03 December 2015

Avitourism - Birding in Norway (fugleturisme i Norge)

An introduction to of the world of birding and avitourism and its potential in Norway

© Biotope & Innovasjon Norge / 2015 

This report was written and researched by Tormod Amundsen and Jonnie Fisk of Biotope. Biotope is the world´s first and only architecture office specialising in birding. We combine more then 25 years of experience as dedicated birders with the field of architecture. Biotope specialise in nature destination development, from designing bird hides to destination schemes to advising tourism businesses on how to operate and engage in the birding niché.

We would like to thank Innovation Norway for asking us to make this report. Our gratitude also goes to all the keen birders and nature enthusiasts who helped us with information and opinions. We hope this report will give the reader a better undestanding of a niché or culture that millions of people worldwide feel connected to, but perhaps is not so well known in a mainstream setting. Birding is on the rise and this will change. We hope this report is one helpfull step forward. Thanks for reading and engaging.

Tormod Amundsen

Architect (M.Arch) & Birder / CEO Biotope

Additional note for this blogpost version of the ´Birding in Norway´ report:
The report is written in English as the topic of birding and avitourism has worldwide interest. In addition we have interviewed several key people in the international birding community. A very big thanks goes out to those who contributed with thoughts, ideas and information! It is also worth noting that this report is intended to inform and widen the horizon for those who are less familiar with the international birding scene. We believe that specialised tourism, such as the birding niché, has a key role to play in future nature conservation work. We hope this report will inform and inspire more people, destinations and businesses to work with birding. However it is worth noting that birding is not for everyone or everywhere, but where there is potential it can have a great and very positive impact.

You can also find the full report as a pdf on Innovation Norway´s website, with a Norwegain introduction + pdf link
Find more info on travel in Norway on Innovation Norway´s Travel & Tourism facebook page 
For questions or feedback to Innovation Norway, connect with advisor on niché tourism Haaken Christensen on twitter @HaakenC, or follow @InnovasjonNorge to stay tuned with latest news and views from Norway. 
Here you can also find the full report as a pdf (may take some time to open as it is a 160mb file)


Birding or birdwatching is on the rise. As the world becomes smaller and more accessible, travel is easier and cheaper. The digital age lets people connect on a person-to-person level. The keen birders have always found ways to connect and share information. It lies in the essence of birding itself. You can only discover more when you have a grasp of the present knowledge. Birding is for the curious minded. The tourist who, when travelling, will not call himself a tourist, but rather consider himself to simply pursue his passion, wherever it takes him. The fascinating thing with birding is that there is always more to explore. 
When dedicated people meet and connect you develop a culture and a common understanding of things. This is why being a birder anywhere in the world seems almost effortless. Connections are made in an instant. Catering to birders can be a tricky thing if you don´t understand the culture. A birder can travel to a new country and a new culture, but once he meets with a local birder chances are he will instantly connect. The culture of birding is a worldwide culture, complete with its “language”, ideals, morals, websites, businesses and so much more. This report aims to give the reader a better understanding of birding in general, and the potentials in Norway in particular. It is produced on behalf of Innovation Norway www.innovasjonnorge.com

(Front page photo by Blomquist Kunsthandel of painting of Romsdalshorn, adaptation by Biotope)


“Birding is hunting without killing, preying without punishing and collecting without clogging your home” - Mark Obmascik*1

The sheer joy of birdwatching (or birding) can be hard to explain to those who do not pursue it. At its simplest form, it is a celebration of nature. For many, it is the complete unpredictability of birding thats makes it attractive. You can go out with a basic idea of what birds you might see, but you will almost certainly come back having witnessed something you did not expect to. You may chance upon an unusual bird species for the area, or a familiar bird doing something unexpected like associating in the “wrong” habitat, wearing a plumage or exhibiting behaviour you have not seen before. Yes, the swallows (svaler) leave in the autumn and return in the spring but year-to-year they may arrive late, or depart early. They may have a good breeding season or completely fail. 

For some, birding is all about little discoveries: what is the date of your earliest Swift (tårnsvale) back from Africa for the spring? What is the biggest Oystercatcher (tjeld) flock recorded on the local beach? How close do Sparrowhawk (spurvehauk) breed to your house? For others, it´s an expression of their primal hunting instinct: stalking the bird, using fieldcraft to make yourself near invisible, then (rather than killing the bird) achieving that perfect view or dream photo. For others it is the chase of rare and unusual species. Everyone considering themselves as birders or birdwatchers have an admiration for nature and a desire to see more, to understand more and to experience more. Birding is both connectedness and exploration.
*1(Obmascik, M.,The Big Year, 1 New York, Free Press, 2004)

A keen birder will know at least a few of the above people. Everyone will see passionate people into birding and nature.

Birding culture

When we use the term “hobby” to describe birding, that is selling short the community of people who make the identification, movements and behaviour of birds their life. Perhaps “counter-culture” or “tribe” is a more appropriate term. Better still: it is a lifestyle. Birding for many is a passion that extends far beyond hobby or pastime.

Worldwide birding is so large, it really does have its own culture. Many will describe it like being in one giant friendly club. It is quite normal to turn to a stranger next to you in the bird hide and strike up a pleasant conversation. “Anything good?” or “is it showing?” are universally understood questions within the birding community. Binoculars or a telescope are like ID badges, identifying yourself to other birders.

A 2011 study in the United States found there to be 47 million Americans who identified themselves as “birdwatchers”. To be counted as a birder in this study, an individual must have “either 1.) taken a trip one mile or more from home for the primary purpose of observing birds or 2.) closely observed or tried to identify birds around the home”. 18 million (38%) fell into the first category, arguably the more “birder-ish” of the criteria. The figure is likely to be higher, since teenagers under 16 were not counted and the survey did not reach every citizen*2. 18 million was the figure of birders that were estimated to travel away from home within the U.S at least once annually.

In the UK, birding is a seriously popular pastime, or rather lifestyle. Within the UK, a national survey of 36,000 people in the UK April 2014 - March 2015 found 7.8 million people to have “an interest” in bird watching, 3.7 million said they went birdwatching occasionally and 1.9 million go birdwatching regularly (Sleight, A., Bird Watching Magazine, pers. comms., 2015)

It is rather hard to give very accurate estimates of numbers of birders in a country, as it varies a lot how formally organised the birding communities are. In UK the number of people who support charities and pro-nature organisations is high, and who consider themselves either to be birders, birdwatchers or keen nature enthusiasts. Most famous in the birding world is the RSPB or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The RSPB has over 1500 employees, 18 000 volunteers and more than 1.1 million members (including 195 000 youth members), making it the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe. The RSPB has many local groups and maintains 200 nature reserves.

In membership terms the RPSB is closely followed by The Wildlife Trusts, an organisation made up of 47 local Wildlife Trusts in the United Kingdom. The Wildlife Trusts, between them, look after around 2300 nature reserves covering more than 90 000 hectares. As of 2011 they have a combined membership of over 800 000 members. However many of these members are not necessarily dedicated birders. Many will be of the “lighter” category of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.
*2(Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2013)

Twitching (usually only by very keen birders) is also very big within the British birding
community. The British Isles are well placed to receive wind-blown vagrant birds from both far East Asia, the Eastern Seaboard of America and practically everywhere in between. Of the approximately 600 bird species recorded occurring in Britain, the majority are species which have occurred fleetingly, sometimes in numbers of less than 10 per year. When discovered, a rare bird may spark a twitch, generally attracting more birding visitors the rarer it is. One of the most famous twitches in British birding history took place in February 1989 in Kent after a Golden-winged Warbler, an incredibly rare (and very lost) species that should have been in Central or South America for the winter, not car park in the south of England. Thousands of British birders came to see it feeding in the bushes, and at one point the road was so crowded the local bus could not pass through!*3
*3(Loseby, T., pers. comms. 2015)

The birding world has become so large and so well-connected internationally that there are a number of birding “trade-shows” held every year across the world. Largest of all is The British Birdwatching Fair (more commonly called The BirdFair) held annually in Britain at Rutland Water every year since 1989. The Birdfair goes one step further than being a place for companies and charities to exhibit themselves. It lays on back-to-back lectures and entertainment features, guided walks and bird ringing demonstrations. Its popularity has exploded and The BirdFair now hosts 25 000 visitors and over 400 exhibitors annually*4.

On top of this, there is a wide number of annual birding festivals across the world. The aim of most of these is to bring people together to go birding and celebrate a certain area. The Eilat Birds Festival champions all things birding in Israel. Participants pay to take part in guided tours around the birding hotspots and evening presentations. In 2014, 215 birders were registered taking part in the festival, with c.4000 birders visiting the area that spring*5. In Ohio, the Biggest Week In American Birding is a 10-day pilgrimage for many birders to THE place in the world to see the colourful North American wood warblers. Guided tours, lectures, ID workshops, birding celebrities and of course, fantastic birding are all part of the programme. The USA is well served with similar events occurring at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (Harlingen, Texas, 2288 visitors 2014*6), Cape May Fall Festival (Cape May, New Jersey, c.1500 visitors 2014*7), Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival (Florida, c.5340 visitors 2014*8).

As is common in the birding world, these festivals become increasingly niche, with one American bird festival titled the Alaska Hummingbird Festival: celebrating the spring return of the hummingbirds to their state. In Louisiana, the Yellow Rails and Rice festival purely revolves around the harvesting of the rice fields, with birders following the machinery and watching any rails (small secretive waterbirds) that fly out from the crop - particularly the scarcely observed Yellow Rail. These are simple ideas that work extremely well.

With the hundreds of birding festivals around the world it can be hard to know which ones to attend if your primary goal is not to go birding, but rather to meet potential customers and to to engage with other birding related businesses. To a large extent you can meet potential customers on any birding festival. The trick however is to be a birder yourself. That makes everything easier. After all, sharing an interest or passion for the topic at hand is what matters if you want to relate to people.

There are hundreds of birding festivals around the globe, but a much smaller selection of “trade shows” or “fairs”. This is where people in the birding business meet, exhange ideas, build relationships, make deals and much more. They are also often attended by a large number of birders who are there to be inspired, learn about new destinations to visit or check out the latest optics or books on birds and nature.

Key trade shows or fairs to visit are (covering the biggest markets today):
•The Rutland Birdfair (The British Birdwatching Fair): The worlds greatest gathering of birders with 25 000 people attending over a weekend in August.

The Scottish Birdfair, still very big with over 6000 people attending over weekend in May.

The American Birding Expo, a newcomer to the scene, arranged for the first time in USA in October 2015. This sets out to become The Birdfair of USA. A much needed development, as the US birding scene seems very dispersed in a myriad of smaller festivals and businesses, but until now without a shared space to meet and mingle.
*4(Birdfair History, http://www.birdfair.org.uk/birdfair-history/, 2015)
*5(Meyrav, J., Israel Ornithological Center, pers comms, 2015)
*6(Mahathey, S., Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, pers. comms., 2015)
*7(LaPuma, D., Cape May Bird Observatory, pers. comms., 2015)
*8(Harris, N., Brevard Nature Alliance, pers. comms., 2015)

The categories of birders

is an ambiguous term. Generally, birdwatchers are people who do just that: watch birds. They may simply look at the birds in the garden. They might take binoculars on walks in the park. They may go on a bird watching walk in nice weather. But apart from that, they do not have the obsession or dedication that birders do. “Birder” is a phrase that became common parlance in the American bird watching scene in the 20th century. Most serious birders now much prefer the term to “birdwatcher”. Birdwathcers will have binoculars, but neccesarily a telescope. Birding is more of a hobby then a serious lifestyle. Mostly on Facebook, a little less on Twitter. Often on Instagram.

are birdwatchers who have made birds their life. They rise at 4am to catch the early bird. They are out in all weathers with optical equipment that may have cost them upwards of 10-20 000 NOK. They write notes on birds they see, record the calls of birds they hear. Free time not spent in the field is used reading books on birding, surfing the internet for the latest papers on bird identification or planning their next trip abroad to experience amazing wildlife. They use the term “bird” as a verb. “Where are you going?” “Birding”. Will have binoculars, a telescope and a camera to document sightings. Birding as a lifestyle. They will engage widely on Facebook, they will very likely run a blog, and Twitter is a favoured social media for sharing the latest news and views from the birding world. Keen birders can be your very best ambassadors. Take good care of them.

are a birders with an express interest in chasing rare birds. They may travel vast distances to see vagrant birds, to study an unfamiliar species, to add the bird to their list (see glossary) or simply to be part of the birding “event” surrounding this birds occurrence. For twitchers, the thrill of the chase is often as important as seeing the bird. British birder Graham Gordon expresses the cocktail mix of panic and euphoria when a rare bird turns up. In this scenario he is stuck on a boat full of non-birders as he tries to travel to another island to spot a very rare bird that has been blown off-course by hurricanes from North America.“It wasn't just tension, you understand: it was the sheer, unadulterated joy within of being on Scilly when something BIG was happening. I just wouldn't have been able to put it into words for these humans. I needed to be with my own subspecies!”*9. Twitching can be an all-consuming lifestyle. They will follow several Facebook pages dedicated to birding. Twitter is a key media, providing fast and easy to reach information. Instagram is not used much. 

