Spitsbergen 9th to 15th fd June 2009
In winter there were emails about a bird-trip to Spitsbergen in Tringa (Helsinki -area bird association) -list. We started to plan to join the trip. First we had to become members of Tringa because of the trip was only for members.
I had been for a week in Kuusamo in a bird-race and on Sunday I drove to Kirkkonummi to my parents, so I could rest and wash clothes. Hanna had a group of birders still on Monday (8th of June) so she arrived at Kirkkonummi at Tuesday night at 1 a.m.
On Tuesday on the 9th of June we had an alarm at 4.15 a.m. and at 5 a.m. we were on our way to the airport. An hour later we were in a hall with the tour-leader Jukka Hintikka and Antero Lindholm, Annika Forstén, Gustaf Nordenswan and Inga-Lill and Eero Jaakkola. Soon also the rest of participants Aarne Hirvonen and Ari Sandstedt and Päivi Gustafsson arrived. Jukka had already checked us in via internet so after we’d got our tickets we put our luggage to go and went to do some last shopping.
Our Blue1 -plane left on time at 7.25 a.m. and after a short flight we landed to Oslo. We had to check in our luggage again and after a couple of hours wait at 9.55. a.m. of Norwegian time our SAS flight left. We stopped once more in Troms where we had to go to see the airport before we continued again by same plane.
We landed to Spitsbergen to the main island of Svalbard and city of Longyearbyen at 1.55 p.m. While landing we saw beautiful Isfjorden. At the airport, while waiting for our luggage we could see the first Polar Bear, of course a stuffed one. But from the window we could already see lots of Eiders and a couple of flocks of King Eiders, Snow Buntings and Kittiwakes.
We got our luggage quickly and soon we were in a bus driving towards the city of Longyearbyen and our hotel Spitsbergen. We got our fine room and decided almost immediately to go to see some birds down to the coast of small inner-fjord Adventfjorden. Longyearbyen seemed to be pretty healthy city with 2000 people. On the streets there were lots of tourists but between them also some Barnacle Geese and first Svalbard Reindeers.
From the coast we found right away Arctic Terns, Glauscous Gulls and Purple Sandpipers and in next 3 hours also saw 100 Fulmars, 150 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 70 Black Guillemots and other observations during the evening were a Red-throated Diver, 10 Pink-footed Geese, 60 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Teals, 5 Long-tailed Ducks, a Dunlin and 7 Arctic Skuas. Some sums of the birds that I had mentioned already were 100 Eiders, 130 King Eiders, 25 Purple Sandpipers, 50 Glauscous Gulls, 300 Kittiwakes, 20 Snow Buntings and 500 Little Auks. In the bottom of the fjord we saw almost no Little Auks on the sea but only in the sky and on the top of closest peaks where they were breeding in big colonies. Jukka had also seen a Grey Phalarope.
Arctic species, an Arctic Fox and a rarity
On the 10th of June we woke up at 4.30 a.m. and were soon again down in a coast of Adventfjorden. On the way we recorded some singing Snow Buntings. Antero and Annika had woken up earlier and had already seen an Arctic Fox and some birds. We watched to the sea until 6.30 and saw 3 Sanderlings, a Ringed Plover and a Grey Phalarope. Now there were much more Arctic Terns and less King Eiders – normal spring movements.
We had a good breakfast a t the hotel and after a short rest we took 2 taxis and at 8.00 a.m. left to do birding to Hotellneset pools near the airport. There were only some twenty kilometres of roads in the island but the taxis were working well and useful, it was not aloud to go outside the villages without a gun and now to have a gun a Norwegian shooting licence was needed. So the easiest was to have a car nearby if a Polar Bear comes.
We found some Long-tailed Ducks to photograph, Eiders with some King Eiders and then an Arctic Fox! This funny fox was changing its fur and seemed to have brown swimming trousers. We were following this animal with our scopes as it was walking on the shore until it went behind the rocky coastline. Soon it came visible again and it had managed to catch a female Eider. The prey was so big that we realized that we could follow it easily and try to get much closer to photograph it. And we made it and could get good pictures of this beautiful Arctic Fox eating its prey. After all it got bored and ran under the airport fence.
Meanwhile we were watching the Arctic Fox we saw a flock of 5 teals landing to the pool. I told Hanna to: “Check these Teals carefully because there might be a Green-winged Teal”, and Hanna answered: “Yeas, there is!” So we had there in same time the first ever Arctic Fox and the second ever Green-winged Teal to Spitsbergen in same time! Great! I must say that the Arctic Fox was more interesting as I had seen several Green-winged Teals in a short time.
Other good birds during the trip were 2 Red-throated Divers, 3 Ringed Plovers, a Sanderling and a flock of 30 White Whales that were passing us pretty close. Of course plenty of Eiders, King Eiders, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Little Auks were seen too. As we were now closer to the open sea we could now see lots of Little Auks on the sea too.
