2nd.June: St Jonsfjord
Position: 78°31.2’N / 011°07.9’E
Air Temperature: 0
We woke up to beautiful sunshine and calm waters as we sailed towards the first landing site of our trip. Before landing, Expedition Leader Ali briefed us on Polar Bear safety. Polar bears are the iconic symbol of Spitsbergen and the main tourist attraction. While they are protected, persons going outside settlements are required to carry a rifle to kill polar bears in self-defence, as a last resort should they attack.
We then set off for a variety of hikes and gentle walks at St Jonsfjord. The long hikers walked up the moraine and steep hill to get excellent views of the glacier. The middle groups enjoyed watching the Svalbard Reindeer, the smallest sub species of reindeer, grazing on the hill. They also saw snow buntings, purple sandpipers and ptarmigans. The leisurely walk group enjoyed views of eider ducks near the fast ice and had a moment of Arctic silence to listen to the sounds of nature, water, and ice all around them.
The common eider is a large (50–71 cm in body length) sea-duck that is distributed over the northern coasts of Europe, North America and eastern Siberia. It breeds in Arctic and some northern temperate regions, but winters somewhat farther south in temperate zones. The eider’s nest is built close to the sea and is lined with eiderdown, plucked from the female’s breast. This soft and warm lining has long been harvested for filling pillows and quilts. Although eiderdown pillows or quilts are now a rarity, eiderdown harvesting continues and is sustainable, as it can be done after the ducklings leave the nest with no harm to the birds.
The rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) is a medium-sized game bird in the grouse family. The word ptarmigan comes from the Scottish Gaelic tàrmachan, meaning croaker. It is a sedentary species which breeds across Arctic and Subarctic Eurasia and North America on rocky mountainsides and tundra. The small population living on Spitsbergen overwinters during the polar night and survives by feeding on rich vegetation on and underneath high cliffs where seabird colonies are located in summer. The rock ptarmigan is seasonally camouflaged, its feathers moulting from white in winter to brown in spring or summer. In winter, its plumage becomes completely white except for the black outer tail feathers and eye line.