Bird / wildlife photographers
are often focusing on the creative side of birding, and uses a camera to express his or her relationship with nature. However a birdwatcher/birder/twitcher can also fall under the umbrella of bird/wildlife photographer, often using the camera to document his or her finds. There are also people who are bird/wildlife photographers without being birders. There is a growing market for photographers, and they are very often willing to spend a lot of money on achieving their “dream” shot. They are attracted to places which offer the possibility of capturing spectacular wildlife in exciting circumstances. They may be less bothered about seeing rare birds or gathering a long list of species. For example, the White-tailed Eagle is a relatively common bird in Norway but is very popular with photographers. The eagles are impressive looking birds, and offer the possibility of being photographed in a range of scenarios. Bird / wildlife photography related products often offer opportunities make a business outside of guiding or accommodation. Pay for photo hides are becoming more widely used. The bird photographer will most certainly have his own blog and / or a website, a dedicated photopage on Facebook. They are often on Twitter but many are not. Instagram is also widely used.

Active nature enthusiasts
are a very large group of people. They constitute they major bulk of RSPB´s membership. They are often families who are into nature, but not necessarily deeply into birding. They are an important group to cater to as they more often will need and / or benefit from more information and better presentations of nature. A large number of people worldwide will express a deep interest in birds and nature when presented to it in a clever or very nice manner. This can be through use of guides, exhibitions in nature centres, nicely designed bird hides and wind shelters. Unlike the keenest birder / birdwatcher fraternity they will often not be actively engaging with the birding community on social media. This is one of the most underestimated benefits of the birders: when treated nicely they are your best PR people, through very active blogging and presence on social media. The active nature enthusiasts are more often found on Facebook and Instagram.
*9(Gordon, G., Days to Remember Northern Waterthrush on St Mary’s, http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=3195 2012)

Puffins - one of the world´s most well known birds

Birding glossary

•Blocker: A twitcher´s term for a very rare bird species that has not been seen in an area for a long time. It has been “blocked” for the twitchers who did not see it before. When one finally turns up again and is seen by more people, it has been “unblocked”. “I was so glad Masked Shrike became unblocked last week!”.

•Bogey bird: One species that a birder has always had trouble seeing. Usually unique to each birder. “Another year over and I still didn't see a Red-breasted Flycatcher. It´s become my bogey bird”.

•Dip/dip out: Failing to see a rare bird after attempting to do so. “We tried to twitch the Black Stork but we dipped”.

• Dude: A derogatory name used by birders to describe other birdwatchers who have little knowledge of birds or all the gear but no idea.

• Jizz: The “feel” of the bird using a combination of movement, shape, behaviour etc. Expert birder can identify a bird in silhouette or from a great distance by its jizz. “At first I wasn't sure, but it moved with that classic Common Sandpiper jizz”

• Lifer: A bird species that the observer has not seen before. “I hope we get Corncrake on this trip. That would be a lifer”.

• List/lister: Listers are birders that keep lists of the birds they see e.g. Life list (every bird you see during your life, sometimes confined to your home country), year list (all the birds you see in a calendar year) with the aim of seeing more (having a longer list) than your fellow listers. Listers often adhere to rules set out by bird listing organisations on what they can and can´t “tick”.

• Patch: An area local to a birder where they regularly go birding.

• Scope/bins: Shorthand for telescope and binoculars.

• String: The act of making up a bird sighting (not mis-identifying). Birders who do this are “stringers”. “Have you seen this report of an Aquatic Warbler? Total string”.

• Suppress: When a particular rare bird is found but its presence is not broadcast, wether it be for the good of the bird, the refusal of the land owner or the malice of the birder who found it. Birders who do this are suppressors. “I´m so annoyed with those suppressors in Norfolk, I was 10 minutes away from the Black-eared Kite and I had no idea it was there!”.

• Tick: The first time you've seen the bird, meaning (if you keep a list) you can “tick” it off. Divided further, for example year tick (first time you've seen the bird this year), country/county/garden tick (first time you've seen the bird within that given area).

• Twitch: When birders descend upon an area due to a sighting of a rare bird. e.g. “the Glaucouswinged Gull in Vardø sparked a big twitch”. People who twitch are called twitchers. They may keep a list of how many rare bird species they see, with the aim of seeing as many as they can. “There was a bunch of twitchers here yesterday ticking the Pacific Eider”.

• Vis-mig / viz-mig: The act of watching birds visibly migrate. There are many specific lookouts birders congregate at during the migration periods to watch this. “The viz-mig was crazy this morning - a thousand Bramblings came through!”.

The travelling birder & nature enthusiast

Survey overview with comments and video interviews

Survey: birding and avitourism

As a part of this report about avitourism we aim to describe key characteristics of the travelling birder / nature enthusiast (short: NE) scene. Birders and NEs love to travel. Birds themselves migrate amazing distances to find the best breeding and feeding grounds. As a natural extension of being deeply into birds comes an urge to travel and see various bird species in the wide array of habitats they use.

The following section is based on in depth interviews with key / relevant people in the international birding community and an international online survey we made in order to complement our finds with more data. The below statistics are the result from this survey made as a part of this report. In the survey we aimed to get feedback from the keen birders and nature enthusiasts. As such the survey was set up to last for only 3 days and it was spread throughout the birding community via twitter, direct mails to our contacts, and with the help of several key online birding services (like Birdguides and Rare Bird Alert in UK). 346 people completed the survey. A very nice result, and when read with background knowledge of the birding scene this survey provides a lot of interesting and representative information. We wish to thank all the people who did the survey and the ones who helped us spread it to a very targeted community of birders and nature enthusiasts.

Each survey page (with statistic results / summaries) is followed by comments and interpretations and a video interview.

The BirdFair video interviews

Complementing the birding survey is a series of interviews we did with selected group of people in the world birding community. The Rutland BirdFair is the worlds largest gathering of birders and nature enthusiasts. Every year 25 000 birders and NEs gather for a weekend of inspiration, sharing ideas, doing business, etc. There are more the 400 exhibitors at the fair, with every branch of the birding business and conservation represented. The range is from over 80 countries, to all the major optics brands, key nature conservation organisations, etc. We took the opportunity to make the following 3-8 minute interviews at the Birdfair.

We aimed to get a variety of people interviewed, in order to be able to better portray the wide variety we find in the international birding community. Topics covered range from use of social media like blogging, to preferences in travel, to input on which are the top world birding sites, and which destinations in Norway is highly regarded. The interviews and the opinions shared are also reflected in the survey. For example, when asked, a lot of people find it difficult to mention birding destinations in Norway outside of Varanger. Varanger also ranks far above any other destinations in Norway in our survey. Of interest is also the variety of approaches taken by countries on how to brand themselves and how to reach out to potential customers. A rather typical feature is that many countries do not have an official presence at Birdfair, but a country is rather represented by independent parties or networks of businesses. There are several models which all work differently. 

We wish to extend our gratitude to the 11 people who contributed with their thoughts and and shared their stories in the interviews. We are certain that the following chapter will be inspirational for some and enlightening for others. 

(click on any image for slide show / bigger image views - for desktop viewing)

  • Most birding holidays last for 1-3 weeks, and are made with birding friends, however birding will and can be done with anyone.


  • Independent travel is by far the most popular (It is also the segment that Varanger aimed for, and that contributed to successfully increase the visitors to the region significantly).
  • Birding is the main focus. Everything else is secondary!
  • Hotels and lodges rule, but everything goes!



  • Credible information is key: Advice from other birders is by far the most important when deciding on where to travel.
  • Destination websites are often considered less valuable, as birding information there is often is found to be less trustworthy.


  • Local tour operators (of the non-birding kind) are often not considered to serve trustworthy information, but when a hotel is run by birder they can provide very valuable information. A deeper then average knowledge of the local birdlife can be a key selling point. If you do not have this interest of knowledge yourselves, connect with someone who has.
  • Destination bird guide books are (almost) always written by a birder or someone with good knowledge of birding in the region. These are often considered to be very valuable, and in many cases having a destination guide book will help launch the destination in the birding world. The key is detailed site information, with good maps and / or descriptions.


  • 64% of travelling birders will sometimes hire a guide. Many prefer to travel independently, but being able to hire a guide for parts of a holiday will give a great introduction to an area, but the sense of exploring on your own is still important.
  • 75% will ALWAYS by a guide book for the destination. Make sure one is available.
  • Additional products are very valuable, and if available very often used. Make sure unique experiences become available products. 

  • There are enough birders in the world to have birding happening at every price range. However birders are often willing to spend considerable amount of money of their passion and hobby.
  • Birders most commonly travels internationally once or twice a year. However some travel much more.
  • Birders are very focused on the birding experience but 60% still prefer to pay more for comfort and / or good food.


  • Birding happens at every age, from teenager to retired. Birding is a lifestyle. Once you have chosen birding it will stay with you for life. Birders are by many hotel and lodge owners considered to be some of the ´best kind of guests´. They are often very skilled about local conditions (every birder research a lot before a trip). Birders are also very often easily satisfied (providing the birding is good!). They are also often return customers for many years.
  • In Europe a large portion of birders are male. In USA however there are just about more women then men who are into birding. The survey used here had a high input from the UK birding community, hence the high portion men in the above result. This is also reflected in many European birding destinations.


  • Pay-for photo hides are not widely used by travelling birders. This survey was aimed more at the keen birding community and a smaller number of wildlife photographers contributed. Photographers will very often like to use pay-for photo hides. Sometimes a good photo hide is a reason to go. Preferably a destination needs more then one kind of photo hide to become attractive to an international audience. When travelling to Norway one often spends considerable money on travel and having more attractions available will make it more worthwhile.
  • Public bird hides and / or wind shelters are very often used. They make birding more comfortable and more easily available. They are also often a sign of a good birding location. Such facilities also makes it easier to bring family on trips. Bird hides and wind shelters come at a low cost compared to the high value they provide.


  • In Europe: Most birders live in UK. End of story. UK can with its long tradition of "natural history" almost be considered the homeland of birding.
  • Birding is popular in the other western European countries. It is on the rise in most other countries.
  • Birding is very big in USA (but with a more relaxed / less intense style of birding).
  • Birding in Asia is on the rise. In particular in China (where people come into birding via photography).


  • Birding destinations are popular based on 1.) being easily accessible and safe 2.) being exotic and / or adventurous 3.) providing a very high diversity of bird species.
  • Norway ranks very high on being the world´s easiest available arctic birding destination. Surely some of the people taking this survey will have had Norway on their mind when taking the survey, simply based on where the survey comes from. Still, even with this taken into account, the survey result is very positive for Norway!


  • Spain is cleverly marketed, and has key regions become famous destinations. It is very easily available from the main European market, UK.
  • Norway offers unique and very exotic birding, easily available. Again, survey bias considered, it is a very good result for Norway, and should fuel the work to make Norway more attractive for birders.


  • Varanger is by far the most famous birding destination in Norway. In the birding world sense it is Norway´s flagship destination.
  • Northern Norway holds the most interest for an international audience. Lofoten / Tromsø has undeveloped potential. Key birding destinations in southern Norwegian context has potential to go bigger (but most likely in a Scandinavian context).


                 How big is birding?

By birders, for birders

“By birders, for birders” seems to be the industry standard. The global birding business scene is made up of people who have made their passion their job. This in turn can make it difficult for a non-birder or a non-birding business to relate to the birding scene. This is a good thing. It is a means of securing quality throughout the scene. For example a tour operator specialising in birding tours could not do so successfully without intimate knowledge of both birds, birding and birders. In mainstream tourism business you will every now and then be confronted with a product or service of low quality, in the sense that the provider is obviously in it simply for the money. The result can be charging a high price for a low quality product, but coated in a professional packaging (with nice brochures, websites,etc). If you are met with a product of lower quality in the birding world you will more often find that it is the presentation that is of low quality, but the products are often surprisingly good. However throughout the international birding scene there are an amazing number of very high quality businesses, catering to an often very quality minded audience. This ranges from specialised guesthouses, lodges, B&Bs, hotels often run by birders, or people who's interest in nature has become above average. Running a bird tour operator business and being a guide for birders is not something you based on a weekend course in birding. Your guests will expect you to be able to identify any bird in your region, by sight and by sound. Achieving these skills requires years of fieldcraft. The international birding scene is big enough to have a huge number of people who are great at both birding and business. The standards are high, but there is always room for more, new and better. The key is to know your niche.

Birders on tour in Varanger with world birding experts Ruth and Alan of "The Biggest Twitch" (birding tour company).

As previously mentioned birding is a worldwide culture. With that comes much more then just business. There are a wide range of other initiatives that are important. Bird and nature
conservation is always very closely linked to the birding scene. There is a wide range of nature reserves that, both private and charity owned, that consider it their job to protect and facilitate for nature to thrive, but with centres, shops, guided tour, etc, it is also a business model. 

