26 May 2016

Birding Northwest Iceland - May 2016

 Harlequin Duck, Blönduós May 2016

Nature destination development: Northwest Iceland

Iceland delivers some of the coolest birding in Europe. We just visited the northwestern region of Iceland, working on a destination development scheme. For 10 days we have visited, researched, measured and photographed a wide range of sites. Visiting Iceland is not "just" a birding thing: The landscape, the mammals and the people you meet are equally an important part of any visit to this cool destination. Not to mention the heitur pottur culture! Almost everywhere you go you can sink into  a relaxing hot bath, in the field, at your hotel or at any of the numerous public baths. 

The highlights of our visit are more then fits a brief blogpost, but we will be back with more from the nortwest! But: Any visit to Iceland will not be complete without great views of Harlequin Duck. Seeing the very stylish Harleys surf the fast flowing river streams of Iceland is a birding experience we wish for every birder or nature enthusiast! Another highlight was visiting the Drangey bird cliff. 300 000 Puffins, Common and Brünnich´s Guillemots, Gyrfalcon and more was on display at this amazing seabird colony. The abundance of birds like Common Snipe and Black-tailed Godwits are other highlights. A few photos following below. Click on any image for bigger slide show views...

A very big thanks to Davíð Jóhannsson of SSNV Samtök Sveitarfélaga á Norðurlandi vestra (Association of municipalities in the Northwest) for inviting us to northwest Iceland. Our visit was well prepared and in addition to a series of meetings with local nature based tourism businesses we enjoyed the company of birder Ellen Magnúsdóttir who had made a very helpfull site survey. We had best possible conditions to explore the northwest region from our nature architecture viewpoint.

We had our basecamp at the Hotel Tindastóll in Saudárkrókur. It is one of the oldest hotels in Iceland and was opened in 1884. A very charming place, complete with its own little hot bath. Perfect after a long day of exploring the land. A big thanks to Selma and Tómas for their generous hospitality during our visit! 

Now we begin the work of processing a few thousand site photos and to develop and fine tune architectural concepts for the various sites we visited in Northwest Iceland. Meanwhile we hope you enjoy some of the photos from our recent trip.

Heitur pottur birding, in Grettislaug, 25 minutes north of Saudárkrókur. The wind was chilly, the outdoor hot bath was perfectly heated and Red-necked Phalaropes swam around in nearby ponds.  

Hvitserkur. Visiting Iceland is very much a landscape experience too. 

Taking aerial panoramas is a great way of researching sites. 

The Northwest Iceland birding trail map. We have previously visited and researched the northeast. Completing north Iceland as a nature and birding destination is in good progress.

Puffin at Drangey bird cliff. A huge highlight of our visit. 

This amazing bird cliff is home to 300 000 Puffins and all the other expected seabird species (including Brünnich´s Guillemot). 

It´s a stunning bird cliff, only 20 minutes boat trip away from Grettislaug. A visit to the northeast would not be complete without visiting this beautiful place. You land in the middle of the bird colony and Viggo and Helgi who do the Drangey Tours have a long hostory at this island. Thanks Drangey Tours for great guiding and stories of both nature and culture from Drangey! And yes, we saw Gyrfalcon hunting at the cliff too. It´s regular. Awesome.

At Hvammstangi in the westernmost part of the northwest, we visited the Icelandic Seal Center and did a tour to see the seals. Great, close views! We had 3 Humpback Whales too, as a bonus. Much niceness! Thanks 

The culture of keeping eiders for harvesting eider down is widespread and have a long history in Iceland. We visited Illugastaðir where the local farm owners cares for 2300 nests of wild eiders. In return for making eider houses and protecting the eiders from disturbance they harvest the eider down. 

Common Snipe are very common. The soundscape of Iceland rings of "drumming" snipe everywhere!

One of our favourite birds are the very stylish Red-necked Pahalaropes. Another common species in Iceland. 

Icelandic earth houses. Architecture-wise Iceland has it´s unique history too. We aim to be a part of developing new architecture concepts suited to the Icelandic landscape. 

