17 February 2013

The Varanger King Eider extravaganza

I just came back from one of my best birding trips ever. Being a fishing town, Båtsfjord harbour is one of the most bird rich places in winter in Varanger. For a birder or bird photographer this small town on the northern side of the Varanger peninsula is actually bird heaven! Thanks to a new floating photo hide, where the initial idea of the hide was to fascilitate for the ultimate King Eider experience. Båtsfjord harbour is now without a doubt the finest place in the world to experience Arctic seaducks! A true nature spectacle in the town centre. Any bird photographer and / or birder will have an experience of a lifetime. 

Båtsfjord town aerial. I took this photo in december 2011 flying over Båtsfjord. The floating photo hide is now situated in the fishing harbour of this amazing little place in northeastern Norway. Winter in Varanger is spectacular!  

Steller´s Eider, male

Below is Ørjan Hansen preparing the RIB to take a group of 4 birders / bird photographers to his new floating photo hide in Båtsfjord harbour. For this experience we got up and met Ørjan at his harbour base at 0600. That gave us time to settle in the hide before daylight. I just came back from a tour in the UK, presenting projects and approaches from Varanger at various UK bird clubs. Ørjan was one of the guys I talked about. One of the things that struck many was how early light returns to the Arctic. In my opinion February is one of the finest birding months in Varanger. The light is simply stunning. Crisp, deep blue light for hours both in the morning and the evening. And to many peoples surprise we have near full days of daylight. By early February the sun rise at about 0800 and do not set until 1400, and by late February you have full days of birding. The rest of the time we chase the Northern Lights! It is pretty cool - litterally - and one of the reasons we have established our architectural practise in Varanger.

Ørjan at his Båtsfjord base, ready for departure at 0600. February morning light.

Long-tailed Duck, male - preparing for a day of showing off

Common Eider, male - this is very cool design by nature

The floating King Eider photo hide

This unique product is now a part of the harbour scene in Båtsfjord: the floating King Eider photo hide. It is based on a concrete jetty and will provide a sheltered comfortable space for a group of 6-10 birders / bird photographers. This is from where all the Arctic Seaduck photos in this article are taken. This is innovation in the Arctic. I am certain that the next few years will bring some of the most stunning photos of Arctic seaducks ever produced. Through changing conditions of light, sun, snow and wind this will be a stable and solid hide, providing the ultimate close encounters with some of the worlds coolest birds! Being a part of this project feels like a privilege. From testing the prototype motorised fish boxes (!) in the harbour, to seeing this ´pro model´ in place is fantastic! 

Close encounters 

The two photos above are taken from inside the floating photo hide with a 50mm lens. It is hard to describe in words how good this experience is. I think these photos make a solid statement: You are surrounded by some of the most spectacular bird species in the world. They are all familiar with both the photo hide and Ørjans boat. It is simply magic! Even armed with no more then an Iphone you should be able go home with pretty cool photos. One thing is certain - you can not blame the camera if you dont!

The variety of birds, behaviour, displays, backgrounds and light is enough to keep a birder, bird sound recorder or bird photographer busy for days. 


Steller´s Eider, female

King Eider, male

The making of...

The floating photo hide has been developed over 2-3 years. From the testing of the concept by motorised fish boxes to the solid concrete jetty based new model. It is still a fascility of basic comfort, but it has insulated matresses for comfort, and even a camping toilet. It will provide the best possible photo opportunities imaginable! It may not be a place you go for a honeymoon, but it certainly is the best option if spectacular birding is on the menu. The photo montage above shows some of the drawings we made for Ørjan and a few prosess photos from the making of this new hide during the summer 2012, at Ørjans base camp in Båtsfjord. 

A good man with a very cool car!
I have written about fisherman and bird guide Ørjan Hansen before. He is one of the just-do-it-people I have been lucky to cooperate with since we moved to the Arctic in 2009. Varanger is a sparsely inhabitet place. About 10 000 people live in an area the size of Wales in UK. In such small conditions you realize that everyone matters - and that you can make a big difference. We are a group of dedicated and entrepreneurial people in Varanger, working to realize as many pro nature ideas as possible. Now the ultimate winter birding experience is here.

Båtsfjord is a fishing harbour. It is also a birding harbour! Photo taken from RIB when driving back from the photo hide experience. 

Ørjan driving four very exited birders / bird photographers by his RIB to the photo hide at about 0600 in the morning, february 16th 2013.  

Some of the birds where sleeping when we arrived the hide in early morning. The variety of backgrounds cought my eye. Being able to portray some of my favourite birds in such stylish surroundings was amazing. The February light is very photogenic.

Steller´s Eider male.

The King and the Queen

For a little while light snow showers created a magical scene in the harbour. The chance to portray King Eiders in such beautifull light was amazing. I still havent quite landed after this experience. Nature is fantastic! 

Queen Eider 

King Eider

I hope you enjoy these photos (by the way, you can click on the photos for slide show mode).

If you need a birding architect feel free to contact me at: tormod@biotope.no 

Best wishes from the Arctic

Tormod A. / Biotope