Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Huffin and Puffin!

Just finished two excellent Circumnavigation of Iceland trips onboard the National Geographic Explorer with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.  Just at Keflavik Airport in Iceland, and heading to London.  Will be based in the UK for a couple of weeks, visiting my folks, catching up with Sue Flood before heading to the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water (15-17 Aug).

We had pretty good weather for much of the Iceland trips, calling in at Scoresby Sound in East Greenland on the way, and also a brief stop at Jan Mayen where we were able to land.  Probably the highlight of the last two trips around Iceland were the Atlantic puffins, which as always were stunning.  We had a couple of after dinner landings on Grimsey, where the second time we had a spectacular sunset, so managed some nice photos.  Also as always, Vigur Island was stunning and very lucky to see puffins that had been collected by the islanders and shown how they process them for their breasts, which are then eaten in restaurants around Iceland.

Looking forward to a few days off, a chance to catch up on some photo editing, and get my talk together for a talk I am giving at Drybridge House in Monmouthshire on the evening of Monday 4 Aug.  Check out this website for the flyer...and let your friends know about it!  Will have copies of my book Birds of New Zealand: A photographic guide available, and signed.

A puffin at sunset on Grimsey Island, just on the Arctic Circle.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Heading for Greenland

Well, we are just back in Longyearbyen for the day, so a chance to quickly check email and update this blog.  We had a great trip over the last week, with about 8 Polar bears seen, although it was tough work.  The bears have been really hard to find this season, with some trips on other ships apparently not seeing any.  So tough times for them.  We finished the trip yesterday with a really nice relaxed and close bear on land, and then fin and humpback whales feeding at sea in the afternoon, so a really great way to finish the trip.

I don't have a lot of time ashore, so just going to upload a couple of my favourite images from the trip.  I'm spending a bit more time with Lightroom to edit the images and make them really pop, so hopefully they look better here, although I haven't had a chance to work on all of them.  I also spent quite a bit of time again with the Canon 200-400 lens, and really enjoyed using it.  But I have to say the price really is a little out there at the moment, and it is a tough lens to carry in the field when guiding ashore and driving zodiacs (both of which I stuck to using my Canon 400DO).  A big thanks to Susan Seubert for teaching me so much about workflow and Lightroom, and for letting me use the 200-400!

So the next trip with Lindblad Expeditions starting today heads for a few days around Svalbard, then to the East coast of Greenland and then on to Iceland.  Looking forward to exploring more of Greenland as I have not done a lot there, and then getting back to the beautiful Iceland.  More photos to follow!

Black-legged kittiwakes and Northern fulmars feeding in front of a glacier

Purple saxifrage in full flower on the Arctic tundra

Stunning scenery in Hornsund, Svalbard

Shed reindeer antler on the Arctic tundra

Fin whale surfacing with the white right side to the jaw just visible

Stunning light on a Northern fulmar in flight

A group ashore look up the hill to an Arctic fox running beneath bird cliffs

Walking shore on the Arctic tundra with one of the naturalist staff

Inside one of the trappers cabins on Svalbard

Red phalarope taking off from the surface of the water

Reindeer on the Arctic tundra with a group in the background

Reindeer drinking from a small pond on the Arctic tundra

Reflections in a small pool, with hikers and mountains.

Stunning breeding plumage Parasitic jaeger preening

Breeding plumage Parasitic jaeger having a flap

Mother and calf reindeer crossing a stream on the Arctic tundra

Several walrus at a haul out in Svalbard

A polar bear searches for seals in the loose Arctic pack ice

A polar bear lifts itself up to get a better view over a piece of pack ice whilst hunting for seals

Polar bear tracks across the pack ice as the ship breaks through creating a crack

Black-legged kittiwake in flight over a blue sea

Black-legged kittiwake looking up to the sky as it glides past the ship

Black-legged kittiwake plunges into the water to grab a small crustacean from the surface

Arctic pack ice with a piece of blue glacial ice amongst it against a dramatic sky

A small group of Brunnich's guillemots flying over the loose pack ice

A black-legged kittiwake lifts from the surface of the water with a polar cod in its bill

A guest leans on the bow as we pass close by the Austfonna icecap

Male barnacle goose peering down from beside its nest hidden on the cliff

A barnacle goose flies past coming in to land on a nearby nesting cliff

A massive fin whale surfaces pushing water from its mouth as it filters food through its baleen

Our close polar bear walking slowly along the shore

Beautiful ice behind a polar bear walking along a beach in Svalbard

Female (left) and male common eiders feed along the shore in Longyearbyen

A beluga surfaces near to the ship, one amongst a large pod seen just off Longyearbyen

Stunning cliffs in evening light near Longyearbyen

Arctic scenes near Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Northern fulmar in flight against the sky

Northern fulmar in flight against the sea



Sunday, 22 June 2014

Back in the NORTH

Wow - just back into Longyearbyen after an awesome week long voyage around Svalbad with Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Explorer.  The trip started with humpbacks and fin whales (inc a very small calf) in flat conditions off the west coast of Spitsbergen.  We spent several hours with the animals having both species right under the bow on several occasions - of course the wrong lens was always on the camera when they were in close!

