American Birding Podcast



Open Mic: GullFest 2012 – birding and destination development in the Arctic

At the Mic: Tormod Amundsen

Tormod Amundsen is an architect and birder, living and working in Arctic Norway with pro nature destination development. A passionate birder for more then 20 years, Tormod is father to Lila 3.5 years (and already birding). Together with birder-architect wife Elin he runs the Biotope office. Tormod loves birding, people, and nature.


Biotope has the pleasure of inviting all birders to join a new event in the world of birding: the Arctic GullFest of 2012, to be arranged in Varanger 13th-17th of April. This is both an ornithological seminar and a meeting place for birders.  It is bird conservation, a web-event and of course a great birding event.

Varanger is one of Europes most famous birding destinations. We are at Norway's northeasternmost  point, at the edge of the Arctic and even further east than Istanbul. GullFest will take place in the small fishing town of Vardø in the outer Varanger Fjord. Vardø is both the historical and a natural capital in the Arctic. For almost one thousand years it has been a town situated in the midst of fantastic natural resources, and fish has always beenthe currency that makes things happen. However, with globalization and restructuring of both local and global economies, Vardø has shared the destiny of many small rural towns. Despite being situated in the midst of the natural wealth, it has seen its finest commodity being shipped out by big business. Now there is much talk of the North East Passage opening new global possibilities in trade, oil- and gas exploitations. How will this affect Vardø and Varanger? In Norway there are a lot of environmental organizations that do great work, but so far we are one of very few who live here and work from inside the arctic, and inside the communities that will be directly affected by choices that are made. With our engagement in Varanger we aim to put birds and nature on the map!

Eiders in surf Vardo feb2012 TAmundsen Biotope
Eider raft seen from Vardø. Mixed flocks of Common Eider, King Eider and Stellers Eider winter in significant numbers in the shallow waters of the Varanger Fjord

In Varanger we are no more then a handful of resident, active birders – that is literally 4-5 people. But – every year several thousand birders visit this very easily accessible part of the arctic. When we moved to Varanger three years ago, no one in the region paid much attention to the fact that every year a large part of the regions visitors had a very special reason for visiting: birds! Everything was handled by birding companies from other countries, and locally very few had anything to do with this business. Our aim of setting up our architectural office in Varanger was to tap into the fantastic potential of thousands of very engaged birders for the benefit of the Arctics rich birdlife! I have been a birder since the age of twelve, and wherever I have been birding one instantly connects with fellow birders. It is a global community in the truest sense!

Blue fulmar pelagic with Arctic Tourist -TAmundsen Biotope
Birders on a Blue Fulmar Pelagic in the Arctic Oceans, with nature guide Ørjan Hansen of the Northern Varanger Peninsula

All birders will know what I speak of. The birding community is also a highly productive one. The knowledge, insight and research produced by birders worldwide is a most impressive collaborative endeavor. The number of high standard books, articles, art, photography, etc is truly inspiring. As architect-birders we aim to make our contribution. We engage in pro nature projects. We design bird hides, shelters, nature trails, make development studies, exhibitions and arrange workshops. For us architecture is a tool to protect and promote birds, wildlife and nature. Now we arrange the Arctic GullFest, and you are invited!

Arctic street art birder style Amundsen Vardø
Arctic street art: birding and destination development!

The GullFest will be five days of great birding experiences, inspiring and educational talks. We have invited key figures in the birding community to join the event as speakers and guides. We have been able to establish a very fine programe for this international event: Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers is a keynote speaker. Martin is a member of the BBRC (British Birds Rarity Committee), and he is well known among birders for his exploratory bird blog and his many bird ID articles published in books, magazines and websites. He will give talks on new approaches to gull identification, aging, and much more. From Netherland Nils Van Duivendijk, author of the highly acclaimed Advanced Bird ID Guides, will give talks on his favored subjects. Tristan Reid is the representative of the bird conservation radio podcast ´Talking Naturally´. This is something like BBC for birders! Check into for daily blogging and podcasts from GullFest. "Gullerist" Frode Falkenberg (the Norwegian Gull Page), well known to many North American Gull enthusiasts, will run a color ringing scheme every day from our GullFest Base Camp. He will also give a talk on a new Norwegian Bird log system, similar to the North American eBird. This will turn birders data into conservation tools, all in English of course: Varanger is after all a destination with mostly foreign birders. Furthermore we will have talks by Mark Maftei of the High Arctic Gull Research Group, the North American representative. We are still being contacted by birders who want to join and contribute both with talks and more.

