13 March 2014

Gullfest 2014 - the Arctic bird festival is on!

 The northernmost bird festival in the world is back again. We are very excited to launch the third Gullfest in Varanger. We are celebrating the amazing birdlife in Varanger / Arctic Norway and this year we are proud to present a group of very dedicated birders as keynote speakers and contributors! 

As you can see on the Gullfest 2014 poster we are arranging this years Gullfest as a grand tour around the Varanger Peninsula. Our aim with Gullfest from the first event in 2012 was to invite a few birder friends from around the world to join us in Varanger, and to share knowledge and enthusiasm for birding with people living in Varanger. Gullfest started in Vardø, and now we aim to take the bird festival on tour!
We will give talks at Vardøs brilliant Nordpol Kro (the North Pole Pub), the Vadsø Fjordhotell, the school in Båtsfjord. We will arrange talks, workshops and exhibitions, from Pasvik in the south to Vardø and to Berlevåg in the north. This will be 5 days of intense arctic birding and sharing of ideas and knowledge with some top birding people from UK, USA, Germany, Sweden and Norway, and a lot of new and old friends in Varanger. It will be inspirational!

As allways we hope the birds will perform brilliantly. The above photo was taken a few days ago at Hornøya bird cliff in Vardø.

Gullfest talks and exhibitions

The Gullfest 2014 attendants / speakers are a great mix of birders. After a few very inspirational trips to UK we at the Biotope office figured it was about time to invite a couple of RSPB guys to Varanger. We feel that we have the bird hides sorted quite well in Varanger, but after seeing the nature reserves run by the RSPB we figured we needed some ideas and inspiration to further birdify Varanger! We are very pleased to welcome Graham White and Mark Thomas of the Royal Society of the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to give talks at this years Gullfest. They represent an organisation with more then one million members. Surely they have done a few things right!

Gullfest is also very much about celebrating the awesomeness of bird artistry. Last year we had the top bird artists Ian Lewington and Darren Woodhead giving talks and exhibiting their work. This year we are privileged to be joined by Hans Larsson, the swedish artist and bird illustrator. Among his projects are the ´Gull bible´. We are very excited to have Hans contributing with both a talk and to showcase work from his recent projects! His ability to both paint birds in a classic detailed field guide style, and to beautifully portray the birds in landscape is amazing. Just check out his Lapland Bunting below. 

We have met Richard Crossley on both our Biotope trips to Cape May Autumn Bird Festival. An inspirational birder who has spent years sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for birds and birding. Richard Crossley is a man of many initiatives and among his work is his innovative field guides, the Crossley Guides: photographic bird field guies with a twist. At the Cape May Autumn Bird Festival we broguht some Varanger niceness across the Atlantic. This time we figured we had to bring some US birding to Varanger! Richard is originally from UK, but we think he has lived long enough in USA to be considered a yank visiting Europe. He can be twitched at the North Pole Pub March 21st at 20.00hrs.
Every once in a while we see new initiatives in the world of birding. With them the birding world just seemed to get a little richer. The Next Generation Birders is a group of young dedicated birders in UK - now on tour in Varanger! We have followed their work via their NGBirders blog and their tweets for quite some time, and it is great to see their dedication and resourcefulness. Surerly every birder in UK and Europe have seen the ´This week in birding posters´. We are very happy to be able to invite Jonnie Fisk and Zac Hinchcliffe of the brilliant Next Generation Birders. 

Perhaps a bit far fetched, but I am sure there are a few birders wives around that are actually envious of telescopes. Together with binoculars they must be quite close to something you could call an affaire. Surely every birder would agree that living without scope and bins seems impossible. They are amazing tools, and considering the time spend eye to eyepiece.. Well, you get the picture. In case you do not understand the super power of a telescope we have brought in digiscoper extraordinaire Jörg Kretzschmar to exhibit his photos taken through a Swarovksi telescope (=digiscoping). You can see the big prints of Jörgs photos taken in Varanger. His photos from Hornøya bird cliff are quite unique. This is skilled bird portraiture. Digiscoping started as a low budget quick fix to document bird sightings. With Jörgs photos digiscoped images have now entered the art galleries in Germany. This is birding to the people. Come to Vadsø Fjordhotell to check out his photography. I am sure they will be an eyeopener. 

During the festival we will also have talks by Tormod Amundsen of Biotope, presenting stories from the recent years nature destination development in Varanger. Anders Mæland aka Mr. Rarityfinder ("bombers") will talk about, well - finding rarities in Varanger, such as Semipalmated Plover, Lesser Short-toed Lark, etc. Varanger Peninsulas own nature warden Arne Petter Sarre will give us the insiders story of Varanger wildlife. A talk not to be missed! 

We also have more niceness planned, so stay tuned for more updates as Gullfest 2014 approaches!
Check out Biotope facebook and Biotope twitter for more..

Lapland Bunting / lappspurv by Hans Larsson

Hans Larsson in the field / Gulls by K.M Olsen and H. Larsson.

Richard Crossley / The Crossley Guide

RSPB: Pro bird magic, by the best. No less. Check out the article on the Minsmere reserve.  

 Next Generation Birders - The future of birding. 

Gullfest exhibitor Jörg Kretzschmar

Gullfest birding in Varanger / Arctic Norway

Varanger is increasingly well known as the finest arctic birding destination in the world. It is easily accessible and hosts an incredibly rich birdlife. In early spring hundred thousands of alcids can be found in outer Varanger Fjord. The numbers of wintering eiders is spectacular, and the mixed King- and Common Eider rafts around Vardø now numbers 15 000+ birds. We will bird the entire Varanger region from the taiga in Pasvik, South Varanger to the tundra and arctic coast of the Varanger Peninsula. 

