walks along the Adventfjord, 78*N

Subject: walks along the Adventfjord, 78*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 04 Aug 2003 12:44:42 +0200

                                TWO WALKS ALONG THE ADVENTFJORD, 78*N

On the Friday, the day of the oral examens, the weather suddenly had turned
sunny in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, with sun from almost cloud-free skies, and
a brisk somewhat chilly wind. And a colleague had kindly lent me his
field-glasses! So after the exams are finished and the students go out to
celebrate, I grasped the opportunity and walked a few hours along the inner
reaches of the Adventford, to the start of the broad and (by Svalbard
standards) luxuriant Advent valley, where as virtually always, I found a
number of the roly poly short-legged Svalbard reindeer grazing. The only
other inhabitants of these very shallow innermost reaches of the fjord,
besides the occasional patrolling Glaucous Gull, are large tight flocks of
Barnacle Geese on the saltmarsh, that walk rather than fly away when one
gets close (not all that close either!); one group of ca 70 geese had only
7-8 young of the year; the other, larger flocks were too far away to check
properly. There were somewhat more birds a bit further out along the fjord:
Arctic Terns clearly still have young, but the nests are at some distance
from the road and also maybe they are already considerably less aggressive
than earlier in the season, and I escape without any head wounds. In the
saltmarsh where the terns nest, there are also many Dunlins, while a small
flock of Purple Sandpipers kept more to the open mudflats, and the single
Ringed Plover that I saw was in a brackish pool. Flocks of Glaucous Gulls
loaf on the mudbanks further out, and Kittiwakes fly overhead, while also
Eiders are present, albeit in small numbers. A single Great Skua was my
first for the year, and outside the UNIS building I now, with my borrowed
fieldglasses, could see that the smallish birds that fly to and from there
, are in fact Black Guillemots.  The Belugas that I had spotted from the
UNIS-windows the day before, were no longer to be seen, though, unfortunately.

The Saturday dawned just as sunny as the Friday had been (figure of speech,
this, as there is still midnight sun in Longyearbyen these days). This day
I elected to walk to the airport, which is situated a few miles west of
town, at the mouth of Adventfjorden. The first part of this walk is through
a typical harbour-area, with lots of small industry, snow-scooter dealers,
harbour stores, etc etc. Here there are few birds of course, although the
Arctic terns nest also here, and here and there a family of Snow Buntings,
with somewhat dingy fledged young, flies up.The coast here is a bit
depressing; gravelly shores, and a steep, bare cliff behind, with the cable
cars of the defunct transport system for coal still standing halfways up
the hill. Terns patrol the shoreline, and every now and then sharply bank,
turn, and snatch something from the water; I fear it may well be my beloved
amphipods that are the main prey here. On the water here and there Eiders,
the Svalbard race with the yellow bills; one has a long 'tail' of young
ducklings. Black Guillemots are also common everywhere here, and it strikes
me every time how big this Svalbard race is, and how large the white

Near the airport the road climbs a little and the landscape opens up into
tundra, with---but only if you look a little closer--, a multitude of small
mostly white flowers (and the reddish 'mini-rabarbra' of the Mountain
Sorrel Oxyria digyna). I have to watch them through my field glassses as
large signs warn sternly not to walk here, 'as it will disturb the inflight
radar'. A beautiful Reindeer stag in glorious velvet horns apparently also
has seen these signs, as he grazes completely unworried quite close to the
road and does not even look up when I walk by less than 20 m away

.My dreams of a refreshing drink at the airport are dashed, as the entire
airport appears to be closed and locked (I think there is no day flight on
Saturdays), so instead I decide to descend to the small lagoons just behind
the picturesquely situated Svalbard camping, no doubt again the
northernmost in the world. The small lagoons between the camping and the
fjord look quite interesting, but birding here appears to be not so easy as
I thought (although the light was beautiful), as the local tern colony
protests violently  to my presence, and they fiercely attack me in a relay,
every pair leaving me to the next after 10 m or so. Luckily I had a woollen
cap with me, so that I can put it on 'fluffily'. It gives interesting
'statistic experience', in that I can feel the difference between the
individual terns; some shriek mostly, others just touch you for every
attack, but a few really try to inflict bodily harm, and in addition take
into use chemical weapons of Wim-destruction, so that I end up with a
white-striped cap---still, better than a red-striped top of the head! There
are some hundreds of terns here, but I see few young and those already
half-grown. This is clearly also a popular bathing place for the
Kittiwakes, and Dunlins run around on the gravelly islets in the lagoon.
And in the last little lagoon--even free of tern attack--I discover what I
hoped to see here, i.e. a Red Phalarope Ph. fulicarius (Grey Phalarope in
Europe, where one rarely sees them in their summer finrety), the one with
the somewhat stronger bill. It looks a bit dullish, although in full summer
dress, so he is probably a male. Still, I had not seen this species in
years, and I am very content.

The dirt road back goes along the fjord. Also here here are many Black
Guillemots, but there is considerably more variation here: Brünnich's
Guillemot (Thick-billed Murre), Little Auk (Dovekie) and even a few
Puffins, in addition to the ubiquitous Black Guillemots and Common Eiders.
Along the shore successive pairs of Ringed Plovers run before me on the
road, and try to tempt me away from their young. As they tempt me into the
direction I walk anyway, they have great success, and are probably still

The road back is long and dull, and I am extremely stiff these days. But
fortunately, halfways through I see what looks like a white peace dove in
the intertidal, and indeed, my luck is still in: this is the adult Ivory
Gulll I missed the other day, when my colleague spotted it flying past
UNIS; it is now peacefully eating something that has washed ashore. What a
strange gull! It does not look very gull-like at all. It also looks much
too white and innocent for the disgusting scavenger I know it to be. But I
am very happy indeed to add it to my year list. In spite of little time,
this short visit to 78*N has shown me several Arctic species that I
virtually never get to see in Tromsø.

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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