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 😦