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Remains of the mining industry - below is Longyear town, in the background the Advent valley.
Be cool - arctic survival strategy
With a few meetings and talks I had to base my birding near town. In mainland Norway both Rock Ptarmigan and Willow Grouse (fjellrype & lirype) are very shy and extremely difficult to approach. The Svalbard Rock Ptarmigans however are very approachable. Getting within a couple of meters of these beauties was undoubtedly the highlight of this trip.
Day two I spent walking the hillside outside Longyear town, along the ruins of the coal mining rails leading out of town towards the mines. I did not venture far from town, as you are advised not to do so, unless you carry a weapon. Polar Bears can show up anywhere, and people are on its menu. However I was really keen on finding a few Ptarmigans, and I figured the rail towers would provide a safe escape, just in case.. The wind was chilling and after a little walk I found a flock of Ptarmigans seeking shelter by one of the towers.
Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan - feeding undisturbed, photograped from approx 4 meters distance. They are bigger then its mainland relatives, and much more confiding. This bird was one of 6 that I had the pleasure of studying for a a couple of hours, within meters. Amazing birds! All Ptarmigan photos shot with Nikon d810 + 300mm F2.8
Ptarmigan hiding from a fly over Glaucous Gull. I followed this flock of 6 birds from some meters distance for approx two hours. They seemed very relaxed all the time, exept when a Glaucous Gull flew over us. Just seeing a Glaucous Gull affected the Ptarmigans instantly: they all hid next to the nearest rock and seemingly tried to look as small and rock like as they could. I was surprised to see this behavior. But then again I have seen many times how much panic a Glaucous Gull can create in a bird cliff.
The fluffy legged Ptarmigan. ´Lagopus´ (latin) means the ´hares foot´. It is easy to see why. Its latin subspecies name ´hyperboreus´ essentially means ´from the extreme north´.
A brief post this one, but I think this very cool birding experience was well worth sharing. Big thanks to Ronny Brunvoll (www.svalbard.net) and all the good people I met during this short stay. This was most certainly an inspiring visit, and the first of several.
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Tormod A. / Biotope