Birding Varanger


Ekkerøy is a bird reserve with a very easily accessible bird cliff, best known for tens of thousands of Kittiwakes. Both the sand beaches and the tideline in the area, as well as the fjord offshore, give excellent conditions for many species of birds and sea mammals. Salttjern is a village with good habitats for ducks, waders, and gulls. Here one finds sheltered bays, rich in birdlife, which provide good protection in stormy weather.

Best time to visit

The Kittiwakes come back to Ekkerøy in March, or sometimes as early as February. At this time of year, the weather can change quickly between storm and rain, icicles hanging from the cliffs, moonlight and the Northern lights, so these first weeks can give really spectacular sights of nature. The species diversity, both on Ekkerøy itself and the surrounding areas, is however entirely different from mid-May when most bird watchers choose to come.

Habitat and observation species

Ekkerøy has grassy plains, heather, freshwater, steep cliffs, sandy beaches, tideline with rotting seaweed, and sheltered sea areas. This variation leads to a rich and varied birdlife in a rather limited area. A walk over the peninsula gives a fine view over the fjord, all the way to Russia on a fine day, and is very popular, also among visitors without any special interest in birds. There is a marked path through the reserve with information about plants, birds, and also events of the last war. On both sides of the road into the reserve, the sea is somewhat sheltered from stormy weather. Here Great Northern Diver and Yellow-billed Diver can be seen annually. Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, and Common Eider are often numerous, depending on the time of year.

The Steller’s Eider occurs here in winter and through most of the spring, when Goosander and Redbreasted Merganser become commoner. Black-throated Diver, Red-throated Diver and Cormorant appear regularly in the bay on the east side. The population of Arctic Tern varies somewhat, but it sometimes nests in large numbers. Along the beaches there are often large numbers of waders, including Little Stint. Ekkerøy is a good locality for the Sanderling in May-June. Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Red-necked Phalarope, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit are common species, sometimes very numerous during migration. The Temminck’s Stint is less common, while the Ruff, here also, is becoming steadily scarcer. The Knot rests here in May in flocks of 2000-3000 or even more.     The Red-throated Pipit and Horned Lark are among the most sought-after of the passerines. Wheatear and Meadow Pipit nest over most of the peninsula, while the Rock Pipit is scarcer.

The White-tailed Eagle can be seen regularly, and in good rodent years Rough-legged Buzzard and Shorteared Owl hunt out here. The Gyr Falcon preys on Kittiwakes in the bird cliff, while the Peregrine may also be seen hunting larger waders along the shore. In the bird cliff itself, the Kittiwake is completely dominant. The population was estimated at 20,000 breeding pairs in 1979, but has probably increased somewhat and then mainly decreased since then. There is also a smaller Kittiwake colony in a western-faced cliff within the inhabited area.

The Black Guillemot has become established as a breeding species with a few pairs in recent years, while Guillemot and Razorbill seem to be only sporadic visitors. The Raven nests in the immediate vicinity of the colony and regularly plunders the nests of the Kittiwakes. Early in the season, roseroot decorates the bird cliffs. Towards the end of the breeding season, large amounts of sea mayweed (subspecies phaeocephalum), together with rosebay willowherb at the top of the cliffs, can form a frame around the birds and provide fine subjects for the camera. For those interested in geology, there are unusually fine ripple marks on the outermost part of Skagodden.

When on Ekkerøy, you ought to check the freshwater pools and the tideline below road E75 – from the turning to Ekkerøy and further north-eastwards towards Krampenes. Here you find many of the same species. Lillelvneset is a fine locality for the Temminck’s Stint.


The turning to Ekkerøy lies about 13 km east of Vadsø along main road E75.


The village of Salttjern is an underrated little pearl along E75. It is always worthwhile to check the small harbor at the west side of the village, but there are most birds in the bay with rotting seaweed on the east side, also on the nearby rocks. The bay is sheltered, and can have many birds when there are poorer conditions elsewhere. If the water level is not too low, you gain a view from all sides of the bay, and can therefore choose to stand with the sun behind you for most of the day.

Habitat and observation species

Large numbers of Knot, often several thousand, gather here in the latter half of May. A few Ruff may also forage here, but the most common are Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Red-necked Phalarope, Oystercatcher, and Turnstone. The Little Stint can be quite common on autumn migration, the Spotted Redshank is often to be seen at the same time, and Purple Sandpiper mainly from winter to early summer. The Broad-billed Sandpiper has also been recorded here. The flocks of gulls on the rocks should also be checked for rarer species such as Sabine’s Gull. In some years the Arctic Tern nests here. There are good possibilities of seeing Pintail on spring migration, and late Steller’s Eiders sometimes appear in June. In addition, Common Eider, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Goosander, and Red-breasted Merganser may often be seen.     House Sparrow, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, and Pipits forage on small life along the tideline. On the upper side of the road, Red-throated Pipits often nest, and Twite may be seen here. Keep a lookout also for hunting Merlin.


Salttjern village lies along road E75, about 9 km east of Vadsø and 4 km west of Ekkerøy. There is a large parking site a couple of hundred meters east of the village.





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Brand: Visit Varanger
Company: Greater Arctic Moment AS
Address: The Icehouse
Ørtangen 10A, NO-9800 Vadsø
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