Afer a lunch we climped up from Nybyen to the cliffs to listen and record Little Auks. These birds had an amazing call! They were like insects against the sky. We tried to climb close to the colonies but the cliff was too dangerous as there were too many moving stones. On the edges and peaks there were plenty of Glauscous Gulls that were the biggest predators for the colony but also Barnacle Geese that were really breeding up there. We also saw another Arctic Fox that was much more in summer plumage. It was also after a Little Auk or a Ptarmigan snack.
When we walked back to our hotel it was already late. A White Wagtail flew over us and was the second passerine of the trip. After a long day we went to sleep at 11 p.m.
Some sums of the birds were 1000 Fulmars, 40 Pink-footed Geese, 200 Barnacle Geese, 25 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 400 Eiders, 200 King Eiders, 10 Long-tailed Ducks, 35 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Dunlins, 10 Arctic Skuas, 70 Glauscous Gulls, 1000 Kittiwakes, 300 Arctic Terns, 200 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 100 Black Guillemots, 3000 Little Auks and 50 Snow Buntings.
A lifer and other good birds!
On the 11th of June we woke up at 5 a.m. and soon were climbing up to the closest mountain. We climbed for an hour and reached the first top which looked perfect for a Ptarmigan. We were already pretty tired of climbing and were just discussing how much we’d be able to continue when we heard a familiar call of a Ptarmigan right over us. A male Ptarmigan was flying around us and calling a couple of times and then flew around and around and then landed down very close to our hotel!
Getting down back to hotel was easy when we realized that the snow was perfect to run! It wasn’t too hard or soft so we really could run down to hotel in 10 minutes! Then on the backyard of the hotel we heard another Ptarmigan and saw it flying from mountain to another. Ptarmigans in Spitsbergen are own subspecies.
After a breakfast we took a big taxi to the bottom of Adventfjorden to Adventdalen. When we were out from the city we came to a kennel where we found 2 absolutely beautiful Ivory Gulls feeding on a box full of some kind of dog-food. These birds were very tame and easy to photograph. The only wp-tick that we had expected was true! Near the kennel there were lots of Eiders breeding, dogs kept the Arctic Foxes away.
Another good observation was a flock of 22 Teals that passed us quickly. Unfortunately they were all just Teals – we could check them all pretty well from a picture.
We passed Isdammen where locals got their tap-water and where some Red-throated Divers and Long-tailed Ducks were swimming. Soon we reached a Lomdammen pools where we knew some Swedish had seen some Grey Phalaropes. These Swedish had been in Longyearbyen for a week and now on their last day they finally saw their first Ivory Gulls, when we called them to come to a kennel. First we found 6 more Teals, 2 locally rare Goldeneyes, lots of Purple Sandpipers and Dunlins and Pink-footed Geese before we finally found 2 Grey Phalaropes. It was amazing how well these red birds disappeared to the reddish vegetation on the coast of these pools.
Of course we checked a local rubbish tip, but there were only a couple of Glauscous Gulls. On the tundra nearby there were a couple of flocks of Pink-footed Geese and a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese and of course lots of Svalbard Reindeers. On the way back we got a better opportunity to photograph Grey Phalaropes when they had flew to the pool next to the road. The Ivory Gulls weren’t in the kennel anymore, but later the Swedish guys had seen 2 ringed birds – so altogether 4 birds there.
At 10 a.m. we were back at the hotel and an hour later we had to assign our rooms and carry our luggage to a luggage-room to wait for the evening. We had a quick walk in Nybyen but couldn’t find anything new. Little Auks were pretty quiet but Barnacle Geese were noisy. At 1 p.m. we ate again.
At 2 p.m. we packed our luggage to a bus when most of our group-members joined a tourist-tour in Longyearbyen. We and Jukka instead took a taxi to kennel again.
A couple of escaped huskies were running around and scaring all the Eider females away from their eggs, but luckily soon some of the locals that had passed by car called the owner to come and catch the dogs. The dogs weren’t really trying to catch any Eiders but they were panicking anyway. Slowly we walked to our traditional seawatching place where we could twitch a Common Scoter that Jukka and others had found in the morning. Also 6 Red-throated Divers were seen before Jukka found an amazing adult Sabine’s Gull flying low just a couple of metres from the sea. Soon the bird rose up and turned towards us and flew over us before it joined 2 Kittiwakes, rose really high and flew towards the inland. Even though we called to the others and tried to explain where the bird was going the rest of our group couldn’t find the bird – it was flying too high.
To a boat
Soon we continued walking to the harbour. We were there too early but the nice Filipino staff let us to get our cabins and get on the deck of a ship. Expedition was an old Viking Line -ferry (that worked between Finland and Sweden) and so it was pretty familiar. Soon the buses arrived and we could go to get our luggage carried to our cabin.
