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One Gyr Falcon, 38 dogs and 100,000 Little Auks – Birding East Greenland by dogsled

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Old Friday 17th August 2012, 14:44   #26
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Fantastically evocative photos Edward, absolutely breath-taking.
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Old Friday 17th August 2012, 16:01   #27
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This is an amazing trip - absolutely stunning images and great descriptions Edward.
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Old Friday 17th August 2012, 16:24   #28
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One way to visit this area is on a cruise ship.
Probably one of the best holidays of my life was a cruise to The Faroes,Greenland and Iceland on a 2 week cruise.
The best part is the seawatching along the way.The very best part was sailing through Cap Dan an avenue of icebergs off the Greenland Coast.Hundreds of birds around the icebergs as well as whales.
You get enough time on land to do your own thing either sightseeing or birdwatching.
Every day was fantasrtic with close up views of Skuas,Auks,Gulls, andTerns.
Its remarkably affordable as all the eating and drinking costs are included.
Fred Olsen usually go that way once a year.
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Old Friday 17th August 2012, 22:34   #29
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Thanks for the kind comments. Here are a few more shots of the trip along the outer coast from Kap Høegh to Kap Swainson.

1. Beautiful icescape but tough terrain for dogs, driver and passengers alike
2. Dogs resting near Kap Swainson
3. A glimpse of the big polynya at the mouth of Scoresby Sund. The Greenlanders said that this area of open water is much bigger than it used to be. South side of fjord is about 35 km away.
4. I spent an hour or so looking over the fjord here above the hut at Kap Swainson on the look out for bears as this is a good spot for them. But no luck. And it was pretty cold.
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Old Friday 17th August 2012, 23:07   #30
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Friday 18 May 2012: Kap Swainson - Ittoqqortoormiit

Thick fog enveloped Kap Swainson in the morning, greatly reducing the chance of seeing any bears en route, although a couple of Ringed Seals were seen. The first stop was at the hot springs of Uunartoq, where 62°C water wells out the ground, creating a steamy bare patch in the white desert. A lone Purple Sandpiper ran among the rocks and steam. Just next to the springs is the half-abandoned village of Kap Tobin, where many Ittoqqortoormiit hunters have cabins as it’s so close to the ice edge at the mouth of the fjord. Large numbers of Glaucous Gulls loafed around but that was about it. From here it was a very fast 7km back to Ittoqqortoormiit, the dogs speeding up as they approached home in anticipation of a good rest, while the humans were looking forward to running water again. We said our goodbyes to Johan, who told us he was going to have a day at home before heading off alone with his dogs and tent on a seal hunt deep in the fjord, and we returned to the guesthouse in Ittoqqortoormiit.

I didn’t stay long as my friend Hilmar came in and said he’d seen a Gyr Falcon in the village while he was being dropped off on the sled. There were only Ravens at the site in the village where the Gyr had been so I crossed the river (hidden under a couple of metres of snow at this time of year) and headed toward the town dump. Across the valley was a steep rock face and I lifted the binoculars and immediately saw a white falcon-shaped form on the cliff. Despite the great distance I was pretty sure it was a bird and any doubt evaporated when two Ravens flew past and the white shape exploded into action and vigorously saw off the intruders. While I’ve seen Greenlandic Gyr Falcons in Iceland before seeing a pristine adult here on its own turf, in this superb Arctic landscape, was incredibly thrilling. I lost sight of it for a few seconds and then picked it up heading directly for me and the magnificent beast flew very low right over my head and disappeared into the village and then promptly came back over me again, treating me to superb views, before returning to a new perch in the crags. I watched it here for half an hour or so, marveling at its tenacity as it buzzed every passing Raven and Glaucous Gull without fail. A walk through the village unearthed the usual suspects plus another female Lapland Longspur. After an evening meal of very free range Arctic Hare, we went for a last evening walk up the mountain where I saw the Gyr Falcon earlier in the day. We were now so used to the lack of Polar Bears we didn’t even take the gun with us, even though bears do occasionally walk through the village. There was no Gyr Falcon on the mountain but Scoresby Sund looked fabulous in the midnight sun. A fog began to roll in and when we reached the guesthouse the thermometer had dropped to -13°C.

1. Lapland Longspur at Kap Swainson.
2. Snow Bunting at Kap Swainson
3. Purple Sandpiper in hot springs at Uunartoq
4. Glaucous Gulls loafing around at Kap Tobin
5. Record shot of distant Gyr Falcon in Ittoqqortoormiit. The bird then flew just over my head but I forgot to try to photograph it then.
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Old Friday 17th August 2012, 23:21   #31
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I cannot even put into words.... you Sir not only have a Man Card, but a whole damn pack!

