For birdwatchers, the town and island of Vardø are a paradise. Few, if any towns in the world, have such a teeming bird life so near a town centre. Right on the edge of Vardø lie the islands of Hornøya and Reinøya which house large seabird colonies. On the innerside lies Bussesundet where thousands of ducks gather. The harbour area attracts large numbers of gulls, and there are good areas for passerines and waders. Birds of prey and skuas are often seen hunting around the island. Vardø is Norway’s easternmost town, with long traditions of fishing and trade. More and more ornithologists and photographers from around the world have discovered this unique and spectacular town. Even though the bird cliffs are the main attraction, the whole island is exciting. Its location is the reason why the most sensational rare birds appear here. Some of the more remarkable observations have been of Short-billed Dowitcher, Semi-palmated Plover, Glaucous-winges Gull, Spectacled Eider (2), White-winged Lark and Lesser Short-toed Lark (Hornøya).
Best time to visit
It is worthwhile to visit this outpost the whole period from late February until October. The best time is from the end of March until mid-July. Different species can be observed throughout the year, so this is a locality one can visit several times.
Habitat and observation species
The vegetation on Vardø is more luxuriant than on the mainland, the reason being that there is no grazing by reindeer. Inland on the island there are areas of willow, and some gardens have higher vegetation. One of the most interesting localities on the island is Sunndammen. This lies immediately below the old fortress, and is one of the best localities for waders and passerines. This is an area where it is easy to observe the birds, with a small bay and luxuriant willow scrub. Temminck’s Stint, Sedge Warbler, Red-throated Pipit and Arctic Redpoll are all common breeding birds. In most years there is also a colony of Arctic Terns here. The shallow bay is much used by resting waders during migration. Ringed Plover and Dunlin are the commonest waders, but one can also meet a number of other species.
Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff and Red-necked Phalarope are species one can expect to find here. From the end of February until mid-April, thousands of Common and King Eiders gather in large flocks around Vardø. This is one of the most fantastic sights that Varanger can offer.Thousands of Long-tailed Ducks and auks also gather at this time. In addition, hundreds of Steller`s Eiders often lie near land, often right into the harbour area. Several hundred Glaucous Gulls and a few Iceland Gulls also visit this area, and some of these remain in summer. Large flocks of Purple Sandpipers stay along the coast, and this is the only wader species that overwinters along the coast of Finnmark.
Large flocks of Purple Sandpipers stay along the coast, and this is the only wader species that overwinters along the coast of Finnmark.
The Snow Bunting is the first passerine to arrive in spring. The first arrive at the end of March and throughout April, and during May they gather in large flocks in snow-free areas along the coast. Several promontories around the island are worth visiting. From Hasselneset one looks over to Reinøya and the bird cliff on Hornøya. From here one can see all the auk species, including Brünnich`s Guillemot. On the north side of the island Skagen sticks out. Here there is a fine view over the sea, and this is also the best site on the island to watch seabird migration. Especially in May, divers and skuas pass by in large numbers. The Twite also nests in this area. Steilneset and Gullringneset are good localities for seeing flocks of ducks and eiders that lie on the east side of the island.
From the mainland there is an undersea tunnel to Vardø. This come up in Austerviken. From here one can drive northwards to Hasselneset or southwards to Gullringneset. By going out on the jetties, the harbour area can be observed from both sides. The passenger boat “Hurtigruten” comes into Vardø daily. The airport, which lies immediately on the land side of the tunnel, has daily departures to Kirkenes which corresponds with the plane to Oslo. There are several possibilities for accommodation, both hotels and simpler alternatives. The harbour authorities operate daily tours out to Hornøya.
Further informationThis rugged town has gained an aesthetic improvement in recent years, with much creative street artistry. An observation hide is now placed on Steilneset and on the outer side out towards Skagen. The only area where it is forbidden to go, is in the military area on the east side of the island.
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