Already on the harbour I climbed to an upper deck to watch birds but at 6 p.m. we all had to get to inside to listen to safety lecture. We also had a funny test where all of us, 11 Finnish and about 90 other tourists and 50 staff-members, had to go to own cabin and get a lifejacket and go to listen for more instructions and so on.
And to the sea
Soon we were free to climb to the deck again and we saw the first Great Skua of the trip. On the sea we saw of course lots of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Glauscous Gulls, Brunnich’s Guillemots and Little Auks and later also Puffins and the only young Great Black-backed Gull of the trip.
After a lunch at 9 p.m. we anchored to a harbour of a Russian settlement Barentsburg. Most of the tourists went to see this 600 inhabitant’s city but we preferred to go to sleep than go to see this ugly little Russian city. Anyway we could go to Russia whenever we’ like to, if we’d like to.
During the long day we had seen altogether 30 species of birds! Some of the sums were 3000 Fulmars, 32 Teals, 800 Eiders, 100 King Eiders (numbers still getting down), 170 Purple Sandpipers, 10 Arctic Skuas, Glauscous Gulls, 7000 Kittiwakes, 1000 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 150 Black Guillemots, 15 Puffins, 15000 Little Auks and so on.
Living on a boat
On the 12th of June we slept very well until 5.30 a.m. and had a couple of hour seawatching before the good breakfast. The weather was rainy and foggy and the birds were all the time pretty much the same, auks and Kittiwakes and Fulmars.
After the breakfast we had a short visit to the deck before safety info where we were given instructions for the next visit on the land. We were told how to act in a zodiac and again warned about Polar Bears. Then we went by zodiacs to a small Gravneset that was situated in a beautiful Magdalenefjorden.
Magdalenefjorden was a beautiful place and we were told that the surrounding mountain peaks were those that had been the first ones to be discovered by William Barents and because of them the islands had got its name Spitsbergen. But this Gravneset was just a small graveyard of whale-hunters and even the graveyeard was under a thick snow-layer, so we really couldn’t see anything interesting. And we’d have seen more birds from the deck, but of course it was great to go to walk to a deep snow with 90 German tourists… The craziest tourists even went to swim…
To really north
Luckily soon we continue to north again and soon there started to be small ice-rafts on the sea, and soon bigger. Then we knew it started to be the right habitat for Polar Bears and started to do icewatching even keener than seawatching earlier. Pretty soon we were on the deck somehow only together with Antero and then I spotted big reddish-grey mammals laying on the ice-raft – 3 Walruses! Soon we found one more Walrus swimming very close to the boat and this animal was seen by the rest of our group from the restaurant window too. So they ran to the deck and were able to see the laying Walruses too. These animals were more south than normally.
We passed Amsterdamöyan and Dansköyan islands and turned to follow the northern coast of the Spitsbergens main-island Svalbard. In these waters the whale-hunters killed too many whales in past. In one of the outermost islands cliffs we saw a huge colony of Little Auks – they were like mosquitoes in Lapland!
In the afternoon at 5 p.m. we were already surrounded by ice-drifts. Then Hanna found it, a Polar Bear was walking far on the ice! It was surprisingly yellow against the white snow and bluish-grey ice. Even though it was far, maybe 2 kilometres from us, we could see it very well with scopes. We managed to watch it walking for maybe a minute before it went to swim behind ice-drifts. Again all of us hadn’t been on the deck so we ran to tell to staff about a bear as they had told us to do so, if something interesting can be found. The staff had told that they’d make an alarm from loudspeakers and the boat could stop, but now when we asked they weren’t interested at all. They just told that we are in a hurry and we can’t stop. Maybe they didn’t even believe us at all? So we let it be and went to find the rest of our group from their cabins. Luckily it is easy to see far on the sea and luckily we were just zigzagging the ice-drifts while we’re trying to get to the 80th degrees. So soon we were going straight towards the bear again and we found it again! At least I was completely lost because of we were zigzagging so much but somehow we were able to keep the bear in our scopes and find it again when we had lost it and finally all of us had seen it and got the most important lifer of the trip!
While we were still following the Polar Bear we finally managed to zigzag through the ice-drifts to 80th degrees. Then the boat was stopped and champagne was offered. Unfortunately then the bear was so far that it was impossible to show to the tourists. I think a couple of staff-members were able to see it through our scopes but soon we were moving again. We really had a reason to have our glassfuls!
We zigzagged again towards south and soon again we found the same Polar Bear! After all we found and lost this amazing animal 5 times during an hour zigzagging. But again there were nobody else on the deck and of course the bear was all the time getting further and further and finally we lost it.
