Svalbard Arctic tern research

Randall Hyman writes about this video:

Return of the Terns

Scientists at the Dutch research station in Ny-Ålesund on Norway’s Spitsbergen Island study annual migration patterns of Arctic terns.

More about Randall Hyman in Norway: here.

More about Svalbard Arctic tern research: here.

New tracking technology reveals birds’ epic and amazing journeys. Smaller and lighter tracking devices are opening up whole new insights into behaviour, movements and migrations: here.

Spitsbergen flowers photos

Purple Saxifraga, Svalbard, June 2013

A bit late, but better late than never 🙂 Photos from June 2013 in Spitsbergen. They depict Saxifraga oppositifolia, purple saxifrage, flowers. They are the most northerly flowering plant species in the world. The colour of the flowers varies.

SO MUCH FOR SAVING THE WORLD’S SEEDS “The Norwegian Government is redesigning parts of the Global Seed Vault [in Svalbard], after a record warm summer caused permafrost to melt and flood the entrance.” [ABC Rural]

White Saxifraga, Svalbard, June 2013

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Svalbard, bye bye!

This video is about Arctic terns mobbing a birdwatcher, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, 28th June 2010.

After 8 June, today is 9 June 2013.

We have to leave Svalbard.

In Longyearbyen, a snow bunting, a glaucous gull, and barnacle geese sound.

On our way to the airport, we see common eider ducks swimming in the fjord.

Our plane takes off to Oslo, the capital of Norway.

8:45: our plane passes Bear Island.

In Oslo, we transfer to a bigger plane.

Many Svalbard bird photos are here.

More Svalbard photos: here.

Svalbard puffins and barnacle geese

Polar bear traffic sign, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

Today, after the ptarmigan and red-throated diver in the morning, and the shoveler ducks later, is the afternoon of 8 June in Svalbard. We say goodbye to the polar bear … err … to the polar bear image on the traffic sign, and to the snowy mountain behind it 🙂

On the opposite side of the road, not far from where the shovelers were, snow buntings.

Barnacle goose, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

And a barnacle goose couple walking around.

We are going by zodiac boat to the Isfjord, the second longest fjord of Svalbard.

In Longyearbyen harbour, a black guillemot swims.

On Fuglefjellet mountain, many seabirds nest. As we approach it, puffins swimming.

At Fuglefjellet, there are kittiwakes. And little auks: high up the mountains.

Thick-billed murre colony, Fuglefjellet, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

And there are thick-billed murres.

This is a video about thick-billed murres feeding their chicks in a nesting colony in Svalbard.

This video is also about thick-billed murres in Svalbard.

Three great skuas flying.

The zodiac continues to the mining ghost town Grumant. Kittiwakes nest on the buildings now. We can’t land; too many waves.

Puffin, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

As the zodiac returns, puffins swimming again.

Shoveler ducks in Svalbard

Northern shoveler couple, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

On 7 June 2013, I saw a male and a female northern shoveler duck.

Northern shoveler male, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

They were in the marshy area near the estuary of the Adventdalselva river, opposite the common eider colony at the dog cages, just east of Longyearbyen town in Spitsbergen.

Northern shoveler male, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

This bird species is rare in Svalbard. The book Birds and Mammals of Svalbard, page 187, says less than twenty individuals have ever been seen on this Arctic archipelago.

Northern shoveler couple, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

So says the site It adds that recently, shovelers have only been seen in Svalbard in 1996, 1997, 2007 and 2013.

Northern shoveler male flying, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

We saw the shoveler couple again, on the next day, 8 June 2013, at about the same spot. Eventually, they flew away.

Northern shoveler male still flying, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

Northern shoveler couple flying, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

But later that day, they were back again.

Northern shoveler couple swimming, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

The day after 8 June, 9 June 2013, Ole Edvard Torland made these photos of a shoveler couple, very probably the same couple, in Adventdalen valley. Ole Edvard Torland writes the ducks were disturbed by a great skua. There are no records after June 9 of these two birds. Did they decide that after all, Svalbard was too Arctic for them?

Talking about common and rare birds in Svalbard: we did not see any greater black-backed gulls in Svalbard, though, according to, they are “common but dispersed breeders”. On the other hand, we were lucky to see a smaller relative of them, a lesser black-backed gull, which is rare in the archipelago.

We were also privileged to see a pectoral sandpiper, also rare in Svalbard.

There is a post on this blog on rare songbirds of Svalbard. On 30 June 2013, this photo was taken of a male Lapland bunting in Adventdalen valley.

Svalbard ptarmigan, and red-throated diver

This video from Svalbard is called Longyearbyen – The Town.

After 7 June, 8 June is our last full day in Spitsbergen.

We go to the mountain just above Longyearbyen, where we had seen the ptarmigan love story during our first full day.

Ptarmigan male, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

We see the male ptarmigan again. Again, on the ruins of the coal mine destroyed by Hitler’s Kriegsmarine in 1943.

Ptarmigan male, Svalbard, on 8 June 2013

But where is the female?

Ptarmigan male, still on Svalbard, 8 June 2013

Is she by now on a nest at some well hidden spot?

Then, we continue to Adventdalen valley. We see two male king eider ducks. And a purple sandpiper.

Red-throated diver, lake in Adventdalen, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

And a red-throated diver in the lake.

