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We ended up seeing at least eight magnificent Polar Bears, but none was better than the one that walked across the ice to investigate the ship. Photo by guide John Coons.
What a great time we had exploring the High Arctic of the Svalbard Archipelago! Bears, walrus, whales and (of course) birds all came together for a truly great experience. We arrived to wonderful weather in Longyearbyen, the furthest northern true town in the world. After checking in at the hotel, we did a bird walk and got our first taste of Arctic birds. We saw Snow Buntings feeding young right in town before walking to Longyearbyen's outskirts, where we also went the following morning. There, we found brilliant pairs of both Red and Red-necked phalaropes swimming quite close to us, as nearby a Glaucous Gull was being snapped at by several female Common Eiders protecting their young. It was a bit of a surprise to find both a Northern Pintail and Eurasian Wigeon there along with several Dunlin. In the afternoon, we boarded the ship and headed out. Over the next nine days, we had many great encounters. Some of the highlights were the show put on by the mother and calf Blue Whale, many Belugas close to the ship, a pair of Long-tailed Jaegers followed closely by a quite curious Arctic Fox, colorful King Eiders, close views of three Rock Ptarmigan, Atlantic Puffins passing the ship at all hours, Northern Fulmars passing the ship all the time at all hours, a rather uncommon Great Black-backed Gull at Ny Alesund, and the zodiac ride along the spectacular bird cliff at Alkefjellet.
However, three of the biggest highlights had to be the Polar Bears, Ivory Gulls and Walrus. We saw at least eight Polar Bears walking on the land and ice, with the most memorable one being spotted ahead on the pack ice. This bear was quite curious and ended up walking closer and closer ...right up to the ship for a good sniff before moving off. What a tremendous view! Again in the pack ice, we found a few beautiful Ivory Gulls flying about the ship, with one bird sticking around a bit longer and landing on the ice near the stern. It almost disappeared when it landed on the completely white ice. This is one of the truest Arctic birds there is. After seeing a few Walrus from the ship, we went ashore at Torellneset to approach a rookery of many lying in a pile on the beach. Before we knew it, several surfaced in the bay just off the beach and inspected us carefully with tusks completely emerging from the water.
It's not just the wildlife that makes this place so special. The scenery alone would merit a trip here, with deep cut valleys and mountains that have been carved by ice. I think some of the fjords we entered are some of the prettiest places I have ever seen. Overall, the crew and staff on our ship were extremely hospitable and they went out of their way to fulfill in our wants and desires. It was very strange to get back to Oslo and see the sun actually below the horizon and some semblance of darkness; now we are back to total darkness for many hours each night, but we'll always remember those long days. I hope to see all of you again soon!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
PINK-FOOTED GOOSE (Anser brachyrhynchus)
Spitsbergen translates from Dutch as "pointed mountains," a very apt name for the beautiful landscape. Glaciers, much larger than this one in Magdelenafjorden, carved the fjords and mountain valleys. The Svalbard Archipelago is still home to the third largest ice cap in the world. Photo by guide John Coons.
BARNACLE GOOSE (Branta leucopsis)
EURASIAN WIGEON (Anas penelope)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)
COMMON EIDER (BOREAL) (Somateria mollissima borealis)
A male King Eider really adds some color to the mostly stark backdrop of the Arctic. Photo by guide John Coons.
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus muta hyperborea)
RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)
Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)
NORTHERN FULMAR (GLACIALIS) (Fulmarus glacialis glacialis)
On one of our tundra walks, we came across three male Rock Ptarmigans, which performed well by sitting right in the open. Initially finding them is the hard part! Photo by participant Warren Cairo.
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula hiaticula)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres interpres)
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
PURPLE SANDPIPER (Calidris maritima)
This colorful female Red Phalarope really put on a show along the road in Longyearbyen on our first day in the Arctic. Photo by participant Warren Cairo.
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)
RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)
Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)
GREAT SKUA (Stercorarius skua)
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)
Dovekie is one of the smallest seabirds, and it is a thrill to be so close to them at the edge of their talus-slope nesting areas. Photo by participant Warren Cairo.
LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)
Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)
DOVEKIE (Alle alle)
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia)
BLACK GUILLEMOT (ARCTIC) (Cepphus grylle mandtii)
When they're in their breeding plumage, Thick-billed Murres really do resemble penguins. They fill essentially the same niche in the Northern Hemisphere -- except for the fact that they can fly. Photo by participant Warren Cairo.
ATLANTIC PUFFIN (Fratercula arctica)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla)
IVORY GULL (Pagophila eburnea)
GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)
You can't get anymore Arctic than an Ivory Gull. We had a few around our ship as we traveled the edge of the pack ice north of 80º N latitude. Photo by participant Betsy Fulmer.
GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus marinus)
ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)
Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis)
BELUGA (Delphinapterus leucas)
Blue Whale is largest animal ever to have lived. This mother and her calf surfaced several times near the ship on our second evening at sea. Photo by participant Betsy Fulmer.
COMMON MINKE WHALE (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
BLUE WHALE (Balaenoptera musculus)
ARCTIC FOX (Alopex lagopus)
POLAR BEAR (Ursus maritimus)
Another iconic animal of the Arctic, Walrus are quite local in the Svalbard area, where they gather on favored beaches to socialize and sleep. Photo by participant Warren Cairo.
WALRUS (Odobenus rosmarus)
HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)
RINGED SEAL (Phoca hispida)
HARP SEAL (Phoca groenlandica)
BEARDED SEAL (Erignathus barbatus)
Harlan and Bill enjoy a zodiac cruise near one of the many glaciers in Magdelenafjorden. Photo by participant Warren Cairo.
CARIBOU ("REINDEER") (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus)
Totals for the tour: 29 bird taxa and 11 mammal taxa