Day 2 - July 27, 2013 - Monacobreen, Svalbard
By Claudia Holgate, Ornithologist and Climate change specialist
Co-ordinates: N 79º32'02", E 12º24’26"
Weather: Blue sky and clear sunny conditions
Air Temperature: 7ºC
Pressure: 1006 hPa
What a day, today has been. The morning was off to a gentle start with a leisurely breakfast and lectures and briefings in the chronicles. I was first to lecture this morning and gave one of my favourite lectures on birds of the Arctic Ocean. I don’t like to just show pictures of birds and tell guests their names as nobody will ever remember them, so I try and pepper the lecture full of interesting titbits about the life history of the birds, so that when we see them, guest not only remember them but know a little about their behaviours.
We had a gumboot hand out straight after my lecture and before we could finish passing out the boots, we had an announcement from our Expedition leader, Robin West, that Chris Srigley, one of our bear guards had spotted a polar bear – 12 Nautical miles away. The bear was on a small island in Woodfjorden at the very northern tip of the island of Spitsbergen.
As we came closer, indeed it was a bear, so as we arrived, we lowered Zodiacs and went to go and have a closer look. Without the sea ice and the seals that occur on the ice, bears will often become stranded on these small islands and have to eat birds eggs and chicks to survive. This bear seemed to be eating some vegetation and was very obliging, by lying down, standing up and basically modelling for us, not taking the slightest bit of notice of our presence in the boats probably just over 100m or so away from him. We had numerous Arctic terns plunge diving close to the boat and we were lucky enough to spot a Purple Sandpiper and Red (Grey) Phalarope searching for food along the shoreline.
After everyone had a chance to have a really good look at the bear, we returned to the ship and had a late lunch, while the ship repositioned to the front of Monacobreen or Monaco Glacier. With a 5km glacier front it is indeed spectacular, with 1004m high peaks rising out behind the glacier, the setting is amazing. Even better, was the beautiful blue skies and almost windless day, a great day for a Zodiac cruise.
We headed off in our Zodiacs towards the glacier, where we watched thousands of kittiwakes flying along the glacier front in search for food where there is upwelling and a plentiful supply of zooplankton. We had numerous calvings, where chunks of ice break off the glacier, some quite large, which was hardly surprising on a warm day like today. My favourite sighting, was the Ivory Gull who was perched on top of an iceberg a bit away from the glacier. They are such beautiful birds and they blend in so well with the Kittiwakes that they often get overlooked.
As we had missed the AECO briefing, Zodiac briefing and destination briefing for tomorrow, these were held by Robin during the Zodiac cruise for the groups that were onboard, when it wasn’t their turn to be on the Zodiacs, so we saved an hour and managed to fit a bear into our schedule.
We made it back to the ship by 6:30pm, exhausted but happy, lifted the Zodiacs, and had a chance to have a quick shower before heading off to the Captain’s welcome cocktail party in the Theatre. It is great to see how well and how quickly the guests and expedition team can scrub up for one of our more formal evenings. Dinner was then served in the restaurant and as always was a special event.
I look forward to tomorrow, which is bound to bring us many more surprises.
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