Day 5 |
Jul 18, 2009

Edgeyoa Island And Freemansund

By Chris Collins, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates at midday: 78 15 N, 21 48 E

Temperature at midday: 5C

After a night anchored at Kap Lee off the Northwest corner of Edgeyoa Island, we awoke hoping there would be some walruses on the beach as this is a regular haul-out for this species. Unfortunately none were present, so at 08:00am Robin West, our Expedition Leader, announced that the ship would head for Freemansund to look for Polar Bears and other wildlife.

We enjoyed great views of the mountains on both sides of the passage and at the far end of the channel, Lasse (one of our Bear Guards) spotted a distant flock of Pink-footed Geese standing on some ice just above the shore side.  As we got a little closer, I could see that the birds seemed nervous (they were tightly packed with their heads held up in an alert posture – the classic indicators that there was a predator about) and suddenly they panicked with the majority running down into the water.

Almost immediately it became apparent what was worrying them as suddenly a shape appeared on the ice and one bird, which was a little slower than the rest, was grabbed by an Arctic Fox!! A life-and-death tussle went on for a couple of minutes on the ice between fox and goose, however, the fox clearly had a good hold on the goose, and after a short while we could not see the goose moving and it was clear that it was dead.

With the Bridge alerted to what was happening, our Captain turned the ship and the ship headed a little closer. After feeding on the goose for a while and apparently having its fill, the fox then proceeded to rip the goose into pieces and then proceeded to run off for a few hundred metres to cache some of its kill. It would then return to the goose, collect some more and then repeat the exercise – we were extraordinarily lucky to see this wildlife spectacle.

Having turned the ship (to watch the fox), we headed back down Freemansund, hugging the ice on the southern side of the channel looking for more wildlife. The undoubted highlight was a close encounter with a Bearded Seal that was hauled out on the ice.  This allowed us to approach to within 50 metres, giving great looks with some nice photos undoubtedly taken, however, it eventually disappeared into a hole in the ice and we could not find it again.

Shortly before lunch, we passed the island where we had seen a Polar Bear the previous afternoon; however, Chris Srigley (General Naturalist) and I were unable to relocate it.  There were, however, a number of birds around the island with several Eider Ducks, 100+ Arctic Terns and several Glaucous Gulls.

At 14:30, 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. 

At 16:00, the daily Recap & Briefing was held in The Theatre with Robin West informing everyone that the plan was to Zodiac cruise at Burgerbukta tomorrow afternoon and then continue northwards up the west coast of Spitsbergen to 80 degrees north. Recaps were also given by Robin Aiello, Christian Walter, Claudia Holgate, Hans-Peter Reinhalter, Juan Restrepo and I with these covering a range of topics including dynamic soaring by seabirds (Claudia), the hunting of polar bears (Christian) and the fox and geese tussle we had seen earlier in the day by me.

By the time the recap had finished, we had arrived at an extensive area of sea ice, so the Zodiacs were lowered and over the next couple of hours everyone was able to enjoy cruising through the ice in fantastic conditions with no wind and large, clear blue skies.  As well as seeing the amazing natural shapes in the ice, we also saw a range of birds including some fantastic views of Little Auks, Brunnich’s Guillemots and Black Guillemots.

By 19:45 everyone was back on the ship and as we enjoyed dinner, the Prince Albert II cruised southwards along the edge of the sea ice – the end to a fantastic day.