Sunday 22 June 2014

Back in the NORTH

Wow - just back into Longyearbyen after an awesome week long voyage around Svalbad with Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Explorer.  The trip started with humpbacks and fin whales (inc a very small calf) in flat conditions off the west coast of Spitsbergen.  We spent several hours with the animals having both species right under the bow on several occasions - of course the wrong lens was always on the camera when they were in close!

We then had a stunning landing at Gnalodden, with a great kittiwake cliff, barnacle geese, and glaucous gulls, in beaut sunshine.  It has been a little colder up here this season so far, with still a lot of snow around, so the wind still has a bit of a bite to it.  However, despite this there is not a lot of sea idea around, and so our total of 6 polar bears this trip was a little lower than the norm for this ship.  However, our first bear was actually a female and first year cub - a rare sight this year - and we had another bear come right in to the bow to investigate - just awesome!

We also did an awesome landing at Diskobukta, a place I have longed to get back to with amazing kittiwake cliffs and Arctic foxes, and we were not disappointed with stunning views of foxes.  We also visited the bird cliffs of Cape Fanshaw, with thousands of Brunnich's guillemots, and even had a fox there run out onto the ice beside the ship, and get attacked by a glaucous gull!  Absolutely amazing!  That afternoon was the close polar bear, and for the day I was borrowing a Canon 200-400 lens, with inbuilt 1.4x extender.  Susan Seubert, a National Geographic photographer onboard was kind enough to lend me this lens, whilst she used my 400 f4 DO lens.  And wow, it is a great lens - a little heavy, but so versatile.  With the polar bear approaching it was just awesome to be able to zoom out, flick off the extender, etc as the animal approached, without having to change lenses or cameras. However, the rather large price tag of this lens means I might need to sell a kidney before I can get one!

Other places we have visited have had a lot of geese - mainly barnacle and pink-footed, but we did get some dark-bellied BRENT GEESE at one site.  The shorebirds don't yet seem to have started breeding mostly, with a lot of red phalarope and purple sands in mint breeding plumage, but only signs of one purple sand nest so far.  But lovely to see everything ready to get going.

Last night as we headed back to Longyearbyen we again had awesome whales, with the midnight sun shining, we had five or so fin whales again right on the bow, and views of white-beaked dolphins and a couple of puffins.  What an awesome end to the first trip, with one more Svalbard trip, before heading down the eastern coast of Greenland to Iceland.  Looking forward to some more fantastic Arctic adventures with a great ship and incredible staff!

Humpback whale with the beautiful Svalbard coastline in the background

Big nose!  A humpback blows right under the bow with krill and rain-blow, showing the whale lice around its blowhole

Fluking with the mountains in the background

Right under the bow, two humpback whales surface

Again really close

Humpback head-shot with pectoral fins visible below the surface

Kittiwakes feeding on sub-surface bubbles from the feeding humpbacks

Black-legged kittiwake in stunning light

Filtering the food from the water through its baleen plates a humpback whale surfaces

Blow of a humpback whale with kittiwake flying above it

A black-legged kittiwake takes off from the waters surface

Three fin whales, including a calf, surface near the ship

A fin whale blows with the mountains of Svalbard in the background

Fin whale blow against the mountains

The very impressive bird cliffs at Gnalodden - mainly kittiwakes in flight

Gnalodden cliffs with purple saxifrage in flower

Black-legged kittiwakes taking off from the pond after bathing - being filmed

Barnacle geese in flight

Reindeer feeding on the tundra

Beaut little Arctic fox with snow falling and long guard-hairs from its winter coat

Arctic fox looking for food around the base of the kittiwake cliffs

Arctic fox staring up into the air looking a food

Arctic fox barking and standing its ground against another fox

Arctic fox with the kittiwakes and nesting cliffs behind it

Kittiwakes tumbling through the air as they fight

Mother and first year polar bears on the ice

The base of the icecap at Austfonna

Looking along the face of the icecap at Austfonna

Northern fulmar against the Austfonna icecap face

Bow on to the Austfonna icecap

Brunnich's guillemot flying past the ship

Arctic fox loosing fur to a glaucous gull, the gull actually has a beak full of fur!

Arctic fox leaping across the gaps in sea ice along the shore at Cape Fanshaw

Arctic fox barking at a glaucous gull as it comes in to attack

Arctic fox leaping across the ice

Arctic fox leaping off the snow covered land onto another piece of sea ice

Brunnich's guillemots nesting on the ledges of Cape Fanshaw

Packed in tightly - the top of a rock at Cape Fanshaw covered in nesting Brunnich's guillemots

A big male polar bear steadily approaches the ship

A big male polar bear retreats a little from the ship, only to come in closer

A big male polar bear against the Arctic landscape

Big male polar bear approaching again slowly

Big male polar bear coming in again, this time right to the bow.  The beauty of the 200-400 lens really comes into play here

Taking a big step, a male polar bear approaches the bow with stunning light and beautiful shadow

Almost under the bow, the big male polar bear that came right in to the ship

Tasting the air, a male polar bear stands right by the bow of the ship as camera shutters click like crazy

Really large walrus on shore, huge tusks

Beautiful breeding plumage purple sandpiper on the shoreline

A breeding plumage sanderling runs along the shoreline
A purple sandpiper having a shake on the shoreline

Stunning scenery, clouds and light as we cruise through Hellesundet

Grazing reindeer nibbling on mosses and lichens

The beautiful views of Bellsund

A landing in Bellsund with a pink-footed goose nest in the foreground

A pair of Arctic skuas do an incredible aerial chase above our heads

Pink-footed goose on its nest on the Svalbard tundra

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