Vardø - an ornithological paradise
For bird-watchers, 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 (see
separate information sheet) which house large seabird colonies. On the inner
side 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-winged
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.
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.
This 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.