Wednesday 17 August 2011

A Perfect Day to End Our Arctic Adventure

As we entered Tryghamna harbour the sun was shining through a high layer of scattered clouds. A mild breeze of ten knots imbued a slight chop to the sea.
We started landing procedures at 08:30. The Expedition Team set up a perimeter of Polar Bear guards. Once it was determined that weren’t any bears in the immediate area, we were given a lot of freedom to wander about on our own. But all around us and perched above, we could see the Expedition Team keeping a watchful lookout for bears.
As we walked up the grassy and moss covered slopes to the base of the bird cliffs we could see many Reindeer grazing peacefully. They did not seem at all bothered by our presence. In fact the Reindeer often approached to within a few metres of us. Many people got excellent opportunities to photograph the Svalbard Reindeer.

High above us was the pyramid shaped cliff of Alkhornet which was named for its horn-like shape and for the Little Auks that nest by the thousands in the area. The sun-lit cliff face was beautiful against the clear blue sky. August 17th and it is already getting late in the summer season in Svalbard. The little Little Auks had mostly fledged but there were still thousands of Black-legged Kittiwakes flying high above us. At times hundreds of the young birds would take off for their very first flights. A great swirling mass of birds would then head on out to sea. It was quite a sight. Large Glaucous Gulls and Great Skuas were swooping in and occasionally grabbing young Kittiwakes on the wing.
Near the end of the landing a couple of Arctic Foxes were seen roaming around the base of the cliff. This was not surprising as the foxes are known to den in this area. Wall of the nesting birds there is an abundant food supply.

At 19:00 we arrived at the stunning cliffs of Skansebukta.  Huge vertical rock faces soared over the beach. The colourful crenelated cliffs resembled the battlements of a medieval castle.  Hundreds of Northern Fulmars were nesting on high ledges.  Puffins flapped madly along the rock face.  It was obvious they were nesting here too but it was extremely difficult to spot their nests from our beach vantage point.  According to the local folks in Longyearbyen this was the second warmest day in 36 years!  It was a balmy 20C
While we were enjoying the landing at Skansebukta the hotel department was busy preparing a delcious barbeque on deck 7. 
It was a spectacular way to end our grand voyage in Spitsbergen.