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Spitzbergen, Norway - August 2008

Published by Mark Graham (helen.graham7 AT btinternet.com)

Participants: M.A Graham

This report may be of interest to those cruising to Spitzbergen via the Norway coast. We sailed on the Artemis a lovely adult only P&O cruise ship from 3/08/08 to 17/08/08. The itinery was Southampton, Stavanger, Molde, Trondhiem, Ny Alesund (Spitzbergen), Tromso, Bergen, Hardanger Fjyord, Eidjford, Southampton. Having sailed around Iceland to Greenland before I would say the birdwatching on this trip was not as good but there was enough of interest and 78 species were seen. I would also recommend as much time as possible spent in or around Spitzbergen where the birdwatching was by far the best of the trip.

The best sea watching areas were:

Leaving Molde as we entered the sea. from the fjord I saw a White-tailed Sea Eagle and Ravens on the cliffs.Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and a Storm Petrel were seen as we proceeded North. Passing Bear Island there was Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Great Skuas, Greater Black Backed Gulls, Little Auks, Puffins and Guillemots in abundance. White-tailed Eagles were seen from the sea as we left Tromso and again entered the sea from the fjord.

The North Sea crossings were intermittently good.A Sooty Shearwater was seen going north. Two Little Gulls were seen going south and generally Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Common Terns, Greater Black-backed Gulls, Great Skuas Gulls, Herring Gulls were seen. Several migrating Turnstones were seen on route.

The fjords were generally disappointing for birds but the following areas are definitely worth a look:

The area between Tromso and the sea were full of birds as we sailed towards the Kvalsundet Channel a Long-tailed Skua was seen. There were Lots of Puffins, Guillemots, Little Auks, Cormorants, Arctic Terns, Greater Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Kittiwakes, Grey Herons, Oystercatchers, and Eider.

The westward journey from Bergen through the fjord revealed Grey Herons, Oystercatchers, Eider, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls.

The number and variety of birds increased as we approached Ny Alesund in Spitzbergen. Little Auks, Puffins Brunnich's Guillemots, Black Guillemot, Kittiwakes, Blue and White Fulmars, Red-throated Divers, Eider, Great Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Barnacle Geese, Glaucous Gulls and Arctic Terns were spotted as we approached.

Many of these birds were seen from land as well as Knot, Purple Sandpiper, Ivory Gull, Snow Bunting and an Iceland Gull. [A family of Arctic Foxes were seen]. A lot of these birds were also seen as we cruised Krossfjorden where we also saw a Minke Whale. This proved to be the most northerly part of the journey.[79 degrees, 10degrees north 650nm from the North Pole. Max temperature was 4 degrees centigrade.]

The sheer number and variety of birds at such a northerly and hostile place was impressive. The record winter temperature is -46 degrees C. Even in the middle of August the temperature dropped below 0 degrees on the day of our visit.

There were plenty of birds seen from land as we stopped off at various places en route.

Molde proved interesting with a Crossbill at the Varden viewpoint. Also seen were Hooded Crows, Spotted Flycatchers, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Whitethroat and an Icterine Warbler. A Whimbrel was heard around the fjord area.

Bideford also held a good variety. Here there were 6 Spotted Flycatchers, 1 Green Woodpecker, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Willow Warbler, Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Marsh Tit, Great Tit, Starling, Song Thrush, Hooded Crows and House Martin. The most productive area was the orchard above the village walking in an easterly direction. A Golden Plover and a flock of Twite were seen in the moorland area on one of the organised trips.

The lake at Tromso held Red-throated Divers and Bar-tailed Godwit and a Fieldfare was seen here too. There were Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Tufted Ducks and Mallards in the lake at Stavanger.Swifts and swallows were seen but in few numbers. The star bird was the young racing pigeon sent out from Newcastle on a 20 mile training routine. It landed on the Artemis and ended up in Spitzbergen! She stayed with us as far as the return trip to the North sea and disappeared of the coat of Holland. Must have travelled 4000 nm. Probably on a Cunard Cruise now.

M. A Graham