24 November 2014

Eagle island Smøla

Getting a grip on nature destination development  

In 2013 a group of tourism businesses and the local municipality on island Smøla (west coast Norway) asked us to work with them on developing Smøla as a nature destination. Digging in to new tasks with such a holistic approach is a privilege, and without doubt one of the most desired projects for us to work with. This is when you get a chance to meet like minded people, who aim at making nature a key part of their life, for the benefit of their community. Needless to say we jumped at the task. The past year and a half I have travelled quite a few times to Smøla. Mapping sites, potentials and meeting people have been a key to the projects success. The aim is to make a series of wind shelters, bird hides and photo hides at carefully chosen sites. Mixing both public efforts with private initiatives is important. Seen from a nature enthusiast and birders perspective Smøla is a brilliant place: it has the worlds densest population of White-tailed Eagles. Smøla island is also one of the places I know quite well from the early 1990s, when I was a young birder contributing to Norways mapping of wintering bird populations. Several years in a row we counted every bird along Smølas coastline. I clearly remember seeing 50 White-tailed Eagles sitting on a small island! That is when you know you are witnessing something amazing. Coming back to Smøla now to contribute as a birder architect actually feels, well, quite appropriate. 

When a plan comes together

The Svanøya wind shelter. This hide is an open public shelter, and has since this summer been used by a couple of hundred people. Both kayakers, fishermen, birders and locals have found their way to this hide. Kjartan, Owner of the nearby guesthouse Smøla Havstuer is one of the frequent guests here. According to Kjartan this project is huge success, for him as this shelter makes his product and trips better. In addition the locals appreciate a sheltered place to enjoy the scenaries. From a nature conservation point of view, there is huge benefits in concentrating human activity. Traffic becomes less random, and other small islands on Smøla with breeding seabirds are less disturbed.

The Svanøya shelter in silhouette against the mountains on the mainland  

Smøla nature destination development study

Smøla is a unique place in Norway. It is an archipelago with 5800 (!) small islands, and one main island. Smøla is a flat island, with vast marshes and countless small ponds. It is the perfect breeding and wintering habitat for for ducks, terns, Grey Herons, White-tailed Eagles and Otters and more. Biotope aerials above from summer 2013.

Above: Front page of our recent production for Smøla municipality, a 44 page study outlining the potential for developing Smøla as a nature destination. This includes a series of proposals for bird hides, shelters, birdwatching towers, recreational sites with paths, etc. 

As with all projects we engage with, people are key to the success. On Smøla we have been fortunate to work with a very good mix of people from the local municipality, local nature based business owners and local resources like carpenters and the local shipyard.

The aim for the Smøla project is making nature more easily accessible to people. A series of quite diverse fascilities will cater to both local nature enthuiasts, schools, kayakers and to specialists like bird photographers. Appreciation and care for nature comes with experiencing nature. With low impact, and well considered hide and shelter designs we aim to do just that: to bring nature and people closer. 

Fugløya wind shelter / gapahuk (norwegian for basic shelter)

This project is intended to be a landmark for kayakers exploring the many islands of Smøla. It is also frequently used by the guests of the nearby Lillenes Rorbuer (cabins). 

You will find shelter from any wind direction in this hide.  

Sunset on the Fugløya shelter

From wind shelters to photo hides

White-tailed Eagle photographed from Smøla Naturopplevelsers old photo hide. 

In december 2013, on one of our Smøla visits we tried the eagle hide. You have to enter in the very early morning before the birds can see you arrive. The old hide, a quite traditional box barrack, did not survive the storm that approached as we sat in the hide. But keen eagle photographers should not worry: the brilliant guys, Espen and Audun of Smøla Naturopplevelser got a new eagle hide nearly finished. It will undoubtedly set a new standard for eagle photography. Enough said. Wait and see. They will launch it in January 2015.

We had 15 different individuals of White-tailed Eagles at the hide that day. These are huge, spectacular birds, and at times they really remind you of the dinosaurs that birds decend from. 