Another example of the bird conservation scene is the 24-hour bird races occur worldwide, the simple aim: to clock up as many bird species as you can in one day. These are hardcore events for hardcore birders, participants are up from dawn until dusk, getting very little rest and making as few comfort stops as possible - any time not spent birding is time lost!

In Israel, teams from across the world compete in the Champions Of The Flyway, the name
celebrating the position of Southern Israel for major bird migration “flyways”. The event has really taken off, with teams from the USA, South Africa and even a joint Israeli/Palestinian team taking part, showing how birding can bring people together. All money raised by teams goes towards a specific charity. For 2015, money went to the organisation BirdLife Cyprus to aid their work in preventing the illegal trapping and killing of migrant birds. The overall winning team is the one which records the most species of birds in the 24 hours. Similar well-known events occur with the World Series of Birding and the American Birding Association´s Christmas Bird Counts in the USA. These events of course also provide great PR for the destinations they are being held in.

Birding is in the literature scene as well, and there are several books that are near-essential reading for birders. American-oriented novels The Big Year by Mark Obmascik and Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman tell the tale of competitive year-listing, where birders travel far and wide to see as many bird species as they can within the USA during one year. Pete Dunne is widely regarded as one of the best “birding writers” out there and his books Golden Wings, Tales Of A Low Rent Birder, the sequel: More Tales Of A Low Rent Birder contain series of short stories, some true, some fictional, mainly revolving around Cape May Bird Observatory in New Jersey.

Not even popular culture is safe from birders. In 2002, they broke into Hollywood thanks to James Bond 007 himself. In Die Another Day Pierce Brosnan´s character went undercover as a birdwatcher in Cuba (a top birding destination). Birding takes centre stage in the 2011 film The Big Year (based on a book of the same name) as characters played by Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson compete to see as many North American birds in one year as possible. Birds were also in the spotlight for the independent film A Birder´s Guide To Everything released in 2014, a coming-of-age story about four young birders on a road trip.

Across the world, there are thousands of organisations and charities committed to wild birds. The biggest of these is BirdLife International, a non-governmental organisation that brings together countries across the world to conserve birds and their habitats. Each country has its own organisation that represents BirdLife International as a “partner (designate)”.

The largest Birdlife partner is the UK´s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB); a world famous charity that runs over 200 reserves across the UK and supports a huge variety of projects that protect, celebrate and enhance Britain´s birdlife. They have over 1.1 million paying members who provide the majority of the charity´s funding through membership, donations and legacies.

Perhaps as (if not more) famous as the RSPB is the Audubon Society of the USA. Named after the “father” of American ornithology, John James Audubon, who published a huge book in 1838 documenting over 700 species of North American birds with life-size paintings. It has been dubbed the first proper “field guide” to North American birds, even if it stood a metre tall. Now the Audubon Society promotes birding and the conservation of birds, with each US state having their own Audubon Society branch. 

Despite its (largely false) image as a hobby for the older generations, the birding community is a rapidly increasing one, supposedly the second-fastest growing outdoor hobby in the U.S. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be 127.8 million birders in the U.S alone*10.
*10(Birding Expo, pers comms 2015)

BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS*11 (complete list per September 2015)
Andorra: Associació per a la Defensa de la Natura (ADN), 420 members
Argentina: Aves Argentinas (AOP), 970 members
Armenia: Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds (ASPB), 15 members
Australia: BirdLIfe Australia, 10000 members
Austria: BirdLIfe Austria, 2500 members
Azerbaijan: Azerbaijan Ornithological Society (AOS), 300 members
Bahamas: Bahamas National Trust (BNT), 3000 members
Bahrain: Bahrain Natural History Society (BNHS) (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Belarus: BirdLife Belarus (APB), 2700 members
Belgium: Natagora (Wallonia), 14550 members & Natuurpunt (Flanders), founded 1951, 87150 members
Belize: Belize Audubon Society (BAS), 1700 members
Bolivia: Asociacion Armonia, 256 members
Botswana: BirdLife Botswana (BLB), 500 members
Brazil: SAVE Brasil, (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), founded 1988, 21200 members
Burkina Faso: NATURAMA, (no information on date founded/members on BirdLIFe International website)
Burundi: Association Burundaise pour la protection de la Nature (ABN), 100 members
Cambodia: BirdLife International Cambodia Programme (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Cameroon: Biodiversity Conservation Society (CBCS) (no member information on BirdLife International website)
 Canada: Bird Studies Canada (BSC), 7500 members & Nature Canada, 5000 members
Chile: Comité Nacional Pro Defensa de la Flora y Fauna (CODEFF), 4800 members
Cook Islands: Te Ipukarea Society (TIS), 92 members
Croatia: Association BIOM, 100 members
Cuba: Centro Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (CNAP), 38 members
Cyprus: BirdLife Cyprus, 520 members
Czech Republic: Czech Society for Ornithology (CSO), 2100 members
Denmark: Dansk Ornitologisk Forening (DOF), 14800 members
Dijibouti: Djibouti Nature, 495 members
Dominican Republic: Grupo Jaragua (GJI), 54 members
Ecuador: Aves y Conservación, 36 members
Egypt: Nature Conservation Egypt, 39 members
El Salvador: SalvaNATURA (SN), 500 members
Estonia: Estonian Ornithological Society (EOS), 500 members
Ethiopia: Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS) (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Falkland Islands: Falklands Conservation, 568 members
Faroe Islands: Faroese Ornithological Society, 210 members
Fiji: NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, 200 members
Finland: BirdLife Suomi, 11000 members
France: Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), 44000 members
French Polynesia: Société d'Ornithologie de Polynésie (MANU), 110 members
Germany: Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), 450000 members
Ghana: Wildlife Society (GWS) (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Gibraltar: Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS), 400 members
Greece: Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS), 2600 members
Hong Kong: Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HKBWS), 1500 members
Hungary: BirdLife Hungary, 8600 members
Iceland: Fuglavernd – BirdLife Iceland (ISPB), 1100 members
India: Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), 4400 members
Indonesia: Burung Indonesia, 3055 members
Iraq: Nature Iraq, 1100 members
Ireland: BirdWatch Ireland, 15000 members
Israel: Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), 40000 members
Italy: Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli (LIPU), 30000 members
Ivory Coast: SOS-FORETS (SF) (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Japan: Wild Bird Society of Japan (WBSJ), 47000 members
Jordan: Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), 2000 members
Kazakhstan: Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), 160 members
Kenya: NatureKenya (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Kuwait: Environment Protection Society (KEPS), 400 members
Kyrgyzstan: Nature Kyrgyzstan, 100 members
Latvia: Latvian Ornithological Society (LOB), 400 members
Lebanon: Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL), 135 members
Liberia: The Society for Conservation of Nature in Liberia (SCNL) (no member information on BirdLife
International website)
Liechtenstein: Botanisch-Zoologische Gesellschaft (BZG), 200 members
Lithuania: Lithuanian Ornithological Society (LOD), 400 members
Luxembourg: natur&ëmwelt, 13000 members
Macedonia: Macedonian Ecological Society (MES), 90 members
Madagascar: Asity Madagascar (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Malawi: Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM) (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Malaysia: Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), 5000 members
Malta: BirdLife Malta, 3200 members
Mauritius: Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, 17 members
Mexico: Pronatura (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Montenegro: Center for Protection and Research of birds of Montenegro (CZIP), 62 members
Morocco: GREPOM, 130 members
Myanmar: Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Nepal: Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN), 560 members
Netherlands: Society for the Protection of Birds (VBN), 153000 members
New Caledonia: Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie (SCO), 81 members
New Zealand: Forest & Bird, 40000 members
Nigeria: Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), 6000 members
Norway: Norwegian Ornithological Society (NOF), 9500 members
Palau: Palau Conservation Society (PCS), 549 members
Palestine: Palestine Wildlife Society (PWLS), 120 members
Panama: Panama Audubon Society (PAS), 106 members
Paraguay: Guyra, 300 members
Philippines: Haribon Foundation, 400 members
Poland: Polish Society for the Protection of Birds (OTOP), 3500 members
Portugal: Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA), 3200 members
Puerto Rico: Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña, Inc. (SOPI) (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Quatar: Friends of the Environment Centre, 1400 members
Romania: Romanian Ornithological Society (SOR) & BirdLife Romania, 1100 members
Rwanda: Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (ACNR), 50 members
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Wildlife Authority (SWA) (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Serbia: Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia, 214 members
Seychelles: Nature Seychelles, 75 members
Sierra Leone: Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL), 511 members
Singapore: Nature Society (NSS), 1500 members
Slovakia: SOS/BirdLife, 1000 members
Slovenia: BirdLife Slovenia (DOPPS), 1000 members
South Africa: BirdLife South Africa (BLSA), 2000 members
Spain: SEO/Birdlife, 12000 members
Sri Lanka: Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), 600 members
Sweden: Swedish Ornithological Society (SOF), 16000 members
Switzerland: SVS/BirdLife Switzerland, 63000 members
Syria: Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife (SSCW), 65 members
Taiwan: Chinese Wild Bird Federation (CWBF), 10000 members
Thailand: Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST), 3000 members
Tunisia: Association Les Amis des Oiseaux (AAO), 700 members
Turkey: Doğ a Derneğ i (DD), 1000 members
Uganda: NatureUganda (NU), 400 members
Ukraine: Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Birds (USPB), 450 members
United Kingdom: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), 1090000 members
United States: Audubon Society, 400000 members
Uruguay: Aves Uruguay (GUPECA), 110 members
Uzbekistan: Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds (UzSPB), 200 members
Vietnam: BirdLife International in Indochina (no member information on BirdLife International website)
Zambia: BirdWatch Zambia, 133 members

Zimbabwe: BirdLife Zimbabwe (BLZ), 730 members
*11(BirdLife Partners, http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/partnership/birdlife-partners, 2015)

                      Birding online

Screenshot from the Birding Frontiers blog - one of the most popular birding blogs in Europe. Being featured on this blog has helped put Varanger on the world birding map.

The invention of the internet has changed the game for birders. Limitless information can be found on millions of websites: optics equipment can be bought, photos browsed, holidays planned and bird sightings scoured. 

If you took 100 “ordinary” people, most certainly less than 5% would run a blog. This is different with birding, where the community is very focused on sharing information. Most serious birders run a blog, or if not, they certainly follow a good number of them. It is the easiest way to share photographs, news and itineraries from birding trips. The world of birding blogs is wonderfully diverse - they go from the serious to the simply silly. Most bird observatories have an official blog or website. The Spurn Bird Observatory (http://www.spurnbirdobservatory.co.uk/sightings/) blog list daily the bird species recorded in the area with no personal opinions or narrative. It received an average of 18518 page views a month in 2014, with a high of 31748 views for September (peak autumn bird migration).

The popular Birding Frontiers blog (http://birdingfrontiers.com) showcases the latest developments in bird ID and challenges what we think we know about bird species and populations. In 2014, it had an had an average of 57.5 thousand views a month, with a high of 87122 in February. 

On the other end of the spectrum; Reservoir Cats is a satirical birding blog poking fun at recent news from the birding world. Reservoir Cats (http://reservoircatz.blogspot.no ) publishes news report parodies, for example “RSPB scientists to create new super predator”. The blog Gyr Crakes (the name a play on words of the band Dire Straits, but replaced with bird names) (http://lalarinho.webs.com/gyrcrakes.htm) contains cartoons and famous songs parodied to have birding themes. One song describes the history of British birding to the tune of “We Didn't Start The Fire” by Billy Joel. Another uses only bird names that rhyme with the lyrics from Queen´s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. On Facebook and Tumblr, one American birder creates parodies Bill and Jeff Keane´s The Family Circus cartoons that feature in thousands of newspapers across the world. Birding Family Circus*12 adds humorous captions that really only make sense if you´re a birder. These show that birding is so much more then just a hobby, when people spend their free, unpaid time making others in the birding community smile.

Social media is very popular within the birding community. 
This is because birders are, on the whole, extremely social. Birders are very often not the “lone wolves” seeking solitude, although for many that is a part of it. They love to share news, to debate issues and learn from others. Rarely an unusual bird turns up now without being discussed at length online. The increase in smartphone use has meant a birder can be out in the field and notifying others of any birds they see at the same time.

Social media is not worth much without actual interaction - social media is a way to stay connected and build relationships, but at the base of it all is real life events! Photos above is from the bird festival Gullfest in Varanger - made inspirational thanks to great people, made widely internationally recognised thanks to social media.

Facebook is still the most widely used social media platform for birders. In UK most counties or regional areas have their own Facebook group. Wildlife photographers share their images on personal pages. A niche within the niche group like the Facebook group “European Gulls” has 1177 members, purely discussing the identification, moult and distribution of gull species. There is even a car-sharing Facebook group for British twitchers to offer and ask for lifts to rare birds. It has about 250 members.*13 

Twitter has become increasingly popular, particularly with British birders. Birders now have a way to share their experiences with other birders instantly. Pre-internet, twitchers would pay a subscription for a rare bird news pager which would alert them to the discovery of rare birds. With Twitter, most rare birds are reported almost instantly thanks to the bird finder´s need to get the information out there. Messages can be conveyed in a simple concise format. Hashtags make finding information easier, for example a birder wanting to see tweets about rare birds in the county of East Yorkshire simply needs to search for #rbnEYK, thanks to the Twitter account @RareBirdNetwork (13,000 followers).