At 7 p.m. we ate again and after that we were out on the sea in the middle of big ices, so we decided to go to cabin to rest for a while. But soon we heard a call from the loudspeakers that we were getting close to Moffen, a small island where Walruses used to lay down on the sand. But soon we saw that the island was completely surrounded and covered by ice, so there were no Walruses at all. Moffen was also one of the only places where Sabine’s Gulls were breeding in an Arctic Tern colony, but we weren’t able to go that close to the island that we could have identified all the gulls and terns from the island. Because of the ice we had to go around the island far from north.
Soon we found some Walruses from the ice-rifts and swimming. When we had passed Moffen we were so out on the sea that we decided to go to sleep about at 10 p.m.
After all we found out the reason why we’re in a hurry – we were going to try to rescue some skiers that had been waiting for a rescue for some days already on the northernmost top of Svalbard. Ice-drifts had been pushed to the fjords so it had been impossible to go and get them. If the rumours that the skiers were out of food and there were 4 Polar Bears near their tents were true we understand why we weren’t able to stop for a Polar Bear but this doesn’t explain why we still went north to the 80th degrees to celebrate. Anyway we’re going to be whole next day more north than 80th degrees!
Some sums of the birds from the first whole sea-day: 1000 Fulmars, 2 Pink-footed Geese, 50 Barnacle Geese, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 250 Eiders, 2 King Eiders, 6 Arctic Skuas, 6 Great Skuas, 70 Glauscous Gulls, 750 Kittiwakes, 40 Arctic Terns, 30 Puffins, 5000 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 500 Black Guillemots and 50000 Little Auks. We saw a couple of huge colonies of Little Auks during the day! Mammals this north were 6 Svalbard Reindeers, 11 Ringed Seals (including unidentified seals), 23 Walruses and a Polar Bear.
Still zigzagging ice-drifts
On the 13th of June we woke up several times during the very early morning and were checking the ice-situation from the cabin window, but always we saw only open sea. Finally at 5.30 a.m. we saw ice-drifts again, so we wore some 5 to 6 layers of clothes again and climbed up to the deck. Anteros GPS and “gusse” who had been awake late at night could tell us that we had been zigzagging very far in north-east but had never found a place to go even close to the shore and finally turned around and started to go back to west. So we knew already that we hadn’t been able to pick up the skiers.
Right away we saw several Great Skuas and after 45 minutes searching I found a Polar Bear! This bear wasn’t too far so we ran again to tell to captains that we could stop and easily show this bear to the rest of tourists. But the answer that Hanna got was: “So what? Should we shoot it?” So we let it be again and just enjoyed this animal by ourselves. It was walking on ice-drift and then swimming to the next one. The bear always shake the water away from its fur.
If the staff had been co-operative we could have gone closet to this Polar Bear because of there was a straight open water line towards it and it was on our side of a big ice-drift. But now we had maybe a kilometre so I really couldn’t get any good pictures of it. And it was till only 6.45 a.m. so the rest of the tourists were still on their cabins, so again there were only us Finns seeing the bear.
After a long and slowly zigzagging we were back near Moffen again. We had a short Zodiac-cruise to see ice-drifts closer. I think everyone would have been more interested to see Walruses or Polar Bear instead of ice, but it was nice anyway. Luckily we didn’t get wet even though the sea wasn’t very calm. Jaakkolas stayed on the deck and of course when the rest of us were in Zodiacs they managed to see a Sabine’s Gull.
When we were back on the deck Hanna found a flock of 3 Grey Phalaropes that were flying over Moffen and when we started to move again I found an Ivory Gull that was feeding something on the ice with a flock of Kittiwakes and Fulmars. And soon Antero found the third Polar Bear of the trip! But this one was so far that we were sure there was no hope to show it to the rest of tourists.
Hard northern wind had pushed much more ice to our route and it really seemed that we might be stuck but carefully (maybe even too carefully) the captain zigzagged the ice-rifts trying to avoid to push through them even though these kind of Finnish ships were really made to this kind of conditions. Finally it seemed that the staff had realized that there might be a possibility that most of the tourists might never see a Polar Bear and they suddenly became very interested to the surrounding wildlife. The loudspeakers called that watch out for Polar Bears and Walruses – what the hell they thought that we had been already doing for 2 days? We hadn’t been sitting inside the restaurants and drinking bear like average German tourist… We were already pretty sure that all the Polar Bears of the trip had already been found – they had all been very north because of the ice-situation. All the fjords were completely full of ice so the best whale-hunting places were far on the sea. Well so on the crew was announcing all the lumps that were laying on the ice-drifts as Walruses what ever they were, Walruses or Ringed Seals – and tourists were running around the deck. All they saw about Polar Bear were pretty fresh footprints – wow!
After we had seen the first Long-tailed Skua of the trip and a couple of more Ivory Gulls I felt myself too tired to go on and went down to cabin to try to sleep. And then of course I missed the only important announcing call of the whole trip – there were a couple of Minke Whales just in front of the boat. After all Hanna woke me up with our radiophones but it was already too late. We were then in the middle of huge ice-drifts and we were really moving slowly! But maybe because of the ice we soon managed to more whales! Soon we also identified the first Bearded Seals of the trip.