Young White-tailed Eagle in snow storm (probably one of the last photos taken in this hide). 

In one weekend we had spectacular eagle bonanza. We could not have been luckier with the weather: one day with a massive snow storm in the eagle hide, then one day of crisp sunlight and a nice breeze out in the boat. Perfect! The below photo is from the boat trip, with Biotoper Alonza and Espen from Smøla Naturopplevelser and one of the 50+ eagles we saw that day.

White-tailed Eagle in sunset light, December 2013

Innovation and birding architecture

As a part of the destination development scheme on Smøla, we aimed to contribute to both new public fascilities and to designing privately owned photo hides. The below drawings are made for Smøla Naturopplevelser, and will be a part of their spectacular set of bird photography products. This floating photo hide will be built this winter, and we cant wait to try it when it launches! One thing is for sure: new and exciting things are happening on Smøla!

Soon to be launched by Smøla Naturopplevelser. Design by Biotope (above from the 45 page assembly book / tech drawings)

Birding to the people

When designing architecture for nature experiences we aim for sensible designs, based on basic needs. These hides or shelters do not cater to luxury "needs", but rather basic needs for shelter and a place to be social, to enjoy nature and to 

The Svanøya wind shelter / gapahuk. Situated and designed based on wind directions, views and characters of the landscape.

The Svanøya hide has shelter from several wind directions, a fireplace in front, and enough place for spending the night there (if you have a good sleeping bag, that is). The Smøla projects are made possible thanks to Smøla kommune (Also check out their visitors website). A huge thanks goes out to local project manager Einar Wikan, for a great collaboration on Smøla. It is a privilege to work with people who really care about their place. Smøla is a work in progress, and there are more projects and articles coming up from this amazing island on west coast Norway. 

Stay tuned for more niceness from eagle island..

Tormod Amundsen    Biotope  //  Twitter  //  Facebook 

16 November 2014

Arctic architecture - new wind shelters in Kongsfjord & Båtsfjord

The northern part of the Varanger peninsula has some of the most amazing landscape in Eastern Finnmark. Two of our favourite places to go birding are the small towns, Berlevåg and Båtsfjord. Both are fishing harbours with less then 2000 inhabitants. In addition we have the village Kongsfjord and Veines with just a handful of people living there. In this weatherbeaten and wild landscape you can now find shelter from the wind at some spectacular sites. The building of two new bird hides and wind shelters designed by Biotope have recently been finalized. 

The Kongsfjord wind shelter 

This is a project we have worked on together with Åse Winsents of local guest house the Kongsfjord Gjestehus. Åse runs one of the finest guest houses in Northern Norway, with a brilliant restaurant. She has been a key player, together with Berlevåg municipality in making this project happen. The shelter itself is part of a bigger scheme of ´birdifying´ Varanger. It is a spectacular site. The shelter is part of a local bird conservation project aiming to protect the local bird life. We hope to make both a nature trail, info boards, block car traffic into the terrain and have web-cameras placed to protect and promote birds of the area. In recent years traffic to the area have increased, and we hope to keep improving the facilities in the area. 

This shelter is mainly a seawatching shelter, sat on top of a cliff with amazing views over the Barents Sea. The below photos are taken in early November this year. We had our lunch here, sheltered from the icy arctic wind. What a privilege to comfortably enjoy such a place!

click on any image for slide show view

Interior view of the hide

As far out on the cliff as you can go

The king of the cliff: On our recent visit to Kongsfjord we were treated with a brilliant fly by Gyrfalcon. A top predator in the Arctic (photo from same place, taken at Gullfest 2013)

The new Kongsfjord wind shelter is situated on the Veines peninsula, and about a 20 minutes walk from the Kongsfjord Guesthouse. Photos from our recent Kongsfjord visit.

Kongsfjord town is in the centre of this aerial, taken in early December 2011 on a flight between Båtsfjord and Berlevåg. This is a tree-less arctic landscape. The Veines peninsula is below Kongsfjord town in the left corner. 

