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Birding around Longyearbyen

Birding around Longyearbyen

A couple of weeks ago I happened to notice a big discount offer for a Polar Bear Special cruise around Svalbard. Seeing Polar Bears at an affordable price sounded really good so I quickly made the decision. Seeing a polar bear is something a lot of nature enthusiasts want to do at some point in their life and for me this was no different. The benefit of booking late is also that you don’t have to wait very long before the trip starts. So, after a long travel and a night sleeping on the floor of Gardermoen airport, my plane finally landed on the airport of Longyearbyen. The ship would leave tomorrow in the afternoon so I have time to do some birding before the actual trip starts. After I’ve stored my stuff it’s time to go birding!

At the camping, which is located just a bit outside the village, it’s possible to rent bikes and that is what I’m planning. Of course I walk along the waterline from the ship to the camping, I might get some nice birds on the way! Pretty soon the first ducks are flying by, but sadly they are just Common Eiders. The next duck that flies along is something different though, this time not a common eider but a beautiful male King Eider! This was a species that was high on my whish list and it’s nice that it happens so soon. An adult Glaucous Gull is also nice to see.

Glaucous Gull

Also some Purple Sandpipers allow themselves to be photographed from close range.

Purple Sandpiper

Everything is very tame! Close to the camping several arctic terns are breeding and they attack everything that comes close to them. An Arctic Fox needs to be determined if he wants to get away with something here!

Arctic Tern

When I’ve picked up my bike, I’m a able to travel a bit faster, but soon enough I have to stop for a very cool adult breeding plumage Parasitic Jaeger. He is quite easy to approach, although he turns out to be not really in the mood for attention. Like the Arctic Terns he attacks ferociously. So when I’ve got my shots I quickly leave him alone.

Parasitic Jaeger

Snow bunting in summer plumage was also a something I really wanted to see and there are plenty around, but getting a photo takes a bit of time. I’m happy with the results though.

Snow Bunting

The dog kennels should be the place for seeing Ivory Gull. An iconic Arctic species that is my number one bird target for this trip. First I pay a visit to a couple of birders who are scanning a large number of ducks. They have found a Stellers eider! That is also a rare species for the Arctic. I had already hoped for it because it was reported earlier. While I’m still standing there suddenly an Ivory Gull passes by! He goes in the direction of the dog kennels and there I’m able to get a nice picture of it. I’m very happy that I’ve seen this species so soon already!

Ivory Gull

I turn back to the ship for a nice meal, after which I spend the last hours next to a stunning pair of Red Phalarope. They are both in the great summer plumage that these birds have and together with their characteristic tameness they are really birds that deserve a lot of attention. Because it doesn’t get dark here, it’s really tempting to keep going, but I go to bed at 1 am.

Red Phalarope

Late in the evening a nice group of Black-legged Kittiwake passes by as well.

Black-legged Kittiwake

The next morning I’m going out early again, because I’ve gotten a tip from my roommate that outside of the village should be a colony of Little Auks. On my way there I see Parasitic Jaegers harass an Arctic Fox together. Sadly to far away for really good photos but I’m glad with my first Arctic Fox in any case.

Arctic Fox

For the Little Auks I have to do a little climbing, and my way there I see flocks of Little Auk flying around.

Little Auk

Finally I’ve found a small group that I can approach to a few meters and luckily they don’t move. I get fantastic views! What an experience!

Little Auk

It’s a very cool experience to sit by yourself on a mountain slope while the Little Auks are flying all around you calling.

Little Auk

This is why you visit Spitsbergen! When I’ve finally had enough from the Little Auks, I suddenly hear a bird calling. Soon I see what it is: a Rock Ptarmigan is flying down!

Rock Ptarmigan

This was the final species I had hoped to see and it works along very nicely. I see where the bird lands and I can approach it to the distance of one (!) meter!

Rock Ptarmigan

Time for pictures of the bird in it’s environment!

Rock Ptarmigan

After this successful morning I turn back. Near the camping I’m able to get good pictures of a nice male Red Phalarope.

Red Phalarope

In the afternoon the ship leaves to the North, on to the Polar Bears!

After I’ve come back from a great trip, I have almost a whole day to go birding. Puffins, Black guillemots and Thick-billed murres were all very well seen during the trip.


Black Guillemot

Thick-billed Murre

Northern Fulmars were always flying around the ship.

Northern Fulmar

And we saw Parasitic Jaegers in a very nice environment!

Parasitic Jaeger

Also beautiful mixed groups of Eider and King Eider

King Eider

When I’m back on the firm soil of Longyearbyen I pick-up my bike again at the camping and I cycle now to the east side of the island because somewhere there it should be possible to see Red-necked Phalaropes, a species that has eluded me so far. First however a pair of Long-tailed Ducks allow themselves to be approached, you can see where it gets its name from!

Long-tailed Duck

I’m in luck because I can get a lift from  Americans I’ve met on the ship. The Red-necked Phalaropes appear to be quite a long way outside of the village so that saves me a lot of kilometres cycling. These spinning tops are less easy to photograph then their red nephews but finally I’m happy with the result.

Red-necked Phalarope

All in great summer plumage of course. At the other side of the road is a pair of King Eider sitting with a pair of great adult breeding plumage Red-throated Loon. From both species I didn’t have any closeups yet but that’s done now too!

Red-throated Loon

King eiders are so beautiful…

King Eider

After a well spent day, I sleep for a few hours at the camping before the plane leaves at 1 am in the night. When I leave my tent an hour before the flight, I see an arctic fox walking along, that is quickly welcomed by screeching arctic terns. It’s a great finish of a great trip!

Look here for all our Polar Bear sightings!


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