14 September 2014

Birding Svalbard, Arctic Norway


Svalbard is one of the northernmost civilized places in the world. It is famous for Polar Bears and amazing arctic wildlife. I recently got back from a very brief visit to Svalbards main town Longyear. This autumn I have been invited to give talks at several conferences. In our work as birders and architects we have developed a very specialized expertise in nature destination development. I was particularly happy to be invited to Svalbard, as this is a destination that have always been very high on my wish list of places to see. I only had time for a short visit, but I knew chances was good for some unique wildlife experiences, even if my stay was only based in and around Longyear town. Even the architecture in Longyear town is an attraction. Approx 2000 people live in Svalbard, and mining, science and tourism are key to the community.   

click any image for slide show view

Remains of the mining industry - below is Longyear town, in the background the Advent valley.

Mining architecture - this is hard core functionalism, made without architects. The result however looks cooler then many contemporary pieces of architecture.

Be cool - arctic survival strategy

A key feature of the arctic wildlife is the confiding nature of both animals and birds. My target bird for this short trip was the arctic subspecies of the Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta hyperboreus. Autumn is slow season birdwise in the arctic. I knew chances was slim of seeing Svalbard specialities such as Ivory Gull and Sabine´s Gull. I hoped to see a Polar Bear, but those are best seen if you take a boat trip out of Longyear town, but they can be found anywhere, so beware the bear.

With a few meetings and talks I had to base my birding near town. In mainland Norway both Rock Ptarmigan and Willow Grouse (fjellrype & lirype) are very shy and extremely difficult to approach. The Svalbard Rock Ptarmigans however are very approachable. Getting within a couple of meters of these beauties was undoubtedly the highlight of this trip. 


Day two I spent walking the hillside outside Longyear town, along the ruins of the coal mining rails leading out of town towards the mines. I did not venture far from town, as you are advised not to do so, unless you carry a weapon. Polar Bears can show up anywhere, and people are on its menu. However I was really keen on finding a few Ptarmigans, and I figured the rail towers would provide a safe escape, just in case.. The wind was chilling and after a little walk I found a flock of Ptarmigans seeking shelter by one of the towers. 


Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan - feeding undisturbed, photograped from approx 4 meters distance. They are bigger then its mainland relatives, and much more confiding. This bird was one of 6 that I had the pleasure of studying for a a couple of hours, within meters. Amazing birds! All Ptarmigan photos shot with Nikon d810 + 300mm F2.8

I usually see Ptarmigans as they fly away in the distance. These birds just seemed to mind their own business. 


Ptarmigan hiding from a fly over Glaucous Gull. I followed this flock of 6 birds from some meters distance for approx two hours. They seemed very relaxed all the time, exept when a Glaucous Gull flew over us. Just seeing a Glaucous Gull affected the Ptarmigans instantly: they all hid next to the nearest rock and seemingly tried to look as small and rock like as they could. I was surprised to see this behavior. But then again I have seen many times how much panic a Glaucous Gull can create in a bird cliff. 



The fluffy legged Ptarmigan. ´Lagopus´ (latin) means the ´hares foot´. It is easy to see why. Its latin subspecies name ´hyperboreus´ essentially means ´from the extreme north´. 


A brief post this one, but I think this very cool birding experience was well worth sharing. Big thanks to Ronny Brunvoll (www.svalbard.net) and all the good people I met during this short stay. This was most certainly an inspiring visit, and the first of several. 

Biotope talks: We love to share ideas and knowledge about birding architecture and nature destination development. The next talk coming up is in Kirkenes at the NHO reiseliv conference (program), next week. 

If you need a birder architect to give a talk feel free to contact us on mail tormod@biotope.no or on phone +47 99 33 49 82. 

Follow us on on twitter @BiotopeOffice and www.facebook.com/biotope.no

Architecture is a tool to protect and promote birds, wildlife and nature!

Tormod A. / Biotope

04 May 2014

Puffin fight club


At Hornøya bird cliff the Puffins have to fight for their right to party. As in all densely inhabited places there is a lot of drama. Hornøya bird cliff is no exception. From March to August this is home to 100 000 sea birds. Among the most famous of birds are the Puffins. Most people see Puffins as cute little birds that  quietly sit in the bird cliff. They do that too. But when these birds arrive the bird cliff in March they fight. I have been fortunate to witness this spectacle several times during the past few years. The amount of fighting varies every year, and is typically most intense when there are a lot of fish in the sea. Then the birds have both time and energy to fight for the best burrows and sites. The hierarchy is established, at least for the season. 