A few twitter accounts worth following (if you want to get an idea of how the birder twittersphere works):

Most birding organisations have a Facebook and Twitter account, which are loyally subscribed to by large numbers of birders. The RSPB has 174 000 Twitter followers of its main account, The Audubon Society´s account has 80 9000 followers, BirdLife International has 41 8000. On Facebook these organisations have 131 000, 498 2000 and 167 000 “likes” respectively.*14 

Other social media has not been adopted so readily. Instagram, a platform for sharing photos, is not so widely used by birders. It is more widely used by some wildlife photographers to showcase their images. Others favour sites like Flickr, or even more commonplace have their own photographic websites where images can be displayed in higher resolution. A search on Instagram for the hashtag #birdwatching gave 355,819, #birding gave 217,266 results. The birding side of Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and Vine are relatively non-existent. For wildlife-based tourism companies, promoting themselves via Facebook and Twitter are the most sensible options, and can be engaged with a huge effect. Although as with all social media, being simply on it is not enough. It requires care, a good strategy or passionate engagement (preferably both!). 

On top of social media, there are several online resources for birders to share and gain information. Perhaps the biggest (and most notorious) is BirdForum. Launched in 2002 it currently hosts over 140,000 members who post and comment on a variety of threads (ever-changing but at 01/10/15 the figure was 289,648 threads) from bird ID queries to a discussion about Jackdaws nesting at Stonehenge. Everything bird related can and will be discussed.
*13(figures correct as of 11/09/2015)
*14(all figures correct as of 11/09/2015)

A few key online resources:

BirdGuides - Varied web resource for birders, partly operating as a rare bird news provider for subscribers. Also contains photo galleries, past records of rare birds, bird news and articles from rare bird finders. http://www.birdguides.com/home/default.asp 

Rare Bird Alert - always up to date news on rare and scare birds in UK. Widely followed. http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk

BirdForum - famous worldwide forum where users can post threads on anything to do with birds. Includes ID help forums, photo galleries and wikipedia-style entries for every bird species and birdwatching site. http://www.birdforum.net

Sufbirds - Contains news, photo galleries and forums where birders can submit their own photographs. http://www.surfbirds.com

Bubo Listing - Resource that allows users to keep track of their various bird lists and compares them in league tables against other birders. Lists can be made to fit various criteria e.g. British list, Norwegian list, British 2015 year list, etc. http://www.bubo.org

eBird - American-based website where birders from across the world can submit their sightings. Includes features to view sightings of birds in areas and the data submitted is used to create bird migration “forecasts”. http://ebird.org/content/ebird/

Tarsiger - A Finnish site dedicated to recording rare birds within the Western Palearctic (Europe, North Africa and Middle East) and beyond. Includes search features to look up occurrence of individual species, birds on specific dates and specific countries. http://www.tarsiger.com/home/index.php?sp=&lang=eng

To attract birders from around the world a destination must offer unique experiences. Photo: the famous “Varanger King Eider Vortex”, the worlds largest gathering of King Eiders.
Birding online is very much about sharing stories of birding. Propelling Varanger into fame in the birding world is based on sharing stories from the north (and great photos are very important).

Birding In Norway

Birding can be done anywhere. But this does not mean everywhere is desirable for birders. Birders visiting from abroad make the effort to travel in order to see new bird species or experience wildlife in an exhilarating way. Within Europe, or even the world, there are popular “must-see” destinations for birders. Ask a group of birders their top travel destinations and you will hear many repeats. Morocco, Turkey and Hungary may high on their wish list. Luxembourg and Macedonia are probably not. Becoming a must-visit destination requires great birdlife and unique birding opportunities, and skilled people who can promote it. 

Thanks to readily available information and the desire of birders to see new and exciting birds, you can name a country and a birder will list the top places to go birding there. When you say “Romania”, they picture the Danube Delta, “Finland” gets them thinking about Oulu and Kuusamo; with “Iceland” it´s Mývatn in an instant. How do they know this. Online trip reports from other birders, guide books and birding tour operators have all helped to define certain areas as the places to see birds within a country/county/continent. It´s birding branding.

A strong birding brand is important in order to attract birders from across the world. Most often this will be based on a series of bird species that is characeristic of the destination. For example birding in Finland is characterised by woodpeckers (7 species), owls (up to 10 species) and birds for which Finland is their toehold in Europe, such as Red-flanked Bluetail. While visiting birders will see many more birds than just these, they are the ones that they travel the distance for. These are the target species. You need a certain variety of species, but having an iconic species is also important. Finland has become famous for being the best place in the world to experience the Great Grey Owl (lappugle). Similarly, birding in Iceland is characterised by species that are essentially American or Arctic, but their distribution stretches to accessible Iceland. Harlequin Duck (harlekinand), breeding Red Phalarope (polarsvømmesnipe) and Gyr Falcon (jaktfalk) are the main draws.

Photo: Harlequin Duck, a target species to see for any birder visiting Iceland (photo T.Amundsen). Being good looking and having restricted occurrence is a good start to become a target species.

In a European context Spain is very popular with birders. Most who are serious about seeing European birds will make at least one trip to Spain. Many of the species that can be easily observed there are difficult to see elsewhere in Europe (Marbled Teal, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse etc.). The habitats are varied, the birds attractive and the country is accessible by road and air.
While the country is large, visiting birders have no uncertainty in where to visit. Spain is expertly split into several birding destinations or “hotspots”. Every site has its own lineup of desirable bird species and wildlife spectacles. Each site is vastly different from the next. They are all served well with airport and road links. The Spanish tourist boards and birding travel companies advertise these hotspots as THE places to go birding in Spain. It is birding tourism done very well - if you ask a birder that has never been to Spain before where they'd like to go, they'll probably start listing these locations “Extremedura, the Pyrenees, Straits of Gibraltar and Coto Doñana…” 

There is a key lesson to be learned from how Spain presents itself to an international audience. Rather then trying to make all of Spain sound interesting for birding, they have chosen to foucs on a select few regions or destinations. There are of course a number of other great birding sites in Spain, but these are the regions or destinations that holds both a wide number of species and some iconic species, and that are consistently good, even for many days in a row. This is important. One should not try to promote everything possible, but rather focus on the places with a quality level of international interest.

The main birding destinations / regions in Spain (http://www.birdwatching-spain.com)

King Eider - one of a few very exclusive bird species that will bring birders from around the world to Norway.

Bluethroat / blåstrupe - an attractive species found breeding in many places in Norway

Norway´s best selling points

  • Norway retains a feeling of a wilderness, with dramatic scenery, harsh but beautiful weather and an extant megafauna such as bears, wolverines, moose and whales. 
  • The birdlife is extremely varied, seasonally and regionally. The natural wonder of migration is evident. Norway hosts species which are desirable for birders to see due to their rarity, beauty or because they are difficult to see elsewhere.
  • Thanks to great seasonal differences, birding in Norway is totally different experience at different times of the year, both in terms of scenery and wildlife. Visitors return to see the changes the country and its wildlife undertakes.

Working with birding in Norway in many ways needs a similar approach to that of Spain. In a European perspective, Norway is unique. There is still a feeling of untouched nature in some areas, with pristine forests, mountains and beautiful fjords. Much of the land is intact nature, providing good birding in amazing sceneries. Other natural wonders such as the aurora borealis only help to cement Norway as a world-class nature location.

For birds and wildlife, Norway is also spectacular. The habitats are varied and by extension so are the birds. There are extensive marshes, tundra, vast forests, mountains and endless kilometres of coastline, all with their own supporting cast of wildlife. Especially notable are Norway´s seabird colonies which provide an experience for all the senses.

Above photo: Norwegian bird cliffs are spectacular (Hornøya in spring, a heaven for bird

There is an exclusivity with the birdlife of Norway, mainly thanks to the Arctic species to be found in Northern Norway, and in particular in Eastern Finnmark. The combination of species here at any time of the year are unique and unlike any European country, making this area extremely desirable to birders. A birder cannot find another easily accessible location where they have the chance of seeing King and Steller´s Eiders, Snowy Owls, White-billed Divers, Brünnich´s Guillemots and Gyrfalcon all within the same trip. Without Varanger the birdlife of Norway, while still spectacular, is made up of species which can be seen elsewhere.

The country lies on a flyway, a path which migratory birds take on their seasonal journeys. Large numbers of birds including waders, wildfowl and birds of prey, pass south down the country in the autumn and return north again in the spring. Sites such as the Lofoten Islands and Lista, Røst and Utsira are well-known for being migrant-magnets: islands that provide birds with a rest-stop during their long journey. The sight of migrating birds can be spectacular at times and as such the latter islands mentioned have all become popular among Norwegian birders. Every year, each site sees many thousands and birds pass through, including many rare birds that should not be there but have become caught up in the migration of other species, or appear as wind-blown strays. In fact, many of these islands have bird observatories in their own right, purely to study birds. 

Migration is also evident at other specialised sites, including Slettnes on the Nordkyn Peninsula. Every spring birders gather to watch the annual migration of seabirds, the main draw being Whitebilled Divers (gulnebblom) and skuas (particularly Pomarine Skua / polarjo) moving north to breed on Siberian tundra in Russia. Nordkyn is considered to be a part of the wider Varanger region. However it does have large potential for much more fame and recognition internationally. Nordkyn is still relatively unknown, and could easily see an increase in numbers of visitors provided more promotion and work to better cater to birders.

Above photo: Slettnes, Nordkyn peninsula, one of the best sites for seabird migration in Norway, and highly undercommunicated as a birding attraction in Norway.

Unlike many countries, Norway has retained its megafauna (large herbivores and carnivores - mainly mammals) which a big draw for wildlife-watchers. Many want to see them as evidence of a healthy working ecosystem, as each plays an important part in the habit they occur in. Brown Bears, Grey Wolves, Wolverine, Elk, Musk Ox, Reindeer, Eurasian Lynx and a variety of whale species are all possible to see in Norway. In Svaldbard there is also the Polar Bear which is a huge attraction. 

There is massive potential for wildlife-based tourism centred on these creatures which is yet to be explored in Norway. Looking over to Finland, there are several specialised Brown Bear, Wolverine and Grey Wolf photohides: large, secure hides in the taiga forest which are baited with carcass of livestock. Photographers (or even simply dedicated wildlife watchers) pay good money to spend several hours in these hides*. It is exhilarating nature, up-close-and-personal. Visitors to these hides also see a range of bird species like White-tailed Eagles. This market is not just unique to Finland, with hides available to hire in Estonia and Slovenia amongst others. A similar hide experience in Norway would be extremely in-demand. There is obvioulsy a challenge with the conflict between large predators and livestock. Legislation dictates that Norway´s Brown Bear numbers are culled every year to “reduce livestock predation”. There are around 150 bears in Norway, yet in the 1800s, 200 - 300 were killed every year, showing how much larger the population used to be. The story is similar with Wolverines, lynxes and wolves in Norway. A photohide project would rely on an area having at least a relatively healthy population of the desired predator and a good working relationship with those that work and live on the land adjacent. There is already great interest in the Musk Ox in Dovrefjell national park, central Norway, with organised safaris for wildlife watching tourists to get great views of these animals. Musk Ox used to occur across Scandinavia but were hunted to extinction. In the 1940s, animals from herds in greenland were brought back to Norway and bred to create the two small herds that exist today.
* http://www.wildfinland.org

Another advantage Norway has over many similar locations is it is hassle-free birding. The chances of getting mugged or experiencing a threatening situation is virtually zero. The infrastructure is secure, the government stable and all of places will have English speaking residents. Roads are well developed, easy to use and open all year. This is particularly true for the “off the beaten track” locations such as Arctic Norway, where you can still get about easily by car to wildlife sites on good roads that are managed to be drivable even in the heart of winter. Both accommodation and food are easily available and are of a high standard. All the above is not a matter of course in many of the worlds most desired to visit birding destinations. 

Seasonal changes: A birder visiting in June will see an entirely different cast of birdlife than one visiting in February. In the north, particularly in popular Varanger, this is even more apparent. Summer is characterised by a wide range of breeding waders, singing passerines (perching birds like Bluethroats / blåstrupe and Arctic Warbler / lappsanger) and migratory birds which spend the winter in warmer climates. The 24-hour sunlight means the wildlife-watcher can theoretically be out at any time in the lookout for nature. A return visit in winter or early spring will not only give a totally new range of species, but a completely different experience, but of the same place. I winter the species are fewer in number but it is still “high quality” birding, with rare seaducks, white-winged gulls from Siberia and the aurora borealis on show in a pristine snowy landscape. This vast polarisation over the seasons creates a higher level of “site loyalty” for many wildlife watchers, who may come in one season and are interested in seeing the location at another time of the year. This is huge attraction to many visitors, and should not be underestimated.

