Arctic birds in the winter speak to the imagination from the colourful eider ducks, splendid Pine Grosbeaks to the seabird colonies. A visit to the Varangerfjord in combination with the taiga forest birds was on the bucket list for a long time.

Although we only had a " long weekend" it turned out to be doable but if you have the time a full week is advisable or an excuse to go back again,


Friday 22 March 2024: Travelling to Ivalo

In the late morning we departed from Schiphol and flew to Ivalo with a stopover at Helsinki. We arrived at Ivalo at the end of the afternoon.  Whilst I waited for the luggage Hans already collected the rental car.  On the way to Kamaanen we grabbed a reindeer burger with fries for dinner stayed at Kaamasen Kievari.


Saturday 23 March 2024: Taiga Forest Birds

This time of the year, daylight hours quickly increase by the day and the sun rises already at half past five, see the timetable here. We had a bit of a broken night as we couldn’t switch off the airco that was set to 20 degrees so getting up at 05.00 was a challenge.


We brought buns to have as a quick breakfast with coffee.  After a 10-minute drive we arrived at the famous Neljän Tuulen Tupa


This place lived up to the expectations. Up to 100 Pine Grosbeaks visited the feeders over time and about twice the amount of Common/White-rumped Redpolls. Among that, some Coal Tits, Greenfinches, only 2 Bullfinches and Willow Tits, plus a dozen of House Sparrows hung around. But the star birds for us were the 2 Siberian Tits and 2 Siberian Jays.


About 5 squirrels visited the feeders and we did hear the calls of Waxwings but couldn’t locate them.


We left around 11 for the 5 hour drive to Batsfjord where we also planned to stop at some sites and hope to find some goodies on the way. The stops at open river streams didn’t provide any Dippers. Magpies and Hooded Crows perched on electricity poles shortly pumped up our heartbeat but it was only the last birch wood area before Batsfjord that brought us a Northern Hawk Owl.


At the border crossing to Norway we watched a pair of Siberian Jays jumping from Finland into Norway. A sanitary stop along the Tana River produced a White-tailed Eagle, observed by two Ravens whilst 7 Waxwings flew by.


The peninsula of Hoyholmen was impressive just by the winter scenery itself. We drove all the way till the end where a large flock of Eider (about 500) were diving simultaneously accompanied by about 100 Long-tailed Ducks. About 20 Purple Sandpipers foraged on the tideline and we added Red-breasted Merganser and Greater Cormorant to the list.


In the last hours of daylight we arrived at Batsfjord where we stayed at the Polar Hotel.In the harbour we already got some nice photos from the docks of Long-tailed Ducks, Black Guillemots and backlit Kittiwakes. Before dawn the roosting flock of gulls on the ice produced 2 juvenile and one adult Glaucous Gull among the hundreds of Herring and Greater Black-backed Gulls.


Sunday 24 March 2024: Batsfjord Floating Hide

Let’s lie in a floating hide for 6h at -12 degrees and tell others you do this for fun. I got quite some interesting looks from friends and colleagues when I told them. 


So we booked a hide to photograph King and Steller’s Eider. This meant gathering at the dock at 3.15 where Rainer, the owner of the hotel and bird hides, takes you to the hides by boat. You then wait for the first light 1,5h later when the ducks start to arrive. By 09.00 Rainer collected us again for a 45 minute tour around the harbour getting and we got more shots of the ducks. The warm late breakfast that came with the Batsfjord hotel booking was most welcomed. 


We got all the Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks in front of the hide but for some reason they were skittish and often swam or flew away. Perhaps the local Ermine that resided under the fish processing factory could have been the cause. We got loads of photos nonetheless.


In the afternoon we drove from Batsfjord to Vardo where we would stay two nights. Along the road between Batsfjord and crossing to Berlevag we had several Willow Grouses, another group who continued to Berlevag had even 300 more birds.


We didn’t find any Hawk Owls on the stretch along the Tana River where they’d been seen before, lets assume they or we were on the wrong side. The road along the Varangerfjord produced several White-tailed Eagles, flocks of Common and Steller’s Eider, Long Tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers.


A stop at Vadso harbour produced a flock of Steller’s Eider and some cooperative Long-tailed Ducks. We heard another call of Waxwings but again couldn't locate the birds. We continued our way to Vardo, checked-in to our apartment and enjoyed the food at ABC Thai.


Monday 25 March: Hornoya Seabird Colony

As the first ferry to Hornoya only leaves at 09.00 we treated ourselves to a sleep in. The previous nights had been short and the days intense so we wanted to recharge for the next impression of the 80.000 seabirds. 


We ate as much as we could at breakfast and headed to the harbour. With our batteries recharged we were ready. Despite having to wait as the boat carries a restricted number of people we left at 09.20 and arrived at 09.30 at the island.


Stepping off the boat and walking up the colony I just had to absorb the moment before getting the camera’s out. What a spectacle! 


There are Shags in full breeding plumage sitting next to you, even taking over the hide. Cliffs full with Common and some Brunnich’s Guillemots amongst them; razorbills were on the lower slopes and any patch with some grass coming through the snow was taken by Puffins.


Herring- and Greater Black Backed Gulls were patrolling the cliffs and launching their assault stealing the fish brought in as honeymoon gifts by the guillemots. All this caused mayhem and the thousands of guillemots abandoning the cliffs, to then return after another flyby.