Puffins fight1 hornoya mrch2011 TAmundsen Biotope
Northern Varanger Peninsula in May – the Arctic region is defined by those places where the average summer temperature does not exceed 10 degrees celcius. The landscape and climate is an attraction in itself, bring warm clothes..

The positivity towards the project is really inspiring! As Norwegian birders living in Varanger we see it as our goal to make it more easy for visiting birders to contribute with their finds and knowledge. On the web we are establishing new resources for this, and locally we are setting up bird hides and creating awareness of the positive contribution visiting birders can make. No doubt the birding community is a powerful one. For us it is all about providing the opportunities and platforms to engage. GullFest is such a platform, where birders will meet and share knowledge and inspire each other. This is also combined with a local engagement, with many local resources contributing in the making of this event. Among these are the local fishermen who will provide some serious amounts of fish livers for chumming and attracting Gulls – that our invited scientists and bird ringers will handle. We have our very own bird color ringing scheme for this. Good for birders, but we have of course invited the local schools to take part.

Vardo 5th graders learning the local birds Amundsen Biotope
For three years we have contributed to local awareness of the rich arctic birdlife. During GullFest these 5th graders in Vardø will join the ringing scheme.

Our GullFest base camp will be a large Lavvo (Samí / indigenous people inspired tent) in Vardø, with great views of the bird rich harbour and the Hornøya Bird cliff (100,000+ seabirds!). Here all facilities will be in place: fantastic birdlife, warm local food, shelter and a lavvo fireplace to keep you warm. From here we will run daily events like on-site talks, the ringing scheme, the Fishermens pelagics (join a fishing vessel at sea!), trips to the impressive Hornøya Bird Cliff, King Eider pelagics (we recently counted the Varanger Fjord and found 12 500+ King Eiders, with rafts up to 4600 birds!). In the Harbor we will have floating photo hides next to the local fishing recievery, which means good photo  opportunities, with lots of birds hanging around for scraps from the fishing industry. We will also run daily Arctic Ocean pelagics where we will chum and get close to the Arctic ´Blue Fulmar´. This is festival prototype, and we are still improving the programe.

Gullfest basecamp from Hornoya TAmundsen Biotope
The GullFest base camp is strategically situated in Vardø with excellent views towards the Hornøya bird cliff and the bird rich waters surrounding Vardø island.

Locally people in Varanger are really starting to value the rich birdlife. People are taking pride in living in a region that can attract birders from around the globe – surely having thousands of birders every year as guests is a sign of quality! The fact that it is worth traveling from far away to see the nature that is at their doorstep is an eyeopener to many locals. Varanger really gives you a sense of intact nature, and we aim to keep it that way, and there are no one better then birders to make this happen.

We would like to thank Ted Floyd and Nate Swick of the ABA blog for providing us with this opportunity to meet the American birding community. With the Arctic all bordering countries share a responsibility, it is our common ground and our shared wilderness. Perhaps this Arctic GullFest with its international profile can be a beginning of a birders collaboration on producing material and public awareness of the rich and unique Arctic birdlife. Literally ´our´ Kittiwakes that breed on Hornøya, the Bird Cliff seen from the GullFest base camp, migrate to North Americas Newfoundland in the winter. Perhaps one of our color-ringed birds will be found by a birder in St.Johns? We certainly aim for this to be something larger then a local event! With participants from several European countries and even from North America this looks to be a good starting point. We will blog, podcast and broadcast from the event on the web on a daily basis from the 13th-17th of April! Tune into our website for GullFest news, talks and much more during GullFest! Birders are making a difference in the Arctic, we invite you to join us either live, on the web or for future events!

Best wishes from Varanger, Arctic Norway