Stay tuned for more stories from the land of fire and ice and very cool birding!
Want to see more from Iceland? Check out the blog posts from our previus visits:

BIRDING ICELAND - Harlequin Ducks & more niceness along the Northeast Iceland birding trail

Birding Iceland in summer - destination development in progress

Tormod A / Biotope

27 March 2016

Øvre Pasvik - birding the arctic taiga - Gullfest pt.2

Hawk Owl about to strike

In the Pasvik taiga forest the arctic bird festival Gullfest turned into an Owlfest! The Pasvik section of Gullfest was an epilogue of Gullfest where we aimed to show our invited guests some of the finest birding in the arctic. The taiga forest of Pasvik is the northernmost coniferous forest in the world. The taiga forest stretches from Pasvik and all the way to the Pacific coast in the far east. The birding here is spectacular, when you where to look, that is. To maximise the niceness and chances of great experiences we teamed up with our Pasvik friends Ben Arne Sotkajærvi aka Mr.Pasvik and the good folks at Øvre Pasvik Camping.

Pasvik complements the Varanger Peninsula in a spectacular way. On the Varanger Peninsula you can experience the tundra and the harsh arctic coast. In the deep Pasvik forest the taiga birding will provide you with some of the coolest bird species in the arctic. This year is good for mice which in turn is great for owls. We had stunning views of 10 or so Hawk Owls and we could enjoy singing Tengmalm´s Owl by the fireplace in the evening. 

On our two day Pasvik Gullfest epilogue we enjoyed epic birding, featuring stunning views of top birds like Siberian Tit, Pine Grosbeak, Siberian Jay, Silver Willow Tit, Hawk Owl, Black Grouse, and a few more. We also had the chance to join our friends in Pasvik on ice fishing, and we did a snow mobile trip to Treriksrøysa, the Norway - Finland - Russia border. There are a lot of good things in progress in Pasvik and the development of Varanger as a premium arctic birding destination will be highly improved by bringing more attention to Pasvik. If you bought our new Birding Varanger guide book you will also find maps and site descriptions of the key sites in Pasvik. 

A very big thanks goes to our friends in Pasvik who made this a very mamorable experience for all: Ben Arne Sotkajærvi is a hunter and birder who spends a lot of time outdoors in the taiga forest. Thanks Ben Arne for inviting us all to your very cool basecamp in Vaggetem in Øvre Pasvik! Please follow Ben Arne on Twitter @mrPasvik, for more news and views from the Pasvik taiga! You can also find Ben Arne on facebook. Also thanks to Hanne Tove and the good folks at Øvre Pasvik Camping. It was our base camp for the Pasvik days of Gullfest. Based in Vaggetem it is great place to stay if taiga birding is on the menu! Check out Pasvik Camping on facebook too.

We are still in the video-making mode, and here is our "fast production" from the Pasvik birding section of Gullfest. Also: click on any image for bigger, slide show views of the photos in this blogpost.

Birding Pasvik, Gullfest pt.2 - the movie


Hawk Owl looking for mice

Darren Woodhead field painting Hawk Owl

Ice Fishing at Vaggetem with Ben Arne Sotkajærvi and our friends at Øvre Pasvik Camping

Visiting the new "Porten til Treriksrøysa" (the gate to Treriksrøysa) wind shelter on our way to the Norway - Finland - Russia border. Biotope design. Built by Ben Arne Sotkajærvi. Commishioned by Øvre Pasvik Nasjonalparkstyre.

Taiga birding: ´Silver Willow Tit´ - the eastern subspecies of Willow tit Poecile montanus loennbergii

Siberian Jay at Treriksrøysa

Siberian Jays by Darren Woodhead

Siberian Jay at Ellentjernkoia, Øvre Pasvik

Hawk Owl in full attack mode

A very big thanks to everyone who followed Gullfest 2016 on Twitter at #Gullfest2016 and on the Biotope facebook or the Birding Varanger Facebook

Here is the Gullfest part 1 blogpost: the Vardø, Arctic Coast birding section

Varanger is an arctic birding destination in the making. Stay tuned for more niceness!

Tormod A. / Biotope

25 March 2016

Vardø, Arctic Norway - Gullfest part 1

King Eiders in Vardø harbour during Gullfest, March 2016

Gullfest 2016 was another successfull arctic birding festival. This year we celebrated the epic Vardø harbour. In town birding in Vardø is probanly some of the coolest in the world! Where else can you enjoy great fish food, a hot sauna followed by a swim with King Eiders?!

