Despite a long history of over-hunting and other human pressures, the mighty Musk Ox still roams the windswept mountains and tundra of the high Arctic. Although the core of their distribution remains in Greenland and northern Canada, small remnant populations also occur in Alaska, Russia and Norway, the descendants of animals reintroduced to their former range in the mid to late 20th century. The Norwegian population was re-introduced in 1932, and roams the beautiful alpine and subalpine uplands of the Dovre Mountains, approximately 200 kilometres from the coastal town of Trondheim. These impressive and formidable animals — which look not unlike shaggy carpets on legs — live alongside an impressive range of sought-after Arctic bird species such as Dotterel, Gyr Falcon and Long-tailed Skua, together creating the perfect wildlife combination and the focus of this unique and exciting Naturetrek tour.
Winter lingers for a long while in the Norwegian mountains, but by mid-June the snow has usually melted from all but the upper slopes, the valleys are bursting into flower and numerous birds are busily singing, staking out territories and gearing up for the short, but frenetic, breeding season ahead. Those birds that choose to breed on the upper slopes, such as Dotterel, Golden Plover, Ring Ouzel and Wheatear, are often found in impressive numbers in the valleys at this time of year waiting for the snow to melt and their breeding grounds to finally open up. Any lingering snow will not affect our plans, however, for the areas of the Dovre Mountains that we need to explore are easily accessed from Trondheim and criss-crossed by a network of cleared, sealed roads.
Our tour starts with a flight to Trondheim, a pleasant coastal town which sits on the edge of Norway’s intricate and mountainous coastline. From Trondheim we head inland and climb up through the Dovre Mountains to the village of Oppdal, an attractive rural village backed by spectacular scenery, and our gateway to the mountains. We will be based in a comfortable hotel in Oppdal for the next four nights.
We will spend the following day exploring the alpine habitats, pools and marshes of the Dovre Mountains in search of some of the typical birds of the Scandinavian uplands. Waterbirds such as Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, Scaup, Velvet and Common Scoters, Long-tailed Duck and Red-necked Phalarope are frequently seen. Waders include Temminck’s Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Golden Plover, Dotterel and Whimbrel, while Bluethroat, Lapland Bunting and Shore Lark are all possible. Overhead soar Gyr Falcon, Golden Eagle and Rough-legged Buzzard and, for the fortunate, perhaps even a Short-eared Owl quartering the heather-clad slopes. In the evening we will visit a nearby wetland to watch lekking Great Snipe, which is surely one of Europe’s most bizarre, but enjoyable, ornithological sights.
From the smaller inhabitants of the mountains we next turn our attention to the largest. We will spend most of the following day heading up into the mountains on a ‘Musk Ox safari’. While nothing can be guaranteed in the world of wildlife-watching, we would be very unlucky not to see this impressive animal. The Musk Ox is actually more closely related to sheep and goats than to cows and has evolved to withstand brutally cold temperatures of minus 50ºC or less. The Norwegian population currently stands at about 215 animals and in the summer they typically live in herds of between 10 and 15 individuals. In addition to the Musk Oxen we’ll keep our eyes open for Reindeer, Mountain Hare and a variety of birds. Both Lynx and Wolverine also live in these mountains but they are both very elusive and only seen by the fortunate few.
We will spend our final full day birdwatching in the mountains, visiting such sites as Fokstrumyra and the spectacular Vinstradalen Plateau. These areas are home to many of the species mentioned above, as well as to Ptarmigan, Willow Grouse, Hen Harrier, Long-tailed Skua and Ring Ouzel. Finally, we must leave the Dovre Mountains behind and return to Trondheim for our flight home. We should, however, have time before we leave to enjoy a little lowland wildlife-watching, perhaps ending the tour with a sighting of Slavonian Grebe resplendent in its colourful breeding dress or perhaps a huge Elk crossing the road.