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Review: Birdwatching along the Norwegian Coast

Specialist Holiday - Safari/wildlife

Cruise ship, Norway

Birdwatching along the Norwegian coast

  • By SilverTraveller Steve-Newman

    18 reviews


  • Jun 2010
  • Solo

67 people found this review helpful

If you fancy a more sedate way of birding and watch white tailed eagles glide sedately in front you. Steve Newman suggests you take a cruise along the Norwegian coast.

The wind cut through my three layers as I stood on the bow of the ship scanning the waves around. It was 1 .30 in the morning and visibility was about two miles so I was getting some good sightings. If this seems odd to you let me explain that the midnight sun in Norway’s arctic waters lets you have 24 birding if you so desire! In fact birding along this coast can bring you up to 50 species even before encountering any accidental and we took the Hurtigruten on it’s six day cruise heading northwards from Bergen. Birding in Norway falls into two distinct areas, namely above and below the Arctic Circle. What this gives you is a tremendous contrast in habitat and a very wide range of species but you will need to time your visit to get the birds you really want to see. Whatever you decide birding in Norway is a delight, I found the scenery to be breathtaking and the birds were in the same league. South of the Arctic Circle we found the landscape to be richly wooded, with parks and nature reserves all a short taxi ride away from the city centres. Giving us birds like Black Woodpeckers and Hooded Crows. North of the Circle the landscape changes dramatically with very few trees and the species changing accordingly. What you get in place of the trees is some of the most staggering seabird colonies in Europe and specialist species ranging from divers to ducks, raptors and auks. The Hurtigruten is a way of life for Norwegians. You are in fact a guest on an explorer and a working cargo ship that calls at ports delivering the mail and locals journeying back and forth to work or going to the dentist. More and more though you also find dedicated birders getting on and off and these are the people we chatted to try and find out what was about and where to see it. The ship weaves its way through hundreds of channels with islands of all shapes and sizes either side of you, often with some very good birds to be seen. In the south these islands are packed closely together so the birds fly between them so we were visited by swallows, and other woodland species s we sailed along. We had not been out of Bergen Harbour for five minutes before saw out first gannets swiftly followed by three puffins flying low across the water. The small harbours along the coast gave us Kittiwakes, Eider, Arctic Tern and most of the gulls including the Glaucous looking like a large Herring Gull without the black wing tips. If you want to see Whitetailed (or sea) Eagle they are most populous above Trollfjorden. But do keep your eyes open as we saw one at the highly wooded fiord of Geirangerfiord, with its densely wooded cliffs some thousand feet high, sedately flapping its wings like a heron crossing in front of us. On the other hand a couple of days later in the barren rocks inside the Arctic circle a pair appeared out of nowhere hanging in the air above the bow for about thirty seconds. We were all too surprised to even think about our cameras. To be honest I had expected to see more birds than I did and I was a little disappointed. However the site of fourteen sea eagles over the week, all with staggering views at very close range more than made up for this. (The captain announces over the tannoy when you approach an area where you are likely to see them). Arctic tern, Eider and Black Guillemot all appeared in the northern harbours such as Odense when we docked for some 15 minutes and the shallow waters around Trondheim Fiord brought a few waders in sight. At Europe’s most northerly point of North Cape the barren tundra tops dramatic cliffs and on the twenty minute journey up there from the port we encountered snow, drizzle and brilliant sunshine. The wind can bite hard up here and the day we visited it was particularly cold and I wondered how anything could live up here. From the top we looked down to see Great Skuas patrolling below but no sign unfortunately of their Long Tailed cousins but we were told you do see them here. The islands in the north are spread out more and we found the opportunities for sea watching increased as we made our way steadily northwards. Shags flying low above the water became a common site and Puffins, Guillemots and Red Throated Divers started to appear. The seabird colonies are scattered all around the coasts of Norway, and one of the most spectacular is the island of Runde near Ålesund. Other large seabird concentrations are in the Lofoten islands and Röst where Peregrines can be seen hunting the cliffs and the occasional Blue Phase Fulmar wafts by. A visit in the arctic to the Varanger peninsula is probably the most spectacular birding Norway can offer, the seabird migration in May is truly astounding. It is undoubtedly one of Europe’s premier birding areas and it’s here you will find the Arctic species such as Steller’s and King Eider, Brünnich’s Guillemot and Red-Throated pipit, Siberian Tit and Siberian Jay. So coastal Norway is indeed a joy to behold for the birder and I can assure you I will most definitely be back.

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