Blog 7 – Flight connection

This week started at the closest point of Norway to the Netherlands (with Denmark being even closer). A point where birds will most likely take the leap of migrating across the North Sea. And as I am also about to take flight to connect my route on one side of the North Sea to the other, flying in a rather broad sense seemed a good theme. So here goes…

Norwegian coastline after 2500 km of cycling. Many birds in this area!

Stave to Bergen

Finished the east part of the route

Day 39 – 69 km to Flekkefjord – Wonderful ride. Starting with my 2500 km milestone with a view of the Norwegian coastline and climbing twice to > 200 m along the Kvinesdal fjord. After crossing the fjord, climbed to 235 m once more, with clouds slowly appearing and then descending, making the world very silent. Had a very good evening at the campsite with a Dutch couple, providing me a chair, shelter against the rain, a good conversation, a stroopwafel and wine.

Day 40 – 56 km to Nesvåg – Starting with some rain, this day constained mainly the of covering 3 climbs. One of which would be the highest on route in Norway. This climb in particular ended in an amazing landscape with a lot of bare smooth rock and lakes. The last climb was also featured in “Rond de Noordzee”, where the makers slept in hammocks in a tunnel. After that my legs didn’t feel like cycling on to Eggersund. After putting up my tent I had to make a dive for my tent avoiding a sudden and very heavy downpour.

Highest climb on the Norwegian part of the route

Day 41 – 107 km to Sola – After the early stop the day before I had to make a choice. Have a very short day (~40 km) or cycle further than I have done in the past two to three weeks. It was the latter. The landscape turned very flat. The rain didn’t encourage me to stop for photos. Add to that a strong tailwind and a large main road, I even cycled further than I intended. Ending at a very small dune area. The route did have some cool features, such as a path leading through meadows and across a wonky suspension bridge.

Day 42 – 54 km to Skjoldastraumen – I thought I’d be having a short day by cycling 15 km to Stavanger and take the bus to Haugesund. That was on a website as the best alternative for the shutdown of a ferry. I was wrong. Instead, I had to take a ferry (very nice scenery of the fjord and a nice chat) and cycle another 55 km from Nedstrand to Haugesund. I ended up somewhere in between the two places.

Day 43 – 106 km to Leirvik – Again, somehow managed to aim for a campsite that no longer existed. But my legs felt strong, the scenery was beautiful with heather, juniper and some birch and pine forests. So, continued across an island and along the fjord.

Day 44 – 84 km to Bergen – After moving my tent in the middle of the night to a sheltered spot, due to the sudden change in direction and force of the wind, I left very late to avoid the rain. It took 50 minutes to get out of Leirvik due to misdirections. What should have been a 50 km ride to the ferry and a campsite turned in to the last leg to Bergen. I had to continue cycling in the rain this day with the prospect of a dry and warm bed, or have everything drenched once more and cycle in the rain the next day. Bergen it was. Soaking wet, but still wonderful!

Final destination in Norway

Day 45 – 0 km – During drought spells I went out for a walk about the city centre. The rest of the day was all about getting my flight organized, getting my mind organized to see what I still need to arrange, and just putting my legs up on the very comfy couch.

Cycling highway in Bergen

It was rather difficult to find an overarching theme for the last leg in Norway. I was about to start a rant on the confusing, wrong, redundant or even absence of signs for cyclists, including when you should cycle on the road or not. But Bergen saved Norway’s face as a cycling country. For the last couple of days I was completely fed up with cycling in Norway. The grumpiness might also have been due to the fact that it was raining and I had no complete reassurance that I would get my bike on the plane. Also with the realization while writing last blog that Norway is not such an ecologically good country, I saw the evidence everywhere. Entering Bergen as the lights turned on, the sun set and the eternal rain had me drenched did come with the lovely gift of amazing cycling highways and perfect signalling. That, and the fact that I actually managed go reach Bergen without any serious physical, mental or material break downs, was kind of amazing. Now all I can do is wait until my plane takes off, connecting the route in Norway to the route in Scotland.

Sometimes the signs were useful

Airplane mode off

I will start by stating that I am quite reluctant to fly. With that statement, I assume a couple of questions arise. Why are you reluctant and why are you flying anyway? Let’s start with the first question.

In my entire life I have flown an incredible amount. Living abroad as a child contributes greatly to that. On my own accord I have additionally travelled by airplane for some more holidays and for work. I believe that my ecological footprint (see previous blog) should be a whole lot lower to compensate for all the previous flying. Flying is one of the most polluting modes of transport in terms of carbon emission. And a single flight may already take up a huge proportion of you yearly ecological footprint. The environmental impact is larger than just the carbon emission. Among others, some emitted polluting gasses and particles are water vapour, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and lead. Two years ago I had therefore decided to take one last flying holiday, and after that find any alternative transport mode if I really have to travel. This is basically also what Zomer Zonder Vliegen tries to achieve: get people out of planes, and leave flying up to the birds.