We stayed up on the deck until midnight when the sea finally opened and we were free. The nice and sunny weather (even at midnight the sun was very high) had changed to windy and foggy and on the horizon we saw huge storm-clouds and a thick fog was coming towards us. So we decided to go to sleep.
Observations on the second full day at sea were: 4 Red-throated Divers, 400 Fulmars, 6 Barnacle Geese, 12 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 40 Eiders, 5 Arctic Skuas, a Long-tailed Skua, 16 Great Skuas, 100 Glauscous Gulls, a Sabine’s Gull, 3 Ivory Gulls, 150 Arctic Terns, 500 Kittiwakes, a Purple Sandpiper, 3 Grey Phalaropes, 15 Puffins, 3000 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 150 Black Guillemots, 1500 Little Auks, 38 Walruses, 4 Bearded Seals, 8 Ringed Seals (including unidentified seals), 2 Polar Bears, 10 White Whales and 6 Minke Whales.
I must say that after we had been celebrating the crossing of 80th degrees and left in a hurry to try to rescue the skiers, we were after all more than a day more north than 80th degrees. The most northern point we had in GPS was 80.19 degrees and on the northeaster most point we were “gusse” could already the mountains of Nordaustlandet.
Ny Ålesund and already getting a little bit easier
On the 14th of June we woke up again a couple of times to look out but the weather was still foggy. Somehow we managed to go under the storm so the sea was still pretty calm. Finally we woke up at 6.30 a.m. and after we had packed our luggage went to have breakfast. During the night we had arrived at Kongsfjorden. After the breakfast we anchored to Blomstrandhalvöya, where a couple of staff-members were left to put up tents for the summer-cruises. We went to the deck to look at a stunning views, the fjord was surrounded by many glaciers.
At 9.30 a.m. we got again some instructions and at 10 a.m. we anchored to Ny Ålesund. Already at harbour we saw an Ivory Gull that flew somewhere to this small village of 40 to 100 reseachers village. After we had been listening some stories about the village we had about an hour free time to wonder around it. From the small pools we found some tame Long-tailed Ducks and Snow Buntings were singing on the roofs of houses. There was of course a souvenir-shop in this most northern commune of the world, and there were pretty good products, but our shopping was intercepted by a call that there was a tame Arctic Fox on the back-yard. This ear-marked female fox was living under one house and I got pretty good pictures of it. Of course then the staff started to hurry us back to the boat! They really managed to spoil every single situation that had something to do with animals! Luckily I managed to get good enough pictures before we had to walk to the boat to wait for the rest of staff and tourists that came much after us.
The last Zodiac-cruise was as boring as the previous ones. We went to see some old hunting-hut called Camp Zoë. The only interesting thing was a Ptarmigan that was perched on a big rock on the top of one mountain.
Soon we left to continue towards south again. We tried to rest a bit again but right then the staff started a long loudspeaker marathon. They really wanted to get all the drinks paid. After the dinner it was time for a farewell ceremony where a captain had the nerve to claim that he was sorry that we never saw any Polar Bears – I was pretty close to go and show him a picture and ask a couple of well chosen questions…
We still had a long way back to Longyearbyen but at 11 p.m. we went to sleep. Some of our group stayed still a couple of hours either on the deck or tin the Polar Bear restaurant. But we had an early wake up again. So we missed a couple of Killer Whales that some of our group saw at night.
During the last sea-day we saw 10 Red-throated Divers, 300 Fulmars, 15 Pink-footed Geese, 100 Barnacle Geese, 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 6 King Eiders, 500 Eiders, 4 Long-tailed Ducks, a Ptarmigan, 30 Purple Sandpipers, a Dunlin, 15 Arctic Skuas, 5 Great Skuas, 250 Glauscous Gulls, an Ivory Gull, 1000 Kittiwakes, 200 Arctic Terns, 5000 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 80 Puffins, 80 Black Guillemots, 8000 Little Auks, 15 Snow Buntings, an Arctic Fox, 70 Svalbard Reindeers, 9 Walruses, 3 Bearded Seals, 30 Ringed Seals (including unidentified seals), 50 White Whales, a Minke Whale and 2 Killer Whales.
I must still say that even though I have given critique to a staff of the boat, the only bad persons were in officers and also local guides that couldn’t turn the officers’ heads. The Filipino crew that were servants and cleaners and so on were amazing nice and helpful! And of course I must say that after all the whole boat-trip was amazing and it is really must to any person who goes to Spitsbergen – people just can’t affort that any animals will be shown to them – they must prepare to work to see them!
