Monday, 9 June 2014

Big Year in Svalbard

It has been a while. The reason is that I am doing my annual Arctic visit. Doing a Big Year means spending a lot of money on travelling, flights, car rental, toll roads and let alone petrol. Now I have moved to Svalbard for most of the summer to earn some money. This means two things. I miss out on an unknown amount of rarities that turns up on the mainland Norway. First half of June is usually a very good period for rare birds, so this might be the thing that actually can make me fail the record attempt. On the other hand, I make some money working as a polar bear and photo guide, and I get to see some of the Arctic specialties that are pretty hard to tick off on the mainland. It also means that I am out of internet most of the time, so that my blog only get updated when I spend a few hours ashore every tenth day or so.

On my way to Svalbard, I had an overnight stop to tick off one the rarest breeding birds in Norway. Valdakmyra in Porsanger in the very northernmost part of Norway is the only place where Lesser white-fronted goose (dverggås) is possible to see. So on the 30th May I went on an overnight trip. On the way there, I had a few hours in Tromsø, where I managed to tick off Temminck’s stint (temmincknipe) and pay the most expensive bus ride of my life so far. NOK45 for a 7 minutes bus ride is pretty steep even for a Norwegian. I also discovered that one of my favoruite birding areas in near the town had been sacrificed to build a longer runway at the airport. A few hours later I was meeting up with Tomas and Ingar, who are doing research and monitoring work on the Lesser white-fronted goose. The weather was incredible, and a beautiful midnight sun, some fried fish on the pan with a bon fire and a stunning view over the Valdakmyra nature reserve where about 50 ruff were lekking, 6 lesser white-fronted geese feeding and displaying Jack snipe (kvartbekkasin - another Big Year bird) on the sky made this to an unforgettable night. Short-eared owl (jordugle) and a Hawk owl (haukugle) were hunting nearby as well. I didn’t even bother to go into the lavo to sleep, but just put my sleeping bag on the ground with some rein deer skin as a sleeping mat (sami style). Very nice indeed.

The next day, I woke up early. However, Willow grouse (lirype) and a local Blue throat (blåstrupe) were up much earlier and had been displaying their colors and song all night long. I then went on my two o’clock flight to Svalbard. The next day, I was meeting new clients for another Svalbard adventure.

New birds: 3
Total: 257


Off we went, for the next 9 days we were searching for polar bears and other Arctic inhabitants that was the main objective of the trip for the international group of photographer onboard our vessel. With the current ice conditions, things looked very promising indeed. I do work exclusively for WildPhoto Travel as a photoguide in these areas. WildPhoto organizes trips in Svalbard, Galapagos, and the Antarctic, and the small team of 5, where 3 of us are professional photographers ensures that our clients come home with high quality pictures. In my opinion (and this might sound like bragging), the experience of the local areas and wildlife and our photography skills that the WildPhoto team represents, makes WildPhoto the very best choice available for photography trips in Svalbard. However, on this trip, finding a close up polar bear proved a bit more challenging than ideal. Despite seeing at least 14 bears – none of them came in very close. But we did see them hunting, feeding on a ringed seal in front of amazing glacier cliffs and of course some stunning landscape and birds made this to yet another very satisfying trip indeed. For my Big Year list, I haven’t seen anything unexpected but good birds such as Grey phalarope (polarsvømmenipe), Brünnich’s guillemot and Ivory gull (ismåke) – in my mind the jewel of the Arctic - ensured 3 more birds added on the list. The latter put on a very good show around our small ship, while waiting for 8 polar bears on the ice to approach our ship. 
Every Svalbard expedition needs some Fulmar pictures (havhest) to be complete

I know this is a birding blog at the moment, but guiding people to
great polar bear (isbjörn) experiences is after all very high on the agenda during
my stay here.

Ivory gull (ismåke), THE reason for birders to visit Svalbard, and new to my
Big Year list. Big Year bird #260.

Arctic tern (rödnebbterne) showing off.

....and more fulmar (havhest) or four?

Mixed flock of king eider (praktärfugl) and common eider (ärfugl) in front
of a typical Svalbard scenery.

Anyway, I now have only two more birds I am sure to add on my Big Year list up here. But who knows what happens – surprises happens when you least expect them to J


New Birds: 3
Total: 260       

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