Svalbard 2011 – Birds

When it comes to bird species diversity, Svalbard is a clear illustration of Humboldt’s latitudinal gradients theory : located well above the polar circle, between 72N and 80N, Svalbard has only 23 breeding species, and the total number of species observed is around 130, a number that could be easily matched in just one good birding day in a prime tropical location. As expected, sea birds, waders and ducks are the best represented groups, whereas there is no breeding raptor nor owl (Svalbard has no lemmings, therefore Gyr Falcons and Snowy Owls only occur occasionally) and only one passerine (the super hardy Snow Bunting).

But still Svalbard is a great place to observe a number a arctic species rarely found elsewhere in Europe : Pink-footed Goose, Little Auk, Sabine’s, Ivory and Ross’s (very rare) Gulls, the 4 species of Skua, etc….

Having twice this summer, at the end of July then end of august, it was also interesting to observe the changes after the end of the breeding season. For instance the alcid colonies were still fully occupied in July, but all activity had ceased one month later. Most of the geese were already gone end of August, with small flocks departing regularly toward the south. Actually from october till spring only one species is present on land in Svalbard : the rock ptarmigan.

Here below is the rather thin bird list, but in line with what you can expect on a non-dedicated birding trip in this season :

Red-throated Loon : 2 couples around Lnngyearbyen (LB)

Northern Fulmar : 100s every day on the cruise. “dark phase” birds, varying from light to dark brown.

Pink-footed Goose : Group of 5 near Monaco glacier. Around 200 in early august in Advantalen in LB, but only a dozen left at the end of august.

Barnacle Goose : Est 750 around LB in early august, only a third left end of august.

Brent Goose : not seen (?) in early august, around 20 in Advantalen end of august.

Common Eider : Sparsely encountered in fjords during the cruise. Around 100 around LB. Drakes already mostly in eclipse at end of July.

Rock Ptarmigan : 1 female with 3 chicks attacked by arctic Skua N of LB

Ringed Plover : Few Ind. on Lagoya Is. Common around LB (many juveniles)

Purple Sandpiper : Common everywhere.

Dunlin : Common around LB

Sanderling : Few seen around LB.

Red Phalarope : Around 20 Ind. in the marshes of Lagoya Is

Pomarine Skua : 3 birds on the ice South of Austfonna Glacier on 26/07

Arctic Skua :  Commonly seen during the cruise and around LB

Great Skua : Encountered in few numbers during the cruise

Sabine’s Gull : 2 Ind on the marshes on Lagoya Is on 23/07.

Glaucous Gull : Seen every day in few numbers.

Black-legged kittiwake : Abundant

Ivory Gull : Few Ind observed near Pack ice. A polar bear kill south of Austfonna attracted 10 ind.

Arctic Tern : Regularly seen, usually in pairs or small colonies (LB, Lagoya Is)

Brunnich’s Guillemot : Most common Alcid. By the thousands around the Alkfjellet colony in Hinlopen Strait

Black Guillemot : Commonly seen, usually singly on in small flocks near the coast.

Little Auk : In small flocks, more frequently seen out in the sea. Birds breeding on scree N of LB still present early august but gone at the end of the month.

Atlantic Puffin : Seen in few numbers daily, never abundant.

Snow Bunting : In and around LB, usually in small flocks

Total : a meagre 25 species 😦

Black Guillemot

Little Auk

Brunich's Guillemot colony

Brunich's Guillemots

Brunich's Guillemots

Northern Fulmar

Glaucous Gulls

Black legged Kittiwakes

Sabine's Gull

Sabine's Gull

Sabine's Gull

Arctic Skua

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Red Phalarope

Red Phalarope

Red-throated Diver

Barnacle geese

Pink-footed geese

9 thoughts on “Svalbard 2011 – Birds

  1. Hi Yann! Greetings from Norway! Nice to see you are online – congratulations with your wildlife photography blog! A lot of great pictures here, I especially liked the pictures of the black guillemot on the small ice rock and the Brunich’s guillemots in the sea. Keep it up!

  2. Thanks for another magnificent post. Where else could

    anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect
    way of writing? I’ve a

    presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such information.

  3. Hello I have question regarding your two trips. I’ve considering a trip that is 11 days at the end of June, or a 15 day trip that attempts to circumnavigate that starts mid-August. I’m primarily after polar bear sightings but I keep hearing about the bird cliffs and how amazing they are! If you had to choose between these two dates, which would you think is best for sightings, lighting and overall experience? Thanks! -Matthew

    • Hi Matthew,
      As for birds, mid-august is already too late, colonies start to disperse at the end of July. For the rest you’ll certainly have more ice in June, preventing the circumnavigation, but you might have better chances of bears in the fjords, whereas in August best sighting chances will be up north on the arctic ice pack. Light will be harsher as well, whereas in mid-august the midnight sun is already very low. Overall experience will be similar at both times : fantastic !
      Good luck with your trip.
      Yann

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