8 Juli 2003:
The boat sailed all night to reach Varsolbukta. Varsolbukta is situated south of Longyearbyen. When I woke up in the morning and looked outside the weather wasn't very good. It was very foggy. First we started our day with a very luxurious breakfast. After breakfast we prepared our selves to go on shore with the Zodiac. Because there were many rocks near the coast we had to move around in the smaller Zodiac. We passed some beautiful rock islands with breeding Barnacle Geese, Glaucous Gulls and Great Black-Backed Gulls. The Great Black-Backed Gull was a new species for us on Svalbard. (they only breed on a few locations)
Varsolbukta (with the remains of the mining)
When we came close to the shore the fog disappeared and we saw that it would be a beautiful day. The locations were truly magnificent and I think it was the most beautiful place I have ever seen. All the rocky islands dotting the beautiful blue sea along with the flat beaches that continue up to the steep mountains with the bird cliffs on top were all very striking scenes! Due to all the bird guano and the resulting nutrients, there were many plants growing on the mountain slopes which created many beautiful green lanes. And above all the beautiful blue sky with all those white clouds. To complete the picture there were some old mining cars that gave the landscape another dimension.
Close up of the Svalbard Poppy
On shore we looked for a suitable location for our experiments. We looked at the age structure of the Svalbard Poppy. In the picture is a close-up of the beautiful flower of this plant.
Soon we discovered a couple of Arctic Skua's close to us. They were very active, they probably had a nest or young near by. Arctic Skua's have two strategies to keep you away from the nest. The first strategy is to attack you (they dive towards your head).The second is to pretend that they are injured to distract you from the nest. It's very funny to see such a powerful bird pretending that it's hurt. Later we discovered that they had a nest close to us which contained one egg. I took a lot of pictures of these birds. More pictures will be on the website later.
One of the other students had done research on geese in Varsolbukta. In the picture above you can see the small cabin were she lived for 6 weeks together with a field assistant. It was early in the season and Varsolbukta is a dangerous place because it's often visited by polar bears. Luckily they didn't encounter any during those 6 weeks.
After our fieldwork we went for a small hike. We saw many reindeer roaming the area. After half an hour of walking we took a break to eat. Suddenly, a curious reindeer came walking towards us. The reindeer looked really funny with it's big, wide staring eyes.
When I walked towards the big group of reindeer to take some pictures we discovered that there was a baby reindeer in the group. We noticed it because it started to scream for its mother. It's always so wonderful and exciting to get so close to wild animals, even better when they choose to come to you!
On the way back to the boat we saw two young chicks of the Glaucous Gulls on a rock island. The view was beautiful and it was hard to leave such a magnificent place. But we had to leave because we had to make a long journey to the North. During the trip we would pass Prins Karls Forland, there we would have a chance to see walruses. So we left for the north, full of hope!