Some last day birding in a stormy weather
On the 15th of June we woke before 4 a.m. The boat was already on the harbour of Longyearbyen. We packed our luggage and carried together with Annika and Antero them out. With Antero we went to try to find a car that we had rent. It was told to be in the harbour but it wasn’t. After some half an hour searching we found it in front of the car-rental. Luckily we knew what kind of car we were supposed to have because of the Swedish guys had had the same car.
Luckily our Toyota Yaris had keys (or some kind of button-thing) inside and we could drive back to harbour. Even though my previous experiences of Yaris weren’t very good (check our Madeira trip), we were soon driving with a car full of luggage to our hotel. We left our luggage to a luggage-room and went back to pick up Hanna and Annika and left birding.
We passed the airport and the pools and drove to Björndalen. We knew somewhere there was a Little Auk colony where it was possible to get closer to them. First we walked as far to the valley as it was possible and managed to get close to the edges but there were only Brunnich’s Guillemots and too far. So then we drove back a little bit and found a less steep mountain where were lot of Little Auk flying around and some also perched on the rocks. So we decided to start climbing. Antero went to the other side and me, Hanna and Annika started to climb on the snow up to the mountain. There were lots of loose stones so it was important to know where the rest of us were climbing because of a little stone can cause a big landfall.
The first Little Auks were reached easily and Hanna and Annika stopped there to get pictures. I hoped to get higher and closer to the colony to get some recordings. I managed to get pretty high but there was very windy. Also the Little Auks weren’t calling enough just one here and one there. I did manage to get some kind of recordings and also from high calls of Black Guillemot. I also saw an Arctic Fox and heard a Ptarmigan. Again it was very easy to go back to the car – we were just running or sliding on the snow.
After we had photographed a Pale-bellied Brent Goose that was next to the road we continued to city and went shopping when the shops opened at 10 a.m. Soon we continued to another side of the city, passed the kennel and continued until Grey Phalarope pools. The wind has started to blow very strong and it was also raining so getting out of the car wasn’t very clever. But luckily we managed to find good birds to photograph from the car! First we found 2 couples of King Eiders that were very close the road. Then we found a Long-tailed Skua that was unfortunately gone with the wind soon. And then Hanna and Annika got a good opportunity to photograph a male Long-tailed Duck swimming in icy water.
Near the rubbish tip we saw again Pink-footed Geese, but we continued as long as the road was going, which was not far. The road that was leading to a mine climbed and climbed up to a mountain but it went soon so bad that it was impossible to continue. Annika and Hanna were brave enough to go to get some pictures of a view to the Adventdalen but the storm was so hard that it was almost impossible! On the way back to the city we still got an opportunity to photograph Grey Phalaropes.
At 12 a.m. we went to a restaurant Kroa where the rest of our group already where. The restaurant was made from the wood that the sea had brought. The portions were huge and food was good!
At 1 p.m. we dropped Hanna and Annika to a airport, went with Antero to get our luggage and then left our car to airport parking. Then we still had to pack everything again.
Our plane left in time at 2.45 p.m. and again our first stop was in Troms. And again we had to re-check-in everything even though we soon continued by same plane to Oslo. At 6.50 p.m. we landed to Oslo where we spent a couple of hours before we continued to Stockholm. Somewhere we had time to count our last days birds too and what we got were: 9 Red-throated Divers, 500 Fulmars, 40 Pink-footed Geese, 150 Barnacle Geese, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Teals, 600 Eiders, 100 King Eiders, 15 Long-tailed Ducks, a Ptarmigan, 100 Purple Sandpipers, 10 Dunlins, 4 Ringed Plovers, 3 Grey Phalaropes, 15 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas, a Long-tailed Skua, 140 Glauscous Gulls, 700 Kittiwakes, 350 Arctic Terns, 200 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 4 Puffins, 60 Black Guillemots, 500 Little Auks, 30 Snow Buntings and a White Wagtail that the rest of our group had seen near a kennel.
Finally at 1 a.m. we landed to Helsinki and the luggage were found quickly. We said goodbye to our incredible group and left to different directions – some drove just half an hour at home, some had a longer way and somebody was so crazy that he left straight to Kalajoki to twitch a White’s Thrush… But after all we had had a great trip again!
Still some information about what we saw in Spitsbergen:
Altogether we saw 33 bird and 9 mammal species.
Normally there are about 30 species breeding in Spitsbergen, but altogether in the whole archipelago there has been at least 203 species seen. Some species that we didn’t see but normally are found there were Turnstone, Pintail, Golden Plover, Iceland Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Pomarine Skua. In Longyearbyen we saw 32 species. Some birds that we saw only in Longyearbyen were Teal (40), of course the 2nd ever Green-winged Teal of Spitsbergen. A Common Scoter was seen near a harbour in one day and 2 Goldeneyes in Lomdammen. Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers were seen maybe six individuals and a White Wagtail was seen twice. From the boat we saw 26 birdspecies. Only species that we saw only from the boat was a Great Black-backed Gull. Also only Great Skua of Longyearbyen was seen from boat. Only one Puffin was seen near Longyearbyen. Sabine’s Gulls were seen once from Longyearbyen and once from the boat near Moffen and also Long-tailed Skua was seen once in sea and once in land. One Ptarmigan was seen on a boat-trip – it was found when we were in land but it was seen also from the boat.
