Co-ordinates at midday: 77 25N, 19 50E
Temperature: 11 degrees
After several days of cloudy conditions, this morning we awoke to blue skies and great views of the Torell mountain range (Eastern Spitsbergen) on the port side of the ship as we cruised north-east towards our intended destination of Russebukta on the island of Edgeoya.
At 09:30am, Hans-Peter Reinhalter began the lecture programme for the day with an illustrated talk entitled “The Botany of Svalbard”. Hans-Peter explained that hundreds of millions of years ago, Svalbard had actually been located a lot closer to the equator (at approximately 30 degrees north) and had been covered in lush forest. As the earth’s plates had moved, however, the archipelago had moved further north and the number of plant species had declined to the current situation where there are now just under 200 plant species to be found in the Svalbard archipelago.
With the clear skies and great visibility, there were a number of birds to be seen from the ship including Northern Fulmars, Brunnich’s Guillemots and Little Auks. The latter is the smallest member of the auk family in the North Atlantic and is also considered to be the most numerous seabird in this part of the world.
At 11:00am, Christian Walter presented the second lecture of the day entitled “Arctic Explorations”. During this lecture, Christian discussed some of the early explorers and their voyages to the Arctic concentrating on some of the attempts to look for the Northwest and Northeast Passages. He also discussed attempts by Amundsun and others to reach the North Pole.
After lunch, we arrived at our intended destination of Russebukta and the scout boats left to ensure there were no Polar Bears near to the proposed landing site. A bear was found, however, and initially it was hoped that we might be able to have a Zodiac cruise to see it, although it soon moved away from the shoreline dashing hopes of this. As a result, Conrad, our Expedition Leader, decided to have an expedition landing a couple of miles north along the beach.
At 4pm, the shore excursion began, with the plan being to ford a shallow stream and then walk across the tundra towards some reindeer that were feeding on the plain. The sticky mud in the stream meant crossing the water was a little too challenging, so instead we walked northwards along the shoreline. Large blocks of sea ice had been washed onto the beach and with blue skies and an air temperature well above zero, there was plenty of ice melt going on in front of us.
On the beach there were also several Purple Sandpipers, which are small waders that only breed in the Arctic (from Eastern Canada eastwards to Central Siberia). These birds were comparatively tame and we enjoyed great looks as they fed along the beach, looking for invertebrates and insects.
Compared with many wader species, Purple Sandpipers are comparatively short distance migrants. The birds that nest on Svalbard only travel to Western Europe to escape the harsh Arctic winters.
Other birds seen during the shore landing included a couple of new species of ducks for the voyage with some King Eiders floating distantly in the bay and a more obliging flock of Long-tailed Ducks.