The following photographs were taken during the last 5 years on our various tours to Spitsbergen.
The first section were snapped by Andy and following that are a swathe of Phils from
previous years. We next plan to go to Spitsbergen in 2012.
All the above pictures were taken by Andy in 2010. Those below are from earlier years by Phil.
This year's tour succeeded in locating the Big Five of the Arctic: Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Walrus, Ivory Gull and Little Auk.
Our timing was perfect, with many young birds around, good weather, good bears and good ice. Conditions allowed us to circumnavigate Spitsbergen, something that ice conditions do not always permit.
The approach to Longyearbyen on the last day of 24 hour daylight.
Following a comfortable night in the hotel and a hearty breakfast, we located the endemic Svalbard Reindeer on the slopes above town the next morning.
They were moulting the velvet from their antlers.
Young Snow Buntings are grey & we found plenty on this tour - even in town.
Arctic Skuas nest close to town and this youngster was still being fed by its parents.
Arctic Terns had almost finished breeding. Just a few large youngsters remained. The adults came to investigate us, but were not as aggressive as they can be early in the year.
Boarding the ship in the evening, we cruised out of Isfjorden under the first sunset of the autumn.
The next morning, we entered a fjord on the west side of Spitsbergen in search of bears
A Glaucous Gull flies in front of the massive glacier wall
At the base of the glacier, thousands of Kittiwakes gather to feed on invertebrates.
The Ivory Gull is scarce, but with persistence can be located among the throngs of Kittiwakes.
It is easier to find them in the pack ice or near Polar Bears!
As the glacier calves, Ivory Gulls fly to take advantage of any food in the disturbed water.
A pair of Ivory Gulls get excited when attracted to food or they see bears.
Footprints in the ice indicate something large and furry is nearby!
Adult Glaucous Gulls steal food from the other gulls.
A close approach is easy in the smooth zodiacs.
Three ages of Glaucous Gull: adult, juvenile & a 1-year old bird.
The Bearded Seal rests on the ice here and attracts Polar Bears.
Polar Bears on land can struggle to find enough food. This one was a fat healthy individual though.
When he chose to swim to an island, we left him in peace.
Woodfjord is a beautiful place, with many wild flowers growing on the tundra.
Purple Sandpipers breed by any tundra bogs.
Red-throated Diver near Ny Ålesund
Ivory Gulls resting on blue ice.
Arctic Fox cubs playing at Ny Ålesund.
The Brünnich's Guillemot Colony at Alkefjellet.
Blue Fulmars are common at sea & around the ship.
Evening at 80 degrees North.
The Ice cap at Nordaustlandet is the largest in the world after Antarctica & Greenland.
Giant waterfalls run out from tracks within the ice cap.
The Ice cliffs are awesome - check out the tiny Ivory Gull in the top left corner!
As we bashed through the ice towards White Island, we found a mother Polar Bear with two large cubs.
They approached the ship to check out the strange smells.
They didn't think much of their reflections !!!
After playing a little, the cubs tried to sleep.
Bored with us, they walked away to look for seals.
Evenings in the Arctic are beautiful when the sun glows.
We continued through the pack ice accompanied by Kittiwakes and Ivory Gulls. They snap up fish exposed by the breaking ice.
The gulls attract a few passing skuas. The Arctic Skuas are usually close to land as they still have chicks.
The Ivory Gulls took a dislike to Pomarine Skuas as they still had a youngster to feed on nearby ice floes.
Pomarine Skuas are scarce around Spitsbergen as they breed much further east. However, a lack of Lemmings on their breeding grounds resulted in a poor breeding season. Many failed to breed and dispersed into the waters closer to the pack ice. We found plenty of adults with a few immatures hanging around our ship.
Dark morph Pomarine Skuas are very rare here.
A dark-morph Pomarine Skua joined forces with this pale bird to chase down Kittiwakes.
Immature Kittiwakes were present in good numbers indicating a reasonable breeding season for them.
Walrus were in low numbers, but views were excellent.
Single Walrus resting on the ice was not unusual
This Walrus had killed and eaten a seal !!
This behaviour has only recently been recorded and only a handful of people have ever witnessed such an event.
Fulmar, Glaucous and Ivory Gulls joined in to feast on the remains, but the bull crawled into the ice as we approached. He returned to grab the remains of the seal before swimming off.
We sighted another Polar Bear in the distance.
He had our scent and walked towards us.
As we approached, he sat down and waited for us to push through the thick ice.
He circled the ship, but as we were not edible, he became more interested in his own reflection.
The view through a camera lens was quite chilling. We see him as pretty, he sees us as food !
Cleaning the fur is something that bears do regularly.
Ringed Seal is high on a Polar Bear's menu.
This seal was killed by a Polar Bear, in turn it provides food for the Ivory Gulls.
The truly gruesome sight, shows how harsh life can be here.
When not eating seal or bear droppings, the Ivory Gull looks pure and innocent. Only the juvenile has black spots on its feathers.
When Glaucous Gulls attend Polar Bear kills, they get excited and display to each other. Only rarely do they approach a bear closely. The Ivory gull however is fearless.
juvenile Glaucous Gulls can swallow Puffins....whole!
sunset over the pack ice.
The eastern islands of Svalbard are much flatter, with better chances of finding Barnacle, Brent and Pink-footed Geese.
Ancient bones litter the tundra in the east; from reindeer, seal and whales.
Whales are scarce on trips to Spitsbergen with Beluga and Minke being the most regularly sighted. Humpbacks sometimes hang around in the southeast and Fin Whales can move through in late summer.
It is unusual to see Fin Whales close to the ship, but on this occasio9n, we were surrounded by 20+ of the second largest animal in the world!
Thousands of Kittiwakes fed alongside as the sea was obviously full of food here.
Rounding the southern point of Spitsbergen, we entered more fjords
We logged three Polar Bears in Hornsund.
Bears can occur anywhere, and we regularly saw them partway up the hillsides.
Cruising the fjords by zodiac, we could here the crackle of popping bubbles from air locked in the icebergs.
In Isfjorden, the first light sprinkling of snow for the autumn had fallen. Pink-footed Geese were heading south to Europe.
misty morning in the fjords
Pale-bellied Brent Geese winter at Holy Island in the UK.
Isfjorden just before docking at Longyearbyen.
Because we specialise in wildlife-watching on our tours, we have never failed to see Polar Bears. Numbers have ranged from just 6 on our first exploratory trip, to over 50 on one tour!
We usually expect to see about 20, while other non-specialist tours regularly fail to track one down at all.
We try our best to get you close to animals to allow the best views and some great photographic opportunities. This must be done safely for you and the animals involved.
Between them, our leaders and the expedition staff have visited many Arctic regions. Bird Holidays staff has even taken tourists to the North Pole.
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