Arctic Adventure…Part 2

Although the landscape, the general environment and simply the sense of wonder of the place is a huge part of Svalbard’s attraction, the wildlife (although requiring a fair bit of work to find in good situations) is as dramatic and enjoyable to photograph as anywhere I’ve been.

Such is my love for seabirds that when I first visited here these Little Auk’s were as high on my personal priority list as Polar Bears, and it was a pleasure to once again spend an enjoyable evening in their presence such is their personality and character.

We were slightly earlier this year and they were earlier in their breeding cycle and as a consequence even more chilled out in terms of their behaviour!  They nest under the rocks of the many scree slopes here, and some of the patterns on the rocks themselves were worthy of images in their own right.

We managed to enjoy a number of walks around the beautiful early summer tundra too, and here the lichens and flowers were just beginning to take a hold and announce their presence.

One of the highlights of this habitat here is the stunning Grey Phalarope (confusing called Red Phalarope by the rest of the world it seems) who had just arrived to beginning their short breeding season, unusual in that the colourful male does all the work of nest-building, egg incubating and chick feeding/tending: the even more showy female simply provides the eggs and then returns south, so we were in a very narrow window of time to enjoy the presence of both genders.

For most though Svalbard and the arctic is all about a couple of large mammals, and whether it be swimming, sleeping or playing there is no getting away from the larger than life personalities of the Atlantic Walrus – thankfully making good increases in population here after it’s almost devastation in the whaling era.

Among the highlights of a number of engagements with these bulky beasts was a more tender moment spent with a young mother and calf, resting and feeding on a large ice floe in front of a glacier: the youngster was almost certainly just a few days old and hadn’t grown into his wrinkles yet!

No trip here though, and certainly no blog recounting one, would be complete without Polar Bear – this truly is their domain here.  Finding them is always exciting but doing so in a setting that really does them justice rather than the snow and ice free beaches that many of them are left to spend the summer scavenging on, is somewhat harder.  Our plan had been to head up to the pack ice to look for such settings but the weather and winds conspired against us on this occasion but we had no sooner returned to the one bay we had found with a covering of ice than an adult make successfully caught a seal – an amazing hunting feat and a privilege to watch.  It was clear this was a good area to spend some time so we duly anchored up and spent 3 days there and were reward with some of the most relaxed and absorbing behaviour in front of us during that time, the highlight of which was a young male, probably 3 years old and enjoying his first summer away from Mum!

He spent an entire afternoon parading around the ice, hunting and even playing with some of the bits of seal left behind by the larger male the day before!

Wandering off that evening we settled down for some sleep and planning to move on the next day, only to awaken to the fact that he had returned and he too had gone to sleep on the ice beside the boat!

The advantages of a small yacht had really come to the fore – by being moored up where we were for so long we had effectively become part of his environment in the same way as a hide, and he was truly relaxed in our presence treating us to some truly engaging images and an experience I for one will never forget.

A fitting highlight of another great adventure in this wonderful part of the world and an iconic image to close that for me sums up this magnificent mammal in his kingdom.

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