Jealous? green as the hulk. I.. damn I'm just going to go back to the beggining and gawp some more. This thread delivers!
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Old Friday 17th August 2012, 23:31   #32
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I cannot even put into words.... you Sir not only have a Man Card, but a whole damn pack!

Jealous? green as the hulk. I.. damn I'm just going to go back to the beggining and gawp some more. This thread delivers!
I think that must have been a vote for a 6-star rating.
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Old Friday 17th August 2012, 23:36   #33
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I do love record shots- isn't it great that a record shot of a Gyr with a bit of story and context can be a million times more stirring and gripping than all the crisper, closer pics on the Net
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Old Saturday 18th August 2012, 15:09   #34
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I've been enjoying this greatly too. I really wanted to get a feel for the actual locations a bit, and looking around found a nice map here (choose map 3 and look in the east) - it really gave me a sense that you were on the far edge of that huge mass.

Thanks so much for sharing!
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Old Monday 20th August 2012, 07:06   #35
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Awesome report . Very brave of you sir, to undertake such an uncomfortable expedition. Topped off by a magnificent Gyr Falcon.
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Old Monday 20th August 2012, 12:24   #36
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Awesome report . Very brave of you sir, to undertake such an uncomfortable expedition. Topped off by a magnificent Gyr Falcon.
Thought you might like the Gyr Falcon. A local I spoke to said that she had seen up to 15 Gyr Falcons hanging round the masts at the telecom station at the edge of the village last autumn for a day or two. I suppose northerly birds migrate through the area and some of them spend the winter out on the sea ice, presumably living off auks.


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Originally Posted by Gretchen View Post
I've been enjoying this greatly too. I really wanted to get a feel for the actual locations a bit, and looking around found a nice map here (choose map 3 and look in the east) - it really gave me a sense that you were on the far edge of that huge mass.

Thanks so much for sharing!
Thanks. I always like to look at maps too so I drew one on Google Earth showing the approximate route and a couple of the place names.

Pics
1. Route
2. The small boat harbour in Ittoqqortoormiit, not very busy for most of the year.
3. The central business district. Gyr Falcon was seen on the mountain behind village.
4. Evening overlooking the fjord
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Old Monday 20th August 2012, 12:39   #37
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I always like to look at maps too so I drew one on Google Earth showing the approximate route and a couple of the place names.
Very nice - thanks!

Even small boats look like they would not be moving much of the year at that location! Your pictures have really been a great part of the report, and you've done well despite all the challenges of photographing snow.
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Old Monday 20th August 2012, 12:48   #38
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Saturday 19 May 2012: Ittoqqortoormiit – Nerlerit Inaat – Kulusuk – Reykjavík

An early helicopter flight left us with three hours to kill at Nelerit Inaat, an airport with even fewer facilities than JFK. The officious Danish airport official tried to insist that we spend the whole time inside watching the television, but the sun was shining and despite the -10°C degrees I was determined to sit outside. It proved a good choice as there was almost a constant stream of migrating Barnacle Geese and Pink-footed Geese heading north along Hurry Inlet over the airport. In the two hours or so I sat outside 835 Barnacles and 153 Pink-feet passed overhead and I really enjoyed seeing these birds, so familiar from Iceland, nearing their end-station in Greenland. Eventually it was time to leave Nerlerit Inaat for the 800 km flight south to Kulusuk to pick up passengers there before heading east back to Iceland. The flight from Nerlerit Inaat to Kulusuk, along the savage east coast of Greenland, must rank as one of the most scenic scheduled flights on Earth. I spent a minute looking out in vain for Musk Ox as we flew over Jameson Land and then just enjoyed the views of the vast inner fjord of Scoresby Sund, the gigantic Inland Ice looming over in the background, the 1,000 metre wall of the Volquart Boon Coast, the Watkins Mountains, the highest range in the Arctic, and then possibly the most hostile coastline in the world outside Antarctica, the Blosseville Coast, an area of vertical mountains and glaciers that forms an insurmountable barrier to the further spread south of Greenland’s land mammals. The environs of Kulusuk remained as stunning as I remembered them in 2009 and it was interesting to note how much further advanced the spring was here than up north. After a short turnaround it was time for the 1h 45 m flight back to Reykjavík, Iceland appearing very green and inviting after the dominant icescapes of Greenland.

Pics
1. Waiting for the helicopter at Ittoqqortoormiit. Possibly the best departure lounge view in the world.
2. Nerlerit Inaat airport. A near constant stream of Barnacle Geese and Pink-footed Geese passed these mountains while I waited outside. The valleys beyond these mountains contain a large Musk Ox population.
3. The southern side of the fjord from the air, looking towards the ice sheet. It's pretty wild country down there.
4. Most visitors' first view of East Greenland, from the terminal at Kulusuk airport.
5. Of all the languages I've dabbled in, then Greenlandic is the one that has had me totally defeated - it's the bottom one in case you were wondering.
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Old Monday 20th August 2012, 13:00   #39
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Truly stunning, I would suppose that this not only equates to a trip report with the most words per species (all most apt though), but also to a trip resulting in the most dosh per species too, yep?
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Old Monday 20th August 2012, 13:03   #40
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Of all the languages I've dabbled in, then Greenlandic is the one that has had me totally defeated - it's the bottom one in case you were wondering.
iserfigeeqqu...

it's friggin cold...