Northern lights and midnight sun are both considered bonuses for any birder visiting Northern Norway.

Top destinations / products in Norway

Internationally the Varanger region is by far the most famous region for birders and nature enthusiasts. As reflected in our survey there really is not much competition when you ask birders from around the world to mention top places in Norway. Varanger has been a name in the birding world for about 100 years. However the book “Arctic Summer” by Richard Vaughan from 1979 but Varanger on the map in particular in the UK birding community. Several international bird tour operators have been running tour to Varanger during the past two decades. The bird tour operator Finnature has been a key operator as they made Varanger a part of their Finland itinerary, as an Arctic coast extension to their trips. They have helped put Varanger on the map. Still Varanger was not a very well known international birding destination before 2009. The fact that nearly all international birders visiting Varanger came to the region via Finland shows the significance of Varanger as an add-on to a Finland birding experience. In 2009 Biotope started the first effort to build Varanger as an indipendent world class birding destination in its own right. The idea was to promote Varanger as an easily accessible birding destination, that would provide specacular birding based on the arctic tundra, taiga and the arctic coast. Kirkenes was the natural hub of the destination. This nature destination work was made possible in a large extent to Innovation Norway, as IN supported the first efforts to establish Varanger as a birding destination based on a new approach to destination development. Biotope aimed not to work with tour operators, but rather connect directly with birders from around the world.

With the timely rise of social media, it seemed a natural step forward: to simply by-pass the traditional destination - tour operator relationship, and rather connect with independent travellers. Via blogposts, Facebook, Twitter, direct mail contact, meetings, etc. it was relatively easy to connect with birders from anywhere. Providing locally based news and views from a destination with very high interest proved to spark a new interest in Varanger. During the past 6 years the numbers of visitors to Varanger has doubled many times. All the guest houses and hotels in Varanger have increased their capasity. This growth has been organic and driven by a person-to-person system. The development and fine tuning of Varanger as a birding destination is still in progress. Varanger is now being promoted as “the world´s easiest accessible Arctic birding destination”.

Above photo: Ptarmigans (fjellrype) is exceptionally approachable on Svalbard, making them very photogenic. Svalbard has much more to offer then Polar Bears. Birding can be done successfully in and around Longyearbyen. It is another example of undercommunicated potential.

is highly regarded as a wildlife destination, but less as a birding destination. Mammals are the key attraction on Svalbard, especially Polar Bear, but also Walrus, various species of whale, Arctic Fox and Svalbard Reindeer. Birding in Svalbard clearly has a potential for more development, and simply being based in Longyearbyen will provide you with great birding experiences near the town. The Advent valley / Adventsdalen is very bird rich, and species like the Red Phalarope is very high on the wish list of any international birder. Still other Arctic specialities are not as common as in Varanger, such as Steller´s Eider and King Eider. In short: birds will not be Svalbard´s main draw, but any birder will be highly interested in seeing the mammals of Svalbard, and the additional birding will make a trip to Svalbard highly desirable. There is much more to be done here.

Nature based tourism is on the rise in Svalbard, but there are currently not many operators doing dedicated tours for birders or bird / wildlife photographers. In this context it is well worth mentioning the company Wild Photo, run by wildlife photographers Ole Jørgen Liodden and Roy Mangersnes. They have successfully become a provider of high-end nature and wildlife experiences, catering to an international audience of highly demanding photographers. They do trips to other top destinations worldwide, but Svalbard has become their speciality. Roy considers the European market to be the biggest, but Asia is on the rise too (especially China). Their company is growing and this year and last year they provided unique experiences for approx. 170 people, each paying up to and over 60 000 NOK, on trips lasting from 8-10 days. This is niche done very well.

Above photo: Whale watching with company ´Basecamp Senja´, exploring the combination of whale watching with birding has a huge potential.

Lofoten / Tromsø / Senja regions
is in a birding context not very well known, however there is much potential to develop the region as a birding destination. The region is already famous for its impressive landscape of mountains and fjords. The Northern Lights are also considered to “live” in the region. This status has helped the region establish itself as a premium nature destination. The region is lacking a steady presence of key arctic species like Steller´s Eider and good numbers of King Eiders. Here Lofoten will for example have to compete with Varanger. When a birder from UK chooses to go to Norway for birding, it will be tough competing with Varanger. However birders come in many forms, and the northwest coast of Norway has a huge attraction with whales, Northern Lights and stunning scenaries, in combination with great birding. This will make the region more attractive to birdwathcers (less intense then birders) and other nature enthusiasts. As with all destinations outside of Varanger, one relies more on the local entrepreneur, nature guide or someone who can make a product more available or presentable. In short: Varanger has enough to “handle itself”, while other places are more in need of a presenter / facilitator. Well worth mentioning is the newly established company Lofoten Birding, who aim to make the region´s birdlife more accessible through guided services. This will most certainly have an immediate and positive effect. Most likely however is the success bound to come from more guiding of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. Still there are some products that are still waiting to be explored: like wintering White-billed Divers (gulnebblom) off the northwest coast and in the fjords. Providing great photo opportunities of White-billed Divers will be an in-demand product, and something that can help to establish a bigger interest in the entire region, as this will attract world class photographers who are always on the look out for something new.

Whale watching has always been popular. It offers humans a tiny glimpse into the lives of these colossal creatures before they disappear below the waves. Norway is blessed with a wide range of cetacean species that can be regularly seen from the coast. Thankfully most nations have realised that whales are much better alive than dead, with whale watching tour operators bringing in a lot more money to an area than whaling vessels. There is no shortage of whale watching tours available in Norway, http://www.arcticwhaletours.com/safari/whale-safari Arctic Whale Tours operates from Stø in Nordland. Their tours incorporate a trip to island for breeding seabirds (e.g. puffins) and White-tailed Eagles in addition to the whales. A wider range of businesses are now in the process of establishing themselves as providers of Whale watching experiences, especially based out of Tromsø, Senja and Andøya.

Vega and Helgelandskysten
also has a lot of potential to develop nature based tourism. In the world of birding there are always interest in special species like owl. The region has a relatively healthy population of Eagle Owl (hubro) which would be huge attraction if this became approachable in a sustainable manner. This would basically mean great photo opportunites, from photo hides, to avoid disturbance of this fragile species. If great products were developed, the region would also have enough interesting birdlife to make it enjoyable for many days of birdwatching / birding. Eagle Owls are found elsewhere in Europe, but the big draw would be seeing them by night, when it is still light from the midnight sun. 

Trondheimsfjorden / Trøndelag
forests is relatively famous for bird and wildlife photographers. The region holds good numbers of northern bird speceis like woodpeckers, owls, grouse, Golden Eagles, etc. Again it is much thanks to local and skilled people like Terje Kolaas who delivers great photo opportunities with his bird photo hides. It takes skills and deep knowledge of what´s around to run a photo hide business. The region certainly holds enough species in a concentrated area to provide visitors with non-stop good birding for a week or more. However to be of international interest it is likely to be photo hide based, and cater to the international photographer community. That being said: if birding opportunities was better developed and presented the region would have a potential to attract more of the birder / bird photographers segment.

http://www.northernbirding.com and http://www.bird.dintur.no specialise in birding tours and photo hides in the “middle of Norway, just a few miles north of Trondheim and west of Åre in Sweden”. According to their website, photographers can use hides which are placed to target species like Slavonian Grebe, Pink-footed Goose, Eider, Goshawk, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Capercaille, Black Grouse, Hazel Grouse, Great Snipe, Red-necked Phalarope, Siberian Jay, Crested Tit, Bullfinch. The stunning results from bird photographers visiting these hides can be found here: http://www.bird.dintur.no/photo-hides-norway/goshawk_photo_hide_trondheimsfjord.aspx http://www.bird.dintur.no/photo-hides-norway/greatsnipe-lekking-trondheimsfjord.aspx 

Dovre and the mountainous regions south of Trondheim
is quite well established as a great destination to visit for those interested in wildlife and birds. The Musk Ox is the big draw, but the region also hold enough other interesting bird species and stunning landscape to be considered top destination to visit. The importance again is having a key target species, but enough high quality birds to hold the interest of a visitor for many days. Other places in Norway has the target species, but have not yet developed enough possibilities to hold birders in the region for more then a few days. One such place is the island of Smøla, on the westcoast of Møre and Romsdal. Almost all the bird photography activity is based around the company Smøla Naturopplevelser (http://smolanaturopplevelser.no). They provide high-end eagle photo hides and eagle photography opportunities from boat. They are also developing new photo opportunities based on floating photo hides. This is something to follow closely as it is certainly on the rise and about to put Smøla on the map in a big way in the wildlife / bird photographer community. Audun Lia Dahl of Smøla Naturopplevelser estimates that they have catered to 500 guests in 2 years. The guests visit Smøla most commonly 2 days, each paying 2500,- NOK pr day (for photo experiences + accommodation).

Above photo: Smøla Naturopplevelser delivering one of Norways finest bird photography products.

just south of Stavanger is part of a huge wetland system and it has a rich coastal area providing lots of space for a wide range of bird species. It is very well known in Norway as one of the finest birding areas in Norway, but internationally it is less known. The international potential is also not very big, as most of the bird species that can be seen on Jæren are also found in UK, Denmark, Germany, etc. In short: Jæren does not hold enough unique bird species to draw an international crowd. However: if the already very rich birdlife of the region was combined with great photo hide products it would certainly draw an international crowd. Simply developing public facilities in a place like Jæren would not make it interesting enough for an international crowd, but if it was complimented with high quality photo hides it would potentially be great. These are points worth considering if one were to aim to develop more nature based tourism in Jæren.

in southernmost Norway already has a large number of visitors, as the Lista Lighthouse draws more then 30 000 visitors a year. Of these, however, very few are birders or nature photographers. Similarily to Jæren, Lista has a great birdlife and is very well known in the Norwegian birding community. Lista also has more ambitions to develop as a birding destination, and it certainly has the potential, but again the birdlife in itself is not enough to put it on the globalmap. Lista has the rich birdlife, a community (Farsund Kommune) who is working towards developing a nature destination, but the missing piece is the high end photo hide opportunities. Still even with both public bird hides, a rich birdlife and photo hides, there are limits to Lista as a birding destination. As with Jæren the birds species of Lista can to a large degree be seen elsewhere in Europe too. But there certainly is a lot of potential to further develop Lista as a birding destination. Not only for birders but also a a unique experience for any visitor to the region.

Above photo: Lista outdoor amphitheater and birdtower. Designed by Biotope, comissioned by Farsund kommune as a step towards making a nature destination. 

on the south west coast of Norway is perhaps Norway´s best known autumn birding destination. This little island can easily be walked by foot. Every autumn a 100 to 150 birders (of the keenest kind) visit the island in search of rare birds, often blown of course by winds. The island has a very impressive list of birds observed which has gained Utsira international fame among keen birders. However few birders from other places in the world will have travelled to Utsira. Again the reasoning is simlar to that of Jæren and Lista: the bird species found on Utsira can just as well be seen at certain sites in the UK. Still there is certainly a potential to develop birding as a more important base of income for Utsira island. There are already a lot of houses for rent of the island in the birding season, but this could probably have been expanded upon if Utira was better promoted as a must-visit place at least for birders in northwestern Europe. In UK there are a lot of man-made nature reserves. If Utsira decided to develop even better bird habitats, with complementing bird photo hides, Utsira could establish itself as a must visit destination. This however would take dedicated and clever work to make this happen.

Above photo: Talks and evening meetings at ´Bombeuka´ on Utsira island. Norways most famous island for birder and chasers of rare birds. Attended by 100-200 Norwegian birders every year.

Hedmark / Elverum
and the eastern forested regions in Norway holds decent numbers of owls, which will attract a lot of birders and bird photographers - if presented and managed well! For owls the latter is particularly important, since owls are easily disturbed. Finland (with Finnature) have established themselves as the owl capital of Europe. However this has not been done overnight. They have carefully monitored the owl populations, made nesting boxes, surveyed the breeding birds and often fed the wintering birds. Successfully presenting owls is dependent on skilled people with high standard “code of conduct”. If handled badly and a lot of disturbance is caused an effort to build nature based tourism around owls may just as well backfire and become very bad press. No one in the birding community likes poor handling of fragile species. But - handled well by skilled people, owls in Norway´s eastern forests can be a very attractive product! It would also potentially combine very well with places like Varanger. 

In general
it is worth mentioning that very few places have the variety of bird species and enough unique bird species to be a complete birding destination in its own full right. Perhaps only Varanger region is the only birding destination that will easily hold the interest of visiting birders for weeks on. Birders visiting Varanger are very often also returning visitors. Still, Norway is full of potential for more birding related products, but developing these is much more depended on skilled people or well-defined products to be the key attraction.