One of the many airports I came across

And that brings me to the second question. Why am I flying now? Basically, there is no alternative option that has a less negative effect on the environment. Up to 2014 there was still a ferry between Bergen and the Shetlands. I have searched for many alternatives. Alternative starting points for my journey. Taking the train to Bergen. Taking the ferry and train to the Shetlands. Taking a train from Bergen south, take a ferry across to the UK and then take the train back up again. I looked it all up. Well, I had a year to plan this journey anyway, so I had plenty of time to do so. Since the North Sea Cycle Route is a circle, flying the 520 km directly from Bergen to the Shetlands pollutes the least. My carbon offset according to My Climate is 0.126t with this single flight. It is comparable to driving from Ghent to my new home town as a return trip plus a single drive. Or taking the train for that distance 5 single ways. (Calculated based on the values given by Co2nnect) It’s a good thing I hardly went back to the Netherlands last year… If I had way more time, I would have looked for some other, non-conventional alternatives. Sailing ships, or maybe a fishing boat crossing over (which is what Rond de Noordzee did. I do know of one ship crossing over next week. But I will never board a cruise ship…

On a ferry – no option for going to the Shetlands
During the planning of this trip this did bring me into a very philosophical mindset. If I would cycle a different EuroVelo route, this would mean I could take the train back. But this route if about 6000 km long. That would mean that I would have emissions worth of 6000 km by alternative transport. Maybe not so much better then. Then again, my route also has a lot of ferries which also pollute. That is also why I am happy that I am ahead of my planning. It means I can take a ferry further south, with a shorter crossing and thus less pollution. I actually decided that once I am back home, I will calculate how much carbon I have emitted by taking ferries and a plane and by cooking with gas. Once that is done I will compensate my carbon emission by donating to organizations. Organization which, for instance, planting more trees.

Some trees along the route

Take-off

In line with the slogan of Zomer Zonder Vliegen, the birds are also making themselves ready to depart. Some have even taken off. This is a topic which makes me a lot happier than thinking about my own flight. But did you know that butterflies can also migrate? I have seen large numbers of Painted Ladies (Distelvlinder, Vanessa cardui) here in Norway. They migrate in spring from Southern Europe and Africa northward. During their migration they already breed, creating local adult populations. But it is too early yet for the butterflies to turn south. They will migrate again in September and the following months. Enough time to enjoy these beautiful butteflies!

Back to birds. While some species my migrate with a single long flight, others may use a lot of stops (or so-called stop-overs) to refuel. Before they take-off on their migration, birds first have to moult. During this period they are rather silent, since they are more vulnerable. It might explain why I have seen quite some birds, but heard less the last days. Then again, I have been cycling for more than six weeks, in which some birds were still busy with their breeding season, loudly marking their territory. The timing of birds can differ greatly. Last week I even saw shrikes still with down on their heads.

The closest bit of Norway to the other side of the North Sea

For many birds it is quite easy to follow a coastline in their migration southward. In following the coastline in Norway, they need to cross the open ocean at some point. The shortest way is to cross at the point where I was starting this latest blog. The southwest of Norway. There were so many birds there! Tailwind during migration make birds arrive in a better shape on their destination or stop-over. And they try to avoid precipitation. The fact that I had tailwind, meant that the birds had headwind. I might have probably observed so many birds because they were simply waiting for better flying conditions.

Incoming rain. Not a good way to start migration

Connecting across the sea

The countries I cycle through are all part of the Western Palearctic fly-way. Birds breeding as far as Taymir Russia might cross the North Sea along their migratory route. Some birds might only fly short distances, other may migrate with record breaking speed or distances. I have seen Arctic terns (Noordse Stern, Sterna paradisaea) here in Norway, foraging in the little fishing harbours. It is almost incredible to imagine that they will spend their winter in the Antarctic.

A Sparrow sandbathing

Staying closer to home, many birds may actually end up close to the North Sea (on land) or in the Waddensea for the winter. Birds connect the countries they visit with their migration. And the other way round goes as well: policies in the countries the birds visit impact the population along the entire flyway. While in the breeding ground in Scandinavia birds have all the spce they need, in countries like the Netherlands vast protection plans are at work to save good breeding environments. But the same species may still be heavily hunted in France. This may completely counteract all the protection work at play. It shows how connected the natural world is.

Watching birds

Birds not only show how connected the natureal world is across geographical distances. They actually help connecting plant populations. As commented one of my earlier blogs where I wrote about dispersal, birds may help disperse seeds. It is a rather new insight that shorebirds help with long-distance dispersal of plants, both aquatic and terrestrial. [Lovas-Kiss et al. 2019 Ecography] Very exciting indeed!

Seeing sea birds

Yes, birds make me excited. Of course I am keeping track of the bird species I observe during my journey. I am up to 121 right now. I am missing some common species that might not have started migrating from ther breeding grounds further north. Many other species I am lacking on my list are sea birds. But hey… A couple of cliffs (even though it is late in the season), a couple of ferry rides across the sea, and I’ll get them. And even after my journey around the North Sea I’ll go to Schiermonnikoog to actually catch waders during their migration. But for now: Shetlands, here I come!

Spending some time in Bergen

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