Rondane National Park Norway in July

 I spent two weeks hiking and photographing in and around the famous Rondane National Park in central Norway in early July. Searching the map of Middle-Norway for a good base for photographic and hiking expeditions in the area I soon stumbled across a small village that seemed to be ideally placed: Hovringen. Situated directly at the entrance to Rondane National Park and within a reasonable driving distance to other hotspots such as Dovre National Park, Fokstumyra or Lake Orkelsjoen it seemed ideally placed for me to combine my hiking, photography and birdwatching interests. I did not regret the choice; just the opposite in fact. Hovringen is remote, Brekkester a small hamlet at the very edge of Hovringen is even more remote, it is basically situated as close to Rondane National Park as you can get. Staying in Brekkeseter was an unforgettable experience. Excellent in all aspects: Food, hospitality, quality of accommodation and the geographical location. Because this place ( www.brekkeseter.no) is so unique I will add some non-bird pictures here:

We stayed in this cabin

Brekkeseter is probably the place of choice for those birders and photographers who like to spend their holidays in a comfortable, warm and at the same time pleasantly informal surrounding, with good home-made food, nice wines – surrounded by many birds.

BREKKESETER - REBUILT HAMLET WITH BIRDS EVERYWHERE

Brekkester is owned by Björn and Kari Setsaas, who decided to build up the old hamlet more than 15 years ago. They bought the remains of old cabins most of them in a state of advanced deterioration in the wider area brought them to the beautiful Plateau just above the tree-line and renovated them virutally log by log. This cabine for example:

"Pilgrimmen" as it looked like before restoration and as it looks today:

Inside it is overwhelmingly comfortable

And finally even a bird picture:

The main hiking-trails to Rondane NP lead through Brekkeseter, Björn takes care that nobody gets lost (above). Spectacular birds like this male Bluethroat can be seen everywhere even on the Brekkeseter signpost.

 Rain is not uncommon in Norway but it is the permanent change of weather that  creates an unique atmosphere  and of course the fact that it hardly gets dark in summer 

One of the big advantages of staying in Brekkeseter is the immediate access to pure and unspoiled nature which guarantees high-quality birdwatching and photography. The back-gate of the hamlet is also the entrance gate to Rondane National Park, Norway’s oldest National Park. Stretching over more than 900 square kilometres Rondane NP is renowned as home to one of the last wild population of Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) – the descendants of the original Mountain reindeers settled in large parts of Europe after the last Ice age. Other interesting mammals are Elk (Alces alces), Otter (Lutra lutra), Mountain/Arctic Hare (Lepus timidus) and the elusive Wolverine (Gulo gulo) – which, as expected, I failed to see.

Brekkeseter itself and the surrounding areas - in a radius of walks lasting between two hours up to a full day - were among the best places I visited for birdwatching during my stay. If you take the Brekkeseter region and include the Grymsdalen area than there is very little that makes it necessary to travel big distances so lost time is kept to a minimum. I found nearly all of the quality species I was seeking in the area:

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica): At least two breeding pairs within Brekkeseter and an abundant species in the area generally. Astonishingly tame and virtually omnipresent. The opportunities to photograph this spectacular little bird merit a stay in itself in my opinion. Below Dipper (Cinclus cinclus); Norway's National Bird is breeding at the Sauna Lake within Brekkeseter and is common in the entire area along streams and rivers. 

 

Lapland Bunting (Calarius lapponicus): The best place I found for this spectacular bird was Grymsdalen Valley just a short drive (or a long hike) north of Brekkeseter with an estimated 20 individuals. Lake Orkelsjoen is also an excellent place to study this species.Shore-Lark is another speciality of the Fjell region. I found a family party in Grymsdal Valley a short drive north of Brekkeseter.

 

Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus): Seen around Brekkeseter on several occasions including a family party.Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus):  Noted several times hunting in the Fjell just adjacent to Brekkeseter and even seen from our cabin.

Roughed-legged Buzzard are common in the Fjell region. This pair had his nest very close to a popular hiking trail and was mock-attacking hikers who were passing by. 

 

SHEEP ATTACK

We found this Golden Plover breeding close to a House in the Fjell. I decided to put up camouflage and study the breeding bird for a while.

 The bird was breeding peacefully and only after some time I discovered that one chick has already hatched.

While the female was sitting on the remaining unhatched eggs of the clutch the chick, probably not more than a few hours old, undertook first expeditions to the surrounding areas - always under close surveillance from the parent:

 The breeding bird kept contact to its chick all the time by calling but was not bothered at all otherwise, even a Long-tailed skua hunting closeby did not seem to alarm the bird. The calm immediately was over when a flock of sheep turned up:Extremely excited the adult bird tried to lure the sheep away from the nest but just ended up with the opposite effect, the sheep - now curious - approached.Finally in total despair -  the sheep were now only centimeters away from the eggs - the bird resorted to the last means and attacked:

Even this did not succeed. Totally unimpressed the sheep continued to feed towards the nest. The danger that they would trample down the eggs was imminent now and I decided to step in by shouting at the sheep to scare them off. While the sheep obviously were puzzled by the sudden noise the Golden Plover stayed completely focused on the intruders. Finally the intruders strolled away.It is tricky to decide wether to intervene in a natural process but given that sheep are not really part of wildlife I decided to do so. Probably I would not have done the same if a fox or the local  Long-tailed Skua would have threatened the birds. Soon after this episode the chick that had taken cover somewhere during the events came back and the adult Golden Plover continued breeding. Happy End.

More young birds: Snow Bunting and Temminck's StintTemminck's Stint is an abundant species on the Lakes of the Fjell Region. The Fjell region around Brekkeseter - pictures were taken on Rondhaugen Mountain - and two other typical birds breeding in the Fjell region, Dunlin and Arctic Tern:   

 Norway is a fantastic place to watch mammals. Elk and Musk-Ox can be found with some searching. 

 

Some recommended hikes for birders:

-       From Brekkeseter to Smukjoseter and further on to Peer-Gynt-Hytta, back along the track via Kjondalen Valley (Ring Ouzel, Willow Ptarmigan, Peregrine Falcon, Short-eared Owl, Golden Plover)

-       Hike over the Fjell from Brekkeseter to Putten Seter (Rough legged Buzzard, Willow Ptarmigan, Golden Plover)

-       Hike from Hovringen to Kvansladalen cabin (Peregrine, Ring Ouzel)

-       Hike Brekkeseter to Formokampen (spectacular scenery, Rough-legged Buzzard, Golden Plover, Short-eared Owl)

-       Hike Brekkeseter Rondhaugen and Lord  Garvaghbu cabin (Purple Sandpiper, Snow Bunting)

-       Finally a walk in the forests around Brekkeseter just below the tree-line can offer encounters with Black Grouse (Lyurus tetrix), Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), Hazel Grouse (Tetrastes bonasia) and Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus) among others.