To get an impression of the Norwegian birding scene as it is defined today: One of the most comprehensive sites for researching about birding abroad is www.fatbirder.com. Each country has its own page with the top birding sites and species listed. Fat birder includes Lista Bird Observatory, Flekkefjord, Jaere wetlands, Øyeren, Hardangervidda, Runde island, Varanger Peninsula (“probably the most spectacular birding Norway can offer”) and Røst as good sites for birding in Norway. There could be a lot more information present here: http://fatbirder.com/links_geo/europe/norway.html

Birding products in Norway

In this instance, it can be assumed that there are two different types of “product” available within the birding and wildlife-watching niche. 
The first is a whole geographical area as a product or attraction. Varanger and Pasvik can be considered as such since they are totally unlike any other area within Norway. 
Other products include services and experiences that provide an exhilarating interface between man and nature, or contribute to creating that. Typically this can be boat trips to experience unique bird species, or photo hide based products for bird / wildlife photographers. The product based experiences can be based almost anywhere in Norway (but the previously mentioned destinations will be best suited for developing a product with a surrounding high quality nature to make it a top nature destination). The quality of a product is based on how close to the birds or animals you will be able to come (without disturbing them!). 

In terms of actual products, different types of wildlife-watchers will require different services: 
  • Binocular, telescope, tripod hire: serious birds will not require this service but general nature enthusiasts may not possess their own optics. Having good quality optics available to hire will vastly enhance the wildlife experience for those that take advantage of the service. It is possible that looking at the natural world through a pair of binoculars may make a birder of them!
  • Destination site guidebook: this will be used by all types of wildlife-watchers for local information on the best places to see their desired species.
  • Maps: for those that are driving around the given area, doing their own birding, local maps are invaluable. This may not be as vital if the local guidebook contains good maps of the area.
  • Bird field guide: many nature enthusiasts may not own a bird field guide, but see birds on their trip which they would like to identify or find more about. Good field guides include Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe and any site-specific guide (of which there are virtually none available in Norway).
  • Waterproof dry suit rental: really only necessary where wildlife-watchers may be going on a boat or in snow but very useful when this is the case, or for non-heated photo hides.
  • Photohide service: will provide bird / wildlife nature photography opportunities without disturbing the wildlife. Very popular and widely used worldwide. A great business opportunity if handled well.
  • Photo lens hire: likely to only be required for serious photographers who have noticed a photographic opportunity for which they do not have the correct lens (often in combination with renting a photo hide).
  • Popup-tent photo hides: for photographers, these provide a way of remaining unseen to wildlife when photographing it. Some species become accustomed to the non-human shape of the tent and behave normally around it. However, it should be reminded that excessive photographing of one pair of birds, when not done discreetly, can have an adverse effect on their breeding behaviour and even individual health, if they are not allowed to feed or rest.
Above photo: Pop-up tents are popular among bird and nature photographers. Here at Komagdalen, Varanger.

Above photo: ´Vadsø Fjordhotell - the birders base camp in Varanger´. It is Norways first hotel to market itself as a birder hotel. “With the recent years rapid increase in birders visiting the region it only made good sense to specialise in this niché”, says owner and manager Frode Fjerdingøy.

Case study Varanger

In our survey of birders and wildlife watchers, when asked to name 3 locations for birding and / or wildlife in Norway, 85% of people mentioned Varanger (or at least one site within Varanger). It is fair to say that when birders think of birding in Norway, most of them turn to the Northeasternmost Norway. Varanger (including Pasvik) is the most accessible arctic birding destination in the world. It offers the chance to see a combination of species that are specialised to the area. The landscape is wild and beautiful. All birding in Varanger can be categorised into one of three habitats: taiga, tundra or Arctic coast, and a visitor can experience all three within a day´s drive. This is impossible to do in pretty much any other Arctic birding destination. A birder could start their morning watching Siberian Tits in the taiga forest, have their telescope focused on White-billed Divers on the coast by
the afternoon and finish the day experiencing the breeding wading birds of the high tundra.

Target species for most birders taking the trip to Varanger will be northern specialities including King Eider (praktærfugl), Steller´s Eider (stellerand), White-billed Diver (gulnebblom), Gyrfalcon (jaktfalk), Brünnich´s Guillemot (polarlomvi), Northern Hawk Owl (haukugle), Siberian Jay (lavskrike), Siberian Tit (lappmeis), Pine Grosbeak (konglebit), Arctic Redpoll (polarsisik). Even commoner birds can be seen in amazing circumstances. In winter and early spring, Common Eiders / ærfugl (as well as Steller´s and King Eiders) gather in flocks numbering 15 000 individuals. Fishing vessels are followed by flocks of Fulmar (havhest), including the northern “blue” forms, which are rare outside Arctic waters. On the island of Hornøya, 100,000 seabirds of 10 species cover the cliffs, a breathtaking spectacle. In summer, roadside fields can be full of lekking Ruff (brusfugl), one of the most spectacular courtship displays in the birding world. It is not just birds
that hold the visiting wildlife-watcher´s attention. Those driving the tundra will keep a look out for Arctic fox (even if chances are slim you will actually see one). Lucky visitors to the taiga forest may spot an elk, brown bear or wolverine. The sea holds many species of whale as well as seals and otters.

Above: The Varanger leaflet, page 1+2: the first destination in Norway to be promoted as a birding destination. With support from Innovation Norway Biotope developed the concept and the brand "Varanger - the world´s easiest accessible Arctic birding destination". Divided into winter, spring and summer, a series of target bird species is promoted in one destination package.

Varanger has become synonomous with the bright orange colour so characteristic of the target species Steller´s Eider. The Steller´s Eider graphics are now found on the leaflets, on postcards, as street art pieces, in exhibitions, etc. In a world that has been to a large extent dominated by people from a natural history / biologist background, Biotope have approached birding from a creative background as architects and designers (but as keen birders as well, which is key to the success). Varanger has been largely promoted via social media and blogposts, making sure that great information is searchable and inspirational: The blogposts are both full of advice on birding, in addition to great photos and links to accomodation, etc. A search in Google using the term ´Birding Varanger´ will give you an impression of the search engine ranking. This is essential to consider and work with when developing a birding destination.
Birding has benefitted the economy of Varanger. There is a relatively large density of businesses that operate with birds and wildlife as their focus. In Vadsø, Frode Fjerdingøy runs the Vadsø Fjordhotell, famously branded the “Birder´s Basecamp in Varanger” reflecting the site´s attraction for birding. The harbour contains King and Steller´s Eiders in winter and spring. White-tailed Eagles make close flights past the hotel. The garden birdfeeders attract Arctic Redpoll. The whole area is a great place to station yourself to drive to other birding locations in the Varanger Peninsula. The coastal road takes you to top Arctic birding locations like Nesseby, Ekkerøy and Vardø. Vadsø town is well served with restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, etc. Frode Fjerdingøy estimates that about 40% of his guests are birders or at least very keen nature enthusiasts, for whom the regions rich birdlife is a reason to go there.

Båtsfjord is a harbour town in the north of Varanger. The sheltered harbour is an incredible draw to large numbers of King and Steller´s Eiders in winter. Floating in one corner of the harbour are two specialised photo hides. The Arctic Tourist*15 business is run by Ørjan Hansen, a local fisherman turned wildlife tourism business owner. Ørjan takes photographers and birders on his boat into Båtsfjord harbour to the hides, where they each pay 1700 NOK to spend 4-5 hours on the water (hide + short boat trip) amongst flocks that can number hundreds of eiders. It is an experience like no other and provides the finest photographic opportunities for King Eiders in the world. Ørjan Hansen runs the photo hide from February 1st to April 10th. In this time hundreds of photographers will have spent time in the photo hide, effectively providing a decent one year´s salary for the owner of the hide. Though it is not to be underestimated the amount of work that goes into maintaining and hosting such a photo hide. The local hotel have also partnered with Ørjan and is now nearly fully booked in March, a time that used to be slow before the hide product was available.

Vardø Harbour runs multiple daily boat trips in-season to Hornøya Island from Vardø, letting visitors experience the 100,000 nesting seabirds up-close. Boats run from mid-March to timetables are on display in Vardø harbour. Once they have landed on the island, many visitors head straight to the bird hide and wind shelter that is close to the jetty. In here there is information on the bird species of Hornøya. It is a great location to watch the cliff out of the wind. The island is served by paths that take visitors around the south of the island, past huge numbers of nesting birds and up towards the lighthouse. The lighthouse has electricity, running water and has beds to accommodate 11 people for a fee of 350 NOK pr person pr night.

In addition to these, guesthouses, campsites, hotels, restaurants, car-hire companies etc. etc. in Varanger will have all had birders and wildlife-watchers as customers. Varanger has with the past few years of efforts become world famous as an arctic birding destination. The regions tourism businesses have all benefitted from this. In addition we have seen a significant rise in the local awareness and appreciation of the the regions unique wildlife. This is also important when working towards establishing a birding destination. Again, a birding / nature destination in its full right should be about more then business - and it is good for business when it is. 

Unique for the effort to establish Varanger as a birding destination is the dedicated attention to making a series of unique bird hides, wind shelters and photo hides. Biotope have been the architects behind this. 12 small pieces of architecture can now be found around Varanger, each unique to their site, but still recognisable as open and inviting public bird hides. The hides have various owners and have been realised through a collaboration of several parties, most notably, Nasjonale Turistveger, Innovasjon Norge, Finnmark Fylkeskommune, Vardø-, Vadsø- , Berlevågog Båtsfjord kommuner, Finnmarkseiendommen and Fylkesmannen i Finnmark. Varanger is now a complete birding destination, from dedicated birder hotels and guest houses, to the niche architecture and the overall branding of the destination.

Birding infrastructure: wind shelters in Varanger (Biotope design)

                    Norway´s competition

Above photo: Safety Sound in Nome, Alaska. The Seward Peninsula in Alaska has many similarities to Varanger, but it is generally more expensive and varied birding is less accessible.

It is not worth thinking of other destinations as “competition” for Norway, as every one offers something different. The real competition is other priorities. Norway is desirable as a birding and wildlife watching destination for reasons stated above. However, Norway can be seen as having “competition” from two different sources: other Scandinavian destinations and other Arctic destinations. Other Scandinavian countries have similar wildlife to Norway, though are lacking in the combination of birds found in Varanger. Finland provides perhaps the biggest draw for visiting birders in regards to other Scandinavian countries, thanks to its fame for hosting several owl and woodpecker species which are characteristic of northern forests. These include the hard-to-see Great Grey, Ural, Tengmalm´s and Pygmy Owls, Grey-headed Woodpecker and White-backed Woodpecker. It is common for many birders visiting the Varangerfjord to first fly to Finland and see the owls, woodpeckers and other forest wildlife, before driving North into Norway to see the birding attractions there. All the owl and woodpecker species are actually also present in Norway, particularly around Eastern Norway (for example: Elverum) though this is not widely known. There is potential for the “Finnish experience” to be had in Norway, though due to the secretive nature of the species mentioned, hiring experienced nature guides would be the most reliable option for birders to see them. 

The second theoretical competitor for Norway is all other Arctic birding destinations. Varanger has edge over its Scandinavian rivals thanks to the near-unique Arctic wildlife. However, there are several other destinations that occur above the Arctic Circle with great birdlife which are very attractive for visiting birders. Alaska, Siberian Russia and Arctic Canada are all destinations with spectacular Arctic wildlife. Where Norway potentially “wins” here is thanks to its accessibility, and in this context, even price. European birders are, on the whole, able to reach the Arctic birding destinations in Norway after plane journey from Oslo airports. For some Alaskan destinations, getting there means several internal (and expensive) flights. For many Siberian birding hotspots, transport there might include several planes, a helicopter and all-terrain vehicle (and it is very unpredictable). In addition, once in Arctic Norway, travelling around is no harder than hiring a car and driving on well maintained, frequently cleared roads, or taking reliable public transport. 

Bear-watching is a huge draw in Alaska. Experiences are provided by a wide range of businesses.

The Arctic in general is expensive and in a European sense, Norway is expensive. However, taking into account the fact that the majority of birding visitors to Noway want the Arctic wildlife experience, Norway is actually the cheapest Arctic destination in the world. Visitors to Arctic Norway pay much less than they would in a similar Arctic location such as Alaska or Russia for accommodation and car rental. Because of its accessibility, visitors are spending less on transport. This is probably the most underestimated selling point of Norway: the fact that Arctic Norway is the world´s cheapest arctic birding destination. Car rental and hotels in Nome, Alaska (the US equivalent of Varanger) is for example considerably more expensive than in Norway. Nome will provide similar set of Arctic species, however to get the same variety as in Varanger with both tundra, taiga and arctic coast, you need to do 1 or 2 internal flights, which in turn themselves are twice the price of internal flights in Norway. Even for an American birder, Arctic Norway has a huge potential to be their arctic destination of choice, as it will in fact be cheaper to visit then a trip to Alaska (unless you already live in Alaska)! Norway´s uniqueness and attractiveness is best promoted worldwide as an arctic destination. In short: Norway is the most expensive country in Europe, but it is the cheapest in an Arctic context.

