Amazing Taiga Birding: Part one

April 2012 Pasvik, Arctic Norway

I have struggled with this blog post. I feel I am going to fail even before I have started. The whole Gullfest trip surpassed even my normally optimistic expectations. It was a very vivid 3D experience and it feels like I just can’t do it justice on a 2D screen. So count this as just a taster, and I apologise it won’t give even half the feel of the experience- ask the guys- it was a whole lot more!

Reindeer Soup and Cloudberry desert before a firepit in a Viking Long House. So began our arctic adventure in 2012. Photo: Tristan Reid

An icy blast greeted our arrival at Kirkenes airport, a first real experience of the arctic for many of our group. Glad the minibus tires were metal studded as the road became increasingly white with ice and snow on entering the Taiga zone. On arrival at Birkhusky, after lovely welcome from Trine we were soon tucking into Reindeer Soup before an open firepit in a Viking Longhouse. With the Russia only a few hundred yards away across the mighty Pasvik river and a the distant green flicker of aurora borealis on the skyline, it was a fine introduction to arctic life!

Early morning meant time for pre-breakfast wander. Sunrise was around 3 am, so you could get up very early! The immediate ‘cabin zone’ held a couple of these ‘Arctic Red Squirrels’ (don’t know much about them so range/ taxonomy of these would be interesting if anyone knows?). About 60 Snow Buntings (colloquial ‘Snow Sparrows’) regularly perched in the trees and gathered around the garden feeder, while a male Arctic Redpoll occasionally sang.


Watching Snow Sparrows and Arctic Red Squirrel in the trees

Tris went out earlier and walked further and collected Willow Grouse, Pine Grosbeak and Siberian Jay. Also seen near the Birkhusky cabin: Black Grouse, Whooper Swan, Northern Bullfinch and Siberian Tit.

The Great Dog Sled Run

Getting ready to drive dog sleds. What have we let ourselves in for?!

Mrs Garner with new Husky friends. P.S. see those woolen boots she is wearing. Amazing and counter intuitive. Much warmer than anything sold in UK even if water seeped in- which it did!

Vincent and Tris head off…

Flavour of Dog Sled fun– have a look at these:



After about 1.5 hours on the sleds we were just short of arriving at our special destination, when Nils spotted this Hawk Owl. It wasn’t guaranteed here so I was delighted when it hung around for the next hour or so for everyone to see- very well. Was a bit crazy for a short while after our arrival, as there were at least 4 new bird species for some, buzzing around at amazing close range, and I am sure folk didn’t know which way to look next!


photo by Tormod Amundsen


Even did a little trick when Trine and I made a Reindeer pelt lure. Used only once it brought the Owl to within a few feet of our group. Not a bad way for some to see their first Hawk Owl!

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