Probably the first thing I heard when I stepped off the plane in Longyearbyen was a Snow Bunting – a brilliant male staking out its territory and letting the females know where they could find him. The flights here were more straightforward than last year: Toronto-Reikjavik (Iceland)-Oslo-Tromso (just a stopover)-Longyearbyen. But at each stop…EACH stop…I had to get off the plane and go through a security check. [I’m sorry, but I think this “terrorist” paranoia has reached the hysteria stage and is simply ridiculous. – That’s my rant for the month…I hope.]
Evidently it was an unusually mild Winter for Svalbard and there was less snow on the ground than I expected. Also, it was a balmy 5 degrees (it had been 29 in Toronto on Friday when I left); again, I was pleasantly surprised.
I arrived in the early evening of the 9th. The time since then has been filled with activity. The Norsk Polar Institute puts everyone that is going into the field through a 4-day training course that includes: Arctic first aid (like normal first aid but with an emphasis on cold conditions); guns, shooting and polar bear safety; zodiac training (how to assemble one and then drive it), use of ropes and climbing; cultural heritage considerations specific to Svalbard. All this culminated today with a zodiac trip (call it an exam if you will) up the coast into a stiff wind and banging waves to Diabas where we did the climbing course…before we had to assemble our 7-tent camp and then zodiac back to Longyearbyen. Whew!
In between all this, I’ve been able to do a little birding: Arctic Terns have returned just recently and are all over town; there’s a pair of Parasitic Jaegers nesting at the edge of town (probably the pair that was there last year); Purple Sandpipers are all over; Barnacle Geese are nesting at the clifftops at Diabas; Glaucous Gulls are ubiquitous; Black-legged Kittiwakes (what delightful birds!) are frequent over the water; Northern Fulmars the same; and going to Diabas – Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, Thick-billed Murres were everywhere.
Perhaps the most exciting thing though so far is the sighting of many colour-banded Thick-billed Murres on the cliffs at Diabas. We banded most of these last year. I’m excited about catching them and seeing how they’re doing! We’ll find out tomorrow: we head out for our camp tomorrow evening and will spend 6 days there before coming back to town for a 1-day rest – a chance to have a shower, do a laundry, and stock up on food for the next 6 days.
[PS: I have not been able to access my Hotmail email account over here(!?). So if you have been trying to contact me but have not received an answer….that’s why.]