Friday, 13 August 2010

Arctic Adventure - 9

Monday 9th August 2010

My Arctic pictures are here.

We cruised overnight to reach Liefdefjord which is part of the North West Spitsbergen National Park. Shortly after 6.0 a.m. I was on the bridge observing as we manoevred towards the glaciers at Monacobreen. Robin and other members of the Expedition Team were also on the bridge, planning the day's activities. Robin spotted a Polar Bear on a small ice floe ahead of us and made an announcement to the passengers to give them a chance to observe. I moved onto the foredeck for a closer view. The floating ice held a large, healthy polar bear aqnd the remains of a seal. The bear and the ice floe showed patches of blood. The bear had clearly had his fill (it's the fat bears prefer) and a number of birds were attacking what the bear had left. After a while, the bear pushed the remains into the water and then slipped into the water himself. The bear's head could be seen for a short while as he swam away from the ice but we soon lost sight of him. An astonishing experience.

At 8.0 a.m. the first Groups boarded Zodiacs for a tour along the Monacobreen Glacier edge. I had a later departure with the second Groups at about 10.0 a.m. As you'd expect, the water in front of the glacier edge is heavily loaded with pieces of ice produced by the 'calving' process as the ice melts and sections of the ice front crash into the fjord. The zodiac made progress by a series of bumps and bangs over the larger lumps. We couldn't approach the ice front too closely because of the possibility of a section of ice detaching but, whilst we were cruising, we saw a number of 'calvings'.

The collapses are preceded by a rumble like thunder combined with a tearing noise. The amount of ice released each time varies from dissappointingly small to impressively large. The larger amounts produce a noticeable 'tsunami wave' and the crashing ice stirs up nutrients making it a bird paradise.

There were thousands of Kittiwakes and plenty of the more common Arctic species but we spotted a small number of the rare Ivory Gulls. The 'birders' were particularly pleased that we had a very good sighting of the extremely rare Sabine Gull (the entire world population is thought to be no more than 20,000). I watched a spectacular 'dog-fight' between a Kittiwake carrying a fairly large fish and an Auk who was trying to steal the food. The Kittiwake wheeled and turned across the sky above my Zodiac, both birds demonstrating 'high rate' turns. Eventually, the Auk decided to find an easier target and flew off, allowing the Kittiwake to alight on a piece of floating ice near the Zodiac and start to devour the fish.

A little later, another Zodiac approached, driven by the Captain and carrying the Executive Chef, David, and members of the restaurant staff. To our surprise, we were offered a glass of champagne and a tray of chocolate and fruit snacks. After this delightful interlude, we had time for a little more bird-watching before making our way back through the floating ice to the ship. As soon as everyone was back on board, we set sail for the island of Andoye.

After the accustomed excellent lunch, we were to go on a second Zodiac tour. Originally, this was to be a landing but, after a mother and cub Polar Bear were spotted on the island, our plan was changed. The weather had also deteriorated and we set off across a fairly choppy sea with wind, rain and sea-spray combining to discourage even hardy travellers. In addition, earlier the mother and cub had been observed walking about and playing but, by the time we got there, mother and cub were both hunkered down. We made a few circuits of the bay to give mutliple photographic opportunities but the only movement was the mother periodically raising her head and then lowering it. Before our allowed time had expired, some of the passengers in my Zodiac had had enough and elected to return to the ship.

Before cocktails and dinner, we trooped to the theatre for a re-cap and briefing for the foll0owing day. After cocktails (in my case a Coca-Cola) I took dinner with my new friends from Texas. We were now heading south down the west coast of Svalbard in the Greenland Sea and the wind was producing quite a list which resulted in one or two accidents where crockery slid from tables onto the floor with a crash. After dinner, I spent some time on the bridge noticing that the list was indicated as up to seven degrees.