We decided to go to Svalbard quite some time ago. There was a twitchable Ivory Gull in Germany this spring, the bird was slowly dying on a muddy field in Germany and we wanted better. The Ivory Gull is the breeding price bird of Svalbard, all the other species are in theory possible to get at other, more easily accessible places. Thus, we went for 3 full days of birding on Svalbard.
First day was spent birding in and around Longyearbyen and we fairly quickly racked up all the expected species – except Ivory Gull. First bird was Snow Bunting, singing through the hotel windows. Common everywhere.
A walk along the estuary at Longyearbyen is awesome birding. Fairly few species but high quality birds. Unexpected – to us – was the amount of Purple Sandpipers, they were everywhere. All time high for all of us on that bird.
Many of them ringed by local ornithologists. Barnacle Goose were abundant as well as Pink-footed Goose.
You are not allowed to wander around by yourself on Svalbard due to the Polar Bear hazard. We never saw any Polar Bears during our three day visit, they are further north where the pack ice is. Regardless, in order to walk about you need a gun. We had brought a gun from home and were thus free to walk around as we wanted.
Other birds along the estuary were both Phalaropes, Dunlins, Glaucous Gull, Kittiwake, Arctic Skua and Common Eider.
The Common Eider were nesting just along the road, next to the gravel.
Just as we stood looking at the cute Ducklings, and Arctic Fox turned up and smartly snatched one of the Ducklings.
After Lunch we walked the valley Björndalen, west of the village. There we found our first close and possible to photograph, King Eider.
Later we found a few female King Eiders too, they have a nice smile in their appearance contributing to our smiles.
On the way back from Björndalen we saw our only Ptarmigan on the trip. These Ptarmigans are clearly bigger than the ones we have at home. We heard that the Norwegians have already split it, calling it Spetsbergsripa.
No Ivory Gull though, there were quite a few recent reports of Ivory Gull from Longyearbyen and we searched all the Dog Kennels and the harbour to no avail.
Next day we went on a boat trip some two hours north of Longyearbyen. The goal was a known herd of Walruses. Birding on the sea from the boat was spectacular and we got excellent views of the sea birds. Especially the groups of fast flying Little Auk were nice.
Other sea birds were Brünnich’s Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin and Norhern Fulmar.
We saw two Blue Whales in the distance and went closer. This is one impressive mammal. Eventually we arrived at the place for the Walruses. As from now on, we’re in love with Walruses, they way they look, move and fart is world class.
On the way back, close to Longyearbyen a Long-tailed Skua was resting on the water.
Still no Ivory Gull though. In the evening we took another walk up the valley from Longyearbyen. Pectoral Sandpiper had been reported there recently but we never found any.
Next, and last day, we took yet another boat trip, this time much further away to the most northerly village in the world Ny-Ålesund. Ivory Gull had been seen there just a few days by our friend Jens Wikström who works as a guide on ships that cruise Svalbard. This time the weather was even better than the day before, the sea was completely calm and the sun was shining giving us even better views and photographs of the sea birds. When we finally see the village we’re hyped to max, expecting the Ivory Gull. Just as the boat enters the harbour, I’m squeezed in by other passengers, Mårten is inside putting on his shoes, then Erik screams IVORY GULL. Any .. yeyyy, it came flying in.
Mission complete. We then spent a couple of hours in the village and never saw the Gull again. We were lucky – again. On the other hand someone once said that if you’re lucky all the time – then it’s skill.