We are currently into our video blogging, and we hope you enjoy our vlog version of Gullfest. A few photos follow below as well. There will also be another blogpost coming up soon from the Pasvik section of Gullfest 2016. Stay tuned :)

GULLFEST 2016 - the movie


Gullfest poster on the Østre Molokrok building

Stellers Eider study by artist Darren Woodhead, from Vardø harbour, Gullfest 2016

Artist Darren Woodhead in action on Hornøya during Gullfest

Gullfest is celebrating the amazing Varanger nature

Gullfest in progress

Gullfest ringing and kids art workshop

Arctic birding in Vardø harbour during Gullfest 2016

King Eiders in Vardø harbour

Soar throat? Have a Sea Urchin! Common Eider in Vardø harbour during Gullfest 2016


The Gullfest is made possible thanks to a number of great people and businesses in Varanger and northern Norway. A very big thanks to SNN Kulturnæringsstiftelsen for supporting Gullfest, which includes flying the worlds greatest bird artists to Vardø. Nord-Norges Arkitektforening also supports this nature destination development event. Thanks to them and Svein Harlad Holmen we could have en epic Gullfest party featuring a mobile sauna and swimming in the harbour! Big thanks ! Vardø Hotel are very kindly supporting Gullfest with rooms for our invited guests, speakers, bird ringers and artists! Its is the premium place to stay in Varanger for birding! Please give them a follow on their new Twitter @Vardo_Hotel - Thank you! Northern Norways premium chef, Tor emil aka Varangerkokken support us with the most amazing local food. Thanks Tor Emil. The guys at Vardø Harbour / Vadø Havn KF kindly support us with boat trips. Vardø kommune and mayor Robert Jensen also support Gullfest. Thanks to the brilliant guys at Vardøbruket (the local fish ´factory´). Top guys! Also thanks to the Next Generation Birders for joining: Follow them on twitter: @NGBirders Jonnie @Jonnie_Fisk, Tim @Timsbirding, Ben @BardseyBen, James @Jamesoneillii, Olli @Metcow33, Ed @Ed_birdingKane Bries from WWT shared stories from his work and some of the innovative PR + science projects run by the WWT. Follow Kane on Twitter @KaneBridesMorten Helberg is one of the top gull experts in Norway. He has been involved with Gullfest from the very first Gullfest back in 2012, and he helped make another Gullfest possible. Thanks!  Graham White of the RSPB presented some of the thinking and practicalities behind making nature aka the RSPB nature reserves. Graham on Twitter @Billybloodworm Follow him for the latest on innovative reserve projects. Darren Woodhead is one of the worlds most renowned bird artists. His art is truly one of a kind and it is admired by nature enthusiasts all over the world. Darren made en epic and very productive contribution to Gullfest 2016, both in his talk, his workshop and his field work. About 30 works of art was produced during Gullfest, in Vardø and in Pasvik. Check some of it out in the videos. Follow Darren on Twitter @DarrenNWoodheadNils Arne Sæbø of NRK, the national television broadcaster presented their big project for 2016: going live from Hornøya during the breeding season. Epic TV can be expected! SNO / Statens Naturoppsyn (the Nature Inspectorate) are the field officers for the Norwegian national parks and nature reserves. Arne-Petter Sarre of the Varanger national park presented their work with saving the threatened Arctic Fox. 

Lastly we want to thank the people of Vardø, the Vardø fishermen and everyone who came to visit our Gullfest 2016 basecamp in Vardø harbour. It truly was an event that smelt of fishing and birding! 

We also owe a big thanks to everyone who followed us online during this arctic event. After all this is a web event too. Thnx all :)

Also: check out the PASVIK BIRDING experience aka Gullfest 2016 part 2:

best wishes from the Biotope team:

Tormod, Elin, Alonza, Jonnie, Fay & Daniele

For more news & views:

On FB: www.facebook.com/biotope.no 
On Twitter @BiotopeOffice & @FinnmarkBirding
+ find everything Gullfest on Twitter #Gullfest2016

14 March 2016

Gullfest 2016 - fugl & fisk /// nature destination development

The fifth arctic birding festival in Varanger is on! 17-22nd of March 2016 we celebrate the amazing bird life of the worlds coolest arctic birding destination. Gullfest 2016 is about Birding Art, Architecture, Tech and Community.

