Svalbard 2015 – Day 7.5: Bird cliffs
In the evening of the 7th day we left Palanderbukta and crossed Hinlopen for the bird cliffs again. The weather is still fantastic, the best on the whole trip, and we arrive before midnight in pleasant, warm sunlight. Since this part took place from late evening until 3 in the morning, I’ve included it as yet another .5 day 😉
At first we make a few passes along the cliffs with MS Origo, letting us take in the huge number of birds and towering cliff sides. Once again a light panic over how to capture such a grand location on a small sensor sets in.
At first all the guillemots look like cliff-penguins…
But when they start throwing themselves from the cliffside and come nosediving at you, you realize these short, stubby birds are quite the air acrobats.
Some birds gather in groups on the water, where they take the opportunity to clean up from the inevitable disadvantages of living in layers in a cliffside.
After doing a few passes in MS Origo, we deploy the zodiacs to get closer and lower. The sea is incredibly calm and the sky is amazing.
While Brünnich’s guillemots are by far the most common species in the cliffs, in some areas colonies of Kittiwakes have found room to build their nests. The number and activity of the guillemots help offer them protection.
Even though the chicks haven’t yet hatched and started to jump from the cliffs, the resident predators still find something to eat. The large Glaucous gulls find dead adults in the water and sometimes manages to snatch unprotected chicks from the nests.
Male Brünnich’s guillemots regularly fight on the water under the cliffs. Sometimes the fights break out between two individuals swimming close to each other, but other times the fight starts among neighbors in the cliffs, and they end up taking the fight down to the water where there’s room to get properly physical.
After a few hours in the zodiacs I think most of us in the boat I was in felt we had tried to shoot this overwhelming place in pretty much every way we could think of. I had even tried a gazillion panning attempts, and no – they still didn’t work out. Despite having made a pass outside of the cliff area several times, looking for arctic foxes, we hadn’t seen any. As the other zodiac returned to the ship, we decided to give it one more go, and as we glided past the beach in front of a slope of rocks and mud, I caught a glimpse of a small fox scurrying across the rocky beach.
After this great encounter at the end of the night, we returned to the ship. A cloudy cover had already stretched across the sky, taking away our lovely light and bringing with it a little wind and waves.
We continued northward.