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Gjesværstappan

When you approach the area Gjesværstappan during the summer, it feels just like coming to a fertile garden. The islands are green and fertile, and contain large amounts of different types of grass and an abundance of flowers. This wealth stems from the Barents Sea, as well as the birds which bring nutriment ashore and fertilize the ground during nesting time.

Gjesværtappan nature reserve lies at almost the same height as Nordkapp, just outside the fishing village of Gjesvær. The reservation covers 7,1 square kilometers, and includes the islands Storstappen, Kirkstappen og Bukkstappen. These islands altogether cover 1,6 square kilometers. Gjesværstappan is one of the largest bird mountains in Norway, and several species nest here. Among them are the gannet, cormorant, auk, murre, puffin and kittiwake.

The puffin colony on Storstappen and and Kirkstappan is approximately the same size as the colonies on the Røst islands. The majority of the birds nest on Storstappen, but there are also quite a few nesting puffins on the northern side of Kirkstappen. The puffins nest in the grass, among rocks and in cracks in the mountains, but avoid the steep and bare rock walls. The number of nesting couples varies greatly. Some years, 400 000 pairs might come for nesting, while this number might be reduced to half in other years. However, there always is a significant number of puffins connected to the colony: Counting young birds and those who do not nest, there is often more than 1 million puffins in the area.

The murre also nests in the bird mountain. It used to nest on the open shelves in the southwestern parts of Staurspira, but is no longer to be found there. They now hide their eggs in cracks in the mountain. There has been up to 650 nesting pairs in the area, but we do not know how many pairs are currently nesting in the area. A few pairs of the thick-billed murre also used to nest here, but they have now vanished from the colony. This is probably because they are not as adept as the common murre at withstanding the sea eagles in the area.

The giant cormorant is easily frightened from its nest (soon takes flight) and takes a while before it returns. This means that the nest, its eggs and chicks are under threat of nest theft by gulls and other predators. It is there­fore vital to take great care when travelling, either by sea or land, in the vicinity of giant cormorant colonies.

The auk looks a lot like the murre, but has a more pronounced beak. The auks nest in partial hiding among rocks on Storstappen and Kirkstappen, and this makes it difficult to calculate the number of auks in the area. A rough estimate is that there are more than 2500 nesting pairs in the reserve.

The most striking species nesting on Gjesværstappan is the gannet. Approximately 1200 pairs nest in the western parts of Staurspira, where they collect sea tangle, yarn and rope for their nests. The species settled in the reserve in 1987, and rapidly increased in number. In 1995 there were 500 pairs, and in 2002 more than 2000 pairs. The large bird with the yellow head and the slim, pointed wings is a magnificent sight.

The cormorant is currently nesting at Kirkstappan. It also tried to establish itself on Storstappan a few years ago. The number of pairs has varied, from 178 pairs in 2003, to 24 pairs in 2005. In 2011, there were 131 nesting pairs at Kirkstappan. The murre and auk have also established themselves in the cormorant colony, and probably enjoy the protection of the cormorant when sea eagles enter the area.

The kittiwake is a small species of gull which finds its food in the open seas. The largest concentration of kittiwakes in the area is located on Storstappan. In the 1960s and 70s the population was estimated at circa 1500 nesting pairs, but this number had decreased to circa 900 pairs by 2006. These days, the largest Kittiwake colony in the area is called the “Krykkjesjå”.

In the past, the arctic skua, herring gull and the great black-backed gull used to nest on the islands. The arctic skua is now gone, but can be found nesting on the nearby Knivskjellodden. The gulls have mostly found nesting areas elsewhere on Magerøya, but the occasional pair of the herring gull and the great black-backed gull can still be seen on the Gjesværstappan islands.

There are numerous sea eagles in Gjesværstappan, and you can often see 20-30 in the air at once. However, most of these are non-nesting young birds which feast on the abundance provided by the bird mountain. Only one nesting pair has been identified in the reserve, but nesting pairs have been located elsewhere on Magerøya.

Additionally, the grey seal and otter are common species in the reserve. Also, the black guillemot has been known to appear, as well as the shag. The shag crawls into hiding in the area. The mysterious storm petrel can be found on the islands in the late summer. They often do not get their offspring airborne until close to Christmas.