Gullfest 2016 is open and free to join for anyone in Vardø from Thursday 17th to Saturday 19th. The daytime basecamp is at Østre Molokrok (northeast harbour in Vardø) from 10.00-15.00 Friday and Saturday (Gull ringing, trips, etc) + at Vardø Hotel from 20.00hrs on Thursday and Friday (talks). Welcome!

Gullfest 2015 in action

Ever since we moved north we believed that Varanger had resources that had not been properly promoted nor made valuable to people in Varanger to the extent that it could have. Varanger has some of the richest nature in Norway. That should be enought to make a lot of great things happen.

People and nature relations is without a doubt one of the most important and pressing global issues. Not just at the moment, but it has been for a long time and will continue to be for a very long time. People affect nature in a profound way. We are all very well aware of that fact. However it does not seem like we allocate the appropriate resources and brain power to look into how we can make our relationship with nature more healthy. Gullfest is all about connecting people and nature. Not just at a local level, but we also want to inspire people anywhere to appreciate nature. Bringing people together to celebrate nature is a great way to do this. Especially when you have the opportunity to bring truly inspirational people and ideas together.

Gullfest is an arctic bird festival, but not a big one. We never aimed at making Gullfest big. However we did aim to make Gullfest a big statement. How much attention could we get from celebrating the gulls of Vardø harbour? That is how Gullfest started 2012, almost to prove a lot of nay-sayers wrong. Enough people advised against us moving to Varanger (in 2009), and enough people was of the opinion that birds and birding did not have a future in Vardø. Fast forward to 2016 and it is safe to say Vardø and Varanger have benefited hugely from focusing on nature based tourism and especially on birds and birding. But it is not only about business, it is also about awareness, knowledge and appreciation of nature. Unlike just 6 years ago, today you will have a hard time finding someone in Vardø or Varanger who have not heard of Steller´s Eiders, King Eiders, the amazing Hornøya bird cliff and the rich bird life of Varanger. 

Local to global.
We moved to Vardø because Vardø and Varanger had a great international potential. Gullfest has played a key role in putting Varanger on the world map. Gullfest is not just a local event with a global audience. Gullfest also bring some of the most skilled people from the world of birding, nature based art and nature conservation to Varanger. In a small setting and cool (literally) atmosphere Gullfest have moved towards becoming almost a think tank for a key part of the nature scene. We also love to see how Gullfest have become an event that is expected to happen every year in Vardø and Varanger by people living in Vardø. 


Gullfest 2015 - interview with Tormod of Biotope, on the Gullfest and nature destination devlopment. Film by Reka Rozsa.

The people and the niceness

Darren Woodhead
is one of the worlds most renowned bird artists. His art is truly one of a kind and it is admired by nature enthusiasts all over the world. Darren only paints in the field and his style of working with the white space or the in between space is truly unique. Darren does not deliver photo like images of nature but he presents you with his own perspective, leaving much up the viewer of his art to interpret. Darren have already arrived Varanger and is currently in progress with with producing his take on the worlds coolest ducks: the Steller´s Eider, Varangers iconic species numero uno.
Follow Darren on Twitter @DarrenNWoodhead

Jessie Barry of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 
presents some of the most forward thinking tech in the global birding / conservation scene. The world of birding is a great example of how citizen science makes a huge impact. Cornell Lab of Ornothology have fascilited for this and helped popularise birding to a massive extent in USA, and increasingly globally. Through technology the Cornell Lab deliver engaging content and creates platforms, such a Ebird, for birders worldwide to share and record bird observations. They represent the future of social birding tech and citizen science.

Graham White of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
will present the worlds most innovative nature conservaton projects. In a time when people are destroying nature on a grand scale, the RSPB is involved in the opposite: they build nature. The RSPB nature reserves are often built from the ground up. From industrial wasteland they are able to create som of the most biodiverse and rich habitats imaginable. Graham will present some of the thinking and practicalities behind making nature. 
Follow Graham Twitter @Billybloodworm

Kane Brides 
works for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, an organisation set up to safeguard the world´s wetlands and the birds that live in them. Kane works in the Monitoring Unit of the WWT´s Conservation Science Department, dedicated to studying some of the world´s most threatened birds. This job takes Kane all over the world, from counting birds in Kuwait and catching coots in the Netherlands to monitoring seabirds in Iceland and ringing Whooper Swans all across Britain. Kane will share stories from his work and some of the innovative PR + science projects run by the WWT. Follow Kane on Twitter @KaneBrides

