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Home → May, 2019

Monthly Archives: May 2019 − Travelblog


Spitsbergen under sail 2019 and Rolf’s arctic blog starting now

The arctic summer season “Spitsbergen under sail” is starting tomorrow (Saturday) with sV Antigua: we are starting our first departure in Longyearbyen – arctic spring/early summer. Exploring stunning landscapes, ice and snow and the arctic wildlife under sail!

SV Antigua: Spitsbergen under sail

Spitsbergen under sail: with SV Antigua to the ice.

And this means of course that my arctic blog on exactly this page will be updated again regularly, and it is absolutely worth coming back and checking for new photos and short stories. Join us online when we explore remote arctic fjords and islands and meet the wildlife! We will explore Spitsbergen several times under sail with SV Antigua, but also with the smaller SY Arctica II and we will also venture to Greenland with the good SY Anne-Margaretha.

And if you want to join us in real life – the voyage descriptions for 2020 are now online! (German only, sorry, but that is the board language on these trips).

Geese arrived in Spitsbergen after spring migration

Spring has also arrived in arctic Spitsbergen. Early migrating birds such as the snow bunting and Little auk came already more than a month ago in April, filling the tundra in and around Longyearbyen respectively the mountain slopes with their singing (snow bunting) and crazy laughter (snow bunting).

Temperatures are still cold, mild frost, but the snow-free tundra patches are growing every day and the rivers show signs of breaking up.

Adventdalen

Tundra is coming through the snow in Adventdalen.

By now, most migrating birds have returned to their summer territories. A good week ago, the first Pink-footed geese were suddenly sitting, well camouflaged, on the tundra next to the roads in Longyearbyen, and the first Barnacle geese followed soon.

Brent geese, Adventfjord

Brent geese on the shore of Adventfjord (a Barnacle goose in the background).

Once the first geese had arrived, dozens and hundreds followed during the next couple of days to settle down on snow-free tundra areas in Adventdalen and even within Longyearbyen. In this area, the snow melt starts regularly a couple of weeks early than elsewhere in Spitsbergen, making the tundra areas here an important resting area for many birds, which feed on tundra vegetation, after their spring migration. Later they will disperse to their various breeding areas within the region.

Brent geese

Brent geese on the shore of Adventfjord (Pink-footed geese in the foreground).

Currently, it is very easy to observe all geese species that breed in Spitsbergen as well as Common eider ducks, King eider and many otehr species very close to or even within Longyearbyen. Soon they will move to more inaccessible areas and then most of them will also be very shy. Then, it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to secure good observations and photos, even with good equipment.

Especially the Brent goose is a difficult species to observe. It is not an everyday sight during the summer and observations are usually from a greater distance. So it is a special pleasure to see this species on a short distance on the shore of Adventfjord just next to Longyearbyen. As long as you stay a bit hidden or within a car, the risk of disturbance is low.

Pink footed goose, Barnacle goose and Brent goose, Adventfjord

All three species of geese that breed in Spitsbergen in one photo:
Pink footed goose, Barnacle goose and Brent goose, Adventfjord.

I am almost a bit proud of this last photo that has all three species of geese that breed in Spitsbergen in one frame: Pink footed goose (upper left, not sharp), Barnacle goose (lower left) and Brent goose (lower right).

Spitsbergen website in Norwegian

This Spitsbergen website is now also online in Norwegian under the domain name www.spitsbergen-svalbard.no.

It is by far the largest and most comprehensive website dedicated exclusively to Spitsbergen – or rather: to Svalbard, because it covers the whole archipelago including the most remote corners. That is reflected by a large number of sub-sites covering all aspects of the geography, wildlife, and flora as well as the vast and still growing collection of polar panoramas where you can virtually travel all over Svalbard. News of international interest are included as well as a travel blog that covers all seasons and some insights into life in Longyearbyen … it’s all in there, in one website, with about 800 sub-pages and more than 1100 blog entries (per language!). I started working on the original German website www.spitzbergen.de in 2006 and the English version www.spitsbergen-svalbard.com followed soon.

Spitzbergen.de now also in Norwegian

This Spitsbergen website is now also online in Norwegian.

After Svalbard – Norge nærmest Nordpolen came out, it soon became clear that the website had to go the same way. This happend now after several months of intense work – now www.spitsbergen-svalbard.no is online. There are some English pages still hidden in there in a few places, their translation is still going on. Lucky if you find one 🙂

Big thanks to all who have helped to make this happen! This includes

Ida Elisabeth Aarvaag
Cecilie Bergheim
Marie Brekkhus
Mari Buck
Jannicke Høyem
Jesper Kirkhus
Tina Ottenheym
Aina Rogstad
Elisabeth Schoch
Veronika Sund
Ida Elisabeth Veldman
Ivar Våge

Tusen takk skal dere ha!

So for all Norwegian-speaking visitors to this website: enjoy reading and travelling Spitsbergen online in Norwegian on www.spitsbergen-svalbard.no!

Tundra swan near Longyearbyen

The swan song of the winter? Just in time for the “ornithological spring”, a rare tundra swan (Cygnus bewickii) showed up near Longyearbyen. Swans are not on the list of breeding birds in Spitsbergen, they come just occasionally as vagrants.