Red-throated diver, in lake in Adventdalen, Svalbard, 8 June 2013

We return to the common eider colony just east of Longyearbyen.

Red-throated diver winters near Texel, the Netherlands: here.

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Svalbard eider ducks, ice and fox

Female eider duck, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Spitsbergen, 7 June 2013. On the side of the road opposite the common eider duck colony, the Adventdalselva river flows. At this time of the year, the ice is melting. Many ice floes flow down the river.

Male eider duck, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Eider ducks swim along the ice.

Eider duck couple, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Eider duck male and ice, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Eider duck male near ice, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Finally for today, an Arctic fox in the eider colony. It steals an egg. Probably a fox who knows better than other foxes that the dogs can’t get out of their cages.

Svalbard gulls, plover and polar bear

Glaucous gulls, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Spitsbergen, 7 June 2013. Just east of the pond where we saw the long-tailed ducks, there are, of course, the dog cages and the common eider nesting colony. There are glaucous gulls there as well.

Glaucous gull couple, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

A glaucous gull couple standing on the snow behind the eider duck colony.

Glaucous gull couple on pole, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Sometimes, they sit on the poles around the dog cages.

Just past the dog cages, where the Adventdalen road begins, a polar bear traffic sign. It warns about polar bears in the whole archipelago.

Polar bear traffic sign, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

This polar bear on a warning traffic sign was the only polar bear which we saw in Spitsbergen (except for a stuffed one at the airport, and polar bears as depicted as symbols of Svalbard on buildings).

Ringed plover, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

In the river valley opposite the dog kennel, a ringed plover.

Svalbard’s Polar Bears and the effects of climate change – in pictures: here.

Svalbard long-tailed ducks revisited

This video is called Eider Ducks Diving Under The Arctic Sea Ice.

Spitsbergen, 7 June 2013. After the snow buntings, dunlins and reindeer of the Adventdalen valley, we return to the dog cages just east of Longyearbyen town; to the common eider colony. There, we see a male and a female of a bird species, rare for Svalbard. They will have to wait till a later blog post.

As we also see a male and a female long-tailed duck swim in the pond just west of the dog cages.

Long-tailed duck male, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Minutes later, a male long-tailed duck resting on an islet in that lake.

Long-tailed duck male cleaning feathers, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

He is in transition between winter and summer plumage. He still has winter white on the top of his head.

Long-tailed duck male still cleaning feathers, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

He cleans his feathers.

Long-tailed duck male standing, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Long-tailed duck male spreading wings, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Svalbard snow buntings, dunlins and reindeer

This video from the Antarctic says about itself:

That Incredible Little Arctic Tern

Feb 13, 2013

We went to Antarctica to see the penguins, and we certainly did. But we saw so much more wildlife: orcas and elephant seals and leopard seals and many different seabirds. My favorite is the Arctic tern, a little bird that migrates further every year than any other in the world… from the Antarctic to the Arctic, and back – 20,000 miles every year.

Spitsbergen, 7 June 2013. After the black guillemots of the sea near the mouth of the river of Bjørndalen valley, we go to the east. More Arctic terns have arrived from their long journey from the Antarctic, to near the artificial islets, made especially for them here.

We pass Longyearbyen, and go further east: to where we have seen the lone pectoral sandpiper in the Adventdalen valley.

The male pectoral sandpiper is still doing his courtship flights, with their U-u-u sound. Still, no pectoral sandpiper female.

Female snow bunting, near nest, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Not far away, a snow bunting couple. Again and again, they fly to where they are very probably building a nest.

Male snow bunting, near nest, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

The book Birds and Mammals of Svalbard says about snow buntings:

They usually place the nest in rocky crevices, under rock slabs, in screes or in buildings, well out of sight. Snow buntings will also use artificial nest boxes.

Female snow bunting, still near nest, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Where this couple are building their nest is obviously artificial. It is a wooden box with rocks inside it. But, did people put this box and these rocks here to help nesting snow buntings?

This big wooden box here with rocks certainly looks different from this snow bunting nest box from the USA. On the other hand, it does look similar to natural nest spots for this species.

Some snow buntings nest in other types of nest box, also different from what we saw in Adventdalen.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game writes:

Snow Bunting nest boxes can be placed almost anywhere in tundra habitats. Snow Buntings will nest in boxes on the ground, on posts, or on a house in alpine, wet or moist tundra areas. However, nest boxes on the ground may allow easy access to predators.

Both in natural nests and in nest boxes in Svalbard, snow buntings may have parasites: mites of the species Dermanyssus hirundinis. These mites are adapted to Arctic weather. Svalbard is the northernmost place where they have been found.

How does climate change affect Svalbard snow buntings? See here.

ARKive says:

The female snow bunting builds the nest.

Birds and Mammals of Svalbard says:

The nest is built mainly by the female.

David Freedland Parmelee writes:

The female snow bunting builds the nest alone, though the male often accompanies her to and from the nest site and occasionally even picks up nesting material and offers it to her.

We saw both the male and female repeatedly flying to the probable nest spot. Maybe this couple, or the relatively short time of our observations, was not representative of the species.

Reindeer, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

Not only the snow buntings were present. A reindeer was there as well.

Dunlin courtship flight, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

And dunlins. Sometimes up in the air, in a courtship display flight.

Dunlin in marsh, Svalbard, 7 June 2013

And sometimes on the marshy tundra floor or in a puddle, looking for food.