The Gullfest tour bus is fully booked, but if you find yourselves in one of the towns on the dates stated on the Gullfest poster feel free to join the talks and exhibitions! They are open to everyone! Both birders, non-birders and titting-tittere (Varanger speak for birdwatchers of the more laidback kind).

The Gullfest 2014 Tour will progress like this / 19th-24th of March 2014 (tour itinerary / preliminary program):

We start in the Pasvik taiga forest. In Vaggatem in Pasvik we have one night in a wilderness cabin, run by our friends at Dogpower. We bird the nearby area the first afternoon and the following morning. We hope that we during the night will see some northern lights. We have good chances of that during the whole trip. There are some amazing birds to be seen in this forest area too, like Pine Grosbeaks, Siberian Tits and Siberian Jays.

After one night and one morning in the taiga, we drive north again and board the Coastal Express to Vardø. This boat leaves Kirkenes harbour at 12.30, it crosses the Varanger fjord, and lands in Vardø town 15.45. The seawatching can at times be spectacular with tens to hundreds of thousands of alcids.

We land in Vardø in the afternoon (Thursday the 20th of March). Vardø is a Varanger fishing town with 2000 inhabitants. It is also one of the oldest towns in Northern Norway (settlements for over 1000 years). We dine at the hotel, before we open the bird festival with talks at Nordpol Kro (the North Pole Pub) at 20.00hrs. 

In Vardø Hotel you will find a Gullfest exhibition by Biotope about Varanger birds that is open from the 18.03 of March

The next day we explore Vardø island and the amazing bird cliff next to Vardø island (100 000 seabirds close up) with Hornøya boat run by the Vardø Havn KF (Vardø harbour)  Absolutely stunning photo opportunities! We also plan to do the King Eider safari. In the week leading up to Gullfest we will run bird trips and workshops for the schools in Vardø.

In the afternoon on the 21st of March we take our bus and head to Vadsø town (another fishing town, and administrative centre of Finnmark County, 6000 inhabitants). In the evening we will have a small workshop about nature destination development (more info to be announced later).  

From Vadsø we bird the Varanger fjord by bus the 22nd of March. In Vadsø we spend two nights in Vadsø Fjordhotell - ´the birders base camp in Varanger´. They are now very rightfully promoting themselves as this, and we are recieving great support from them on our Gullfest project. Be sure to find your way to the Vadsø Fjordhotell on Saturday evening of the 22nd of March, for some very inspirational talks and the opening of a brand new exhibition!

On the 23rd we head towards northern Varanger peninsula birding as we go. We start with a stop in Vestre Jakobselv for bird ringing project, and a couple of brief talks. This event is open to all and is made in collaboration with our friends at Vestre Jakobselv Camping

The evening of the 23rd we spend in Berlevåg fishing town, where we exhibit and give talks at Kvitbrakka at 18.00hrs. A brilliant local café, art gallery and ateliér. 

We spend the night in the very fine Kongsfjord Guesthouse and bird the area before we take the 40 min drive to Båtsfjord where we will try Ørjan Hansens amazing floating King Eider photo hide, run by Arctic Tourist. At 12.15hrs we give a talk at Båtsfjord School (videregående skole) by the harbor (see Biotope Facebook for updates)   

During the Gullfest 2014 Tour we look forward to spectacular birding, inspirational talks, superb bird art and great company! See you around!

Vardø town - photographed from mount Domen in late January 2014. Hornøya bird cliff is seen in the background.
Vadsø Fjordhotell - the birders base camp in Varanger. Yes they have a great location, and yes, that is a big birder on their wall. We love it!

We have been working with developing Varanger as birding destination for a few years now, and thanks to many good partners in the region Varanger is making a name for itself. Åse runs the Kongsfjord Guesthouse, and has been the driving force in the realization of the local bird hide / wind shelter. We will check it out during Gullfest. 

Building a birding destination: Our aim is to provide great fascilities for visiting birders and local nature enthusiasts. This span from wind shelters to stealth style bird photo hides, built on site or in a garage, ready to be transported to site. Varanger is a work in progress. 

People & birds

Of course it is all about great company, sharing experiences and discovering amazing nature. Gullfest 2013 above - we hope Gullfest 2014 will give everone involved great experiences, both people and bird wise!

Pine Grosbeak - a Pasvik character species. Seen on Gullfest 2013 at our other friends in Pasvik at the Birdkhuksy cabin

The iconic Steller´s Eider - Varanger is the easiest accesible place in the world to see this very stylish arctic sea duck. This male Steller´s Eider was photographed in Båtsfjord from the floating photo hide a few weeks ago.

Varanger is very much a landscape experience too. Above:Varanger fjord sunrise / sunset in late January. By February you can have full days of birding in good light, and by March Varanger is teeming with life. Gullfest is timed to showcase the finest winter / early spring birding in Varanger. See you around!

We are very much looking forward to a new Gullfest, to meet new people in Varanger and to bird this amazing region with new and old friends. We hope to see you at the evening talks in either Vardø, Vadsø, Vestre Jakobselv, Berlevåg or Båtsfjord. You are very welcome to join the talks, and to check out the Gullfest exhibitions. 

In addition to the all our previously mentioned partners on the Gullfest 2014 Tour of Varanger, we would also like to thank Innovation Norway, Nordnorsk Reiseliv, Finnmark fylkeskommune, Vardø Kommune and Kulturnæringsstiftelsen Sparebank-1 Nord-Norge for their very kind support! Thanks also to Helsport for providing us with a Varanger-lavvo, and a huge thanks to Swarovski Optik for optical support! Gullfest is on!

Stay tuned on Biotope facebook & twitter

Very best wishes from the Biotope office! See you!

Tormod, Elin & Alonza / Biotope