In the popular book Top 100 Birding Sites Of The World, author D. Couzens lists the Varanger Peninsula as one of these must-visit destinations, stating it “offers the chance to see some northern specialities that are hard to find elsewhere on the European continent”. Norway´s competition is the global market of the other 99 destinations listed in this book. Birders and nature photographers will travel worldwide in search of spectacular nature experiences. If anything, the biggest challenge for Norway is to promote itself in an arctic context and to not become the most expensive destination in Europe, but rather the best, easiest accessible, and cheapest arctic birding destination in the world. For Norway to stand out in a global context is will be wise to focus on the Arctic part. This is where the most attractive species are found, and where Norway is unlike other destinations. That being said, a great product can be made many places in Norway, provided the right person run it. In a Scandinavian context, there are several places with potential for much more development, however the number of potential international visitors will be less in places like Lista, Jæren and Utsira. One thing is certain: there is room to do much more with birding and wildlife experiences as a niche in Norway.


Below photo: Minsmere nature reserve. Among the most famous of nature conservation initiatives in the world is the RSPB´s nature reserves. More then 200 reserves in UK are designed and often made from nearly scratch to become wildlife havens rich in birdlife. In addition these reserves are great examples of conservation and business. The reserves themselves are visited by up to 100 000 visitors a year at a reserve, fuelling the economy of both the reserves and the nearby towns / communities.

How can wildlife-based tourism be sustainable?
  • Engage in conservation
  • Code of conduct

Sustainability for wildlife-based tourism is about more than reduced carbon emissions and recycling plastic and paper. The nature of the hobby is to intrude into the lives of animals, but do so with as little impact as possible. 

In the very widest sense engaging in nature conservation means to take action to make people presence a benefit for birds and wildlife. This approach is undertaken to excellence by conservation organisations such as the RSPB (Royal Sociaty for the Protection of Birds). Through the design and making (often from scratch) of over 200 nature reserves in UK, the organisation is providing resting, feeding and breeding grounds for an enormous amount of birds. Wildlife in UK and Europe would have been much poorer without these efforts. A vast number of birders, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts make this happen, through memberships, volunteering, donations, etc. For a country of destination it is important to facilitate for conservation efforts. 

Photos above: the RSPB Minsmere shop and the work station for the machinery used to manage the reserve.

In Norway the state is expected to handle all nature reserves, but there is a vast landscape of opportunities that are not explored yet. Bird observatories, privately or publicly made nature reserves can have a great future in Norway, perhaps with a shared private and public effort new ideas could be explored.

Examples of engagement in conservation: 
Species across the world are under threat. There are many thousands of wildlife conservation organisations working to prevent extinctions, save habitats and build awareness of many threatened species. Funding for many of these projects is low. As an act of sustainability, to help preserve some of the nature they are also enjoying, many wildlife-based tourism companies and organisations choose to support a conservation project financially. British birding tour operator Bird Holidays has a policy of supporting conservation efforts in different parts of the world, including one scheme that funds the purchase and reforestation of land in Ecuador alongside the World Land Trust* and Jocotoco Foundation**. Native plants are reestablished on the land to recreate habitat for rainforest species. This means that all the flights taken by the tour company´s guides and clients are carbon neutral. Bird Holidays also supports the Spoon-billed Sandpiper through BirdLife International by registering as a BirdLife Species Champion.***

* http://www.worldlandtrust.org
** http://fjocotoco.org
*** http://www.birdholidays.co.uk/carbon%20balanced.htm

The code of conduct: “The interests of the birds come first”
In Britain, a series of wildlife and birding organisations have created the “birdwatcher´s code”, a code of conduct that should be practiced by all birders as a means to maintaining the enjoyment of the hobby for themselves and others in a sustainable way. Birds respond to people in many ways, depending on the species, location and time of year. If birds are disturbed they may keep away from their nests, leaving chicks hungry or enabling predators to take their eggs or young. During cold weather, or when migrants have just made a long flight, repeatedly disturbing birds can mean they use up vital energy that they need for feeding.
Intentionally or recklessly disturbing some birds at or near their nest is illegal in Britain. Whether you are particularly interested in photography, bird ringing, sound-recording or birdwatching, remember to always put the interests of the birds first.
  • Avoid going too close to birds or disturbing their habitats – if a bird flies away or makes repeated alarm calls, you’re too close. If it leaves, you won’t get a good view of it anyway.
  • Stay on roads and paths where they exist and avoid disturbance in habitats used by birds.
  • Think about your fieldcraft. You might disturb a bird even if you are not very close, e.g. a flock of wading birds on the shore can be disturbed from a mile away if you stand on a high point and in silhouette.
  • Repeatedly playing a recording of bird song or calls to encourage a bird to respond can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young. Be very careful of using playback to attract a species, in particular during its breeding season. 

In UK the BTO have issued this "code of conduct": http://www.bto.org/sites/default/files/u10/downloads/taking-part/health/bwc.pdf 

The increased disturbance by wildlife watchers is often the reason particular pairs of some species fail to breed or move away to a different area. In Britain, Long-eared Owls are famous for being disturbed during their winter roosts (often in bushes in plain view) by overzealous birders and photographers. Following the code will stop observers intruding into the lives of wildlife, particularly when it may be vulnerable e.g. wasting precious energy flying away during harsh winter months. This code should also be taken onboard by wildlife tour operators, many of whom take clients to the same single pair of a particular species as they know they are present. While this is fantastic for the clients who get to see the species, the animals themselves may be put under increased pressure from frequent visits and this has the potential to impact upon the birds breeding success.

In the effort to act sustainably in Norway one should consider: 
  • Each individuals responsibility as a a visitor (code of conduct). It is the hosts / destinations responsibility to create awareness of this, and preferable develop a code of conduct that is perfectly tailored to the destination and its wildlife. 
  • A nature destination or a nature based company should somehow engage in conservation. The possibilities are endless, and when well handled it can be a great business model in itself.
The floating King Eider photo hide in Båtfjord was designed to maximise photo opportunities and to minimise visual movement of people, in order to avoid disturbing the ducks in the harbour. The photographic results are amazing, and much better then those taken when the photographer is exposed.

The birding business

No one gets into birding for the money.
Despite this, the birding world has a surprisingly large economy, and all based off natural processes that are entirely free. The birds take no charge for migrating every year, they ask for no wage when they visit a birder´s garden. Nature is a resource from which everyone benefits. 

Find a number of good quotes about the birding business here:
http://www.audubon.org/magazine/september-october-2015/welcome-warblerstock-ohios grooviest 

In one study, of the 47 million self-confessed US birders, 84% were found to earn an “above average” (more than $20,000) salary*16. It is no lie that birders are on the whole, 16 quite well-off financially. They are prepared to spend more money pursuing their interest than many other people would spend on their hobby. In the U.S., the total annual economic impact of the birding market came to $107 billion*17

Total expenditure from birding trips across the USA for 2011 came to almost $41 billion, including $26 billion just spent on wildlife-watching equipment, from binoculars to boat rental. In an independent study of travelling birders (of predominately British origin), the majority stated they spent 1000 - 2000 GBP on each birding or wildlife holiday (with most birders travelling once or twice a year for birding trips) though 5% spent 8000 GBP or more on their birding / wildlife holidays. 

Example, Israel: Thanks in part to the Hula Valley Birding and Eilat Birds Festivals, plus Champion Of The Flyway birdrace, birding brings around $4million to Israel per year*18.

Example, New Zealand: New Zealand is a highly desired birding location for many travelling birders since a huge proportion of the wildlife is totally unique to the islands. One online New Zealand Birding Guide lists 48 different companies offering personalised tours, boat trips, walking trails and accommodation all completely catered to birding and birders. There will doubtless be more companies that were not listed. They go from reserves containing many species to extremely niche operations such as guided tours of an Australasian Gannet colony*19

As well as being a great way to get people together, showcase and celebrate all things birds, birding festivals bring in big money for the immediate area they are held in. In a study, daily spending at U.S. birding festivals came to $250-$350 daily per person and $1,000-$1,400 weekend/person. 
At the Space Coast Birding Festival in Florida, the local economy received a $1.29 million pump from the visiting birders over the 5 days. Ohio hosts not only the Biggest Week In American Birding festival but also some of the best places to see North American Wood Warblers and other attractive birds. 6 birding sites across the north of the state helped the county rake in $26.4 million annually. In Maine, birding and nature travel brought $345.9 million. The Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas is one of the USA´s most popular birding destinations for its specialist birdlife and pleasant climate. Thanks mainly to the visiting birders, the region receives $463 million annually through birding and nature travel*20.
*16(Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2013)
*17(Feathered Impact: The Demographics and Power of Birding in the United States http://www.americanbirdingexpo.com/featheredimpact/#/featheredimpact1)
*18(Meyrav, J., Israel Ornithological Center, pers comms, 2015)
*19(New Zealand Bird Guide, New Zealand Birding Network Incorporated, 2012)
*20(American Birding Expo)

Above photo: The Cape May Autumn Birding Festival, one of more then 100 birding festivals in USA. Photo T. Amundsen.


British birders are well catered for, with nature reserves, rare bird news services and many birding magazines to subscribe to. Perhaps the most popular of these is BirdWatch magazine. First published in 1992, it now has a print run of approximately 12,000 copies per month on top of c.400 subscribers to the digital edition of the magazine*21. This is alongside BirdWatching magazine, also published in the UK, that has approximately 9100 monthly subscribers and just under 4800 newsstand sales every 4 weeks*22. The story is similar for the rest of Europe, where birding is also very popular. In the Netherlands, Dutch Birding has 1900 monthly subscribers to its bilingual journal*23. Going back to the USA, Bird Watcher´s Digest has a print circulation of 40 000 copies a month.

Dutch Birding - Bilingual, bimonthly Dutch-published journal. Includes Western Palearctic bird news, and Dutch rare bird reports.
BirdWatch - British-published magazine aimed at more serious birders. Includes ID features on similar bird species,
rare bird finder accounts and articles on rare birds, migration and recent findings.
Bird Watching - British-published monthly magazine aimed at the average bird watcher. Content includes site guides, trip reports and recent sightings from across the country.
BirdWatching - Bimonthly American magazine. For bird watchers of all abilities. Features book reviews, conservation news and location tips for seeing birds.
British Birds - A partly scientific, partly birding journal published in Britain. Features collections of peer-assessed papers, news articles and high-quality photographs.
Birding World - British-published journal aimed at serious birders and twitchers. Included recent rare bird reports, significant birding events and Western Palearctic bird news.
Birding - Published by the American Birding Association of the USA. Aimed at experienced birders.
Bird Watcher´s Digest - Bimonthly. USA-published magazine based at birdwatchers of all abilities.
Birding ASIA - Published by the Oriental Bird Club twice a year. Includes latest news on birding in Asia including conservation projects and trip reports.
North American Birds - Published by the American Birding Association. Quarterly journal. Includes unusual bird records, changes in range and migration patterns of birds in North America.
Audubon - Published bimonthly by the National Audubon Society. Contains news articles on birds in North America and photographic content. https://www.audubon.org/past-magazine-issues
Roadrunner - Swedish magazine published by Club300. Focuses on rare birds in Sweden with particular emphasis on identification, where to find rare birds and occurrences.
Birder - Japanese-published magazine. Showcases bird photography, top species to see in Japan and birding tips.
Sandgrouse - Biannual journal published by the Ornithological Society of the Middle East. Focuses on birds, bird conservation and birding in the Middle East region.

The US publication The Birder's Directory - Travel Issue lists 68 locations in 22 states which specifically carter for birders, plus 113 festivals in 37 states, just a small fraction of birding sites and events that are looking to attract birders.
*21(Mitchell, D.,BirdWatch, per comms, 2015)
*22(Fairburn, L., Bauer Media, per comms 2015)
*23(Doodeman, D., Dutch Birding, pers comms, 2015)

general (comes in 1000s, the below is to show a few examples)

birding institutes (serious)
http://www.spurnbirdobservatory.co.uk 18518 average monthly views 2014

gulls (niche within the niche)

Above screenshot: from the Wildphoto website, one of very few tour operators in Norway.

Tour operators

BirdQuest - Famous for being one of the most successful birding tour companies http://
Tropical Birding - Also organises photography and custom tours http://www.tropicalbirding.com
Birding Ecotours - Specialises in small groups http://birdingecotours.com
Oriole Birding - includes multiple regional trips to the UK as well as abroad http://
Rockjumper - Leads tours in 100 countries http://www.rockjumper.co.za
Zugunruhe birding tours - Specialists in Alaskan tours. Also runs niche tours for particular
species (e.g. migrating Ross´s Gulls) and one tour based on the sampling the birds and beers of California.
Naturetrek - largest expert-led wildlife tour company in the world http://www.naturetrek.co.uk
Ornitholidays - first birding tour company in the world http://www.ornitholidays.co.uk
Birdfinders Birdwatching Holidays - http://www.birdfinders.co.uk
Bird Holidays - Offset all carbon from their tours by funding the acquisition and reforestation of rainforest in South America http://www.naturetrek.co.uk

Owls are often tricky to find and having an experienced bird guide or access to local knowledge is key. Photo of Hawk Owl in Pasvik, South Varanger

Bird observatories

An overview of Europe´s bird observatories shows an overwhelming effort and interest in UK. Bird observatories are often run by very keen birders, and in many cases they function as a tourist information for birders and nature enthusiasts. Their efforts are often based around scientific and conservation purposes, but in effect they are focus points for a vast number of birders. A travelling birder will often turn to a bird observatory for credible information, rather then an official tourist board / website. A bird observatory can be a great way to combine tourist information (of the niche kind) and conservation efforts. Norway has several bird observatories, but all of these have a lot of development potential in the sense of becoming information hubs for an international birding community. There are also plans in progress of the making of a bird observatory in Varanger.