Båtsfjord: the Skrovnes wind shelter 

Båtsfjord is a 45 minute drive from Kongsfjord. This project is not so much a bird hide, but more a project dedicated to the people in Båtsfjord. Skrovnes is a popular recreation area north of Båtsfjord. It is a 40 minute walk from Båtsfjord town. The idea of this project was to provide a wind shelter with great views of the fjord. This project was made possible thanks to the local municipality, Båtsfjord kommune, local bird guide aka Mr. King Eider Ørjan and a contribution from the Norwegian Environment Agency

At this weatherbeaten place, it will take less then a year before this hide will be grey as the rocks around it. 

Shelter & view

White-tailed Eagles are regularly seen in Båtsfjord. This photo was taken on boat trip in Båtsfjord with nature guide Ørjan Hansen.

Varanger is a work in progress, and we hope that the amazing nature of this region will be made accessible to more people, by providing better fascilities for people, and at the same time protecting the local wildlife. We believe that an appreciation of nature comes with making nature more easily accessible. Varanger is about to become a good example of how nature is promoted in a holistic approach, from school and kindergarden nature projects, to nature based tourism and to the building of hides and shelters.

Need a birder architect on a project? 
Feel free to contact us on mob +47 99 33 49 82 or mail tormod@biotope.no

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26 October 2014

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

Harlequin Ducks in Laxa river, Northeast Iceland, october 2014

Northeast Iceland - nature destination development

Biotope recently visited Iceland, invited by the people behind the Northeast Iceland Birding Trail. Naturally we were quite excited about getting this request. Iceland is well known in the birding world as one of the best places in the world to expereience birds like the stunning Harlequin Duck and the Iconic Gyrfalcon. 

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

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

17 April 2014

Hornøya bird cliff - site development scheme / mulighetsstudie

Hornøya is perhaps the finest nature 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. 

01 April 2014

Gullfest 2014 - Touring Varanger / Arctic style birding

Gullfest 2014 was a bit experimental: instead of having a base camp in Vardø like GF2012&13 we designed this years Gullfest to be a tour of Varanger. With our invited guests and contributors we toured Varanger from the Pasvik taiga in the south to Vardø, Vadsø, Vestre Jakobselv and Berlevåg and Båtsfjord in the north. What an amazing experience it was! We managed some spectacular birding, we had three exhibitions, and we gave talks at a pub, a hotel, a guest house, a cultural insititution and a school. Our aim was to inspire people in Varanger with stories from the birding world, and to do some top arctic birding while we where at it!

26 March 2014

Pacific Eider in Vardø - again!

Mega in Varanger: Gullfest 2014 strikes gold! 

The worlds northernmost bird festival, Gullfest have just ended. From the 19-24th of March we have had the pleasure of birding Varanger with a great group of new and old friends. A full blogpost on this years main birding event in the Arctic will come, but this is much more of a rush post: It has been more then a month since the first ever European (WP) record of Pacific Eider in Vardø

13 March 2014

Gullfest 2014 - the Arctic bird festival is on!

 The northernmost bird festival in the world is back again. We are very excited to launch the third Gullfest in Varanger. We are celebrating the amazing birdlife in Varanger / Arctic Norway and this year we are proud to present a group of very dedicated birders as keynote speakers and contributors! 

As you can see on the Gullfest 2014 poster we are arranging this years Gullfest as a grand tour around the Varanger Peninsula. Our aim with Gullfest from the first event in 2012 was to invite a few birder friends from around the world to join us in Varanger, and to share knowledge and enthusiasm for birding with people living in Varanger. Gullfest started in Vardø, and now we aim to take the bird festival on tour!

21 February 2014

Varanger strikes again - Pacific Eider in Vardø!

Exciting days at the Biotope office: For the first time ever in Europe an eider of the North American / Pacific subspecies Somateria molissima v-nigrum was found in Vardø. An absolutely amazing record of a subspecies that surely is very high on any birders wish list, including ours - for years! The bird was first observed from the Biotope office