Varanger: a wrap-up

I have finished telling the tale of our Arctic expedition. Before we move on, I wanted to share some practical tips about traveling in the region.
First, though, here are the links to all the previous posts, in case you’ve missed some 🙂

En rød dør | Hornøya, cliffside haven | Soil, Varanger edition | Vardø | Vadsø | Varangerfjord | Whatever floats your boat | Advanced course in eiderology | Båtsfjord | On the high road | Clear skies | Here are the birds | Varanger, Day White | Castles in the Air | Prince of the woods

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En rød dør

A red door, in Danish. That’s with this expression that our teacher introduced us to both the “ø” sound (a bit like “ö” in Finnish or “eu” or “Å“” in French) and the soft “d”, which is for me pretty much like a “l”, except the tongue goes to the bottom of the mouth and not the top. At first, it sounded complicated… after a few months, it still felt complicated, but I also found the whole pronounciation very funny, and I learnt to appreciate it.

Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

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Hornøya, cliffside haven

There are some birds that spend almost all year at sea, and come to shore only to breed. Those species, like albatrosses or penguins, often gather in large and spectacular colonies, and since they barely see humans, they are fairly easy to approach. I have fond memories of the Sept-ÃŽles in Brittany, or LÃ¥trabjarg in Iceland.

Hornøya is also one of those magical places where pelagic birds gather.

Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica)

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We arrived in Vardø in the middle of the afternoon, and soon found our accommodation before heading out again for sunset. At that moment, we were at the very end of Norway, still far North but also further East than Saint-Petersburg or Istanbul (it’s easy at this latitude ;)). The small town lies on a island linked to the continent by a tunnel; Marci was really impressed to see such infrastructure in a remote location like this one.

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In the evening of our fourth day in Varanger, we slept in Vadsø, the administrative center of the county of Finnmark, home to some five thousand souls. In the morning, before driving to Ekkerøy, we visited the little town. Marci looked for a souvenir shop, but there didn’t seem to be anything of interest in the citycenter. What I noticed, in Vadsø but also in other towns, was a lamp store. I guess that, in places where the sun disappears for several weeks every year, inhabitants are particularly mindful about lighting in their houses, and so this kind of business thrives. I also liked the colourful houses.

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After our stopover in the far north, we took the road to the south again, back to the shores of the Varangerfjord. Instead of going back to Kirkenes, we followed the other side of the inlet, in the direction of Vardø. On our way, we had a few stops planned in scenic places and birding spots (which often coincided).

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Whatever floats your boat

In my previous article, I introduced to you the spectacular eider family, which I met in BÃ¥tsfjord harbour. I voluntarily concealed the other observations I made this morning, partly because it took me too long to edit all my pictures, partly because I wanted the content of the article to fit the title…
Thus, among those other species, there was one dear to my heart. I saw it on occasions in Denmark during winter, but only from a distance, and I was really looking forward to an opportunity to see it at close range, for it’s truly stunning.

Long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis)

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Advanced course in eiderology

Eiderology: the branch of knowledge that deals with eiders. Yes, branch of knowledge. Or science. And before you ask, no, eiderology doesn’t exist. Or well, didn’t exist until I invented it, two minutes ago. I’ve decided to specialize in this discipline, but more than the scientific aspect, I’m particularly attracted to the graphic aspect of those birds.

Eiders are sea ducks from the northern hemisphere, option Arctic. The most massive species is also the most common one; the Common eider (Somateria mollissima) nests as far south as France and Italy, and is very common in the Baltic Sea or along the coasts of Norway. After a year in Finland and a year in Denmark, it’s a very common sight for me. Remember, I saw this species migrating in Gedser: 1000 birds every hour 😮

Common eider (Somateria mollissima)

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BÃ¥tsfjord. A small Arctic town, lost somewhere in the north at the end of a fjord (hence the name, maybe?). Isolated from its neighbours by a rugged landscape made of abrupt cliffs and rolling hills, the main activity there seems to be fishing. This industry has attracted workers from 40 different nationalities; many Lithuanians came directly there with their cars, as the registration plates could certify.

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