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Day 7 (
Thursday, 16 August 2012)

 

Ice

Waterfall

Iceberg

Turning away from the wildlife as the central focus for part of the voyage, this morning we parked the ship next to the rather impressive sea cliffs which form the edge of the ice sheet on the mainly ice covered island of Austfonna. The sea was almost smooth, in contrast to the 2 metre swell of yesterday, making the zodiacs a much more pleasant place to be. We were also lucky to have Bob as our guide – a self confessed iceberg nut, so we headed straight away from the rest of the flotilla to have a closer look at the impressive array of small icebergs which littered the sea. The variation in form, colour and even sounds close to was astonishing. Small groups of Kittiwakes were on some to add some spice, and the usual motley collection of light to dark Fulmars were passing particularly close to our vessel.

We did traverse part of the (vast) length of the ice cliffs, and came across various types of waterfall and cuttings where some ice had cleaved off. One of the waterfalls even fell internally into one of the enclaves, hitting the water below with some force. A couple of Bearded Seals made an appearance at this point, with a group of 3 Black Guillemots flying past, but the morning belonged to the geology rather than the fauna. The excitement hadn’t finished yet though – as we were about to leave, the left hand wall of the cave with waterfall we had been in front of not too much earlier sheared off for a third and most impressive time, causing its own mini tsumani.

Kittiwake

Bearded Seal

Black-legged Kittiwakes

Bearded Seal

 

We left the smooth waters of the ice cliffs to head North to the cliffs holding thousands of breeding Brünnich’s Guillemots. However, we were held up for some hours by a pod of feeding Humpback Whales. The sea by now had become much rougher, and even more impact on us was made by the bitter wind blowing from the North. This didn’t take away from the display of the whales, which could be seen bubble feeding, with an attendant flock of Kittiwakes trying to pick off scraps, or even occasionally breaching. Two particularly obliging chaps were happy to feed in front of the ship for some time. We were due to arrive at the sea cliffs at 4pm, but didn’t leave the whales until around 1½ hours after that time.

Breach

Humpback

Fluke

As we sped from the site, the weather closed in, with very poor visibility, but this improved again as we neared the seabird colony at around 6pm. The commotion from the many thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemots was tangible from some way off, and this also dispelled the worry that we may have just been a little late for the birds still nesting on the ledges. There are reputed to be around 60000 pairs here, and it certainly seemed that a sizeable portion of these were still in the vicinity. They seemed to be buzzing around everywhere – past both sides of the ship, many above, hundreds on the sea, and of course, thousands still on the nesting cliffs. Occasional opportunistic Glaucous Gulls could be seen amongst the throng. And this also gave the opportunity of one of the guillemot’s main protagonists – Arctic Fox. The cliffs were possibly too steep for them in most places, but many searching eyes from the ship soon picked up a leucistic fox trundling its way along the grassy slopes below some of the nesting birds. It could be picked out easily with the naked eye, as it weaved its way along the green below the rocks. After observing the impressive glacier at the colony edge, the ship turned back South, when the fox was again picked up for the second and last time.

Cliffs

Arctic Fox

Brunnich's Guiilemot

Nesting cliffs

Arctic Fox

Brunnich's Guillemot

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