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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Lemon-Ginger Rhubarb: A Pie for Summer

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In spring strawberry/rhubarb pie is one of my all time favorites but once hot weather sets in, the strawberries have gone by.  I still have lots of rhubarb and decided to make this pie which I’ve adapted from a friend’s recipe.  It requires an oven but I can bake in my toaster oven so it doesn’t heat up the house too much.  The lemon and ginger give it a refreshing flavor, nice with a tall glass of iced tea on a hot afternoon.

Lemon-Ginger Rhubarb Pie

  • Pastry for 2-9″ pie crusts [I use Pillsbury roll outs but don’t tell anyone!]
  • 3 1/2 C diced rhubarb
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. AP flour
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger root (or ginger paste), or to taste
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 425º.  Spread diced rhubarb evenly in a pastry lined 9″ pie pan.  Using a double boiler (or being extremely cautious using a regular saucepan), blend sugar and flour then stir in the remaining ingredients, stirring constantly over low heat until smooth and somewhat thickened.  Pour over the rhubarb and cover with top crust.  I like to make a lattice crust and sprinkle crystallized sugar on it for this one.  Bake 30 minutes.  Protect edges if they brown too soon.

 

 

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Garden Update and a Recipe

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I found this post on my computer just now from about 5 weeks ago, so I’m posting it now.  I apologize for the lateness and promise to try and do better.  Between four trips and getting the garden caught up. I have not been diligent about my postings!

The Sugar Snap peas are ripe and we’ve had our first stir fry of the season.  The first fawn of the year was born in the yard a couple of days ago.  The long cold spring is over and I’m finally finishing up my spring planting and transplanting.  This year I am trying a few grafted tomato plants after hearing a friend rave about them.  I picked tried and true varieties:  Brandywine, Early Girl, Cherokee Purple, Goliath, Big Beef and Delicious.  They were a third the size of the ones I had grown under lights so I found my old “Walls of Water” and used them for the grafted plants.  This worked quite well and they are catching up to the others.

The broccoli raab (true to form) matured quickly, provided us with several meals and is now going to seed, all in less than 8 weeks.  My favorite way to use it is sauteed and used as a pasta sauce with sausage and orecchietti, a dish I learned long ago in Italy.  The customary pasta shape for this dish is the orecchietti (little ears) as the shape cradles the thin sauce so it doesn’t puddle on the plate.  When I made it a couple of days ago I found I had run out of orecchietti and used linguine instead.  To be sure the pasta is flavorful I cook it just short of al dente and added it to the pan with the sausage, raab and sauce (for which I just use a big splash of dry vermouth and a bit of pasta water).  I turned the ingredients over and over until some of the sauce was absorbed and served it with grated Romano cheese.  Delicious!

broccoli raab and linguine

Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Linguini

Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Orecchietti (for 2)

  • 1 pound (or less) loose hot Italian sausage (you can also get the links and remove the casings) If the hot is too hot get the sweet and add red pepper flakes to taste.
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • About 4 cups packed broccoli raab (tender stems, tops and leaves)
  • 2 large cloves garlic chopped (or chop up a garlic scape)
  • About 1/2 cup dry vermouth
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound orecchietti (or other pasta, something with a cup to catch the sauce preferred but not required)
  • Grated Romano cheese

Bring pasta water to boil, salt it and blanch the raab leaves in it.  Remove the raab as soon as it turns bright green, drain well and chop it coarsely.  Saute sausage in olive oil, breaking it up as it cooks.  If the sausage throws off a lot of fat, drain it before proceeding to the next step. Add garlic, pepper flakes and chopped raab and saute while the pasta cooks (in the same water you used to blanch the raab), adding more oil if needed.  Add vermouth and about 1/4 C. pasta water and stir, turning the sausage & raab in it until the pasta is done.  Drain the pasta, add it to the pan and continue to turn it gently until the sauce is nearly absorbed, adding salt & pepper to taste.  Grate on Romano cheese generously and mix it in.

Serve with additional Romano.

Added Note:  A reader named Judy asked for information about “Walls of Water.”  I answered in the comments and add a photo below.

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“Walls of Water” around a tomato seedling. In back you can see the kale from last year going to seed. I let it go for the bees.  They love it and there isn’t a lot around for them at this time of year.  The plants between the tomatoes are volunteer potatoes.  I never know where they’ll turn up!

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Big Bend (Yes, Again…!)

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I know I’ve often written about Big Bend NP in Texas but I keep getting pulled back there.  Compelling landscape, good friends and wonderful birds:  what’s not to like?  This visit followed much the same pattern as the others except we had managed to secure coveted Stone Cottage 103.  Cottage 103 comes with a suite of guests; Mexican Jays, White-winged Doves, Green-tailed Towhee, Black-crested Titmice, Canyon Towhees and an extremely friendly Gray Fox.  He/she was obviously looking for a handout, which is against park rules for good reason.  We resisted the temptation to share our happy hour tidbits and the fox did not return, but for a magical hour or so, we had this gorgeous animal as our guest.  It first sat on the porch wall but then went and curled up like a cat beside the porch.  What a treat to be so close as to be able to scrutinize a fox from a distance of a few feet.  I know this ease with humans comes from others disregarding park rules and feeding it.  I can only hope such misplaced generosity doesn’t spell its eventual doom.

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