The mammals we saw in Longyearbyen were mostly just Svalbard Reindeers, but also some Arctic Foxes and a flock of 30 White Whales in mouth of Adventfjorden. From the ship we saw 3 Polar Bears, 70 Walruses, 49 Ringed Seals (including unidentified seals), 7 Bearded Seals, 7 Minke Whales, 2 Killer Whales and 60 White Whales and of course more Svalbard Reindeers and an Arctic Fox in Ny Ålesund.
And more info about the birds we saw:
Red-throated Diver: (about 20 in Longyearbyen and 17 from the ship) the number of breeding pairs of Spitsbergen in not well known but some kind of estimate is from 500 to 1000 pairs.
Fulmar: (about 2000 from Longyearbyen and 4100 from the ship) Most of the Fulmars this north are darkish form but there is all kind of colour-morphs. 125 colonies have been registered in the area, but the number of individuals is not known.
Pink-footed Goose: (a bit more than 100 in Longyearbyen and 17 from the ship) the number had been estimated to be about 52000 individuals. The counts have been done in the wintering grounds Denmark, Nederland and Belgium in late autumn 2005.
Barnacle Goose: (about 400 in Longyearbyen and 256 from the ship) The number of birds has increased very much also in Svalbard. The estimate was about 27000 individuals on counts that were made in wintering grounds in Britain in winter 2005.
Pale-bellied Brent Goose: (about 60 in Longyearbyen and 17 on the ship-trip) In Spitsbergen there is a sub-species of Brent Goose is hrota (Pale-bellied). The number of breeding birds is pretty small and in winter 2005 in wintering grounds was counted only from 7000 to 7500 birds. The number has been dramatically declining, still in the beginning of 20th century there were estimated to be about 50000 pairs.
Teal: (about 40 in Longyearbyen) there are only some records of breeding Teals in Spitsbergen.
Green-winged Teal: (1 male with 3 male and 1 female Teal) had been seen only once before in Spitsbergen.
Eider: (about 500 in Longyearbyen and 1470 from the ship) is the most numerous duck in Spitsbergen. The total breeding population is estimated to be somewhere between 13500 and 27500 pairs and the late summer population can number 80000-140000 individuals.
King Eider: (some hundreds in Longyearbyen and 8 on the boat-trip) Estimated number of autumn population is from 2500 to 5000 birds.
Long-tailed Duck: (about 30 in Longyearbyen and 4 in Ny Ålesund) the number of breeding pairs in Svalbard is not more than 1000 pairs. In warm winters Long-tailed Ducks can be seen in area.
Common Scoter: (1 male in Longyearbyen) is not very rare visitor in Spitsbergen, maybe even a breeding bird – at least in Björnöya.
Goldeneye: (2 in Lomdammen, another 2 c-y male and another in female plumage) has been seen in Spitsbergen less than 20 times. There are no trees with holes around for breeding.
Svalbard Ptarmigan: (13 in Longyearbyen and 1 from the ship) is the only bird that stays around the year in Spitsbergen! The sub-species is endemic hyperborea. There are no good population estimates of the number of Ptarmigans, but the species can be found everywhere apart from the north-easternmost parts, Björnöya and most icy areas. In area where Ptarmigans have been studied there has been from 3 to 5 pairs in square kilometre.
Ringed Plover: (Less than 10 in Longyearbyen) number of the birds is not well known but has been estimated to be between 300 and 600 pairs.
Sanderling: (about 5 in Longyearbyen) The breeding population is thought to be very small, perhaps 20-100 pairs.
Purple Sandpiper: (a couple of hundreds in Longyearbyen and 31 on the ship-trip) is the most common wader of the area. There has been estimated to be between 2000 to 10000 pairs.
Dunlin: (about 20 in Longyearbyen and 1 in Ny Ålesund) is breeding in Spitsbergen only with 100 to 200 pairs, but the number is increasing.
Grey Phalarope: (from 5 to 8 in Longyearbyen and 3 from the ship in Moffen) Number of breeding pairs is from 200 to 1000 pairs. The whole European breeding population is estimated to be about 390-1700 pairs.
Arctic Skua: (more than 20 in Longyearbyen and 34 on the boat-trip) is breeding in Spitsbergen with 1000-2000 pairs.
Long-tailed Skua: (1 in Lomdammen and 1 from the ship) the breeding has only been observed a few times, in these islands that don’t have any lemmings or voles.
