We enjoyed a marvelous week of birding and mammaling in the High Arctic aboard the Plancius. Except for some fog that prevented a landing or two, and a couple of light drizzles, we had great weather for birding; cloudy skies make spotting things much easier. I was told early on there was not much ice around Spitsbergen and the pack ice was slushy and much further north than it has been in recent memory at this time of year. Despite this, we did very well with wildlife and the lack of ice may have helped us find the large pod of Belugas.
Our birding started the afternoon we arrived in Longyearbyen as we walked from town along the coast road to the dog town where the sled dogs are housed. We got a good start on the birding here, and we found a couple of birds we did not see again. A close fly-by of an adult Pomarine Jaeger was a surprise before we saw brilliantly colored Red Phalaropes, a single Dunlin, several Purple Sandpipers, a handful of Common Ringed Plovers, Common Eiders, a pair of Northern Pintail, and an all-white Barnacle Goose. We birded again the next morning before boarding our ship in the late afternoon. Over the next seven days we explored bays, fjords, straits, small islands, beaches, tundra and glaciers. We were fortunate to encounter a fair amount of sea ice just south of the Hinlopen Strait, and this is were we found three adult Polar Bears at a seal carcass, with four Ivory Gulls waiting for scraps. What great mental images to have for the rest of our lives! Also in the ice we were visited by a herd of Walrus that seemed to be very inquisitive as they bobbed up and down right next to the ship.
Another highlight was our visit to the Dovekie colony at Fuglesangen. After our first attempt was fogged out, Michael, our EL, got us back for a nice visit. Very few birders get to see this many "Little Auks", and it is a thrill to be sitting on the rocks and have them fly just a few meters overhead. Atlantic Puffins were seen daily from the ship, and we saw some closer ones on the cliffs and in the water near 14th of July Glacier. Our zodiac ride at the base of the Alkefjellet bird cliffs was impressive due to the height of the cliffs and the sheer number of Thick-billed Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes present.
Although we did not see many species of whales we had some great encounters. Three Fin Whales, the second largest of all the whales, that we followed for a spell, put on a good show and then there was the large gam of Belugas in Smeerenburgfjorden that was easily more than 100 individuals.
On our final day we went ashore and saw a pair of Parasitic Jaegers, which was just how the first day in Longyearbyen started, but this pair included a rare dark-morph individual. A somewhat curious Arctic Fox also made a close approach before we boarded the ship for the last time.
The expedition staff of the Plancius did a great job of getting us to and from the ship and pointing out wildlife and other cool stuff, and the staff on the ship did an amazing job of looking after us and keeping us well fed. The list of birds we saw near the hotel in Oslo is at the end of this triplist. Thanks to all of you for a very pleasurable trek in the Arctic. John
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
These are the birds seen around our hotel near the Oslo airport at the beginning an end of our trip.
Lesser Whitethroat - this was the small gray and white warbler we initially IDed as a Garden Warbler
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Totals for the tour: 29 bird taxa and 9 mammal taxa