Wednesday 28 June
Having passed North Cape, the northern most point of
mainland Europe, our cruise ship headed even further north into eh Arctic
Circle to reach our destination, the Svalbard archipelago and its largest
island, Spitzbergen. Finally docking in the largest town, Longyearbyen, at 8am
we were able to experience almost fourteen hours in this far northern land of
Norway. During our final journey north
to our destination we were to see scores of Fulmars alongside and above the
|Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis
Once of the ship around 10am we headed straight to the purpose built bird hide (their “Bird House”) overlooking the river below and the countryside to the north. The grassy swathes to the right of the road immediately produced the first of a good number of Snow Buntings. Whilst mainly females feeding nearer to the road, we did catch the occasional glimpse of a distant male. Later, we were to see a few more to try and get a better photograph.
|Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis (male below)
A couple of both Barnacle
Geese and Eider Ducks as we made
our way to the hide and then, looking at the riverside below, a Ringed Plover. No sooner seen than another Snow Bunting alighted alongside to
forage amongst the rocks.
|Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Above the water a couple of Arctic Terns were searching in the waters below for food. Lovely close views and only interrupted when
a pair of Barnacle Geese flew past.
The, almost out of nowhere, a single, very large, Glaucous Gull landed on the water before moving across to alight on
the far side.
|Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus
Leaving Jenny to rest and read her book in the hide, I the continued my walk out of the town as far as boundary marker indicating no further passage unless accompanied by an armed ranger as the area, mainly in winter months when the ice has reformed, does have a resident number of Polar Bears! The grassy areas on the inland side of the narrow road held very many breeding Eider Ducks, most still on eggs with their nests within feet of the roadside. Many accompanying drakes but some eggs had already hatched and the newly-born ducklings were making the most of the available water.
|Eider Duck Somateria mollissima (male at front)
more and more small numbers of Barnacle
Geese albeit larger groups were to be found on the water side of the road
as I moved away from the town itself.
|Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Stopping to watch some of the fishing and settled Arctic Terns I found a feeding Arctic Skua.
|Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus
Its meal was short-lived as a pair of
Glaucous Gulls arrived to drive the skua away so they could enjoy that the meal
that the Arctic Skua had,
presumably, stolen from the Arctic Terns.
Just beyond this encounter I found my first Purple Sandpiper on the damp weeded
grass below. On the opposite of the road
there must have been at least three score Eider
Duck nests. Even three Husky teams were being harnessed for an
exercise run and all around the area, wherever you found housing, you found
“abandoned” snowmobiles, often resting on palettes, awaiting the next snow
season which is expected to arrive between late August and early September.
|Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima
Resting on the last signpost to steady the camera, I
then tried to get a record shot of the single Snow Goose that was resting amongst a flock of about twenty Barnacle Geese. Whilst the bird had been standing when first
seen, it was now hunkered down and appeared to be fast asleep with no sign of
head nor wings, just what looked like a large white “lump.”
|Distant record shot of Snow Goose Anser cygnoides
So time to make my way back to the hide, collect Jenny
and explore this last outpost of civilisation with the very small filling
station advertising itself has being the furthest north filling station in the
world! Again, no shortage of more Barnacle Geese, Eider Ducks, Arctic Terns
and Snow Buntings.
However, biggest surprise of all, not the second Purple Sandpiper but the lone male Shoveler resting on the small pool near
the beach. What was a Shoveler doing in this part of the
world? And then, making our way towards
the house, a sitting bird in the distant grass looking all the world like a
strange Black-headed Gull until the bins noted the beak, shape of the head and
markings, not to mention the larger size.
To my mind, although looking very white, a female Arctic Skua on her ground nest.
Plenty of individual birds but not many species but, on the other hand, what species!
Barnacle Goose, Snow Goose, Shoveler, Eider Duck, Ringed
Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Arctic Skua, Glaucous Gull, Fulmar, Artic Tern, Snow
|Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus on nest
|Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea
|Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis and with goslings
|Male Eider Duck Somateria mollissima
|Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus
|Shoveler Anas clypeata
|Female Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis
|Male Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis