Svalbard 09-19.08 2011
This is the trip report from the second photo expeditions to Svalbard in 2011 (9–19/8 2011) .
Day 1 – 09.08.2011 At 16:00 we were ready for departure and this time we sailed on board the M/S Stockholm. The 12 participants included four photographers from Spain, two from Austria and six from Norway. We sailed out via Isfjorden and our first stop was at Alkehornet. We observed a few Brünnich’s Guillemot chicks jumping from the bird cliffs, but not in large numbers. One chick was eaten directly by a Glaucous gull, but the rest of the chicks were safe. After Alkehornet we headed straight north.
Day 2 – 10.08.2011 This was a transport leg, and a bit slower than expected because of strong headwinds. We approached Nordaustlandet in the evening.
Day 3 – 11.08.2011 After breakfast we went ashore at Lågøya to search for the Sabine’s gull. In about an hour we found six Sabine’s gulls feeding close to the shore. Mariann was the first one to see a Polar bear on this trip, but it was quite far away.
Just north of Lågøya we found an accommodating polar bear on the drift ice. This bear was curious and approached our ship. Very funny, and the wide angles were the best choice for most of the situations. We found two more bears in the evening, so we had already seen four polar bears on this expedition.
Day 4 – 12.08.2011 After yesterday’s highlights, we started our journey eastward into the drift ice. According to the ice maps this should be virtually impossible, but with captain Per and first officer Peter we made our way through, closely followed by Kittiwakes, Ivory gulls and Glaucous gulls. Skuas were also around us, and we saw all four different species during the day. We also saw two polar bears on the pack ice, surrounded by the beautiful Arctic landscape.
After some hours in the ice we finally arrived at the eastern part of Nordaustlandet. I had doubts about reaching here, so a big thanks to the crew!
Near Raschøya we lowered our two zodiacs and had some great hours in the water. The highlight was a polar bear who came close to us on a small island (polar bear count – seven!). There were also hundreds of Arctic terns in the area, preparing for their long flight to Antarctica. We were back to the ship just before 04:00.
Day 5 – 13.08.2011 After breakfast we sailed to Storøya into the drift ice again. We found a new polar bear, but not a very cooperative one. Closer to shore, there were about a hundred walruses in the water. The walrus groups consists largely of young animals which can only be found on the east side of the archipelago. Two or three of the walrus groups were curious and came close to our drifting zodiacs. At Storøya we also saw five polar bears, but they were all too far away.
After seeing the walruses we sailed into the ice looking for more polar bears. After dinner, we found two new polar bears at virtually the same spot so we turned off the engines and drifted with the pack ice. This was a good decision, as one of the bears came very close. The bear stood up on two feet against the ship, and this was one of my best bear encounters ever! With today’s eight bears, we had now seen 15 bears in total.
Day 6 – 14.08.2011 After breakfast we started the engine and searched more for polar bears and walrus in the ice. There were hundreds of walruses on pack ice, but most of them were very shy. Because of some ocean fog, it was difficult to locate the bears, but in the afternoon it cleared up and we had perfect conditions for photography again. Just as we were on our way out of the pack ice, we spotted a new polar bear, and after an hour we got some really great photos. We also saw a swimming polar bear (total count – 17) the same evening.
Day 7 – 15.08.2011 At 2:45 we had the next polar bear alarm, but this bear was not very cooperative and slid into the water. So we went back to our cabins to get some sleep. At 3:28 there was a new alarm. This polar bear (# 20) was more relaxed, and he also had a fresh seal kill. 15+ Ivory gulls were around the polar bear, and this was truly a very rare experience.
After this bear encounter near the Austfonna glacier, fog descended and we finally got some much-needed sleep. Around lunch time we had a short sightseeing trip near the Bråsvellbreen glacier, but unfortunately, in thick fog. So we sailed to the island of Wahlbergøya where we combined a picnic with walrus photography.
Day 8 – 16.08.2011 After breakfast we were at Alkefjellet, where there were still thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemot in the bird cliffs. The fog gave us some dramatic light conditions with the birds against the darker rock.
We continue north through Hinlopen and away from the haze. In this area we found four Blue whales, and got some amazing backlit shots of one of the whales with the mountains in the background.
After the whales we sailed to Liefdefjorden. The inner fjord was packed with glacier ice, but we still decided to use our zodiacs. This was a great decision as we found some really nice Ivory gulls and other seagulls close to the glacier. This was a great night with nice weather and a midnight sun.
Day 9 – 17.08.2011 At lunch we wake up to another great day, and it was tempting to relax in the sun on deck. We observed polar bear #20 and #21 during the day, and at midnight we entered the great Lilliehööksfjorden. This glacier was also calfing a lot so it was dense with drifting glacier ice in the bay. We photographed ice, landscape, bearded seals, Northern fulmars and other birds, before we came back to the ship just after 04:00. Hundreds of Northern fulmars and 2–3 Ivory gulls were flying around our ship. We photographed them in beautiful light.
Day 10 – 18.08.2011 On our way south to Longyearbyen we had a short break at Daudmannsodden. At midnight we arrived at Longyeaerbyen, but it wasn’t easy to sleep after all these great experiences and photo opportunities. This was an incredible trip and everybody was happy at the end of this photo expedition.
Which species did we see during the trip?
Here is an overview of what species of birds and animals we observed during our 10-day expedition:
Mammals: Polar bear (21), Blue whale (4), Walrus (500+), Harp seal (25+), Bearded seal (5+), Ringed seal (10+), Svalbard reindeer (10+), Arctic fox (5).
Birds: Sabine’s gull (6), Ivory gull (50+), Glaucous gull (250+), Black-legged kittiwake (1000+), Northern fulmar (1000+), Pomarine skua (5+), Great skua (5+), Parasitic skua (10+), Long-tailed skua (3), Brunnich’s guillemot (10.000+), Atlantic puffin (30+), Black guillemot (100+), Little auk (100+), Red-throated loon (5+), Common eider (25+), Mallard (10+), Arctic tern (500+), Red Phalarope (25+), Purple sandpiper (10+), Snøspurv (5+).