Monthly Archives: January 2017

A very ‘ice’ time after touring a new ship at Franz Josef Land

The eighth day of John’s adventure in Franz Josef Land, an archipelago in the Russian High Arctic, was fun-packed – he couldn’t tell you all of the highlights in one article alone. Here is part two of the story about his exciting day on the kind of luxury Arctic cruise you could also enjoy with WILDFOOT.

Day 8 continues

Later in the day, we had a real bonus. There is another ship chartered by Poseidon, a nuclear-powered icebreaker called 50 Years of Victory, that does a series of sailings each summer up to the North Pole. On the way there, it calls at Franz Josef Land – and today was the day! So, we made a rendezvous and the two ships went bow to bow, the Sea Spirit being dwarfed by the massive icebreaker.

As this new ship carries a helicopter, we also watched as that came and went and flew above us – all very exciting for passengers and crew alike. Then we had the announcement that anybody who wished could go aboard the icebreaker for a short tour.

50 Years of Victory was really interesting and a big contrast to our ship. The accommodation and public areas were all quite basic – in my opinion, it is just a ship for box tickers to say they have been to the North Pole and I don’t think I would fancy bashing through the ice for days and then doing the same on the way back and not having more than basic comforts on the way!

Amazingly beautiful icy scenery

We returned for a late dinner and then went out on the Zodiacs at 22:15 for another spectacular cruise along a channel separating Champ Island and Salisbury Island. The channel is about half a mile wide and bounded by massive ice cliffs, which are over 100 feet high and where the glaciers come down into the water.

We went up a couple of miles through the bergs and lumps of ice, with these amazing white and blue striated walls on either side illuminated in the clear evening light with kittiwakes, guillemots, little auks and the occasional ivory gull soaring above or swooping alongside. What a great end to the day… DSCN4562

Well, it wasn’t quite the end. One of our group had her birthday today and because we had to rush dinner, we had not had time to enjoy her cake and celebrate properly. So, we returned to the bar for a few drinks. It turned one o’clock again… and still the sun shone…

 

Amazingly diverse wildlife to continue seeing in Franz Josef Land

Here, John continues the story of what he got up to during his recent trip to Franz Josef Land, an archipelago in the Russian High Arctic. You can look forward to some Arctic wildlife viewing of your own when you book with us here at WILDFOOT – but first, John has more to tell you.

Day 8

Wednesday. This morning, we landed on Champ Island, where there are numerous large spherical stones and some smaller ones, too – it seems that there used to be a lot more, but earlier explorers and visitors took them away as specimens and souvenirs. Nevertheless, the immovable big ones are impressive.

Kittiwakes, Arctic foxes, walruses and polar bears

We then Zodiaced around under bird cliffs that, this time, were teeming with kittiwakes. Beneath these cliffs’ slopes are big patches of green vegetation fed by the birds’ guano. This is also the habitat of Arctic foxes, which patrol the bottom of the cliffs looking for fallen chicks and eggs. The day before, we saw a fox, with its white winter fur showing in patches as well as its summer brown – but we didn’t see any of these creatures on Wednesday.

Over lunch, we sailed on to nearby Hayes Island and took a pretty lumpy Zodiac ride over to the shore and the surrounding ice pack’s edge. We could see lots of walruses out on the ice and in the sea, but weren’t prepared for the sight of three polar bears. One big male was chewing on the remains of a walrus carcas near the shore, while a little way off was a younger bear lying in the snow, waiting with the kittiwakes for his share. We watched him/her take over when the older bear got bored.DSCN4931

Then, we saw another bear wandering around, uninterested in the food – we followed him along the shore and now and then, he stopped and posed for photographs. Mind you, that wasn’t as easy as it reads, because of the very choppy water. As we cruised around, lots of walruses kept popping up around us – very entertaining.DSCN4848

The day was just getting into its stride…

We were out for about two hours – and by the end of this time, it was pretty cold, with the wind and the spray, so we were all happy to get back to the ship for a hot chocolate. Keep an eye on this blog to learn even more about what happened on the eighth day of my expedition.

 

Lots of birds and walruses seen on a Franz Josef Land adventure

If you are considering booking an Arctic wildlife cruise from WILDFOOT, John can give you a small insight into what to expect. He’s already been recalling highlights of his time spent on the Russian islands at Franz Josef Land – and below, he continues his story from previous blog posts.

Day 7

A broad variety of birds to enjoy seeing

Tuesday. I woke up to another beautiful day with the sun streaming into the cabin – we were told this is exceptional, because there is usually much more mist in Franz Josef Land. So, we spent lots of time out on the Zodiacs. In the morning, we did a circuit of the bizarrely-named Coal Mine Island: apparently, an explorer 100 years or so ago saw that there were some deposits of coal there, but no one has ever actually lived or even mined on the island!

