From: Wim Vader <>
Sent: mandag 30. mai 2022 22:01
To: Willem Jan Marinus Vader <>
Subject: Long weekend at 78*N
Long weekend at 78*N
Longyearbyen on Svalbard is, at 78*N, the northernmost township in the world.
It started out as a coal mining town, but that era is now almost ended, and science and tourism are the main occupations. My elder daughter, a molecular biologist, has already in many years worked at UNIS, the university dependance here, while her husband
works at the satellite station. I was here a long weekend for a family celebration, and Anna kindly drove us around on the limited road net around the town (c 2500 inhabitants). Very early spring here as yet, but during the four days we
were there the grasses became clearly greener, and in the valley of Endalen, known for its rich flora (Many patches of Dryas with last year’s fruits), we found several flowering Saxifraga oppositifolia, the first flowers of the year.
Early spring here too, with meltwater running and standing everywhere, and patches of rotting snow. We were extremely lucky with the weather: sunny and clear, little wind and up to +6*C. Of course daylight and sun 24hrs
a day. Everywhere, both in town and outside, one hears the pleasant jingles of the Snow Buntings, the only passerine on Svalbard. They often sing from the rooftops or lamp posts, and may nest among the innumerable snow scooters summering everywhere. They really
add a lot to the atmosphere in summer
The other ubiquitous birds are the Common Eiders on the shore and on the fjord, and the many many pairs of Barnacle Geese everywhere, from the wet meadows in town to high up in the mountains; I have the impression there
are more than ever now. They are very tame, as many birds are here, and also the rolypoly Svalbard reindeer, that may even fall asleep in the middle of town. Grazing reindeer are a common sight wherever one goes, and they are not afraid of steep slopes. There
are also many Pink-footed Geese around , and along the shore even some pairs of Brent Geese; but these latter will move still further north to nest.
The Common Gulls in Longyearbyen are the Kittiwake and the Glaucous Gull; the also very common Arctic Terns have not yet arrived. Along the broad Adventfjorden there is a long flattish area of saltmarsh and swampy marshland.
Here are also the drinking water reservoirs for the town, still largely covered by rotting ice. One of the larger pools in Adventsdalen contained a trio of the spectacular King Eiders, as well as a pair of Long-tailed Ducks, and a single drake Teal, the latter
an uncommon bird here. The same series of pools also held Red-throated Loons and the northern species of phalaropes-- I always get confused with the English and US names of these 2 species, and I have no books here. On the last day we also saw a single male
of the other species of phalarope, a relative newcomer to Svalbard. The common shorebird here is the Purple Sandpiper, but we also found a Dunlin in the wet tundra, and a few Ringed Plovers on drier hills.
The most spectacular seabirds are the Little Auks (Dovekies), that nest in vast colonies on stony hillsides, where they swarm like starlings, and keep up a continuous purring sound. They are numerous around Longyearbyen.
The other common auk is the Black Guillemot, that to my surprise seemed to establish territories at least 15m up in a steep cliffwall well inwards from the main coastal road.
(To see murres or puffins, you need to get out to sea). But Black Guillemots are common also close to the shore, while Fulmars sail along the shore at certain points.
Finally there is the one bird species, that stays at 78* year long, the large and round Svalbard Ptarmigan, most often found quite high on the hillsides--but one sat incongruously on a house roof. We can watch them from
Anna’s house, on the neighbouring hillsides, but again one on a roof. What they search for there?
There are not all that many different birds on Svalbard, but they are quite special, and of course the landscape here is utterly spectacular, and truly one of a kind.
Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway
PS on return to Tromsø yesterday evening everything there had suddenly turned green, and the temp. stood at 20*C!
<BR> Birding-Aus mailing list
<BR> To change settings or unsubscribe visit: