Bear Island

Bear Island is the first stop on the way north from Tromso to Svalbard, an archipelago well above the Arctic Circle governed by Norway. The southern end of Bear Island is a paradise for breeding birds like the Common Guillemot and the Kittiwake, a small and elegant looking gull that screeches its own name in an incessant cacophony.

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On approach to Bear Island in the summer months you would hear thousands of birds screaming, “Kittiwake! Kittiwake!” in unison. When they fly off the steep cliffs of the island in great white waves, their opaque wings catch the bright sunlight and give you the impression of being trapped, in miniature, in the center of a snow globe that’s been shaken vigorously by a small child.

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In addition to supporting about one million nesting seabirds, the island fools me into thinking that some higher power designed the landscape specifically for Zodiacs. It is one of the most incredible places to cruise in a small inflatable boat that I have encountered anywhere on the planet.

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With a sea cave 150 meters long and massive rock arches; the thrill of driving around this island leaves a permanent grin on my face. And not only is the stone architecture impressive, but the narrow rocky ledges are the ideal nooks and crannies for all the seabirds and the strata of the island are literally covered in birds fussing over their eggs.

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In the case of the Common Guillemot, the birds lay a single egg on a narrow shelf of bare rock. The egg is pear-shaped and will spin on a small axis in the event that it is disturbed. Evolution has ensured that it won’t crash down into the sea below. The kittiwakes however construct solid nests woven with bits of vegetation and seaweed and year after year the beehive-shaped nests grow a little higher.

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In early June, the island was sprinkled with a powdered sugar layer of snow, but visiting again now in July, I see the green of the tundra taking hold and thriving in the rich guano-fed soil. I look forward to visiting again in a few weeks time when the chicks of all these hundreds of thousands of seabirds will be joining the throng.

IMG_9527 IMG_9537(Thanks to Prof. James Floyd for snapping these shots for me during our Zodiac cruise!)

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3 thoughts on “Bear Island

  1. Sandy Wing

    Looks like another amazing day on the job! Secretly wondering if you have to dodge bird shit while you are out there!!!?!? The tunnels and caves along the shoreline look like lots of fun. I remember being in a Zodiac going into ocean caves in Hawaii and being alternately sucked in and out with each tidal wave. If I didn’t know the guide knew exactly what he was doing, it would have been pretty scary!
    Sandy

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Hey Sandy! Actually, I always kid around with the guests that the golden rule on a Zodiac cruise around bird cliffs is, “Don’t look up with your mouth open.” It’s happened for sure! Thanks for the note. Enjoy the NH summer.

      Reply
  2. auntie

    Wordless, as usual! You must have felt dwarfed as you gazed up at those miraculous rock formations. Loved seeing the photo of you . Any chance of getting your friend to immortalize you more often? That’s the only thing missing from your photography. XXXOOO

    Reply

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