Archive for September, 2016

Svalbard 4: Views from the Boat

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The bow was the favored location for the hardy but many of us watched from the comfort of the lounge.

Life aboard ship was very comfortable.  Even with 24 hour daylight there was almost always lots of action, birds flying by or on the water, walrus, polar bears, the occasional seal and whales.  My most exciting whale sighting was a Bowhead whale, an arctic species I have never seen before.  I didn’t get a picture of any of the whales but I was able to see the unique Bowhead mouth shape in a friend’s picture.

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We passed large icebergs when we were  in the bay where the Monaco Glaciers were calving.

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These photos show the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet.  We had hoped for zodiac rides to get closer but the sea was too rough (hence the blurry photo) and we had to settle for views from the ship.  It was impossible to count them but we were told there were over 100,000 birds nesting there, mostly Brunnich’s Guillemots (a/k/a Thick-billed Murres).  There were many opportunistic Glaucous Gulls hoping to find unattended eggs.

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Among the Polar Bears we saw were this threesome: mother, yearling cub and a male in pursuit.  She seemed to just want to get away with her cub but he followed them for quite a distance before she finally eluded him.  We saw Ivory Gulls where the bears had made a kill, six or seven at a time.  It was a thrill to see these elegant pure white gulls.

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This is as far north as our journey took us, according to the dashboard in the ship’s library.

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I’m looking due north at the beginnings of the ice surrounding the North Pole.  We turned around shortly after this picture was taken.  The ice would get thicker and finally we would not be able to go further.  We traveled 1031 nautical miles. (photo Frank Mantlik)                             For a detailed description of our trip check out the TRIP LOG.

 

 

 

 

 

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Svalbard 3: Going Ashore

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We snuck up very carefully on this sleeping mass of walruses so as not to disturb them.  They were hauled out at Torellneset, a place which receives approximately 4″ of precipitation annually, making it a true “polar desert”

We left Longyearbyen on June 16th, bound for the furthest north we could go, stopping to go ashore every day, provided there were no Polar Bears in the area.  We stopped at Rauldfjorden, Spitsbergen the next day and climbed a hill to get a close look at a 1600’s whaling era cairn and an old grave.  Our passage flushed a Purple Sandpiper from her nest in a “broken wing” display.  I took a very quick look and saw three well camouflaged lovely speckled eggs.

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Our ship “Plancius” seen from the hill above Rauldfjorden.  On the shore below you can see the remains of a seasonal cabin used by fox hunters.

One activity I was particularly impressed by was beach clean up.  We went ashore at Jacobsenbukta, a bay on Woodfjord and each of us gathered debris to take back to the ship where it will be carried back to Longyearbyen for disposal.  The amount and variety of trash was depressing and we only made a dent, but this company is trying to make a difference.

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Picking up trash on Jacobsenbukta

Our next trip ashore was to visit an island released from shore by the retreating Monaco Glacier within the past few years.  The three glaciers in this bay clearly demonstrated the effects of climate change upon arctic glaciers.

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The Monaco Glacier is collapsing as seen from the build up of silt along the edges and this island which was covered just a few short years ago.

Our final trip ashore was at Tordenskjöldbukta where we hiked across the tundra to two small lakes.  We encountered reindeer, birds, Beluga whales were spotted and the spring flowers were in bloom, a beautiful ending to our cruise.

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The reindeer on Svalbard have very short legs and are notably smaller than other reindeer, about the size of a large dog.  Below are a few of the plants we saw, the yellow is a Polar Buttercup and the other three I believe are species of Saxifrages.  164 species of plants have been described on Svalbard, rare for so far north.

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Svalbard 2: Adventdalen

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Our first views from the air revealed a spectacular landscape of black, glacier capped mountains.  We landed in the main “city” Longyearbyen (pop. 2,900+), an old whaling port and until recently a center for mining high quality coal, although that output has been reduced due to the low price of coal.  We linked up with our friend, got the car, unloaded at our hotel and the three of us set off on the main road along the coast of Adventfjorden, one of the 30 miles of road on the island of Spitsbergen.  We were advised to stay within the “Polar Bear Free Zone” but we went somewhat afield because we had the car for protection.  While the bird list for this area is not a long one, we were rewarded by intimate views large numbers of birds unusual for Connecticut, like these nesting Barnacle Geese.

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Nesting pair of Barnacle Geese.  Svalbard Barnacle Geese are known to winter between Scotland and England.

Common Eider Ducks are an every day sight at our Maine cottage but here hundreds nested around the sled dog pens (safer from Arctic foxes).

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You had to be careful where you parked!

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Not a great place to rest

My life bird for the day was a Rock Ptarmigan, still in winter plumage.  We saw others over the time we were there, all in varying stages of molting.  This was the classic beauty.

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A very cooperative Rock Ptarmigan, and yes, among rocks.

There were also an Ivory Gull, Glaucous Gulls, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes, lots of Pink-footed Geese, a pair of King Eiders, nesting Red-throated Loons and lots of Purple Sandpipers (these apparently the subject of a study as nearly all were banded), Dunlins, Common Ringed Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers,  Black-legged Kittiwakes, Long-tailed Ducks, Arctic Terns, hundreds of Dovekies, Black Guillemots, Parasitic Jaegers, Northern Fulmars, Eurasian Green-winged Teal and the ubiquitous Snow Buntings.  We found it well worth the extra days and expense for the rich birding experience we enjoyed.

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Longyearbyen and the harbor from the hills above Adventfjorden.

 

 

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Svalbard 1: Oslo Environs

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We planned our trip to Svalbard by setting aside time on either end for birding on our own.  We hired a local bird guide from the Oslo area to take us to his favorite spots for a day and it was well worth the effort.  He took us to the outskirts of the city where there is a large lake (the Nordre Oyeren Naturreservat) and then to other several other hot spots.  By the time we finished we had compiled a list of about 65 species, including 28 life birds.  While these birds were all interesting one bird stood out.  We were hiking near the lake and a beautiful chicken started to follow us.  With its striking plumage and white rump patch, it looked to me exactly like the  Red Jungle Fowl, ancestor of domestic chickens that we have occasionally  encountered in our travels, living wild in the jungle.  I finally have had a chance to research it and have decided that it must have been a Sicilian Buttercup.  This bird was very vocal and followed us for some distance.  He was probably an escape from someone’s chicken collection.  He gets the name Buttercup because of the shape of his comb, which is cup shaped.

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The next morning we left Oslo and most vegetation behind and headed to the arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

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