birds at Grense Jakobselv
Grense Jakobselv or ”Grensen” as local people call it, is a now deserted small village furthest east in Sør-Varanger, at the Russian border. From a starting point in Kirkenes this is the most accessible seabird locality on the Varangerfjord, but here there are also birds of prey and several exciting species of passerines.
Best time to visit
Grense Jakobselv may well have many exciting bird species the whole year, but because the road no. 886 is closed in winter over Jarfjordfjellet (at Vintervollen), the locality is only accessible during the summer months (May-October). The area is not very well investigated, so there can be surprises. The Arctic Warbler is a possibility from mid-June to mid-July.
Habitat and bird species
As a seabird locality Grense Jakobselv does not have the same potential as the best localities on the north side of the Varanger peninsula. This is because most of the passage movements go across the outer of the Varanger fjord to Fiskarhalvøya on the Russian side. Most visible seabird activity probably occurs on days with a north wind.
Nevertheless, the nearness to Kirkenes makes Grense Jakobselv a popular bird locality, especially for visitors to Pasvikdalen who have not planned to move further to the Varanger peninsula. Here we also find many interesting cultural relics. Grense Jakobselv can usually offer a good mixture of resting and migrating divers, ducks, cormorants, gulls and auks. Among characteristic species are also Whitetailed Eagle, Arctic Skua and Arctic Tern. In the fertile birch scrub along the river one finds nesting passerines such as Bluethroat, Fieldfare, Redwing, Common Redpoll and Brambling. On the way down from the mountain Jarfjordfjell the road passes lake Gardsjø and Grense Jakobselv border station. Check the fertile birch forest on the south side of the road immediately after the border station for Bluethroat, Arctic Redpoll and singing Arctic Warbler (June-July). Just past Bjørnstad the river is at its narrowest, and Russia is only a few metres away. Here one may find Common Sandpiper and Dipper. Keep an eye on the mountain peaks for soaring birds of prey. North of Finngamneset there is a wide shallow bay that often attracts large numbers of gulls. Check these flocks for Glaucous Gulls and other unusual species. Several wader species may also appear in this area. It can be worthwhile to check the beach and the bushes northwards from the chapel for resting migrants. These areas can have Meadow Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Arctic Redpoll and Snow Bunting. The small hill on the north side of the turning point for cars (Skjergardsneset) is usually the best place to watch for passing seabirds. Here one also has a good view over most of Storsanden, the bay and the offshore rocks. Alternatively, one can stand on the jetty right by the turning point, but from here one has a more restricted view. At the river mouth by Storsanden there are often Black-throated Diver, Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Goosander and Merganser on the sea. Outside the jetty Black Guillemot may often be seen, and Cormorant and Shag dry their wings on the rocks a little further out.
In the summer season Grense Jakobselv is easily accessible via the main roads E6 and E105 and minor road 886 from Kirkenes/Hesseng. The road goes through varied nature along the east side of Jarfjorden, and further over the barren Jarfjordfjellet. The final kilometres along the border between Bjørnstad and Jakobselv still have the gravel surface as this is of value with respect to the National Conservation Plan for roads and bridges. To drive from Kirkenes to Grense Jakobselv takes about one hour each way (57 km). There are no petrol stations or other facilities on the way. You must therefore take with you everything necessary for the trip. Parking is possible at several places along the way at Grense Jakobselv, but the best place is at Oskar II’s chapel, or at the turning place furthest out by the sea. Here there is also a toilet for visitors. In bad weather it is possible to watch for seabirds from the car.
In summer one can often see white whales, also called belugas, at the outflow of Grense Jabobselv. These can however be difficult to spot, especially in windy conditions. Look for yellowish-white “wave crests” and check especially the shallow areas off Storsanden and Lillesanden. When the road is closed for the winter, an alternative can be to turn left at Vintervollen and continue the four kilometres north to Lanabukt on the east side of Jarfjorden. Here there is usually open water, and small flocks of both King and Steller’s Eider have been seen several times in winter.