30 May, 2008

Trip report: Tromsø, Norway, 27.-30.5.2008

My trip to Tromsø was not a traditional birding trip, but a business trip, as I went there to participate in one conference. Anyway, I had enough free time to go birding too, so hopefully this trip report gives readers some hints how to find birds in Tromsø area. At least from Finnish point of view, Tromsø and especially it's surroundings is a very interesting area, with several species that are hard to see in Finland. Car is almost mandatory and if you don't arrive with your own car, you can hire one from several car rentals either from airport or town center. Please note also that rubber boots would make your birding here much easier - I did not have them... Also a local guide would be worth of gold, if you manage to find one.

Day 1.

I arrived to Tromsø airport around 22:00 and took a taxi to my hotel. So, not much birding yet, though the evening was very luminous, because the sun does not set down at all in these latitudes during this time of year. During these last hours of the day I managed to spot such birds as Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) and several gulls; Mew Gulls (Larus canus), Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) and Great Black-Backed Gulls (Larus marinus).

Day 2.

This day was my main birding day here as today I had more free time than rest of the days. My original plan was to participate in whale watching trip with M/S Cetacea but unfortunately they canceled this day's cruise. Quite a disappointment to me as it would have been the only chance to see certain pelagic birds, like Fulmars, Petrels, Gannets and Shearwaters - all would have been lifers to me. Well, as I could not go to the sea, I turned to Plan B and rented a car from Avis and headed birding to nearby birding hotspots. At this point I want to give big thanks to Mr. Stein Ørjan Nilsen who kindly advised me to go birding to certain places in the island of Kvaløya. Without his hints I would have probably missed several nice species.

So, my first target was a cape called Tisnes in southeastern part of Kvaløya. But already before Tisnes I saw lots of birds as the road followed all the time coastline. Mostly same species that I had seen already earlier this year in Finland, just for example Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax), Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus), Black-throated Loon (Gavia arctica), Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla), Redwings (Turdus iliacus) etc. One surprise was a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), first one in Heim and later two in the bridge of Håkøya. I never thought that Herons would live this far north.

Just before Tisnes, the road climbed up to the swampy hill at Grönnäsen. Very interesting place and I decided to take a better look at it. Almost immediately I saw 2 Parasitic Jaegers (Steracorarius parasiticus), then a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) was hunting over the swamp, Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) and Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) were calling somewhere. Nice place.

Next Tisnes. Definately a hotspot in these latitudes, big fields, shallow shore. Lot's of waders; 100 Red Knots (Calidris canuta), 85 Dunlins (Calidris alpina), 75 Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula), Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) and much more. Again a hunting Short-eared Owl, this time over the field. Some new species for me this year, but nothing what I was looking for. Still, definately a place worth visiting.

But now it was time to decide whether I would continue to south along this coastal road to next hotspots (Brensholmen and Straumsbukta) or should I try to go to the Vengsøya island, where I could see Puffins (Fratecula arctica). Well, basically the decision was easy, as Puffin would be a lifer to me. So I turned back to north.
Long-tailed Skua at Grönnäsen
I drove again over the swampy Grönnäsen. Something made me stop again here and immediately when stepped out of the car I saw it: Long-tailed Skua (Stercorarius longicaudus) ! Lifer and so close to me; I could see it well even without binoculars! Wow! What a beautiful bird indeed. In addition to that, a flock of geese were passing by; 2 Tundra Bean Geese (Anser fabalis) and 4 Greylag Geese (Anser anser).

I had no idea about the Vengsøya ferry timetables, so I pushed the pedal as the time ran fast - it was already afternoon. At Finnvik I turned northwest towards Bellvika and mountains. The road was pretty steep and I reached fast the snow covered slopes of the mountains. In the midway to the top, at Søraksla area, there's a nice rest stop area. I parked my car and when I opened the door, I heard righ away the beautiful song of Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica). A very handsome male was singing right next to me. Quite a surprise in the snowcovered landscape! Well, it wasn't the only Bluethroat of those mountains, after this I heard and saw at least two more of them. I spotted also a big Moose (Alces alces) which was climbing up at the slope of Skavlikollen.

The next surprise was in the highest point of the road, at Sørskardet. Two Ring Ouzels (Turdus torquatus) were singing close to the road. This was the first time ever when I heard the song of this species, a very pleasent experience!

I did a short hike around the Sørskardet. Between the songs of Bluethroats and Ring Ouzels I heard also an odd creaking sound that I had never heard before. It came somewhere from the thick fog, which was in fact low hanging clouds. The sound reminded me of the Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus), but I could not be immediately sure about that. And then it stopped, before I could locate the origin of the sound... Later, when I compared the sound to recordings of Rock Ptarmigan, I could verify the identification! A lifer to me, again!

