May 15, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer
We are in the northwest area of Svalbard. Our morning found us in Fjortendejulibukta, a lovely fjord with steep sides and a massive glacier at the end. The sun shined brightly and the wind was quiet. It was a perfect day for a hike and some Zodiac cruises. Thick-billed murres, also called Brunnich’s guillemots, flew in organized lines to and from the sea-swept cliffs. Out we went. Hikers headed up the snowy hills of Redingerpynten, where ptarmigan can be found. A mixed-aged group of reindeer watched closely as the hikers climbed to a level spot for a view of glacial dominance on the land. Meanwhile, the Zodiacs approached the nesting cliffs of murres, Atlantic puffins and black-legged kittiwakes. The reindeer, on their stout legs, beckoned a closer view and we watched them slowly graze the emerging vegetation on a hillside that is called Stephan’s Garden by Lindblad staff.
Then, a pair of strong binoculars identified some major excitement. An arctic fox danced across the steep slopes below the kittiwake colony. We watched as it went into stealth mode. Hiding, then running full speed, then hiding again. Barnacle geese grazing the slope caught on to the plans of the fox and flew away just as it made a full-speed attack. Not deterred by failure, the fox went directly up the slope.
This time the fox was rewarded by a kittiwake that was a bit too slow to take flight and the fox had a quick breakfast.
Meanwhile, other Zodiacs patrolled the face of the 14th of July Glacier, searching among the icebergs, for the rare king eider duck. Their efforts paid off as a few were spotted among groups of common eider.
After lunch, we sailed to see Lilliehookbreen, a large glacier gleaming blue with numerous bergy bits filling the inlet. Atop a few of the icebergs, bearded seals rested. Later we learned about Svalbard polar bears from Stefano Pozzi. Filled with local knowledge, Stefano gave us a fabulous presentation with the specifics on these amazing marine mammals.
Prior to dinner we sailed into Smeerenbergattet Jorden. Today, this historic whaling location was covered in snow. We learned of the hundreds of whalers whose remains are buried on a promontory of glacial moraine. Numerous valleys that once held glaciers interrupted the jagged skyline as we sailed by.
The crew gave us a special treat with a Filipino dinner of Asian treats. For those with energy to spare, an after dinner showing of Frozen Planet was presented in the lounge. Although the daylight still shined, off to dreamland we went.
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