Wealth of species
Varanger is an important crossroads in the bird world. The distances between the continents are shorter here at the top of the planet, so it is visited by eastern, High Arctic and occasionally North American species. Rich waters, marshes and wetlands, birch forests, river deltas and rock slopes ensure that food is available for migration, breeding and overwintering.
Meeting place for ducks
The Steller's eider breeds in Eastern Siberia and Alaska, but approximately 8–15,000 of them overwinter in the Varanger fjord. See these and the colourful king eider, long-tailed duck and common eider in the waters around Vardø and Vadsø — but look to the cliffs if you want to see scaup.
Geese, swans and divers
Bean, greylag, pink-footed, barnacle, greater white-fronted and the endangered lesser white-fronted geese are a common sight in the migration season. Inland, we have rare visitors like the yellow-billed loon, great northern loon, Eurasian dotterel and the more common red-throated diver and whooper swan.
Seabirds in cold waters
The spectacular bird cliffs have large colonies of kittiwakes, puffins, razorbills, guillemots, thick-billed murre, cormorants, glaucus gulls, Manx shearwaters, fulmars, Leach's storm petrels and the winter breeding storm petrel. Ross's, Iceland, lesser black-backed and Sabine's gulls can also be seen.
Birds like the dunlin, red-necked phalarope, bar-tailed godwit, purple sandpiper, redshank, Temminck's stint, ringed plover, curlew sandpiper and ruff strut about on rock slopes, along river mouths and next to still waters, gathering in huge numbers in the migration season, and breeding in summer.
In the varied copse and forest vegetation, look out for songbirds and larks such as the bluethroat, Arctic redpoll, pied flycatcher, Eurasian rock pipit, red-throated pipit, shore lark, Lapland bunting, snow bunting and reed bunting.
Birds of prey
The snowy owl sometimes comes down from the Arctic islands to Varanger, looking for lemmings. Northern hawk owls, rough-legged buzzards and gyrfalcons also feast on these rodents and the Pomerine skua even nested on the Varanger peninsula after several good rodent years. The numerous sea eagles, however, hunt out on the bird cliffs.
Varanger is visited by birds that are rarely, if ever, seen in the rest of Norway or Europe; these include cattle egrets, harlequin ducks, spectacled eiders, Egyptian vultures, greater spotted eagles, little bustards, semipalmated plovers, short-billed dowitchers, stilt sandpipers, little curlews, Ross's gulls, bridled terns, European rollers, buff-bellied pipits, white-winged larks, glaucus-winged gulls and white-winged scoters.
Where are the best places?
This is a very special place for birds, so many bird experts travel long distances to come here in winter. During the spring and autumn migrations, ornithologists study the flocks of waders on the shore and geese inland. In summer, the breeding season is the time for songbirds, birds of prey and breeding seabirds.
Birdwatching in Varanger
There are special hides for birdwatchers beside the Varanger Sami Museum, at Barvikmyra outside Vardø, and on Hornøya. These have been carefully designed to provide the best views without disturbing the birds, and to blend into the landscape. GPS navigators can also guide you to places of particular interest within the landscape. The casual birdwatcher can also see large flocks of king eiders and Steller's eiders in the sea at Vadsø.
The Destination Varanger website is perfect for anyone planning a birdwatching holiday, as it provides detailed information about what birds can be seen, and where. It also has links to other excellent bird information www.varanger.com. Biotope is a website with useful info on Varanger.