Early spring at 78*N
Last week I spent 4 days with my daughter Anna in Longyearbyen on Svalbard; she has lived and worked there for more than 10 years now.
In spite of the 24 hrs daylight, it still was early spring there. Most of the snow in the town was gone, but there was still ice on some pools, and a lot of meltwater everywhere. Temperatures during my visit were from 2 to 5 *C, with sleet
the first day. Very few flowers as yet, we found Saxifraga oppositifolia and Dryas.
Anna used her car to show me around on the quite few (and mostly rather 3-dimensional) roads, of the area, some 10-15 km in both directions, out West past the airport, and out East in the wide Adventsdalen with its many pools. Always with
a gun, as Polar Bears may be everywhere. In the town itself there is a very pleasant observation cabin, near a softbottom intertidal area.
There are not all too many different birds at this far northerly locality, and we did not get out on the fjord with a boat (On the day I left, Anna found 2 Puffins while kayaking!).
This time I shall list the birds we saw, in more or less taxonomic order.
1. Northern Fulmar. Along the most Western shore we visited, there was a steady stream of these birds sailing along the here high coast
2. Red-throated Loon. These are surprisingly common and can also be seen just outside the town. Most of the large pools have loons; we saw display, and found one already on a nest. Beautiful sleek birds!
3. Pink-footed Goose. These are quite Common, especially in the Advent delta, but this time much less numerous than the Barnacle Geese. Mostly in pairs, but a few small flocks.
4. Barnacle Goose. Everywhere, from the town centre to the slopes of the 400m high hill at Grue 7, and also foraging intertidally at low water. Maybe the most numerous bird here now. Almost always in pairs, with a lot of posturing and bickering
when pairs met. A single all white albinistic bird was on its own! (Although I saw it fly with a pair)
5. Brent Goose. These are here only on migration and nest elsewhere in the archipelago. We saw a few small flocks on the shores of Isfjorden.
6. Shoveler. A beautiful male in the large pool near the dog houses was no doubt the rarest bird we saw this week. It has been seen here only a few times.
7. Long-tailed Duck. Here and there on the large pools, often in pairs. In summer plumage.
8. Common Eider. Very numerous all along the shores and the nearshore pools, with a few pairs scattered on the tundra. A few sizeable colonies near the dog houses, where the nearby sledge dogs afford protection.
Heavily photographed by tourists, as they are exceedingly tame here. Many on the nests now.
9. King Eider. Only a few here and there, but the males are really spectacularly beautiful birds. Less tame than the Common Eiders.
10. Svalbard Ptarmigan. These fat birds, clearly larger than the ones near Tromsø, are thoroughly at home in Longyearbyen, and one may find them as easily on a roof in town as on a lonely hillside. They were changing into summer plumage
and often looked quite scruffy.
11. Ringed Plover. Regularly in the high intertidal, but also pairs scattered over the tundra.
12. Purple Sandpiper. By far the most common shorebird, sizeable numbers forage in the intertidal, and many can be found, and no doubt nest, on the wet tundra. Very unafraid birds, much more so than the other shorebirds.
13. Dunlin. Regular on the shore and on the wet tundra, where we often witnessed the short display flights.
14. Sanderling. A few, in full summer plumage, in the intertidal. Usually on their own.
These mostly nest further north.
Part 2 follows
Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway