100,000 sea birds, including the high-Arctic thick-billed murre, inhabit Hornøya, Norway's most easterly point. Take a trip there to get closer to the birds than any other bird cliff in the north.

Just outside Vardø

www.nordnorge.com joined a boat trip out to Hornøya from the harbour in Vardø on a beautiful, sunny but ice-cold day in June. A few minutes after we rounded the breakwater in Vardø, we were greeted by the inhabitants of Hornøya. The sea was full of diving common guillemots, and puffins flapped frantically over the wave tops in their rather clumsy way. Just ten minutes later, we moored at the pier and were greeted by a veritable wall of noise.

Easily accessible

It is not possible to get very close on most bird cliffs. However, the birds on Hornøya are used to researchers walking amongst them and don't notice visitors. Coconut mats have been laid, which you can follow. This enables visitors to get closer to the birds than at any other bird cliff in Norway. www.nordnorge.com was far more surprised than the local residents when we made eye contact with puffins, cormorants and kittiwakes.

Bird hide

There is also a bird hide on the island. From here, you can watch the birds without them seeing you, while sheltering from the wind and warming yourself up a little if the cold north-easterly wind bites at your fingertips. The hide is part of a birdwatching initiative in East Finnmark and was designed by birdwatcher and architect Tormod Amundsen.

Thick-billed murre

The thick-billed murre mostly breeds on the bird cliffs of Bjørnøya, on Svalbard and in other high-Arctic regions. In Norway itself, it only breeds in East Finnmark, with Hornøya being home to the largest colony. The thick-billed murre is similar to the common guillemot, except that it is a little smaller and can be recognised by the white stripe along its beak. On Hornøya, the thick-billed murre inhabits the steepest cliffs. Birdwatchers from across Europe come to Hornøya to see the most easily accessible thick-billed murres anywhere in the world.

Enormous variety of bird species

The common guillemot, razorbill, puffin, kittiwake, black guillemot and cormorant populate the steep slopes. Puffins nest at the top of the slopes. They dig holes in the grass bank for their eggs. Razorbills, common guillemots and thick-billed murres place their eggs straight on the rock shelves. The camouflage-coloured eggs are pear-shaped, so that they roll round in a circle rather than rolling over the edge if they should start moving. The kittiwake, a species of gull, is the noisiest, while the cormorants stand guard on the cliffs and stretch out their wings to dry them. Visitors can wander round and take amazing close-up pictures of the birds.

Norway's most easterly point

Norway's most easterly point, Hornøya lies on the same latitude as St. Petersburg, Istanbul and Alexandria. The sun reaches its zenith at midday here over an hour earlier than in Oslo. Hornøya Lighthouse is situated on the smooth grassy slopes of the eastern side of the island, 15 minutes' walk from the pier. From here, you can see across to the Rybachy peninsula in Russia in the south-east and out to the horizon.

Watch all year round

Hornøya is a renowned place amongst the birdwatching community. Two web cameras have therefore been set up at the top of the bird cliff. One monitors the puffins, while the other is located further down the precipitous cliff amongst the kittiwakes and common guillemots. During the autumn and early winter, there may be little to see, but from March-April, the bird cliffs are teeming with activity, and you may even be lucky enough to witness puffins fighting over the best nesting sites.

Read more

The following websites can help you plan your next trip to Vardø. Vardø is situated in the far north of Norway and can be reached by bus, Hurtigruten or air via Kirkenes. Vardø is on the National Tourist Route in Varanger