Morten Helberg
is one of the top Gull experts in Norway. He has been involved with Gullfest from the very first Gullfest back in 2012. In addition to being a highly skilled birder, Morten also has through early involvement greatly contributed to the new appreciation of gulls among the people in Vardø. Birds that used to be negatively looked upen have gotten a renaissance in Vardø. People have truly learnt to appreciate the awesomeness of gulls. After all they are global travellers with amazing capabilities. This year we have invited a lot of students of the Vardø schools to join Gullfest. With the help from Morten we aim to bring more gull and bird knowledge to the Vardø community.

The Next Generation Birders
will join Gullfest in a 6 man strong team! Jonnie Fisk is one of the founders of NGB and now an emplyee of Biotope. 5 of his friends and fellow NGBirders will join us and give us their perspectives on birding, through talks and by joining the conversation that is Gullfest. The young birding scene is UK is impressively active and it is something that the Norway birding scene could learn a lot from. On Twitter and at Gullfest 2016: Follow @NGBirders Jonnie @Jonnie_Fisk, Tim @Timsbirding, Ben @BardseyBen, James @Jamesoneillii, Olli @Metcow33, Ed @Ed_birding

Robert Jensen 
is the mayor of Vardø, Norways northeasternmost community. Vardø is a small fishing community on its way back after years of decline. Fishing and birding is now making a big difference in Vardø. Fishing always have, but now the birding part will complement it. Robert will present the history of Vardø through a talk on Thursday evening. Vardø is now a town with a renewed sense of optimism, and Gullfest aim to make its contribution to promote Vardø. After all Vardø is the coolest town in the Arctic!

The Vardø fishermen and Varangerkokken (´the Varanger chef´)
will all be a key part of Gullfest. This year we focus on the natural resources of Vardø. Fish and birds are a key to Vardø´s future, but in order to make this truly valuable for Vardø this needs to be presented to the world in a refined manner. Good things are in progress and Vardø and Varanger is about to become a nature destination with world class products ranging from fish to birding and nature experiences. 

Nils Arne Sæbø / NRK
represents Norway´s BBC, the national television broadcaster. This year NRK will run one of their biggest nature productions ever. Ut i Naturen is the Norwegian equivalent of UK´s ´Springwatch´, and Hornøya bird cliff will be the ´main character´ of a TV show lasting the whole summer. This wil be live streamed 24/7, full shows in the evenings and much more. Hornøya has already become an international celebrity. Now it is about to become a national star too. We look forward to hearing Nils Arne (head of Ut i Naturen) giving a talk about NRK´s Hornøya 2016 project.

SNO / Statens Naturoppsyn 
(the Nature Inspectorate) are the field officers for the Norwegian national parks and nature reserves. Arne-Petter Sarre and Torkjell Morset are two SNO folks that have joined Gullfest since the very beginning. By setting up our earlier Lavvo camps and also by giving talks. They will join us this year too, and Arne-Petter will also give a talk sharing his work in the field on Varanger National Park. Who else in the world have jobs where their field cameras bring photos of Snowy Owls, Wolverines and Arctic Fox?! 

is as always the hosts of the worlds northernmost birding festival. We are now a 6 man team always aiming to connect people and nature. Being pro nature architects is about much more then designing buildings. It is about making good things happen, through architecture, through content creation, through photography, videography, through consulting, through making events and essentially through making good people meet and share ideas. 

Gullfest 2015 - the movie - stay tuned for the 2016 movie!

Gullfest 2016 epilogue: the Pasvik Taiga (19th-22nd of March)
Follwing the Gullfest session in Vardø we move the Gullfest team to Øvre Pasvik where we will visit some key taiga birding sites, and continue our pro nature destination work with our partners in Pasvik: Øvre Pasvik Camping, Ben Arne Sotkajærvi and the Øvre Pasvik National Park board. More info to come soon on the Pasvik section of Gullfest.


