I live on the Chesapeake Bay, a famous large estuary on the east coast of the United States, but oh, so different from the fjords we recently explored along the west coast of Norway. The fjords are also estuaries, which by definition are bodies of water open to the tidal seas at their mouth but also fed by freshwater sources upstream.
The Chesapeake’s freshwater sources are the mighty Susquehanna and smaller Potomac and Choptank Rivers, whereas the Norwegian fjords are fed by countless, spectacular cascading waterfalls draining the surrounding snow-capped peaks. The Chesapeake is a shallow, mud and sand bottomed drowned river, south of the last glacial advance, whereas the nordic fjords are deep, steeped walled rocky valleys carved out by glaciers during the last Ice Age.
I don’t believe I’ve visited a more beautiful country than Norway. Along with the many fjords penetrating the west coast, some as far as 100 miles inland, there are thousands of small islands just offshore. You can envision the marauding Viking ships slipping out to sea from a fjord or island to rampage Northern Europe in the 10th century, or a sinister German U-Boat sneaking into a deep fjord during the more recent 20th century conflagration.
This is not a travel blog but let me make this suggestion. “Norway in a Nutshell” is a wonderful one-day tour of the best of southwestern Norway. Starting in Bergen, on the west coast, we took the Bergen Railway inland and switched to the Flam Railway at Myrdal. The slow train revealed Kodak moments at virtually every turn. After a short stop at Kjosfossen falls we arrived at Flam and boarded a comfortable boat to explore the narrow Naeroyfjord (a UNESCO heritage site) and equally beautiful Aurlandsfjord.
We stopped counting and photographing the waterfalls and cozy villages nestled at the shoreline at 100. At Gudvangen we boarded a bus for a harrowing cross country ride on switchbacks and finally caught the Bergen train for home at Voss. It was a spectacular day.
Fred, Mary, Suzanne, and I left Bergen by rental car and headed east to explore this land on our own. After the unseasonable heat in Russia we were happy for the cooler air but were surprised by a snowstorm in late May as we crossed over a Nordic mountain range. I was constantly on the lookout for birds (but didn’t see many), while my companions were much more interested in Stave Church sitings.
These are medieval wooden churches with a characteristic post and lintel construction, built between 1150 and 1350. Most of the surviving structures are in Norway. At one small village a young man was found waiting alone inside one, so happy to finally see some interested tourists. He proudly shared with us his impressive knowledge of the history of the church.
We arrived at the village of Solvorn with enough daylight to appreciate the serene beauty of this small town nestled along the Lustrafjord. Our hotel was the quaint and picturesque Walaker, the oldest inn in Norway, dating back to 1640. Nine generations of a family of innkeepers have expertly maintained this gem. Unfortunately the elder innkeeper had just died and the hotel’s flag flew at half mast. But another generation of hosts, I assume the 10th, stepped up and welcomed us. Each comfortable room had a view of the fjord and the dinner and breakfast were simply superb.
Our only regret was that we had only one night to spend at the Walaker. We vowed we would return someday for an extended visit, but you know that is unlikely. I did some evening and early morning birding along the fjord seeing just 7 common species, but there was a stealthy bird with a vaguely familiar call singing from the tall tree just in the Walaker’s front yard. I finally caught a glimpse of the elusive European Pied Flycatcher, a life bird for me just a few days prior in Finland.
Our European sojourn was to end in Oslo, but not before I hired one last guide to show me a few more Scandinavian birds. I found Simon Rix through his website, http://www.oslobirder.blogspot.com.
Simon is an Englishman who migrated to Oslo 18 years ago and has become the “go-to” birder for southern Norway. I was lucky to book him for a half day, but unlucky as it rained most of the morning. Even so, I had a great time. He showed me 49 different species, including a flyover of a singing Cuckoo, apparently unusual for that time and place. Yes, it sounded just like your grandmother’s cuckoo clock.
We birded the Fornebu peninsula, just west of Oslo, and the site of the city’s old airport. The Luftwaffe landed here during their invasion of neutral Norway on April 9, 1940, but were finally ousted from the site and country by Allied forces in 1945. The abandoned airfield has been reclaimed by nature and is a birding hotspot and favorite for Simon.
On my last day abroad I arose early and headed to the Palace Park in Oslo. It was finally sunny and a chance to put the Panasonic Lumix G9 and 50-200mm Leica lens to a good test. The birds were largely common but cooperative with Fieldfare and Wood Pigeons galore. But I did add one bird to my life list when a Hawfinch proudly posed for me near the palace as if bidding me Godspeed for our long return flight home.
This post ends my accounting of our memorable one month excursion to Russia and Scandinavia. I promise to return to my more typical birding and photography format soon.