Soon after that I was already at Bellvika. And just in time, the ferry was there and I did not had to wait too long.

The ferry trip was interesting. The ferry itself reminded me of the old Finnish and Estonian ferries, it was a medium size ship with no services. I spent most of the time in the deck, even it was a bit cold and windy. But it was worth it. Very soon after depart I saw my first Puffins (Fratercula arctica), about 20 of them and soon after that came the big surprise: Great Skua (Stercorarius skua) ! Both lifers to me, and the latter one was a species that I had not even expected to see there! You may guess that I was happy! In addition to those there was also many other species in Skulsfjorden; 2 Parasitic Jaegers (Stercorarius parasiticus), 3 Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), 3 Red-throated Divers (Gavia stellata), about 30 Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) and 10 Razorbills (Alca torda). Not a bad start to this maritime part of the birding day.

The island of Vengsøya is a mountain rising from the sea in the edge of Atlantic Ocean. In the east coast of island there is a small fishing village and that was my destination. This remote place was very nice, I really enjoyed the atmosphere there. I spent only about an hour or two there but I would have loved to be there much longer. At first I checked the local services, well, not much, just a combined post office / village shop. No bed & breakfast, so I thought that I better should not miss the ferry when it leaves the island...

Greylag Goose at Vengsøya

There's only few kilometers of road in the Vengsøya, so it was a pretty quick task to check the surroundings of the village. Lots of birds around; about 100 Razorbills (Alca torda), 50 Puffins (Fratercula arctica), 20 Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle), 65 Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima), 60 Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis), 8 Greylag Geese (Anser anser), 2 Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), 200 Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus), 20 Great Black-backed Gulls (Larus marinus) and 30 Mew Gulls (Larus canus). Passerines were scarce, I saw only one Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), 1 White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) and 1 Dunnock (Prunella modularis) there. But the highlight of the Vengsøya was definately the adult Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), which flew over the village, scared all the gulls and disappeared to the mountain. Very nice!

In addition to birds, there was two Bearded Seals (Erignathus barbatus) in the Vengsøya harbor. And while driving back to Tromsø, I saw one Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) at Lyfjorden - surprisingly the only Reindeer during whole trip.

Day 3.

I woke up very early in the morning and drove through the Tromsø mountain (the island is full of tunnels) to small cape of Langnes near the airport. I noticed yesterday that the coastline is very shallow there and was hoping to find some more waders.

Red Knots at Langnes

And so I did - a very nice flock of about 250 Red Knots (Calidris canutus), 2 Temminck's Stints (Calidris temminckii), 3 Dunlins (Calidris alpina), 8 Eurasian Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus), 1 Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) etc.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus graellsii)
From Langnes I drove south, stopped every now and then, but did not see much interesting species. Okay, to be honest, the Atlantic subspecies of Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii) was interesting to me, as it's a rare subspecies of this species in Finland.

Later in the evening I did still a short hike at the top of Storsteinen, about 430 meters above the sea level, trying to find the Rock Ptarmigan. No luck, just some Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) and again couple of Golden plovers and Ringed Plovers. Perhaps I should have climbed higher to the top of Fløya (642 meters above sea level) to find them, but I did not have proper shoes nor clothing, nor anymore free time.

And finally, here's three links worth visiting before you go birding to Tromsø:




P.S. (17.2.2009) all my observations from Norway are now uploaded / stored at http://artsobservasjoner.no/


  1. i am off to tromso next feb thanks for the interesting read

    1. If you happen to read this blog again, please tell what you saw there in February.

  2. Thanks for sharing this information! I am going to Tromsö in June and so this was really interesting... Hope I'll see some puffins.

    1. I hope you saw Puffins and many other interesting birds as well!

  3. Hi Olli
    Thanks for making a nice trip report from Tromsø, guess with some more exact advise you should have found more of your target species :)
    In january/February there a not that many species to watch, but the latest 2 weeks have given White-Tailed Eagle, Dipper, 150+ King Eiders, Waxwings, all kind of alks and soon we will be able to see White-billed Divers etc. Loads of Purple Sandpipers and the flocks of Hump-backed Whales have brought loads of white gulls (Glaucous and Iceland gulls)in the flocks of 10K++ seagulls.

    1. Perhaps, who knows, time was running fast. I will come back some day, within a year or two if all goes well, I wanna see whales too. I will go to islands of Røst, late summer or early autumn, to see shearwaters and petrels too.