Tundra swan in Adventdalen

Tundra swan (Cygnus bewickii) in Adventdalen.

There are just five sightings of tundra swans registered on artsobservasjoner.no, a website to register species sightings in Norway. The oldest one of these observations is from 1987.

Tundra swan with pink-footed geese

Tundra swan with pink-footed geese.

There are also sightings of the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) in Spitsbergen, 24 since 1992, including 7 observations from Bear Island (Bjørnøya). And regarding the tundra swan, things can actually be a bit confusing: according to Wikipedia, “The two taxa within it are usually regarded as conspecific, but are also sometimes … split into two species: Bewick’s swan (Cygnus bewickii) of the Palaearctic and the whistling swan (C. columbianus) proper of the Nearctic.”

Tundra swan with pink-footed geese

Tundra swan with pink-footed geese.

But in this case, local bird enthusiasts seem to have settled on a tundra swan (Cygnus bewickii). The bird seems currently quite happy amongst several dozens of pink-footed geese who came up during the last days after their spring migration.

Tundra swan with pink-footed geese

Tundra swan with pink-footed geese.

These photos were taken without disturbance with a focal length of 1200 mm and a high resolution camera.

Also these representatives of the local subspecies of reindeer seem to be happy that there are more and more patches of tundra coming through the snow now. The snow mobiles are stored away for this season, beast and man are looking forward to the summer now!

Spitsbergen-reindeer

Reindeer on early snow-free tundra areas.

Newtontoppen

The winter season is now, in early May or actually soon mid May, about to come to an end, but we are currently having beautiful days, after an April that was partly quite, well, mixed. Now we having temperatures below zero again – but not much, it is not too cold – and it is nice and sunny at times. Good reasons to get out there and enjoy the amazing ice- and snow landscape, once again in winter mode.

Reindeer and ptarmigan

Spring is not far away anymore in Spitsbergen: Ptarmigan and reindeer are happy about spots of snow-free tundra.

We move rather efficiently trough the valleys to the east. Adventdalen, Eskerdalen and Sassendalen, one by one, like perls on a necklace. We leave them quickly behind, as we want to travel far this time.

At Rabotbreen we enter the wide glacier landscapes of east Spitsbergen. The huge moraine of Rabotbreen also shows signs of the approaching spring, icicles are hanging in small ice holes and caves. The sun is strong enough to make some ice melt even when temperatures are actually still below the freezing point.

Ice cave Rabotbreen

Little ice cave in the moraine of Rabotbreen.

Iciclces in ice cave, Rabotbreen

Icicles in an ice hole at Rabotbreen.

We leave also this interesting landcsape quickly behind us, and soon we turn north, deviating from the popular and beloved route across Nordmannsfonna towards Mohnbukta on the east coast. This time, we want to go further north.

Fimbulisen

Heading north across Fimbulisen.

All we have around us is snow, ice and mountains. The landscape appears infinitely wide. Coastal and tundra landscapes have disappeared far behind us. Instead, there is one glacier after the other, one small ice cap neighbouring the next one. Well, they are not exactly small. Of course they can’t compete with those in Greenland and even Antarctica, but still, we are talking hundreds of square kilometres. Fimbulisen, Filchnerfonna, Lomonosovfonna … the latter one is the source to the mighty glaciers Nordenskiöldbreen and Mittag-Lefflerbreen. Lomonosovfonna is 600 square kilometres large!

Lomonosovfonna

Infinite spaces: the ice cap Lomonosovfonna.

Our destination: Newtontoppen. This is Spitsbergen’s highest mountain, 1713 metres high. Or to be clear: the highest mountain of Svalbard, the whole archipelago. 1713 metres are, of course, not very impressive, compared to the large mountain ranges of this world. But it is far away … getting there is the first thing, and even on a lovely spring day like this, it is pretty cold.

Newtontoppen

Newtontoppen comes into our view.

For me, it is the second tour to Newtontoppen. The first time was in 2010. Back then, the two of us used ski, pulk and tent, something that took us almost 4 weeks through this vast landscape. Today, we are faster.

Newtontoppen

Newtontoppen with a decorative cloud.

Back then, we were a bit more lucky with the weather on Newtontoppen: today, the top remains in a thin cloud, although it is largely fine and clear otherwise.

Newtontoppen is not a difficult mountain to ascend, it is “only” far away – and cold.

Newtontoppen peak

The top of Newtontoppen with clouds and stormy wind.

The wind on top of Newtontoppen is strong and it is ice cold, near -20 degrees of centigrade – plus windchill. So it is not exactly picnic time up here, but we enjoy being here, higher than anywhere else on Spitsbergen, for some moments.

And the view is clearing up just a few metres further down. There is a shoulder in about 1500 metres where the granite is coming to the surface. From here, we have got an impressive view over the surrounding mountains and ice fields.

View from Newtontoppen

View from Newtontoppen to the south.

The way back home is a long one … more than 300 kilometres in total, from Longyearbyen to Newtontoppen and back.

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