Bird Paradise on Hornøya Island

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Image: A full view of the western side of Hornøya Island, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70mm at 24 mm, f/13, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held from a speeding boat

After being in Norway for two weeks, we had heard from many locals about a special island known for birds outside of Vardo on the east coast of Norway called Hornøya Island.

Hornoya island map

We learned that it is an uninhabited island that has been made into a nature reserve due to the abundant bird colonies and flocks that live on the island. The number of species we saw (8 at my last count) was amazing! We had to take a short boat ride of 5-10 minutes from Vardo to this island with all our camera gear and food for the day.

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Image: Our transport boat from Vardo to Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200 mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held from shore

We spent 3 days this past week on the island shooting for 6-9 hours with occasional breaks–hence the lack of blog posts. It was overwhelming with all the species and opportunities to practice various types of bird photography-head shots, single bird portraits, interactions among birds, birds in flight, flocks of birds, scenic shots, etc. 

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Image: Flocks of gulls flying around Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200 mm, f/9.0, 1/640 sec, ISO 400, hand-held from shore

The boat came to the island on the hour but sometimes skipped hours depending on visitors. We always took the last boat at 6pm so we could maximize our time with the birds. The weather was always very cold and windy with some bouts of rain and snow. The first day was a mixture of the above with winds not ideal for photographing birds in flight (we want the sun shining on the bird’s head as they fly into the wind).  The second time we visited, it was cold but sunny all day so the contrast the sun created between light and shadows was too much for great bird photography. The third day, however, it was a cloudy and windy day, perfect for photographing birds in flight with winds coming from the east. 

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Image: Our partly cloudy day during our first trip to Hornøya Island, iPhone 7 Plus

The only accessible part of the island is the western side. There is a lighthouse on top of the cliff but access to it has been closed due to rock slides. The majority of the birds on the cliffs were Kittiwake gulls and Common and Bridled Guillemots. Before this trip, I had no idea what a guillemot looked like but I soon learned that they roughly resemble a penguin in my mind although they are not related to them. In some of the lower cliffs and where the vertical cliffs begin to slope to meet the horizontal land, there were colonies of puffins and shags! 

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Image: Some Shags sitting on a low cliff with gulls down at the base near the water, Hornøya Island, iPhone 7 Plus

In the water, there were thousands of guillemots swimming, diving and flying from one area to another. I climbed down on some of the rocks to photograph the scene of them. It was hard to capture the grandness of it all in a photograph, but I tried to focus on the closest bird when composing the image. They moved so quickly in the water so the image wasn’t always what was planned. 

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Image: Common and Bridled Guillemots flying and swimming in the waters at Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200 mm, f/11, 1/800 sec, ISO 400, hand-held from shore

Over the next several days, I’ll be processing the thousands of images and sharing a few of them in some posts. To give you an idea of the enormity of the colonies of birds living on this island, here is a video. 

As a spectacular end to one of our days, something scared the birds (possibly a white-tailed sea eagle) and they took off in droves from the cliffs. See the video below to see them take off and make a large circle in the sky before returning. It was phenomenal. 

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

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