Svalbard 2015 – Day 7.5: Bird cliffs

Last view of Palander bay

Last view of Palander bay

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 😉

Cruising along the wast bird cliffs

Cruising along the wast bird cliffs

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.

Bird cliffs

Bird cliffs

At first all the guillemots look like cliff-penguins…

Alkefjellet

Alkefjellet

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.

Bird cliffs swarming with Brünnich's guillemot

Bird cliffs swarming with Brünnich’s guillemot

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.

Brünnich's guillemot flock

Brünnich’s guillemot flock

 

Steep bird cliffs

Steep bird cliffs

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.

Launching the zodiacs for a night cruise by the bird cliffs

Launching the zodiacs for a night cruise by the bird cliffs

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.

Towering cliffs

Towering cliffs

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.

Glauceous gull eating a dead Brünnich's guillemot at the foot of the bird cliffs

Glauceous gull eating a dead Brünnich’s guillemot at the foot of the bird cliffs

 

Bird cliff endpoints

Bird cliff endpoints

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.

Brünnich's guillemots fighting

Brünnich’s guillemots fighting

 

Brünnich's guillemot fighting

Brünnich’s guillemot fighting

 

A Glauceous gull patrolling the bird cliffs for unattended Brünnich's guillemot chicks

A Glauceous gull patrolling the bird cliffs for unattended Brünnich’s guillemot chicks

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.

Arctic fox digging up an old skeleton at the beach under the cliffs

Arctic fox digging up an old skeleton at the beach under the cliffs

 

Arctic fox discovering tasty in the rockslide slopes of the cliffs

Arctic fox discovering tasty in the rockslide slopes of the cliffs

 

Arctic fox against last years snow

Arctic fox against last years snow

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.

 

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  1. November 17, 2015

    […] Svalbard 2015 – Day 7.5: Bird cliffs […]

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