See, Greenlandic is easy
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Old Monday 20th August 2012, 14:10   #41
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Truly stunning, I would suppose that this not only equates to a trip report with the most words per species (all most apt though), but also to a trip resulting in the most dosh per species too, yep?
It may well be. Greenland is NOT the place to rack up a big trip list. After two trips there I think my Greenland list is about the same length as my Nairobi Airport car park list. But I plan to return to this area again (and again) - ideally interspersed with trips to sensible birding locations like South Africa and Argentina .

Bird list:

1. Pink-footed Goose: noted widely on migration but 153 seen migrating north into Jameson Land in two hours on 19 May while I was waiting at Nerlerit Inaat airport.
2. Barnacle Goose: more common than Pink-foot, seen at several sites and 835 passed Nerlerit Inaat in two hours on 19 May.
3. King Eider: three drakes and two females in polynya 4 km east of Kap Swainson
4. Gyr Falcon: a magnificent white adult was in Ittoqqortoormiit on 18 May, reacting aggressively to the numerous Ravens
5. European Golden Plover: two birds near Kalkdal on Liverpool Land in apparent breeding habitat
6. Purple Sandpiper: one in hot spring area at Kap Tobin
7. Glaucous Gull: common along coast and at Ittoqqortoormiit
8. Black Guillemot: one in tiny polynya in Horsens Fjord and five in polynya 4 km east of Kap Swainson
9. Little Auk: absolute highlight of the trip for me. Simply vast numbers in colony at Kap Høegh, tens if not hundreds of thousands. Birds arrived at colony at around 10 p.m. and left again to feed by mid-morning, having to fly a long way to find open water. I climbed to top of island (300m) and could not see any open water, just ice stretching as far as the eye could see east. Also passed gigantic colonies on Raffles Island and Kap Hodgson.
10. Raven: common and ubiquitous. One of very few birds to remain in area all winter.
11. Meadow Pipit: single bird scratching around between mountainous snowdrifts in Ittoqqortoormiit on 13 May.
12. Northern Wheatear: Single male at Kap Swainson on 17 May
13. Snow Bunting: common in most areas, the first migrant passerine to return.
14. Lapland Longspur: single females at Kap Swainson and Ittoqqortoormiit

Mammals:
Arctic Fox: Two seen and more heard at Kap Høegh
Ringed Seal: Several seen in Scoresby Sund, Hurry Inlet and along outer coast
Arctic Hare: Easy to see at Kap Hope, Kalkdal and Kap Høegh
(Musk Ox - dung and footprints seen in Kalkdal)
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Old Tuesday 21st August 2012, 01:34   #42
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A wonderful report to a place I'll probably never go, but the insight made for a great escape from the reality of my morning commute.

Cheers
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Old Wednesday 22nd August 2012, 12:38   #43
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Just to finish off, I uploaded a video of the Little Auk colony at Kap Høegh. It was the first video I've ever taken so you might get motion sickness, and I couldn't manoeuvre very well in the steep, snow-covered boulder field but it gives you an impression of the sights and sounds of a Little Auk colony.
http://vimeo.com/47963556

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Old Wednesday 22nd August 2012, 12:42   #44
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Yep, stunning. Presumably these Little Auks are not breeding that early in the season, most seem to be settling into the snow.
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Old Wednesday 22nd August 2012, 13:06   #45
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Yep, stunning. Presumably these Little Auks are not breeding that early in the season, most seem to be settling into the snow.
Correct, they were just checking out the breeding colony, renewing acquaintances, strengthening bonds and squabbling with rivals. One of Greenlandic guides said that the first birds turn up around 4 May every year, and these birds all left the colony to feed during the day (taken on 17 May). I imagine it would have been a couple more weeks before they started breeding there.
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Old Wednesday 22nd August 2012, 14:32   #46
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Great video, thanks for sharing.
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Old Thursday 23rd August 2012, 09:00   #47
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Wow, incredible, thanks for sharing.
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Old Thursday 23rd August 2012, 22:18   #48
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Great report... just watched "Springwatch guide to seabirds" on The BBC.... shame there were no Little Auks, fab birds! Lovely photos too.... *sigh....
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Old Friday 24th August 2012, 09:07   #49
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wow - amazing video!!
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Old Tuesday 9th October 2012, 19:09   #50
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Absolutely brilliant report. Thanks very much!
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