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Hornøya bird cliff seen from boat (south of the island, looking north). In March the air is full of birds.

Incoming Puffin. About 10 000 pairs breed on Hornøya.

Picking a fight. 

Puffins tend not to mingle too much with other species. Above is a Guillmot being politely asked to leave the premisses.

Fight for your right to party

This March I spent quite a few days on Hornøya. As with most nature photography you need a bit of luck combined with knowledge: to be at the right spot with your camera set correctly, ready to shoot when the action starts. I have witnessed many fights on Hornøya, but only on a couple of occasions have I been close enough to the action at the very right moment. The Puffins below came fighting out of a Puffin burrow just meters from me. I managed the following series with my Nikon D800 + Nikkor 300 F2.8 combo. What a spectacular scene to witness! I have seen traces of blood in the snow after Puffins fights. There are no mercy with these fierce fighters.







The Hornøya bird hide / wind shelter is a good place to use as a base camp in March. Even with a lot of sun it can be very cold. From the hide you also have great views towards the slope below the steepest part of the bird cliff. This is where the Puffin fighting takes place. And when you are not admiring the Puffins, you can always focus on the spectacular swarms of alcids circling the bird cliff.


Incoming alcids - a spectacular sight

And one more Puffins fight club scene...




The above series was photographed on Hornøya in March 2012. 

For more Hornøya drama check out this Raven versus Gyrfalcon article,
Or this life and death at the bird cliff, from summer 2012

We are quite busy at the Biotope office, but I hope to report from Hornøya this summer too. Stay tuned for more drama from Varanger..

Tormod A. / Biotope

17 April 2014

Hornøya bird cliff - site development scheme / mulighetsstudie

Hornøya is perhaps the finest natural attraction in Varanger. The birdlife of Hornøya bird cliff have become famous among birders and nature photographers around the globe. In Vardø locals have a long tradition of gathering eggs on Reinøya and Hornøya, however this has not been practiced in recent years. Now locals are also increasingly becoming aware of Hornøya Island's unique position as a nature attraction. Many companies in Vardo benefit from Hornøya today through nature based tourism. With facilitation like the new bird hide / wind shelter on Hornøya, this attraction has become a destination for the city's kindergartens and schools too. 

Biotope has since 2009 promoted Varanger as a destination for birders from all over the world. We are now very happy to present this site development scheme produced on commission from Vardo Næringsforening (Vardo Business Association). This study presents Hornøya today, while we also point out how we by relatively modest budgets and means can develop Hornøya island's infrastructure, for the benefit of both birds and people.

We are experiencing an increase in visitors to this unique place, and in order to care for the birds while simoultaniously keeping Hornøya amazing for visitors we have made this study. Key actors on Hornøya have been interviewed and we have aimed for a series of infrastructure proposals that will be welcomed by both birders, photographers, scientists, locals and perhaps most importantly, the birds. With proper facilities and infrastructure we are convinced that Hornøya can be sustainably developed as a main attraction in Varanger.

This study is written in Norwegian, and meant mainly for our partners in destination development in Varanger. Still we have aimed for a highly visual document, thereby making it (visually) readable for as many as possible. We hope you enjoy this study, and we hope it will contribute to a positive development of Hornøya bird cliff. 

The following article consist of the total study, pages 1-44 (with the Norwegian intro in the text below)

Click on any image for slide-show mode

 Tormod Amundsen / Biotope




Utviklingsplan for Hornøya fuglefjell  

In norwegian (fra forordet til mulighetsstudien / utviklingsplanen):

Hornøya er kanskje den fremste naturattraksjonen på Varangerhalvøya. Fuglelivet og naturen på Hornøya er blitt et kjent reisemål for mange norske og utenlandske fuglekikkere. I Vardø har man lange tradisjoner for å sanke egg på Reinøya og Hornøya. I de siste årene har også lokalbefolkningen i stadig større grad blitt klar over Hornøyas unike posisjon som et turistmål. Mange bedrifter i Vardø nyter godt av at Hornøya finnes, og ikke minst forvaltes på en god og bærekraftig måte. Med tilrettelegging, som det nye fuglekikkerskjulet på Hornøya, har også denne bynære attraksjonen blitt et turmål for byens barnehager og skole. Vardø Næringsforening ønsker med denne studien å bidra til at mulighetene for å utvikle Hornøya blir best mulig belyst. 

