Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day VII, Svarbard.

7-20-15 14TH OF JULY GLACIER, SVARBARD: We woke up at Ny London, back on the west side of Spitsbergen and landed for hikes after breakfast. The site, Camp Mansfield, was established for mining marble in the early 1900’s. The project was a failure because the marble, harvested from a permafrost location, disintegrated when fully thawed. Two deteriorating shacks and rusted mining equipment remain abandoned on the site. Trash older than 50 years is considered an antique or relic or of historic significance and may not be touched, but anything left behind recently is garbage.

Ship's position - morning further south.

Ny London, Camp Mansfield.

Tired Wheelbarrow.

There was an antlerless reindeer not too far away and a handful of barnacle geese. The barnacle geese are so named because it was thought in Europe of the 1500’s that the geese, who disappeared from European harbors every summer when they came to the arctic to breed, turned into barnacles for the summer and then back to geese in the winter. That is, of course, a perfectly logical assumption.

Barnacle geese.

Tired reindeer.

A short walk took us across small, braided stream to two lakes set above the fiord. Both had lots of nesting water birds, ducks, geese, divers [loons], and terns, and their chicks. We also saw a long-tailed skua and took many bird pix.

Long-tailed skua.

Arctic terns have taken over this little island, two chicks left front.

More barnacles, in goose mode.

Eider female on the right.

Long-tailed duck with ducklings.

Red-throated diver with chick.

Red-throated divers, in the US these are loons, in Norway they are småloms.

One of the lakes with the fjord and a glacier in the far ground.

Ny London landscape with hikers.

After we all reassembled at the beach, it was the opportunity for the audacious to swim in the Arctic Ocean. At least a dozen people jumped or dove in, ignoring the floating ice not far away. No one stayed in very long. Neither Judy nor I were among the daring, even though a couple folks in our age bracket were so rash.

The swimmers could have warmed up at a cosy fire in this stove and had tea if the kettles didn't have all those bullet holes.

After lunch we cruised in the zodiacs at the 14th of July Glacier. First we went to another bird cliff rookery with more of the guillemots and puffins for the first time. Puffins are cartoon characters come to life. Kittiwakes have a nesting site high up on nearby cliffs. The lower cliffs are sedimentary and have been subject to tectonic stresses and show uplifting, tilting and folding.



Puffin, front and back.


Brünnich's Guillemots.

The glacier is large and long and did a small calving show for us with a roar of thunder. It had been rumbling and groaning the whole time we cruised by. We also saw more geese, kittiwakes, guillemots and fulmars on and around the ice. Most of the visible face of the glacier is white, but some is deep blue. Some people saw reindeer this afternoon.

Glacier and mountains that were carved by other glaciers.


That splash is from a calf that just hit the water. You can see the big wave headed toward us.

Kittiwakes on ice.

Pink-footed geese with goslings.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Day VI, Svarbard.

7-19-15 BOCKFJORDEN, SVARBARD: Worsleyneset is a flat, red soil beach with a long, curled, rocky peninsula, presumably another glacial moraine, extending into Woodfjorden Bay near its entrance. The plan was to hike the area, but a bear was spotted on land, which means no landing, no hiking, but zodiac cruises.

I should add that before any landing the area is scanned for bears. If a bear is seen, landing is precluded. When we do land, the guides all carry rifles and flares in the event of a bear attack.

The day was sunny and warmer than we have had so far with no wind. The local geography is sedimentary, red sandstone, uplifted and tilted, and lots of glacial erratics. We were cruising along the shore and saw a wreck of a fishing or hunting shack. On the inside of the curled peninsula we saw a big flock of pink-footed geese with one barred goose in the middle. There were eiders, fulmars and gulls on the water.

The bear, our fifth, was spotted further inland walking toward us near the beach. The zodiacs were jockeying for photo op position, and moving to stay ahead of the bear, who was oblivious to the boats. The bear was trotting along briskly, then stopped, sniffed the air, and headed for the water and swam toward the peninsula. He [she] came out of the water where a bunch of glaucous gulls were clustered around something at the water’s edge. The bear pulled it out of the water. It looked like a thick rug. The guides thought it was a dead whale skin. The bear dragged it to the top of the low bank and started eating. The gulls voiced their objections to the theft of their lunch. After many pix, we went back to the ship for our lunch.

