Archive for September, 2011

Arctic Day 3 – Prins Karls Forland and St.Johns Fjord

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Landing on Poolepynten

The beautiful weather of the past 2 days were gone.  We woke up to some dreary weather with intense winds but that wouldn’t deter us.  Rumor had it that today was the day we were going to see walruses so I was pretty excited.  It turned out today was not the day we would see them but we had fun none the less.

Expedition staff all "geared up"

We all got geared up for our landing on Poolepynten and little hike.  The expedition staff all carry rifles just in case we encounter a polar bear.  They take every precaution not encounter them on land but if you do it’s better to be prepared because letting a polar bear eat a tourist is bad for business.

With very little widlife around I focused on the big and the little.  Big landscapes.  Little flowers.

Poolepynten landscape

Svalbard Poppy

Anyone know what this is?

Purple Saxifrage

budding flower


Poolepynten landscape

We continued on to St. Johns fiord where we had another landing and found an old trappers hut.

Old trappers hut

Can you imagine spending an entire arctic winter inside one of these?

Inside a trappers hut

at least you have one heck of a view from the toilet.

Arctic toilet with a view

While we had very few wildlife sightings today it still was a good day and we learned a bit about how norwegian trappers live on Svalbard.

Arctic Day 2 – Storfjorden Region

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Another very, very early wake up call this morning… 5:30am early.  No worries though.  It was to announce a polar bear off the bow.

Sleeping polar bear

It’s amazing how the staff and crew can spot these creatures from so far away in what seems like an endless sea of pack ice.  They have binoculars and spotting scopes but even with those tools it takes years of experience to be able to pick out the slightly off white color from the rest of the white.  However, once they are spotted far off in the distance the captain maneuvers the ship closer so the rest of us can get a good look.

Scanning for polar bears in the pack ice

Polar Bear through the spotting scope

Polar Bear resting on the pack ice

We were lucky enough to see a polar bear with a kill which isn’t uncommon but not seen on every trip.

Polar Bear with a kill

Even the birds were happy… at least the dominant one was happy because he scared away the rest of his competition.

Birds eating Polar Bear kill

I spent most of my time hanging out taking pictures out on deck above the bridge or out on the bow.  However, I go on the bridge once and while to warm up and talk with the staff.  As I’ve mentioned before, the staff and crew on the NatGeo Explorer are some of the best I’ve travelled with.  One of the interesting things I learned from the staff is that when a Polar Bear sticks out it’s tongue it means that it’s stressed.  I thought it was just a regular yawn. Not the case though.  It seems like the presence of our ship was disturbing it and after a while the captain backed away to let the Polar Bear go about its business.

Polar bear sticking tongue out

We caught up with another Polar Bear later taking a little swim.

Polar Bear swimming

Did you know that polar bears can swim hundreds of miles without resting.  They can also jump 7 feet out of the water onto the ice.  We never saw this happen but that would be a sight to see.  A 1500 lb polar bear jumping 7 feet out of the water.  I guess we’ll have to go back to try and get that picture.

Today was a one polar bear encounter after another.  Amazing experience and a couple of good photographs too :)

Iceberg jacuzzi

Arctic Day 1 – Hornsund, Svalbard

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Morning humpback whales

Our first day out in the arctic started with a very early wake up call.  Humpback whales just in front of the ship the expedition leader said over the ship wide intercom.  Having laid out all my photo gear the night before in preparation of getting the call at any moment I was ready to jump on a moments notice.  The call came and I was the first (other than the crew) out on the bow of the ship with my camera in hand taking pictures of the magnificant humpback whales.

Humpback whale in the arctic

The excitement wasn’t nearly over that day.  Shortly after our first whale sighting we had our first polar bear far off in the distance.

Polar bear through a spotting scope

One of the ways to get good polar bear pictures if you don’t have a mega zoom lens is put a small point and shoot up to one of the many spotting scopes around the ship.  Miki was able to get some pretty nice shots using this technique.  It’s sure a lot cheaper and more convenient than buying a 500mm lens.  But it still doesn’t have the quality that a good slr/lens combo can have… or at least that is what I tell myself to justify all this gear :)

Polar Bear on pack ice

The reason the bears are out on the ice this time of year is because that is where there food is.  This seal was a couple hundred yards away from the resting polar bear.  The seal also seemed to be trying to take a nap but always had one eye trained on the bear… just in case.

Seal trying to rest on polar bear infested pack ice

After our whale and polar bear sightings we arrived at our destination for the morning, Gnålodden.  It’s a rocky landing with a vertical wall covered with what seems like thousands of chattering geese.  The geese weren’t the main attraction of this landing though.  An arctic fox shuttling it’s pups from one den to another right in front of us was the photographic highlight of the day.  This was a very rare sight and to see it up close was a treat.  We were confused what the fox was carrying at first.  Looking at the back of the LCD screen it looked like the fox was carrying a teddy bear.

Arctic fox carrying its pup

Arctic fox carrying its kill

In between photographing the amazing arctic fox sighting I took the time look around.  It’s important not to get tunnel vision on focus on only one subject.  The best shot could be behind you.