As I said in the first blog post, I signed on for this trip for several reasons. First, Franz Josef Land is a group of islands of which I’d never heard. I was intrigued by the thought of going that far north and the opportunity to see and photograph polar bears, walrus, Arctic fox and a variety of seals. I’m not a “birder” but there are a number of different birds in the archipelago, too. Following flying birds and focusing on them is always a challenge.
I was a little disappointed with this trip because I was expecting to see lots of polar bears. I did not and that was simply because they are pretty elusive and difficult to approach. They are dangerous predators and human beings are on their diet.
If a bear is spotted on land then the park rangers will not permit you to land. If a polar bear is spotted in the water, then you must keep a safe distance in a zodiac. A polar bear can run up to 40 mph for about 100 yards then they collapse from exhaustion. I can’t run 100 yards. Period. Let alone at 40 mph. I collapse from exhaustion much sooner.
So are best chance of seeing them is from the rail of the ship and from the zodiacs. Most of the time, the ship was too far from land to get a decent look from the ship so that left our zodiacs.
A couple of days into the trip, a polar bear was spotted on land and we loaded up the zodiacs and went to look for him/her. We were successful.
In fact, this polar bear put on a pretty good show for a half hour or more.
Later we saw two more bears. One saw us and proceeded to walk and run away from us. We didn’t get a very good look.
The next one was asleep on an ice floe and we could just barely make out it’s head. It’s what we referred to as a “pixel” bear. That means it was pretty darn small in our viewfinders.
We had much better luck with walrus. These behemoths are usually seen relaxing on floating ice.
We still had to keep our distance so as not to disturb their natural behavior. There were lots of different birds: Glaucous Gulls, Kittiwakes, Brents Geese, Common Eider, Little Auks, three kinds of Skuas, etc., that nested in the cliffs. You could hear them from some distance but the closer you got the louder they got and the more you could smell them. Breeding birds sat on their nests with their backs to the water, non-breeding birds did the opposite.
One Arctic fox was spotted but not by me so no picture. The Arctic fox primarily eats birds eggs so the best chance of seeing them is around nesting birds high up on the cliffs.
Just about everyone on board was interested in seeing the big wildlife: polar bears, walrus, Arctic fox, whales, etc. Many had more interest in birds and/or flora than I did.
In essence, this was a mixed group and that made it more difficult for the cruise company to satisfy everyone.
One night, we had a special guest show up. More on that in my next post!