Saturday, June 23, 2007

Parting Shots from Svalbard

June 23

Our last full day on Svalbard, but who's counting. In  the midnight sun the days and nights run together and you lose track of time. We returned from our glacial excursion at 2:00 AM and it was 3AM before we finally fell asleep; so there were no suggestions to get up early and make the most of our last full day. Instead we slept in and made a lazy day of it. After lunch we made it down to some small ponds near the airport where gray phalaropes can occasionally be seen, and they did not disappoint. As we lay on the rocks they walked around us completely undisturbed by our presence.

Mrs. Phalarope waving us off.

Longyearbyen panorama.

Around the ponds by the airport carpets of tiny flowers announce that this is indeed summer. The Sigma 150/2,8 macro was the perfect lens for these tiny specimens.

A shot after taking off. The single road out of town running along the coast.

Longyearbyen was a great learning grounds for arctic photography. Where else can you go so far above the arctic circle and have wilderness so close at hand, in a fully functioning modern town? After our week here we had a much better idea of what to pack and what to leave, and our guide Jasper Doest taught us a lot of valuable lessons on nature photography and just as important, how to post process raw images to get the best results. His advice and guidance led to Johan placing in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year with this image:

And that alone made this an unforgettable trip.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Svalbard Summer Solstice Glaciar Excursion

June 22, Day 6 on Svalbard

The sun is now at its highest point in the sky for the year and in keeping with the midnight sun theme of our trip to Svalbard, today's main activity is an evening boat trip to the "nearby" glacial bay of Billefjord. So the first half of the day was quite relaxed, Johan and I spent some time in the harbor of Longyearbyen photographing the arctic terns who were just starting the courtship activities.

Male terns were catching krill along the shore and then offering their catch to the female who all the while sat perched on a rock on the shore. After a few hours of this the females were not able to eat another bite and just let the meal drop to the ground, after which the male would once again go and retrieve another tiny shrimp...

At 8:30 PM we met up with our guide Jasper Doest and suited up for the boat trip. There are numerous guides that make this trip from the local harbor and I think they are all quite competent. We were provided with insulated flotation suits just in case. At 9:00 PM we were underway and began the 20 km trip. The crossing took about 90 minutes and we passed numerous bird cliffs filled with guillemot, petrels and puffins on the way.
Johan waiting for something to fly by.

Once in the bay we slowed down and looked at the various ice formations, birds and seals...


You can see how fractured the ice is and there was some calving going on, but we never seemed to be fast enough to catch it on film.

As we cruised around the bay we enjoyed a hot meal that our guide had brought along. Midnight dining in a glacial harbor, the view was spectacular and thankfully since there were no winds the temperature was quite comfortable.

2:00AM we were back in the harbor of Longyearbyen, greeting by the local welcoming committee. Another wild and crazy night in the midnight sun.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Svalbard Nature When the Sun Never Sets...

June 18-20

You lose track of time on Svalbard, photographing until three in the morning and then taking naps midday to catch up on lost sleep, and it doesn't matter when you try to sleep it's always too light. It's a unique experience. Like all Arctic locations in the summer, the sun never sets, and two days before the summer solstice the sun was as high in the sky as it was going to get. Even midday the sun is not as high as it is closer to the equator, but still the best times for photography when the sun is shining is from 6PM-6AMm, and with just a little cloud cover the light becomes nicely diffused and makes for great shooting any time of day.

Another interesting thing about Svalbard is the native animals lack of fear for humans. The ptarmigans were more annoyed with us than anything else, as we kept lying down in front of them to photograph.

A spring of melting ice water bubbles up from the ground...

In the harbor a seal relaxes in the evening sun, annoyed by the paparazzi...

A snow bunting near Longyearbyen, Johan took a similar picture that earned him an award at the London Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Little auks returning to their nesting grounds in the cliffs

Remnants of the old mine in Longyearbyen

The only down side of our trip was that we were limited to Longyearbyen and the area reachable by car or on foot. To make the most of a trip to Svalbard a cruise is worth considering.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nature In the Midnight Sun of Svalbard

June 16

After the great time we had photographing the eagles of Norway, and the great idea Ole-Martin had about Johan entering the youth category of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest we needed a new destination. Having a lot of bonus points with SAS I looked at the potential destinations I could reach on points, and lo and behold there was Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen, Svalbard; an exotic arctic destination for the same number of bonus points as any destination in Norway. This was made to order.
Wanting to make the best of our visit we found photographer Jasper Doest who would be holding workshop on Svalbard in June and we signed up.
We landed at Longyearbyen Airport at 8:45PM on the same flight as Jasper, a day ahead of the workshop but Jasper agreed to show us around and take a few pictures in the evening sun.
The first thing Jasper did was pick up the Jeep rental car from the airport. The second thing he did was pick up a rental rifle from the local super market. Although rare, polar bears are still a risk, and it is not permitted to leave town without a rifle. We checked into the hotel and unpacked our bags and then rendezvoused with Jasper for a little reconnaissance of the area, the rifle along in the back of the Jeep.

There is only one road into and out of Longyearbyen, the choice was pretty easy...

This arctic fox was wandering around the outskirts of Longyearbyen at 11:30PM looking for a meal.

Purple sandpiper at midnight

Long-tailed duck at 1:45AM. This is where we had to call it quits for the day. The sun is still over the horizon, but out bodies are finally telling us it's time to go to bed.

Svalbard reindeer, notice the very short legs, which reduce loss of body heat in the extreme winters.

The next morning down by the shore this beautiful grey phalarope came quite close and posed for us.

And the arctic turns are diving for food and courting at the shore in Longyearbyen.

Jesper dropped us of at the Svalbard Hotel at 2AM, and now it was time to make some steak dinner/breakfast. We were in bed by 3AM and the sun was just as bright as it had been since we arrived. I used my SAS eye cover and fell asleep in a matter of minutes...