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Birding around Longyearbyen

Birding around Longyearbyen

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a 50 percent discount offer for a Polar Bear Special cruise around Spitsbergen. Sailing with an icebreaker to see polar bears? Count me in! Seeing a polar bear is something a lot of nature enthusiasts want to do at some point in their life and for me this was no different. The benefit of booking late is also that you don’t have to wait very long before the trip starts. So, after having had a long travel and a night sleeping on the floor of Gardermoen airport in Oslo, my plane finally landed at the airport of Longyearbyen. The ship will depart tomorrow afternoon so I have time to do some birding before the actual trip starts. After I’ve put away my stuff it’s time to go birding!

At the camping, that lies just a bit outside of Longyearbyen, it’s possible to rent bikes and that is what I want to do. Of course I walk along the waterline from the ship to the camping, I might get some nice birds on the way! Pretty soon the first ducks are flying by, sadly they are just common eiders. The next duck that flies by is something different though, this time not a common eider but a beautiful male King Eider! This was one of my biggest wish species and it’s nice that it happens so soon. Also some purple sandpipers allow themselves to be photographed from close range. Everything is very tame! Close to the camping several Arctic Terns are breeding and they attack everything that comes close to them, an Arctic Fox must have made up its mind if it wants to sneak away something there!

Purple Sandpiper

Arctic Tern

When I’ve picked up my bike, I’m traveling a bit faster, but soon I have to stop for a very cool adult breeding plumage Parasitic Jaeger. He is quite easy to approach, although he turns out to be not really in the mood for attention. Just like the Arctic Terns he attacks ferociously. So when I’ve got my shots I leave him quickly alone. Snow Bunting in summer plumage was also a wish and it’s also easy to see, but getting a photo takes a bit of time. The dog kennels should be the place for seeing Ivory Gull. A mythical species that is really at the top of my wish list. First I pay a visit to a couple of birders that are scoping off a large number of ducks. They have found a Stellers Eider! Also for this place a rare species, I had hoped for it because it was reported earlier. While I’m still standing there suddenly an ivory gull flies by! He goes in the direction of the dog kennels and there I’m also able to get a pretty nice picture of it. I’m very happy that I’ve seen this species already so soon!

Parasitic Jaeger

Snow Bunting

Ivory Gull

Glaucous Gull

I turn back to the ship for a nice meal, after which the last hours are spent next to a stunning pair of Red Phalarope. They are both in the great summer plumage that these birds have and together with their characteristic tameness they are really birds that deserve a lot of attention. Because it doesn’t get dark here, it’s really tempting to keep going, but I go to bed at 1 am.

Red Phalarope (female left, male right)

The next morning I’m going out early again, because I’ve gotten a tip that outside of the village should be a colony of Little Auks. On the way there I see Parasitic Jaegers harass an Arctic Fox together. Sadly too far away for really good photos but I’m glad with my first Arctic Fox anyway.

Arctic Fox

For Little Auks I have to do a bit of climbing and on the way I have flocks of Little Auks flying around me. Finally I’ve found a small group that I can approach to a few meters and luckily they don’t move. Fantastic! It’s a very cool experience to sit by yourself on a mountain slope while calling Little Auks are flying all around you. This is why you visit Spitsbergen!

Little Auk

When I’ve finally had enough from the Little Auks, I suddenly hear a bird calling. Soon I see what it is: a Rock Ptarmigan is flying down! This was the final species I had hoped to see and it works along very nicely. I see where the bird lands and I can approach it to the distance of one (!) meter! Time for a picture of the bird it’s environment!

Rock Ptarmigan

After this successful morning I turn back. Near the camping I’m able to get better pictures of a nice male Red Phalarope.

In the afternoon the ship takes off to the North, to the polar bears!

After I’ve come back from a great trip, I have almost a whole day to go birding. Puffins, Black Guillemots and Thick-billed Murres were all very well seen during the trip.


Black Guillemot

Thick-billed Murre

Ivory Gull

I pick up my bike again at the camping and I cycle now to the east side of the island because somewhere there it should be possible to see Red-necked Phalaropes, a species that has eluded me so far. First however a pair of Long-tailed Ducks allow themselves to be approached, you can see where it gets its name from!

Long-tailed Duck (female in front, male behind)

I’m in luck because I can get a lift from Americans I’ve met on the ship. The Red-necked Phalaropes appear to be quite a long way outside of the village so that saves me a lot of kilometres cycling. These spinning tops are less easy to photograph then their red nephews but finally I’m happy with the result. All birds are in great summer plumage of course.

Red-necked Phalarope

On the other side of the road is a pair of King Eider sitting with a pair of great adult breeding-plumage Red-throated Loons.

Red-throated Loon

From both species I didn’t have any closeups yet but that’s done now too! King Eiders are so beautiful…

King Eider (female left, male right)

After a well-spent day, I sleep for a few hours at the camping before the plane leaves at 1 am in the night. When I leave my tent an hour before the flight, I see an Arctic Fox walking by, it’s quickly welcomed by screeching Arctic Terns. A great end to a great trip!

Do you want to read more about the Polar Bears? Click here!

For the tripreport, go to mammalwatching.com



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