The Gullfest is made possible thanks to a number of great people and businesses in Varanger and northern Norway. A very big thanks to SNN Kulturstiftelsen for supporting Gullfest, which includes flying the worlds greatest bird artists to Vardø. Nord-Norges Arkitektforening also supports this nature destination development event. Big thanks ! Vardø Hotel are very kindly supporting Gullfest with rooms for our invited guests, speakers, bird ringers and artists! Please give them a follow on their new Twitter @Vardo_Hotel - Thank you! Northern Norways premium chef, Tor emil aka Varangerkokken support us with the most amazing local food. Thanks Tor Emil. The guys at Vardø Harbour / Vadø Havn KF kindly support us with boat trips. Vardø kommune and mayor Robert Jensen also support Gullfest. Thanks Arne Petter and Torkjell from Statens Naturoppsyn (nature wardens). Thanks to the brilliant guys at Vardøbruket (the local fish ´factory´). Top guys! We also owe a big thanks to everyone who follow us online during this arctic event. 
Stay tuned for the niceness to come!

best wishes from the Biotope team:
Tormod, Elin, Alonza, Jonnie, Fay & Daniele

for all the latest Gullfest news & views:
On FB: www.facebook.com/biotope.no 
On Twitter @BiotopeOffice & @FinnmarkBirding
+ find everything Gullfest on Twitter #Gullfest2016

07 February 2016

Steller´s Eiders & snow caves - living the Arctic life

Incoming Steller´s Eiders in Kiberg harbour. Photographed from water level, dressed in a drysuit, swimming in the harbour. The Steller´s Eider photos and the video was shot, yesterday, Saturday the 6th of February. The weather was just too nice not to go for a swim in the harbour. 

Kiberg harbour in outer Varanger Fjord is one of the best places in the world to get close to this iconic arctic seaduck. We are currently working on a Steller´s Eider photo hide so some research needs to be done. We like everything about our jobs, but this kind of fieldwork is on top of the ´love it´ list. So without further ado: here are a few Steller´s Eider photos and a 2 minute video of the experience. We hope you enjoy (click on any image for full screen view, for desktop)

A day in Kiberg, swimming with Steller´s Eiders.

Steller´s Eider, male.

Steller´s Eider. Male.

Incoming Steller´s Eider

Steller´s Eider, close up, water level.

Getting comfortable with snow caves and wind shelters

Winter in Varanger can be a chilling experience. In Vardø we typically get a couple of weeks with 15-20 freezing celcius. Then add everything from a gentle breeze to full gale force winds, and you have yourselves a proper arctic winter. How to handle it? Get out and enjoy it! 

Connecting people and nature is our aim as architects. When we are not in the office we enjoy being outdoors. Biotope started as a small family business of myself, Elin and our daughter Lila (today we are a 5 man office). We still take every opportunity to explore Varanger, or other destinations. We enjoy birding and being outdoors. It fuels our passion for making more pro nature things happen! This January myself and junior-partner at Biotope, Lila, enjoyed some arctic style outdoor living. Check out our 2 minute movie below:

Snow cave living

Arctic architecture

Vardø with a proper winter frost bite is absolutely stunning. Everything goes white. The walls of every building looks like they are covered in white sprayed on concrete. Below are a couple of photos of the Hasselnes bird hide / wind shelter. The hide sits at the very exposed north point, Hasselnes, in Vardø. Hornøya is seen in the distance in the below photo. In January Arctic seaducks from Siberia arrive our shores, and Hasselnes is one of the places they are first recorded from every year. Throughout the whole winter the waters around Hornøya always seem to have good numbers of King Eiders. This hide was opened last March, just in time for the annual bird festival Gullfest.

Hasselnes bird hide / wind shelter. Hornøya in the distance.

Hasselnes bird hide / wind shelter with a frost bite.

The Hasselnes bird hide / wind shelter by late evening. Vardø town in the background. 

This year we aim to get more serious with video. Or perhaps less serious. Meaning: a few fast-to-make productions will arrive the interwebs regularily. We hope you will enjoy our weekly (that the ambition, at least!) video blogs, or vlogs. Some of them will eventually find their way to this blog (like above), but  follow us on www.facebook.com/biotope.no for box fresh video updates. We store them on Youtube too (but not much interaction is happening there. Sorry. Can´t be everywhere. Not enough time). Say hi on Twitter @BiotopeOffice...

Thanks for tuning in!

Tormod A / Biotope