Spitsbergen Voyage

July 10, 2008 at 8:44 pm

Hornsund Spitsbergen

I have just returned from a ten day cruise of the Spitsbergen fiords and the photo shows our boat entering Hornsund on the most perfect Arctic day you could ever imagine. This Arctic habitat is the most pristine on earth and we were blessed with eight days of superb weather; although it did snow on one of the other days!

I would recommend anyone contemplating this voyage to allow an extra day beforehand in Longyearbyen. I filled my spare day visiting a Little Auk colony, filming nesting Barnacle Geese and Arctic Terns, found more than ten Grey Phalaropes, five King Eiders and also had some good views of Reindeer and Arctic Fox – all before the Cruise started! The only passerine in Spitsbergen is the Snow Bunting and they are everywhere.

We should have cruised all the way around Spitsbergen but this year the whole of the east side is blocked with ice. Before anyone says “What about Global Warming?” this is only year old ice and will be gone by August 1st. In fact some of the glaciers I last saw when I was there eight years ago are now only two third the size.

Polar Bears are most peoples reason to come to Spitsbergen and finding them in pack ice is almost impossible. After days of searching we only saw three and one of these was swimming away from us. However. Walrus are now very common and we sat by one rookery with more than one hundred and fifty Walrus present. Unfortunately they were up wind from us and the smell was horrendous!

We called at Ny Alesund, the most Northerly village in the World, and I staked out a house that had a foxes den under it. Although there were supposed to be nine cubs under the house only one appeared for twenty seconds – after a cold wait of eighty minutes.

We had a barbecue on the deck of the boat in Hornsund on the most perfect day you could imagine but where were the Polar Bears that should have appeared at the smell of dozens of Lamb chops!!

It was a fantastic visit to Spitsbergen but the reckoning came on the journey home – twenty one hours of travelling through five countries, including an abortive take – off at one airport. Give me MacBraynes ferry to ISLAY anytime.

View the full sized picture of Hornsund Spitsbergen as it is amazing.

A load of Blubber

June 28, 2008 at 6:29 pm


No local news this week as I am on tour in Spitsbergen

Better news for the Long Eared Owls

June 22, 2008 at 5:06 pm

Young Long Eared Owl

Two very wet days this week have curtailed some filming activities but there are still plenty of challenges around if you are prepared to put time in.

A moorland plantation near Burnley provided fledged young Long Eared Owls which is a nice plus after those near Oldham have been taken. I would urge anyone reading this blog to keep a sharp look out for anyone with young Owls in captivity. Remember all captive birds must have rings on their legs that are registered with the authorities. To put it simply any without rings are held illegally and police should be informed.

I spent two sessions filming young Kestrels being fed in a hole in the gable end of a rest home near Burnley. Three and a half hours on the 21st produced a feed every half an hour but none of the prey could be identified as it was passed to the young quickly and with their backs to the camera.

A gale blowing today, twenty seconded, produced some wonderful views of Crossbills at Dovestones. Whilst the moving branches were a major problem at least it made the birds feed lower down and gave bigger images.

A Better Week

June 16, 2008 at 8:57 pm


After last weeks disappointment with egg collectors this week has been more rewarding and the weather has remained dry and sunny all week.

Locally three different Whitethroat’s nests have been found and some great video of one pair with five young about to fledge. What a joy it is to film a species that feeds its young every few minutes rather than a three hour wait for a Merlin feed. Talking of Merlins I have had an unsuccessful attempt to film the male Merlin’s plucking post but this weeks picture shows I had better luck last year! – What an absolute gem he is.

The highlight of the week has undoubtably been filming Green Woodpeckers with young about to fledge. Only the female fed the young at thirty minute intervals and one or two of the young would lean out of the hole to meet the female, calling loudly, it was all action and on one occasion a Great Spotted Woodpecker came to the hole but soon flew off when a young stabbed at it.

All Good Things Come To An End

June 10, 2008 at 9:34 pm

Port Charlotte Islay

All good things come to an end and after five weeks it was time to leave Islay. Five weeks of fantastic weather with only two days of rain and mostly clear and sunny. Perhaps the view of Port Charlotte bay will remind us of it?

During the last week I filmed the Peregrine intensively with results usually proportionate to the time you put in. One morning I was rewarded with film never before seen let alone captured on camera. The male Peregrine brought prey to the cliff and called the female off the nest to take it off him as per usual. She returned to the three young and commenced the feed. Suddenly the male called from nearby and landed on the nesting ledge below the female. She ignored him and carried on feeding the young. He walked up to her calling lowly and she tore off some prey and fed it to him! An unique event but more was to follow. After flying off he called again and returned to the female. This time he walked up to her and took the prey from her talons and flew off with it. I have not checked the video yet but it should all be captured on film – I hope!

After five weeks of searching we finally found an Adder in the last few days. They used to be more common but Buzzards like them, so with the increase of Buzzards the Adder population has declined – much to the delight of most people.

As we were leaving Islay on Friday a pod of six to eight Dolphins provided an ideal send off being the only ones seen during our stay. Otters have also been illusive only five encounters in all

It was always going to be an anticlimax when we returned home and the first two days have proved this. One pair of Long Eared Owls have fledged young but the other site has failed. Worse was to follow with two Merlin sites failing, one a direct result of its eggs being taken by an egg collector. So my message for all you out there is that if you find the nest of a rare bird tell only the County Recorder as egg collectors are still sadly with us.- Lets hope its better news next week.

A Hen Harrier Week

May 28, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Hen Harrier

Dry and sunny weather on Islay all week but with a strong easterly wind

Good news from the Peregrines, they have now hatched – at least three young and possibly four. Both birds have been filmed together on the eyrie with the female brooding continuously but on one occasion the male has also brooded for a short while. Unfortunately the strong easterly wind has made filming impossible for the last five days.

Five days have been spent on Hen Harriers obtaining some very pleasing shots of the male bringing heather to the nest. This has now stopped and he merely flies over the nest when the female is away eating the prey he brings for her. Unfortunately long waits for me are involved with the male visits at three hour intervals!

No Otters this week, the rough seas making it impossible to search. Most of the Great Northern Divers have now flown to Iceland with the south east tailwind.

A search for Islay’s most illusive flower the Narrow Leaved Helleborine produced only one plant in flower ,which is better than some years when there are none.