Vardø Næringsforening representerer så godt som alle bedrifter i Vardø, og den har i tillegg en egen reiselivsgruppe. Næringsforeningen er finansiert av Vardø kommune, og er i løpet av de to siste årene blitt en sentral utvklingsaktør i Vardø Kommune. 

Biotope AS har siden 2009 aktivt promotert Varanger som reisemål for fuglekikkere fra hele verden. Biotope har base i Vardø og er sammen med Vardø Næringsforening en av utviklingsaktørene i Vardø og Varanger. Denne studien er produsert av Biotope. I samarbeid med næringsforeningen har også Biotope stått for en inkluderende prosess der alle nøkkelparter som jobber med, og i forhold til Hornøya har fått komme med innspill. Denne studien presenterer Hornøya i dag, samtiding som vi peker på hvordan man med relativt beskjedne budsjetter og virkemidler kan utvikle Hornøyas infrastruktur, slik at hensyn til både fugler og folk ivaretas best mulig. 

Formålet er å gjøre studien tilgjengelig for de aktører som jobber i forhold til Hornøyas fremtid. Dette kan være både Vardø kommune, Vardø Havn KF, forskere, Hornøyas venner, Fylkesmannen i Finnmark og eventuelt andre utviklingsaktører og potensielle reiselivsaktører. Ikke minst ser vi på dette som en mulighet for at man lokalt engasjerer seg i Hornøyas fremtid. 

Hornøya er kanskje den fremste naturattraksjonen på Varangerhalvøya. Fuglelivet og naturen på Hornøya er blitt et kjent reisemål for mange norske og utenlandske fuglekikkere. I Vardø har man lange tradisjoner for å sanke egg på Reinøya og Hornøya. I de siste årene har også lokalbefolkningen i stadig større grad blitt klar over Hornøyas unike posisjon som et turistmål. Mange bedrifter i Vardø nyter godt av at Hornøya finnes, og ikke minst forvaltes på en god og bærekraftig måte. Med tilrettelegging, som det nye fuglekikkerskjulet på Hornøya, har også denne bynære attraksjonen blitt et turmål for byens barnehager og skole. Vardø Næringsforening ønsker med denne studien å bidra til at mulighetene for å utvikle Hornøya blir best mulig belyst. 
Vardø Næringsforening representerer så godt som alle bedrifter i Vardø, og den har i tillegg en egen reiselivsgruppe. Næringsforeningen er finansiert av Vardø kommune, og er i løpet av de to siste årene blitt en sentral utvklingsaktør i Vardø Kommune. 
Biotope AS har siden 2009 aktivt promotert Varanger som reisemål for fuglekikkere fra hele verden. Biotope har base i Vardø og er sammen med Vardø Næringsforening en av utviklingsaktørene i Vardø og Varanger. Denne studien er produsert av Biotope. I samarbeid med næringsforeningen har også Biotope stått for en inkluderende prosess der alle nøkkelparter som jobber med, og i forhold til Hornøya har fått komme med innspill. Denne studien presenterer Hornøya i dag, samtiding som vi peker på hvordan man med relativt beskjedne budsjetter og virkemidler kan utvikle Hornøyas infrastruktur, slik at hensyn til både fugler og folk ivaretas best mulig. 
Formålet er å gjøre studien tilgjengelig for de aktører som jobber i forhold til Hornøyas fremtid. Dette kan være både Vardø kommune, Vardø Havn KF, forskere, Hornøyas venner, Fylkesmannen i Finnmark og eventuelt andre utviklingsaktører og potensielle reiselivsaktører. Ikke minst ser vi på dette som en mulighet for at man lokalt engasjerer seg i Hornøyas fremtid.

Tormod Amundsen / Biotope     &     Heidi Kvernevik / Vardø Næringsforening 










































Stay tuned for updates on Hornøya bird cliff development.

Tormod A. / Biotope