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The Arctic

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Wildlife Guide

Spitsbergen, Franz Joseph Land and Greenland

The most accessible part of the region and part of the true Arctic. Polar Bears, Walrus, a variety of other seals plus nesting seabirds in vast colonies, Little Auks and Brunnich’s Guillemot along with more familiar species such as Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots. Long -tailed and other skuas patrol the tundra and fjords looking for chicks and lemmings. Arctic Terns will dive bomb any human that gets too close to their nests or chicks. Exquisite Grey (Red) Phalaropes swim in the shallows whilst the beautiful King Eider can also be found. The pure white Ivory Gull nests in small colonies and Sabine’s Gull are also regular. Reindeer and Arctic Foxes walk the landscapes. Delicate flowers carpet the land in spring and summer and at least one species of butterfly can be seen. Whales have been sadly heavily hunted out in the past but pure white Belugas are now being seen frequently again along with other species including Fin and the mighty Blue Whale on occasion. Please see our annual escorted Spitsbergen Polar Bear and Arctic Wildlife Tour led by Dick Filby for one of the best Arctic wildlife experiences available. Greenland has suffered in recent years from the sad continued slaughter of much of it’s wildlife but offers dramatically different scenery, much softer, with steep-sided fjords cut by vast long gone glaciers. Musk Ox still roam these lands and Snowy Owls can sometimes still be found. Voyages which visit are usually later in the season and offer a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights (Auroras) plus whales and dolphins during the final run down to Iceland.  For 2014 we offer the third season of spring voyages in search of Bowhead and other whales around south west Greenland, the previous two seasons having been very successful.


Baffin Island and the High Canadian Arctic

Also the realm of the Polar Bear, the ultimate Arctic predator. Gyr Falcons and Snowy Owls hunt over the land whilst the seas contain the true Arctic whales, Narwhals (almost impossible to see from a ship or any vessel with an engine due to their shyness), Belugas and Bowheads. Walrus and a variety of seals can also be seen. Seabirds (auks), geese, ducks and shorebirds nest across these chilly lands; Reindeer and Musk Ox graze on the sparse vegetation and the second true Arctic gull, the exquisite Sabine’s, breeds whilst the third, the diminutive Ross’s, can occasionally be seen with luck. Marvel at teeming seabird colonies. Unfortunately this part of the region seems to be suffering from the most severe summer ice melt in recent years of any part of the Arctic. The infamous North West Passage has even become relatively easy to transit in recent years. Go soon! 


The Russian Far East - Wrangle Island  

This region has only been open to Western travellers and naturalists since the mid nineties and voyages are still far and few between. The undoubted best part for birds is Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands in the southern part. Please see the WildWings Kamchatka bird and wildlife voyage with Chris Collins. For 2014 the voyage will start in Petropavlovsk and finish in Sakhalin.  The whole region is a naturalist’s heaven however. The magnificent Steller’s Sea Eagle heads the avian cast with huge colonies of Pacific alcids and much much more. Brown Bears can be seen foraging on the shorelines.  Another rare chance to explore the Sea of Okhotsk is on offer in 2014, the two recent previous voyages enjoying Pacific Right Whale, Western Grey Whales and Ribbon Seals amongst a myriad of bird and wildlife highlights, see our separate details. Further north again, Wrangel Island is one of the world’s main Polar Bear breeding or denning areas. Other cetaceans found in this region include Orcas, Sperm Whales, Humpbacks and Baird’s Beaked Whales plus the fast and furious Dall’s Porpoise amongst many other potential species. Sea Otters entertain whilst swimming on their backs, other marine mammals include Steller’s Sea Lions and Larga Seals. You can read Chris Collins introduction to this region on our website (first published in Birding World magazine). 

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