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islands at Kongsfjorden and Risfjorden

 

In the centre of Kongsfjorden lie the three islands Kongsøya, Helløya and
Skarholmen, which together form a nature reserve for seabirds. On the left
side of Veines in Risfjorden lie the islands Grønnøya, Rundholmen, Langskjæran
and Hattholmen, together with several islets and skerries. Together these
islands form an important seabird area that has had considerable importance
for the local inhabitants as a source for harvesting natural resources, especially
the seabirds’ eggs and cloudberries. The peninsula Veines, which separates
Risfjorden and Kongsfjorden, is in itself worth visiting, with regard both to
birds and cultural relicts, but also due to the tour terrain, dry and easy to
walk around.

Best time to visit

The seabirds usually come to the islands in March, and
already in April the first species begin to breed. The breeding
season extends to late July, and replacement clutches can be
found as late as August. Moulting and foraging flocks of
Common Eiders and Goosanders can be seen throughout
the summer and until the end of September.

Habitat and observation species

The islands are classic seabird islands, with a few
willow bushes and very lush ground vegetation due to
the fertilisation by all the bird droppings. Around the
Cormorant colonies the ground is barren due to the
extreme fertilisation. There are no reliable estimates of
seabird numbers in the colonies in recent years. Of the gulls, the Kittiwake is dominant, and there are probably
several thousand breeding pairs on Kongsøya, Helløya
and Skarholmen.
The Herring Gull population is mainly declining,
but several thousand pairs remain on the islands in both
Kongsfjorden and Risfjorden. The Great Black-backed
Gull is less common, and has about a hundred pairs
distributed among the islands. The Common Gull nests
only in small numbers on the islands. The Cormorant
population has increased greatly during the last 30 years,
and between 500 and 1000 pairs are assumed to nest on
Rundholmen, Hattholmen, Skarholmen, Helløya and
Kongsøya. The Shag is less common, but more than
100 pairs nest on the islands. Of the auks, the Black
Guillemot is the most numerous, and is commonly
seen around the islands. On Kongsøya some Puffins and
Razorbills also nest, and the Common Guillemot has
been seen here.
Many Common Eiders breed on the islands, and large
flocks of moulting Common Eiders and Goosanders
may also be seen. Of passerines one finds White Wagtail,
Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Twite, Wheatear and Willow
Warbler. White-tailed Eagles may be seen on the islands
throughout the breeding season, and they are assumed
to take some seabirds. At some seabird colonies these
eagles make large inroads in the populations. The Greylag
Goose has become established on Grønøya in recent
years.

Access

Most arrive by car along road no. 890 from Tana over the
Varanger peninsula, or from Berlevåg where the main road ends. One can take the plane to Berlevåg or arrive
by the shipping line Hurtigruta, and from there travel
by car or bus to Veines and Kongsfjord. One can only
come to the islands by boat. To go on land is forbidden
on Skarholmen, Helløya and Kongsøya in the period
1st May to 15th August. Check in Kongsfjord for the
possibilities of a boat trip to the islands or a guided tour.

Seabirds’ eggs and cloudberries

Gathering the eggs of seabirds is a tradition that goes
back more than a hundred years, and takes place on
the islands in Kongsfjord and Risfjord. The authorities
determine the right to take eggs. Right up to the
beginning of the present century the gathering and sale
of seabirds’ eggs was an important extra income for the
local inhabitants. In the period when a family had the
right to take eggs on all the islands, about 30,000 eggs
could be gathered in one season (Åse Winsents, pers.
comm.). Helløya alone could at its best give about
13,000 eggs in one season, whereas a poor year gave
about 2,000 eggs (Fred N. Larsen, pers. comm.). In
earlier times the eggs were sold to the food industry.
Later much went to private customers, shops and
restaurants in northern Norway. At the time when
arctic hunting of seals was still important, the coming
of spring was celebrated when the inhabitants bought
seal flippers and gulls’ eggs for a feast.
The eggs of wild birds can be kept fresh by placing
them in a water glass (can be bought from a chemist). In
the water glass, a kind of preserving, the eggs are stored
dark and cold, and they remain fresh the whole winter.
The yolk of gull eggs has a more intense colour than that of hen eggs, and gives fine colour to bakery. Today one
stirs (not whisks) the gull eggs, before freezing them.
Stirred gull eggs are suitable for omelettes, pancakes and
waffles.
On the islands in Kongsfjord and on Grønnøya there
are cloudberries that also were an important source of
income. The volume of cloudberries was measured in
“barrels”, which indicates that large amounts of berries
were picked. Now not so large amounts are gathered as
in earlier years.

Further information

Rundholmen and Hattholmen have large Cormorant
colonies. Nesting Cormorants do not tolerate much
disturbance near the colony before they leave their nests.
The nests then lie unprotected, and can be predated
by big gulls, Crows and Ravens. One should therefore
move very cautiously near Cormorant colonies.  

Protective regulations

To land on Kongsøya, Helløya and Skarholmen is
forbidden in the period 1st May to 15th August. The
administrative plan is now being revised, and it is
expected that the protection period will be changed so
that it begins and ends earlier than at present. One can
move by boat around the islands.
 Gathering of eggs can take place from 1st May to
14th June by the tenants who have such a permit on
the islands in Kongsfjorden. The eggs of Herring Gull,
Great Black-backed Gull, Common Gull and Kittiwake
can be gathered provided the species are named in the
tenancy contract. Anyone may gather the eggs of big
gulls on the islands in Risfjorden.