I used to be more of an avian adventurer, but I don’t generally do the birding thing much anymore. Despite this, the Arctic trip added a dozen or so birds to my life list (if I were to have such a thing – but of course I do!).
The final bird list on the trip was as follows (the column headings, which can’t be seen, are dates). I didn’t see all of them, but I’m posting pictures of those I did (all photos are my own unless mentioned in the captions). I’m not concentrating on the birds as such – after all, you can easily find much better shots than mine on the interwebs – but rather on the combination of the birds and the environment they scratch a living out of.
Birds can’t survive the Arctic winter, so migrate back and forth. The Arctic summer brings massive amounts of plankton and other underwater animals and plants, due to upwelling from ocean currents. The whole biological system relies on the summer largesse of the bottom rung of the food web.
The poster on the ship’s wall helped with ID, as did the excellent library.
- The Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea), possibly the world’s greatest migrator, flying every year between the Arctic and Antarctica over a lifetime of 15-30 years
- Pink-footed geese (Anser brachyrhynchus)
- Common eider (Somateria mollissima; in the second photo, male on the far right) – yes, the ones whose bum feathers make those cosy ‘eiderdowns’ for your bed.
- Barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) – note the surroundings in which they are feeding. This is typical of Longyearbyen and most of the Svalbard peninsula, except that Longyearbyen has lots of mine tailings and industrial structures from the old mining days. The permafrost is just below the surface and the ground unfreezes in summer to only a metre or so, supplying just enough meltwater for tiny plants to unfreeze and commence their summer lives. These are the geese that medieval folks thought came from barnacles.
- Glaucus gull (Larus hyperboreus), a large gull that scavenges pretty much anything
- Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), breeds in colonies on cliff ledges; 130,000 breeding pairs have been estimated
- Brünnich’s guillemot – these birds nest in their hundreds of thousand on sheer cliffs to avoid predation by Arctic foxes and polar bears, which will eat the birds’ eggs and young if they can get at them.
- Long-tailed skua (Stercorarius longicaudus) – these birds attack other birds that have caught their own meals, causing them to drop the food so that the skuas can make off with it.
- Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica), “little brother of the North”
- Northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), a type of petrel
- Purple sandpiper (Calidris maritima), a small shorebird
- Little auk (Alle alle), another bird that nests in thousands on cliffs
Back on the Norwegian mainland, I saw:
- Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) at Balestrand, the same species we get in Australia
- Hooded crow (Corvus cornix) – an urban dweller, this one in Tromso
All in all, a satisfying set of additions to the personal bird list.