Time flew by and before we knew it we had to take the ferry back to Vardo with thousands of images on the cards.


Tuesday 26 March: Vardo to Kamaanen

As the weather can be very changeable we had this day as a back-up in case we couldn’t go to Hornoya the previous day. We had the option to go another morning to Hornoya or take it easy and try to find something interesting on the way back to Finland. We chose the latter.


We took the time to photograph the local Kittiwakes, Long tailed Ducks, Eiders and Purple Sandpipers in the harbours of Kiberg, Skallelv, Vadsø and Mortensnes. Between Vardo and Vadso  we found a distant Yellow-billed Diver.


We hoped to find the previously seen Hawk Owls along the Tana River but despite scanning all the tops and poles we didn’t find any there. In the end we were happily surprised to find 3 owls in the birch forest before passing Palomaa.



Wednesday 27 March: Morning Taiga Forest Birds II and travel back to Amsterdam

The evening before we arrived at our accommodation and after dinner the temperature had dropped to -18 already. The clear sky was very pretty with all the stars but we missed the northern lights that appeared later in the night.


The next morning we stepped in the car just before the sun came up and it indicated -26 degrees. The birds also felt the cold as there was less activity at the feeders. Only when the sun came over the trees did more birds arrive.


Because of the -20’s we had to warm ourselves up after 1,5 hours. The warm coffee and breakfast at the fire was most welcome also to warm and dry our boots. After that we spent the remaining time at the feeder till we had to leave at 11 to catch our afternoon flight.


Species List

  1. Mallard, couple of individuals in the harbours
  2. Greater Scaup, 2 cy male at Batsfjord
  3. Eider, common in the fjords and harbours, flocks up to 300-500 birds
  4. King Eider, about 100 birds in and around Batsfjord
  5. Steller's Eider, small groups up to 30 at Batsfjord, Vardo and Vadso harbour and Varangerfjord
  6. Long-tailed Duck, present in small flocks in the harbours and fjords
  7. Red-breasted Merganser, couples present at the Varangerfjord and Tanamunningen
  8. Willow Grouse, flocks along the road to Batsfjord
  9. Yellow-billed Diver, 1 distant bird at Varangerfjord near Mortensnes
  10. Shag, numerous on and around Hornoya / Vardo
  11. White-tailed Eagle, individuals present at the Varangerfjord and Tanamunningen
  12. Oystercatcher, one at Batsfjord and Hornoya
  13. Purple Sandpiper, small groups present at the harbours and Tanamunningen
  14. Kittiwake, breeding at the harbours and Hornoya
  15. Herring Gull, common at harbours and Hornoya
  16. Greater Black-backed Gull, individuals at the harbours and Hornoya
  17. Glaucous Gull, 3 at Batsfjord and 3 at Svartnes
  18. Puffin, numerous at Hornoya
  19. Black Guillemot, individuals at Batsfjord, Vardo and flocks at sea at Hornoya
  20. Common Guillemot, 80% of all birds at Hornoya
  21. Brunnich’s Guillemot, seen dozens at the cliffs of Hornoya
  22. Razorbill, common at Hornoya, most lower part of the colonies
  23. Northern Hawk Owl, 2 on the road between Tana River and Batsfjord, 3 at birch forest near Palomaa
  24. Bohemian Waxwing, heard at Neljan Tuulen Tupa and Vadso and 6 flying by the Tana River
  25. Great Tit, 4 at Neljan Tuulen Tupa
  26. Siberian Tit, 2 at Neljan Tuulen Tupa
  27. Willow Tit, 2 at Neljan Tuulen Tupa
  28. Magpie, present at settlements
  29. Siberian Jay, 2 at Neljan Tuulen Tupa on 23rd, 2 flying by at border crossing
  30. Hooded Crow, present at settlements
  31. Raven, some along the road and couple at Batsfjord and Hornoya
  32. House Sparrow, present at settlements
  33. Redpoll, mainly at at Neljan Tuulen Tupa (Common and Arctic)
  34. Greenfinch, present at settlements
  35. Bullfinch, 2 at Neljan Tuulen Tupa and 1 female along Tana River
  36. Pine Grosbeak, up to 100 at Neljan Tuulen Tupa

*Feral Pigeon, some at Vadso harbour


Praktical info


Rental car: Toyota Aygo Cross hybrid via

Hornoya ferry



22 and 26 Kamaasen Kievari (10 min away for forest bird feeder that was fully booked)

23rd Batsfjord Polar Hotel (including floating hide)

24 and 25 Wilhelmsen eiendom Apartment



  1. Hand warmers. Besides warm clothes bring hand- and feet warmers. Even standing or sitting still the cold creeps up and your extremities are first to get cold. Photographing with cold fingers will be hard.
  2. Layers. Always dress in layers for insulation. You can always take some off if you're too hot.
  3. Bookings. Always book in advance, prices of flights, hotels, rentals go up the shorter you book.
  4. Time. We had a relatively tight schedule (6 days including 2 travel days) but 1-2 additional days would have left more time to photograph (Batsfjord and Hornoya, last you can spend a full day if the weather allows).
  5. Weather: we were lucky with the weather conditions but it can be dangerous with heavy snowfall and strong winds that shouldn't be underestimated whilst traveling.


We organised the tour ourselves and for this 6 day trip the total cost ended up around 1,5k per person (flights, car, petrol, ferry, hide, accommodations and consumptions)


Trip reports collected from

Sightings from and