Spurn Bird Observatory - East Yorkshire, England
Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory - Gwynedd, Wales
Dungeness Bird Observatory - Kent, England
Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory - Kent, England
Fair Isle Bird Observatory - Shetland Islands, Scotland
North Ronaldsey Bird Observatory - Orkney Islands, Scotland
Isle of May Bird Observatory & Field Station - Fife, Scotland
Filey Bird Observatory - North Yorkshire, England
Flamborough Bird Observatory - East Yorkshire, England
Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory - Lincolnshire England
Holme Bird Observatory - Norfolk, England
Languard Bird Observatory - Suffolk, England
Portland Bird Observatory and Field Centre - Dorset, England
Skokholm Bird Observatory - Pembrokeshire, Wales
Hilbre Bird Observatory - Wirral, England
Walney Bird Observatory - Cumbria, England
Calf of Man Bird Observatory - Isle of Man, UK
Copeland Bird Observatory - County Down, Northern Ireland
Cape Clear Bird Observatory - County Cork, Ireland
Vogelwarte Helgoland - Heligoland Bight, Germany
Antikythera Bird Observatory - Greece
Kvismaren Fågelstation - Sweden
Flasterbo Fågelstation - Sweden
Ottenby Fågelstation - Sweden
Gedser Fuglestation - Denmark
Lista Fuglestation - Norway
Utsira Fuglestation - Norway
Røst Fuglestation - Norway
Mølen Fuglestasjon - Norway
Store Færder Fuglestasjon - Norway
Revetangen Fuglestasjon - Norway
Jomfruland Fuglestajon - Norway
Vogelwarte Sempach - Lucerne, Switzerland
Capri Bird Observatory - Italy
Strait of Gibraltar Bird Observatory - Spain

Bird observatories often focus in bird ringing and / or migration surveying (conservation). They are also often a destinations information hub. Photo from Utsira Bird Obervatory (T.Amundsen)

Online resources

Websites which contain trip reports by other birders are invaluable for planning a holiday where you are not hiring a guide. This is backed up by the survey figures: c.70% agreed that online trip reports were “very important” for planning a trip abroad. Trips reports (in pdf. form or blogposts) are essential to the birding community. 

Birder-written trip reports offer an honest view of an area for birding and may include “in-the-know” tips about accommodation, the best sites and perhaps even local custom that should be adhered. For many areas of the world, there is no written guide book for bird or wildlife watching, or if there is, may be extremely out of date. Sites which they describe as being reliable for certain species may no longer be relevant, or even exist at all! Trip reports written recently will be much more reliable references for birders visiting the area. 

Of course there are limitations - one birder´s idea of what is notable may not be another´s. A enthusiastic gull-watcher´s trip report may not be of any interest to a world-lister who is wanting information on where to see as many species as possible. It is also worth remembering that not all birders are great writers! 

Cloud Birders http://www.cloudbirders.com is a particularly exhaustive site and supposedly the only website entirely for birding trip reports. There are very few countries that this site does not have at least one trip report for. There are 1016 different reports for Spain (!). 1086 for the USA. Norway has 111 reports, largely based in Finnmark and particularly Varanger*24. Many of these are links to birders´personal blogs. Surfbirds also has a trip report search function, though with fewer trip reports and fewer locations documented. 

Our survey showed that travelling birders found information from official destination portals (typically www.visit*destination*.com and other official tourist boards) less important when organising a trip, with almost half selecting an answer midway between “very important” and “not important”. This reflects on the specialism of birders and the generalised information often found on these sites. They may be of use for finding accommodation or sites of cultural interest (if the travelling birder and their party are interested in that sort of thing) but rarely do they provide adequate information about where to watch birds and wildlife. Unfortunately when these sites do try to convey some interest for birders, they often get it disastrously wrong (but in a way that only birders could notice).
*24(All figures correct as of 01/10/15)

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of the world´s pioneering producers of new birding technology and content (photo T.Amundsen)


Not surprisingly using bird/wildlife guidebooks for an area was rated as “very important” by most travelling birders on the survey. When up to date and reliable, guidebooks are invaluable. While many will use online trip reports, unless these are printed out they may be totally inaccessible upon reaching your destination to find you have no internet signal. A guidebook also saves hours trawling the internet for trip reports covering areas you are visiting, that aren't out of date and that focus on the same sort of birding that you are into. As another plus, should one site fail to deliver, the guidebook is likely to display other areas to view the particular bird a you have attempted to see or other good birding sites nearby. To reflect on the value of a guidebook, almost 78% of those surveyed stated that they “always use / buy” a bird or wildlife guidebook to the area. Good guidebooks are not to be underestimated. It is in a birding destination´s interest to have a great guide book available. Make sure it is written by a birder or someone with deep and exact knowledge of the destination at hand. This is not something to be outsourced to the lowest bidder. A guide will make the destination much more available to a much larger audience.

The birder´s checklist:

From planning to departure back home

  • Information - If there is no information about the area´s wildlife, birders will not go. Simple as that. The more knowledge of the area a birder can gain about the area the better. Knowing where their target species will most likely be, what time of year is the best for their particular desired wildlife, how they can get around the area, the prices of accommodation/transport/ amenities etc. etc. will help them decide quickly and easily whether this place is for them. Birding guidebooks and links to online trip reports by birders who have visited the area are very important. Public websites / destination websites are less valued, but can be of importance if they provide a good overview of accommodation (preferably with maps).
  • Ease of getting there - This may vary on how dedicated the birder is to get to a place and obviously a world lister who is intent on seeing the birdlife of Burkina Faso is expecting to have to research a bit for flights. But as a whole, being able to get to a destination with relative ease is key. A nearby airport and easy flight connections makes a place much more attractive for visiting birders. A lot of birders want to travel independently, but troublesome flight research is often a barrier. Make sure options are well researched and presented. Before 2009 nearly all birders came to Varanger via Finland. The single greatest difference made by working with birding from Varanger itself is that Kirkenes has been promoted as the best and most easily available option. Today most birders visiting Varanger arrive via Kirkenes.
  • Transport - There are hardly any places in the world where a birder or wildlife watcher can see all their target species without travelling the area. Car hire, taxi services, reliable public transport or even bicycle rental are all options that allow birders to get out and about explore more of the area they are visiting. Car rental is key, as, again, most birders want to experience a destination on their own.
  • Accommodation - Wildlife watchers are extremely grateful for services that provide them with an experience with nature. This may be as simple as a bird feeder placed by a window. Depending on the local wildlife, there are many resources that hotels and guesthouses could provide. The Fujiya Hotel in Japan is fortunate to have Blakiston´s Fish Owls visit a pond in the hotel grounds. A TV in the lobby shows the pond under an infrared camera, allowing guests to see if the owl is fishing in the pond. The hotel even goes so far as to offer a “owl wake up call” service, alerting guests to when the owls are visiting the garden*25. Local maps should always be available.
  • Local guide - In some places in the world, birding without a guide is almost out of the question. Guides are able to impart a vast amount of local knowledge, lead groups to great sites for wildlife and in some instances, take clients to see species which perhaps they only have permission to access. Birding with a guide usually means the customers are more likely to see their target species. However, it is another expense thats adds on to a holiday.
  • Specialist trips - Birders and wildlife watchers represent a clientele which may desire services that no other tourist group require. Boat trips to visit islands full of seabirds, photography hides that allow visitors to achieve incredible shots of wildlife. These services which originally cater to wildlife-lovers may be lapped up by the “everyday” tourist, such as ever-popular whale-watching boat trips that occur from California to the Canaries.
  • Non-birding interest features - More casual birdwatchers may are likely to not want to spend every waking hour “in the field”. Especially those with non-birding family in tow. Therefore these birdwatchers probably require some other sort of recreational activity to keep themselves/their family occupied during their holiday. This could include kayaking/museums/. However it is important that these activities do not impact negatively on the quality of wildlife to be found in an area. Setting up a canoe rental right next to a tern colony is likely to cause the terns to abandon their nests. Less nature for all to enjoy.
  • Places to eat - Birders and wildlife-watchers are not a single-interest group of people. Many, upon entering a new country and culture, wish to sample the food of the area. Others may simply want to enjoy good meals after a long day´s birding. Stores where food can be bought are also paramount since many other birders will be up and out way before cafés start saving breakfast, and return to their lodgings long after final orders for dinner have been taken.
  • Sightings service - It makes for a much better birding experience when visitors know exactly what´s around and where right now. Many areas are serviced by online bird club or organisation broadcasting all the sightings of birds an other wildlife. In Finnmark, Norway, the twitter account @Finnmarkbirding*26 provides a service letting viewers know of birds that are present in the area. On a more local level, the popular birding destination of Spurn Point also has a twitter account, @spurnbirdobs*27 tweeting multiple times daily on the birds in the area, manly relying on birders present to tweet their findings directly to the account. It has 3.5 thousand followers. Accommodations could display a blackboard with the most recent sightings of wildlife in the area - supplied by their guests as well as the online news to be found on twitter and blogs.


Thank you

Tim Appleton, Leicstershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust / Rutland Birdfair
Jonathan Meyrav, Israel Orthinological Centre
Dale Forbes, Swarovski Optik
Wendy Clark, Bird Watcher´s Digest
Graham Catley
Tim Jones
Martin Garner, Birding Fronteirs
Stephanie Mahathey, Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival
Garry Taylor, Spurn Bird Observatory
David La Puma, Cape May Bird Observatory
Neta Harris, Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival
Lynne Fairburn, Birdwatching Magazine
Andrea Sleight, Birdwatching Magazine
Debby Doodeman, Dutch Birding
Dominic Mitchell, Birdwatch Magazine
Nate, Birding Family Circus (wishes to remain "pseudo anonymous")
Rare Bird Alert
René Pop, Dutch Birding
Tim Loseby, photographer
Dave Appleton, photographer
Jari Pältomaki, Finnature
Chris Wood, eBird
Jessie Barry, eBird
Lynette Buurman, Encounter Kaikoura
Nigel Jones, Ornitholidays UK
Mike Watson, Birdquest
Rochelle Stevens, BirdLife Australia
Roy Mangersnes, Wildphoto
Ørjan Hansen, Arctic Tourist
Frode Fjerdingøy, Vadsø Fjordhotell
Graham White, RSPB
Adam Rowlands, RSPB
Audun Lie Dahl, Smøla Naturopplevelser
Everyone who took part in ´travelling birder´ survey
+ all the hundreds of birders and nature enthusiasts we have met in Varanger and other
birding destinations around the world.

A very big thanks to Innovasjon Norge / Innovation Norway, both for comissioning this
report and for being a key supporter and katalyst of the making of Varanger as a world-class birding destination.

Building a birding / nature destination is made possible thanks ot a shared effort of many. Above is a few of the makers and contributors to "Birding Destination Varanger". We hope this report can inspire and inform more people to venture into the birding business!

A few words to sum it all up…

No one goes into birding for the money, but many have made birding their business. This is a market of very passionate people. For most people in the birding business it is a lifestyle, not just a job. This makes the birding world very exciting to work with, and an incredibly productive one. Worldwide millions of birders enjoy their passion, and millions travel internationally every year in search of great nature experiences.

The birding world is highly decentralised, making it very tricky to "get into". There is not a clear hierarchical structure, but rather a flat structure or culture with millions of contributors. There is a birding tour company for every taste or age, there are magazines to cater for every variety of the interest, and on top of that a very high percentage of birders are producers of content themselves. 

In birding you need to find and work with your niche within the niche. Coming from an outside point of view can be tricky. For example: a destination marketer will have trouble with engaging with the birding community, and perhaps his or her job should not be to be the marketer of birding, but rather seek the management skills and understanding to support the right people for the job. The new digital world with high engagement and a wide variety of social media is a perfect fit for a decentralised niche such a birding. Learn to love it and work with it. Remember there is a person behind every "like" or "retweet".

We hope this report will inspire action. We also aim to further this work and to build on this report. It is by no means a complete overview of the birding world, but it will give you a great understanding and insight to the very complex world of birding. Please feel free to give feedback directly on mail to Tormod Amundsen on email: tormod@biotope.no

Thanks again to all contributors!

Tormod Amundsen / Biotope