Great Skua: (30 from the boat) has been getting more common quickly. The first breeding birds were found in 1970 in Björnöya, and now there are estimated to be from 300 to 500 pairs in Spitsbergen, 150 pairs of them in Björnöya.
Sabine’s Gull: (1 in Longyearbyen and 1 in Moffen) in Moffen there are yearly from 1 to 5 pairs breeding. On other parts of Spitsbergen there are only some breeding pairs found. Observations in recent years are indicating that there might be breeding birds somewhere near Longyearbyenen on Isfjorden. Sabine’s Gulls are breeding in
Arctic Tern colonies and there are plenty of them in the western coast.
Glauscous Gull: (a couple of hundreds in Longyearbyen and 700 from the ship) is the worst raptor for other birds in Spitsbergen. The number of breeding pairs is between 4000 and 10000 pairs.
Great Black-backed Gull: (1 2nd c-y from the ship) is a rare breeder in islands with 150 to 200 pairs. The species was found first breeding on Björnöya in 1921 and on Spitsbergen in 1930.
Kittiwake (a couple of thousands in Longyearbyen and 16750 from the ship) is the most common gull and estimation of the breeding pairs is 270000.
Ivory Gull: (2 in kennel in Longyearbyen plus a ringed bird that Annika and Antero saw plus another ringed bird that only Swedish birders saw, 1 in Ny Ålesund and 3 on the sea) estimated number of breeding pairs is 270 pairs and another estimate is from 200 to 750 pairs. The whole world population is about 14000 pairs.
Arctic Tern: (about 300 in Longyearbyen and 440 on the ship-trip) it has been difficult to estimate the numbers of breeding birds because of the colonies are changing locations, but it is less than 10000 pairs.
Brunnich’s Guillemot: (a couple of hundreds from Longyearbyen and 13900 from the ship) colonies are known to be 142 in Spitsbergen and in biggest colonies there are more than 10000 pairs! Breeding population is estimated to be about 850000 pairs.
Black Guillemot: (about 100 in Longyearbyen and 880 from the ship) stays better near to colonies around the year and can be wintering in Spitsbergen in warm winters. The estimation of breeding pairs is roughly 20000.
Little Auk: (a couple of thousands in Longyearbyen and 70000 from the ship) is the most numerous breeding bird in Spitsbergen, more than a million pairs! The estimation of number of breeding pairs in the whole world is 15 million pairs, so it is probably the most numerous seabird of the world.
Puffin: (only 1 in Hotellneset and 144 from the ship) estimated number of breeding pairs is about 10000.
White Wagtail: (1 male flew over our hotel and later maybe the same was found from a kennel) is very rare breedin species or just a rare visitor in Spitsbergen.
Snow Bunting: (about 60 in Longyearbyen and 15 on the ship-trip) is a common bird near villages and is like a House Sparrow there, breeding on the houses and coming to feeders. It is also spread all around the tundra. Snow Bunting is the only passerine regurarly breeding in Spitsbergen! The population is estimated to be somewhere between 1000 and 10000 pairs.
Polar Bear: (3 from the ship but all pretty far) On Sea Barents (from Spitsbergen to Franz Josef Land) there were estimated to be about 3000 Polar Bears in counts in August of 2004. Half of them are using Spitsbergen during their mate. Because of Polar Bears it is not aloud to go out from the villages with out a gun and nowadays to have a gun a Norwegian shooting licence is needed.
Bearded Seal: (7 on the western sea) the estimation of population in Spitsbergen is some thousands of individuals.
Ringed Seal: (49 including unidentified seals – mostly on western coast) is the most common seal on Spitsbergen: there are at least 100000 individuals.
Walrus: (70 from the ship – almost all very north) The Svalbard population is thought to include 2000 individuals but he number is slowly increasing.
Minke Whale: (7 on the western sea) is the most common rorqual whale in Spitsbergen, the estimated number of individuals in north-eastern Atlantic stock is numbering well over 100000 animals.
Killer Whale: (2 on the western sea) the estimated number of individuals in the world is around 100000. It is not an easy species to sea in Spitsbergen – only some of our group saw it now.
White Whale: (90 – 30 near mouth of Adventdalen and 60 from the ship on the western sea) There is no good estimation, but it is the most common whale in the area. The estimated number in the world is 200000 individuals.
Svalbard Reindeer: (more than 200 in Longyearbyen and 76 on the ship-trip) This short-legged big-headed platyrhynchos (sub)species is nowadays known to be a closer relative to eastern deers than Skandinavian reindeers. There is no good estimation of the population but it is stable and the species is common everywhere except in the biggest glaciers.
Arctic Fox: (4 in Longyearbyen and 1 in Ny Ålesund) the population is stable in Spitsbergen, but there is no good estimation of the numbers. Between Adventdalen and Sassadalen (ca. 900km2 area) there are estimated to be about 1 to 1.5 Arctic Foxes in 10 km2. It is known that some of these foxes are carrying rabies.