We then had a stunning landing at Gnalodden, with a great kittiwake cliff, barnacle geese, and glaucous gulls, in beaut sunshine.  It has been a little colder up here this season so far, with still a lot of snow around, so the wind still has a bit of a bite to it.  However, despite this there is not a lot of sea idea around, and so our total of 6 polar bears this trip was a little lower than the norm for this ship.  However, our first bear was actually a female and first year cub - a rare sight this year - and we had another bear come right in to the bow to investigate - just awesome!

We also did an awesome landing at Diskobukta, a place I have longed to get back to with amazing kittiwake cliffs and Arctic foxes, and we were not disappointed with stunning views of foxes.  We also visited the bird cliffs of Cape Fanshaw, with thousands of Brunnich's guillemots, and even had a fox there run out onto the ice beside the ship, and get attacked by a glaucous gull!  Absolutely amazing!  That afternoon was the close polar bear, and for the day I was borrowing a Canon 200-400 lens, with inbuilt 1.4x extender.  Susan Seubert, a National Geographic photographer onboard was kind enough to lend me this lens, whilst she used my 400 f4 DO lens.  And wow, it is a great lens - a little heavy, but so versatile.  With the polar bear approaching it was just awesome to be able to zoom out, flick off the extender, etc as the animal approached, without having to change lenses or cameras. However, the rather large price tag of this lens means I might need to sell a kidney before I can get one!

Other places we have visited have had a lot of geese - mainly barnacle and pink-footed, but we did get some dark-bellied BRENT GEESE at one site.  The shorebirds don't yet seem to have started breeding mostly, with a lot of red phalarope and purple sands in mint breeding plumage, but only signs of one purple sand nest so far.  But lovely to see everything ready to get going.

Last night as we headed back to Longyearbyen we again had awesome whales, with the midnight sun shining, we had five or so fin whales again right on the bow, and views of white-beaked dolphins and a couple of puffins.  What an awesome end to the first trip, with one more Svalbard trip, before heading down the eastern coast of Greenland to Iceland.  Looking forward to some more fantastic Arctic adventures with a great ship and incredible staff!


Humpback whale with the beautiful Svalbard coastline in the background

Big nose!  A humpback blows right under the bow with krill and rain-blow, showing the whale lice around its blowhole

Fluking with the mountains in the background

Right under the bow, two humpback whales surface

Again really close

Humpback head-shot with pectoral fins visible below the surface

Kittiwakes feeding on sub-surface bubbles from the feeding humpbacks

Black-legged kittiwake in stunning light

Filtering the food from the water through its baleen plates a humpback whale surfaces

Blow of a humpback whale with kittiwake flying above it

A black-legged kittiwake takes off from the waters surface

Three fin whales, including a calf, surface near the ship

A fin whale blows with the mountains of Svalbard in the background

Fin whale blow against the mountains

The very impressive bird cliffs at Gnalodden - mainly kittiwakes in flight

Gnalodden cliffs with purple saxifrage in flower

Black-legged kittiwakes taking off from the pond after bathing - being filmed

Barnacle geese in flight

Reindeer feeding on the tundra

Beaut little Arctic fox with snow falling and long guard-hairs from its winter coat

Arctic fox looking for food around the base of the kittiwake cliffs

Arctic fox staring up into the air looking a food

Arctic fox barking and standing its ground against another fox

Arctic fox with the kittiwakes and nesting cliffs behind it

Kittiwakes tumbling through the air as they fight

Mother and first year polar bears on the ice

The base of the icecap at Austfonna

Looking along the face of the icecap at Austfonna

Northern fulmar against the Austfonna icecap face

Bow on to the Austfonna icecap

Brunnich's guillemot flying past the ship

Arctic fox loosing fur to a glaucous gull, the gull actually has a beak full of fur!

Arctic fox leaping across the gaps in sea ice along the shore at Cape Fanshaw

Arctic fox barking at a glaucous gull as it comes in to attack

Arctic fox leaping across the ice

Arctic fox leaping off the snow covered land onto another piece of sea ice

Brunnich's guillemots nesting on the ledges of Cape Fanshaw

Packed in tightly - the top of a rock at Cape Fanshaw covered in nesting Brunnich's guillemots

A big male polar bear steadily approaches the ship

A big male polar bear retreats a little from the ship, only to come in closer

A big male polar bear against the Arctic landscape

Big male polar bear approaching again slowly

Big male polar bear coming in again, this time right to the bow.  The beauty of the 200-400 lens really comes into play here

Taking a big step, a male polar bear approaches the bow with stunning light and beautiful shadow

Almost under the bow, the big male polar bear that came right in to the ship

Tasting the air, a male polar bear stands right by the bow of the ship as camera shutters click like crazy

Really large walrus on shore, huge tusks

Beautiful breeding plumage purple sandpiper on the shoreline

A breeding plumage sanderling runs along the shoreline
 
A purple sandpiper having a shake on the shoreline

Stunning scenery, clouds and light as we cruise through Hellesundet

Grazing reindeer nibbling on mosses and lichens

The beautiful views of Bellsund

A landing in Bellsund with a pink-footed goose nest in the foreground

A pair of Arctic skuas do an incredible aerial chase above our heads

Pink-footed goose on its nest on the Svalbard tundra