family days at 78*N

FAMILY DAYS AT 78*N

 

For the last 5 days, I have been in Longyearbyen, the ‘capital of Spitsbergen’, where my elder grandson—my daughter and family have lived there already in 10 years— celebrated his ‘confirmation’, a ceremony in church  which is a very important thing and a sort of coming in age for young Norwegians. Because of the pandemic the ceremony had been moved from May to September, and only 13 people were allowed present. (Although Svalbard has as yet had  no Covid19 cases at all, the protective rules are as strict as everywhere in Norway). This knitted our group more closely together, and we had a number of walks during this period, as well as a 12 hrs boat trip on the Saturday, to visit the abandoned Russian mining village of Pyramiden, further inland along the enormous Isfjorden. The weather these days was wet and foggy, with temperatures a few degrees above freezing. But the last day we had a glorious sunny day, with light frost. Day length this time a year is still a bit longer than further south. Earlier snow had mostly rained away again, but of course the mountains were white.

 

What may be impressed me most during these days, were the glorious autumn (fall) colours. Sadly I cannot show these to you here; if you want to see for yourself, contact me at wjm.vader@gmail.com, and I send you a few snapshots, Only the lower lying areas are vegetated, but these glow in a brassy colour, punctuated by the many small yellow leaves of the Polar Willow Salix polaris. To my surprise one place I also found a lot of different mushrooms. A few flowers were still out, in fact almost more than in Tromsø; most common a Cerastium, followed by an also white Saxifraga and again white poppies. There are not all that many birds either. In the village itself, the most conspicuous birds are the small flocks of geese–mostly Barnacle Geese, but here and there also Pink-bills. A sole Purple Sandpiper foraged in a small puddle along the main street There were many more of these along the shore, along with Kittiwakes and Glaucous Gulls, as well as Arctic Terns and a single Black Guillemot, black no longer now .

 

During the long boat trip to Pyramiden we were constantly accompanied by Fulmars, circling the boat for long periods; when the wind abated for a while late in afternoon, many were sitting on the water. Also here Kittiwakes

were common, as well as Atlantic Puffins. Once a small flock of Dovekies circled the boat a few times; most of these here very common nesters had apparently already left. Along the shores small flocks of Common Eiders loafed here and there, and there were surprisingly many Arctic Skuas (Parasitic Jaegers), often clearly still in pairs. In Pyramiden itself one of the largest buildings had been completely taken over by a vast Kittiwake colony, with many large young still in the nests. At some pools near the airport we also found a single Ringed Plover.

 

Not a very long bird list, and maybe the mammals this time took the prize. Close to Pyramiden we first met a Humpback Whale, and a bit later a largish flock of Belugas, at least 25 all around us. And not too long afterwards we espied a Polar Bear along the shore (2 weeks ago a camper was killed by a Polar Bear at the camping at the airport, and on all our walks daughter Anna carried a rifle), which we could watch for a long time.  We did somewhat less well with land animals: Reindeer of course, but no Arctic Foxes and no Svalbard Ptarmigan. The first days I thought that the only songbird here, the Snow Bunting, also had left already, but on the last walk at Bjørndalen there were suddenly still quite a number around, also these seemingly still often in pairs, with much chasing.

 

This was primarily a family occasion, but I mat still give an impression of the season at 78* early September.

 

Wim Vader, Tromsø, Norway

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