Notes and photos by Linda Thom
have graced our patch of blue (or grey). On leaving Miefjord and turning past
the last isle of Northern Norway, I looked for
a Fulmar, aka ‘the Albatross of the North’. This graceful offshore flyer is a
little bigger than a Kittiwake Gull but makes the latter look like a laggard in
the air. Several times on our trip we saw Arctic Skuas (also called Jaegers)
harass a gull in an aerial battle in the hopes the gull would regurgitate its
catch. The Skuas never bothered a Fulmar. Sitting on the water a Northern Fulmar
resembles a gull in profile but is medium brown on the back and wings and has a
breathing tube on top of the bill like an albatross. Great Skuas and Arctic
Skuas have dark brown heads, backs, wings and tails with a lighter underside
and distinctive brown ‘necklace’. They are somewhat larger than their gull
|Skua chasing Gull|
The Arctic Tern may be the most famous of all Arctic avians. These slightly built silvery birds with black caps and red bills fly 25,000 miles from here to the Antarctic and back each year. They are also remarkable in that they can hover like a hummingbird and may do so continually as they search for prey close to shore. They are also feisty, as Don can attest: they will dive bomb the top of a person’s head if that person wanders anywhere near their nest. They will also dive bomb a polar bear’s nose with lacerating effect and have been known to drive bears from nesting areas (!).
Imagine our delight as we witnessed white and black birds as plump as chickens accompanied by their brown mates feeding along the shoreline: Eiders, whose ancestors supplied the stuffing of Grandma’s down quilts.
|Female Common Eider|
After getting used to smaller birds I was amazed one day to hear, then see, what at first seemed to be a Canada Goose but was in fact a Barnacle Goose. It appeared to be smaller but otherwise similar in proportion, voice and coloration. The two are easily distinguished by the head markings. The Barnacle has notably more white on the face than just the wide chin strap of the
The Barnacle geese are just hatching their goslings now. These youngsters have
a hard time surviving the predation of gulls, skuas, foxes and polar bears. We
learned from a biologist that bears will not only raid nests, which we
observed, but nab goslings from underneath while swimming.
An even more rapid wing beater is the beloved Puffin which resembles a miniature black and white football with wings and a very round, colourful head. Amazingly for their size and plumpness, Guillemots and Puffins can easily pass a boat moving at 25 knots. A last note about Puffins: they are camera shy and almost always dive just as you are about to press the shutter!