Ship's position at breakfast.

Pink-footed geese on shore.

Pink-footed geese and one barred goose in the water.

Bear in the distance...

Closer, and moving along...

Retrieving lunch...

Mmmm, tasty.

After said lunch we hiked at Bockfjorden, a cul-de-sac further south off the main bay that offers a small hot spring. There is nearby volcanism. One side of the cove is the sedimentary, red sandstone, mountain high this time. The other side of the cove is the gray mountains that we usually see, a very rocky beach and a small glacier, above the beach are two beige mounds, the precipitate from the hot springs, I’m guessing calcium carbonate. Rocks below the springs have a coating of pink material from the springs, perhaps a carbonate containing manganese. In places the coating had chipped off. The coating was 2 mm thick and layered, indicating successive accumulations. The beach is filled with weathered rocks, and a huge rock pile nearby is a glacial moraine. The landscape is filled with glacial valleys, arêtes and horns.

Red mountains on the left, black on the right,

After the hike, we did a zodiac cruise to the base of the glacier. A walrus surfaced near the zodiac and spouted like a whale. We moved away to avoid any contact with what is basically a marine rhinoceros. We saw him a few more times, but from a distance. There were more geese on the beach and in the water. The rocks below the glacier looked like basalt consistent with a volcanic neighborhood.

Small glacier.

Brent geese and pink-footed geese.

Walrus near the zodiac.

Back on the ship, cleaning up before the big BBQ, whale sightings were announced over the PA system. In the bay near the walrus site were many beluga whales, perhaps as many as a hundred according to the naturalists. The beluga is a small whale, white as an adult and gray as an immature. Whatever drew the walrus also drew the whales and the gulls swarming overhead, perhaps some fish run. It’s very hard to photograph whales that barely, briefly surface. But by shooting at spouts, I got a few bodies and one possible head out of dozens of attempts. I should have taken video—next time.

Four spouts, whale backs and glacial moraine on shore,

More belugas on the other side of the bay.

The BBQ outside on the stern in the warm, bright evening sun was great, with live music and mulled wine, and whale watching.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day V, Svarbard.

7-18-15 ARCTIC OCEAN NORTH OF SVARBARD: We are back up here above 80° N Latitude near the Sjuøyane Islands, the most northerly part of Svarbard, looking for white bears again. I was on the bridge shortly after breakfast and spotted a group of harp seals near the ship. A few minutes later someone else spotted a swimming bear behind us. The ship turned around and we went to see the bear land on an ice floe and dash across it and jump back in the water. It was clearly stressed by the ship so we left it alone.

Not much later another bear, the second of the day was seen on an ice floe so the ship again turned around, and we went to look. This bear was eating a seal it had caught fairly recently. She, we think, dragged the seal to the other side of the floe as we neared. She was sharing the kill with several glaucous gulls and a couple ivory gulls. Sharing is the wrong word, the gulls snatched an occasional tidbit when the bear was working at the other end of the seal.

A third bear, smaller and thinner than the second bear, jumped on the ice floe and raced toward the second, larger bear, who abandoned the kill without even a snarl. The second bear swam to a nearby floe and watched the third bear take over the seal. By late afternoon the seal was nearly down to bones.

The naturalists thought that the third bear was a yearling or two year-old cub of the second bear not yet own its own, and that the mother left the seal to the cub. In any event, she had eaten most of the blubber, perhaps 40 kg, which, at 9 calories/g, works out to 360,000 calories. Now that’s a hearty meal.

I should mention that the expedition guides offer lectures , two or three a day, on a variety of topics from photography to flora and fauna, geography, climate.

Morning Position high in the Arctic Sea.

Harp seals in a pack of about a dozen.

Swimming bear, number one of the day.

Mama bear, bear number 2, with her seal, glaucous gull watching.

She moves the seal away from the ship.

Glaucous gull with gray wings and two ivory gulls check the site where the seal had been.

Baby bear, bear number 3, has taken over the catch. Mama bear on the far floe.

Baby bear and helper work the seal.

Getting into it.

Darwin said that 'nature was red on tooth and claw' but really.

We saw seals often taking a breather on the floe next to an air hole.