I have returned recently from a three week trip to the wonderful Svalbard archipelago. This remote and pristine environment is without doubt one of the most beautiful places on our planet. This was my third trip to the high Arctic and I have still only seen a small section of this amazing place. I have always visited Svalbard by using a small yacht as I feel this is the best way of experiencing the wonderful wildlife that can be found. Life on board a small yacht in the high Arctic can be tough and you certainly have to be a certain type of character to cope with these conditions but we did and have survived to tell the tale and show a few pictures too.
The weather was not the best I have experienced and usually you can expect some prolonged calm spells during the summer but our first week was difficult and if I am honest you start to question yourself as a guide during these difficult times. Svalbard can be a difficult place and you just don’t find subjects around every corner. During our first week we did manage to find some nice subjects which were feeding in front of the Glaciers. Lots of birds can be found like Fulmars and Kittiwakes.
I have always liked to work in front of the Glaciers in Svalbard as you just never know what you are likely to bump into. I was really hoping to find a Polar Bear hunting in front of one but again this opportunity passed by. We also got the chance to land a few times to work with other subjects and one of my own favourites was the Little Auk.
There are many advantages in working from a Yacht but there are also disadvantages too and one of them is safety in bad weather. The weather was awful at times with low pressure sitting over Svalbard. Our main destination was to get to the pack ice but as we got deeper into the trip it was very apparent that it would be just too dangerous to go. At this point both myself and Mark were under tremendous pressure but in the end we made the right decision and we were rewarded with some of the best encounters that I have had in Svalbard.
It was very disappointing for the group but I hope that you will remember the special encounter with Smudge our young male friend. Because of the weather we had to find a safe anchor and so decided to anchor near fast ice which was attracting Seals. We witnessed many spectacular encounters with Bears especially the one of a large Male that caught a seal. My own favourite was the encounter of a young male that totally accepted the Yacht.
The fact that we could anchor in such a small bay was a real bonus because the young male totally accepted the presence of the Yacht and so we could get more intimate images. Usually most of the Polar Bear encounters are of Bears walking away or showing anger so for me this was a real experience. We managed to photograph him sleeping, grooming stretching and when he eventually got up some hunting too.
During our stay we also got the chance to photograph a young female but she never really came close enough but I still liked these images of her in context with her environment.
After a few days we got a break in the weather and so managed to land on a small island that I have visited on many occasions. I have never really had the chance to visit in good weather but it was great to visit in some great light. No one hardly visits this island and certainly not the bigger ships but it really is a fantastic place for some very special Arctic tundra birds. The beautiful Grey Phalarope can be found in good numbers on the island and also the beautiful Red Throated Diver breeds.
We still wanted to search for Bears but the Ice was thawing fast after such a wet mild spell but we still managed to get some shots of some of the Arctic birds that spend the summer months here. Eiders are common and where ever you anchor there is always a Black Guillemot.
In total I have spent nearly fourteen weeks travelling around Svalbard and during this trip we managed to find one of the best things that I witnessed. Walrus’s are becoming increasingly common in Svalbard after many years of over hunting. They are recovering slowly but most of the animals you find are Males. The females are usually found in smaller numbers further to the east where they Pup on the pack ice. So to find a female with such a young pup was a real pleasure and is one of the most rewarding experiences for me.
So after another short visit to this wonderful place I am left with a feeling of wanting to go back already. I am hopefully planning a return visit in a couple of years’ time so if you would be interested in joining me on an adventure in the high Arctic then please let me know. I am now off to Finland to work with another species of Bear, the brown Bear. I will finish though with one of my favourites of the young male.