we have alredy booked talks by people who can provide us with a deeper understanding of these impressive arctic gulls. At our ringing scheme we plan to set the record for ringed Galucous Gull in mainland Norway. We are also working with a satellite tracking scheme, hoping that we can actually be able to follow one or several of the birds ringed at Gullfest on its coming journeys in the arctic (in collaboration with birdlife.no).

The bird cliff of Hornøya is home to approximately 100 000 seabirds. We will arrange daily trips with highly skilled bird guides to this fantastic place. Remember to bring enough gigabytes and battery for your camera! The photo opportunities are almost beyond belief. Having spent a few weeks in total at this place I am still amazed every time i visit. This place is one of few places in Europe where the high arctic seabirds Brünnichs Guillemot can be seen. During Gullfest 2012 we made this short youtube video from the bird cliff trip)

Varangers iconic species number one is the Stellers Eider. It is a world rarity that spend its winter and spring in the shallow and rich Varanger Fjord. Rafts of several hundred birds can be seen. We counted the bird life of the Varanger Fjord during 3 days in mid March 2012, and ended with a total of  4400 Stellers Eider. In addition we counted 12 500 King Eiders, 17 000 Common Eiders and 8300 Long-tailed Ducks. Prepare for a seaduck extravaganza! 

Scenes like the above can only be shot in Varanger: King eiders and Brünnichs Guillemot in flight. Join our King Eiders safaris around Vardø island. It is an amazing experience, but approaching the big rafts of King eiders is difficult. So for those of you who would like very close views of these spectacular birds we will arrange trips to the northern part of the Varanger peninsula. This will be organised as a Gullfest prologue and epilogue, as an extension of the Gullfest. In Båtsfjord harbour fisherman and nature guide Ørjan Hansen have some innovative opportunities ready for us. His floating photo hides in the harbour will provide you with stunningly close views of both King Eiders, Stellers Eiders, Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks! You may be lucky enough to get all these in one frame. Ørjan knows the local bird life very well. He have set stage with chumming and he will skillfully drive us around the harbour with his RIB. In addition the two specially designed floating bird hides will have these arctic seabirds within wide angle range of the hides. Bring enough gigabytes and batteries. This event in Båtsfjord costs 1500,- Nok pr person (= 166 GBP, 205 Euro, 267 $), and it will provide you with amazing photographic opportunities. Limited number of places (not entirely set), reservations for this can be made by mail to tormod@biotope.no More info to come on this event soon.

While Båtsfjord harbour will provide the close views, the waters around Vardø will provide the grand numbers. The above photo was taken from Vardø island, and show a section of a 4600 individual large King Eider rafts. In the small white frame (centre photo) alone is 285 King Eiders.

The waters of outer Varanger Fjord is one of the richest in the world. Whilst the numbers of seabirds are declining all over Norway (and Europe) the numbers of seabirds on Hornøya bird cliff is increasing. The critically endagered Guillemot has its Norwegian stronghold on Hornøya. Early spring is not only good for birds. Chances of seeing an Orca family huntig in the Varanger Fjord are very good. Like the Orcas on the photo above - a family flock regularily patrolled the waters around Vardø in mid March 2012. We really hope many birders will join the Gullfest: The more eyes and scopes, the better are the chances of seeing both Orcas and hopefully a rare gull or some other unexpected species. Varanger is a popular summer destination among birders, but the winter and early spring is very much underwatched. 

The Taiga prologue: From the 19th - 21st of March we arrange a dog sled trip into the vast taiga forest of Pasvik, south Varanger. For many of the Gullfest 2012 participants this was a highlight. There are not many species in the taiga, but they are all very exclusive! Our friend Trine Beddari, the owner of Birkhusky have set up bird feeders at their cabin in the taiga that are favoured by northeastern specialities like Pine Grosbeak, Siberian Tits and Siberian Jays. We may also be lucky to see an owl or more. On our 2012 trip we where amazed to have a Hawk Owl striking a reindeer! Admittedly the reindeer was the result of a little improvisation: a piece of fur attatched to a thin line, mimicing a mouse... In any case a stunning sight. We only have 8 places left on the 16 man taiga dog sled trip. This adventure includes two overnights at the Birkhusky B&B, dinner and lunch included, in addition to the dog sled trip. Places can be reserved by mailing to tormod@biotope.no (Birkhusky, our partner on this adventure, will handle payments when all places are reserved). The price for this additional adventure is 3575,- Nok  pr person (= 397 GBP, 490 Euro, 638 $). Have a look at what Martin Garner had to say about the taiga birding trip on Gullfest 2012. After this trip we will go  straight to the Gullfest event.

Hawk Owl striking Reindeer

The amazing Pine Grosbeak - a northern taiga speciality.

Back at the bird cliff of Hornøya the Puffins arrive in mid March and fight over territories in the slopes under the bird cliff. For those of you who thought Puffins are nice and peacefull birds, will have to reconsider their ideas of the Puffin. You usually see them from photos of summer time scenes from bird cliffs, but here you can find blood traces in the snow after the Puffin fight clubs. Life in the bird cliffs very much depend of the amount fish in the Barents Sea. Lets hope 2013 will be a good year. One thing is for sure: Varanger is the best place to be if a seabird spectacle is on your wishlist. 

At any bird rich place there are predators. In late March 2012 Gyrfalcons and several White-tailed Eagles  regularily visited the bird cliff. What an experience! See the Biotope article from March 2012: Gyfalcon versus Raven. Every year in Varanger is different - but always fascinating. We cant wait to see what 2013 will bring.

Have a look at the Gullfest 2012 Biotope articles:
GULLFEST 2012 - birding to the people!
Gullfest 2012 - presenting the event, video + trip report

Take look at Martin Garners ´Hands up´, Gullfest 2013-article

Welcome to an amazing landscape, inspiring talks, very cool birding and great company!

Welcome to Gullfest 2013 - be a part of the arctic winter & early spring birding adventure!

Buy Gullfest 2013 tickets at Vardø Hotel, from Wednesday 10th of January 
Reservervation for Pasvik Taiga Dog sled trip: mail to tormod@biotope.no 
Details to come on other activities

Stay tuned for articles to come with more details on program, talks and events. We will also post articles with travel logistics & accomodation advice very soon.

For general news and updates from Arctic Norway, follow us on Facebook or on twitter @BiotopeOffice and @Finnmarkbirding 

Feel free to use the comments field below to ask questions or give us feedback and ideas for Gullfest 2013

Check this article for more info on Gullfest travel & accomodation!

Best wishes from Varanger / Arctic Norway

Tormod Amundsen, on behalf of the Gullfest crew