Just 10 minutes out and we saw today’s polar bear, climbing up a steep hillside towards the base of cliff-bound seabirds looking out for young birds that had fallen out of nests. This morning, there were lots of birds, including our first little auks: these are each about the size of a small thrush, but black and white. Also, they swarm around like budgerigars do in Australia and nest on cliff ledges, where you can often see half a dozen or more of them perched in a line. DSCN4738 DSCN4758DSCN4758

In the afternoon, we found ourselves in a ‘Commonwealth’ Zodiac with our little group of five Aussies, two Kiwis and us, who were keeping loose company on board. We moved onto nearby Apollonia Island, which has more bird cliffs where we saw more little auks – along with Brünnich’s guillemots, black guillemots, kittiwakes, glaucous gulls, Arctic terns, common eiders and some barnacle geese.

I am the walrus… watcher

The day’s highlight was a colony of walruses, mostly hauled up on a beach, but with many of them also in the water, splashing around us curiously. Here in Franz Josef Land, they are all females and pups – the males live in Svalbard and come north once a year for mating.

As it happens, we had seen walruses before – Pacific ones in the Russian Far East. That was a haul out of males numbering some 4,000 and we were told that sort of number and more is common with the Pacific genus, whereas Atlantic walruses tend to be in the hundreds.

A bit of humour for the evening

In the evening, we at last got round to having the captain’s welcome cocktail reception, when we all sort of dressed up and had some fizz before dinner. The officers all wore their full uniforms, too. The captain was quite a jolly Russian who gave a humorous talk in passable English.

We reached our northernmost point that day, at over 81 degrees north. It was the northernmost point of land in Russia and only about 600 miles from the North Pole. I was determined not to go to the bar that night as it was already 22:30. But still the sun shone…DSCN4714

 

Icebergs, glaciers and the story of a lost explorer at Franz Josef Land

John has been telling this blog’s readers a lot about his recent time on Franz Josef Land, a Russian archipelago. Here, he continues the story – and if it excites you, remember that you can enjoy experiences similar to John’s by turning to WILDFOOT to book excursions in the Arctic.

Day 6

Seeing the site of an amazing adventure story

Monday was another beautiful and bright, but cold day. In the morning, we were moored up off Jackson Island, at the top of the British Channel. This is where the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen overwintered in 1895 when he became stranded in his quest to reach the North Pole.

He was then rescued by the British explorer Frederick George Jackson. We went to see the site of Nansen’s hut – I wouldn’t have fancied staying there in total darkness with winter storms and temperatures down to -40. Would you?!DSCN4635DSCN4663

A “hike” in the snow

In the afternoon, we went for a walk on Ziegler Island – they call it a hike, but it is difficult to make any pace with us all walking in single file over snow and muddy tundra. Anyway, we had managed about 4km when we were told that there was a polar bear swimming towards our Zodiac pick up point, so we had to walk back the same way. This was actually really good, because we could then enjoy the spectacular scenery from both directions!

We then Zodiaced over to the other side and enjoyed time watching the bear wandering around and pausing to roll in the snow.

It really was much colder this far north, with a very chilly breeze. However, the parkas provided to us were very good quality, and we also had thick Muck Co. boots, which were well-insulated, too.

Another Zodiac cruise and another late night

After dinner, we were out on another Zodiac cruise around the icebergs and glaciers. The sun was a bit lower in the sky at this time and the light was fantastic. We enjoyed a stunning landscape of snow-clad hills and bergs and glaciers shimmering under clear blue skies, with occasional banks of mist drifting in for ethereal effect…DSCN4656

As we weren’t back until past 23:00, it was after a couple of night caps that we were once again late to bed. Still, it was so beautiful outside that we were reluctant to close the curtains – so we decided to spend a few more moments on the balcony…

 

Beluga whales and polar bears among the sights of Franz Josef Land

Continuing his expedition to the Russian archipelago of Franz Josef Land as described in previous blog posts, John embarked on yet more exciting Arctic wildlife viewing on the fifth day of his trip. Here is a rundown of what he saw – and you can enjoy similar experiences when you book Arctic trips with WILDFOOT.

Day 5

Taken ashore after a medical emergency

The first Sunday of my trip started slowly but turned out quite busy. We woke up in the same place offshore from the Russian base, when we had expected to be some five hours away. It emerged that one of the crew had been in a medical emergency serious enough to require an operation (an appendectomy, we later found out), which couldn’t be properly conducted onboard. So, he was taken ashore to the Russian base hospital where our doctor – aided by one of the Swiss passengers, who is a practising surgeon – and a military team undertook a successful procedure. He later returned back on board to recuperate.

That meant we didn’t set off until after breakfast – which in turn, meant that our first Zodiac excursions were delayed. We had a great talk from one of the Russian guides, who had worked three of the short seasons at the Barneo camp at the North Pole. We got some great shots of the airstrip being prepared, the supplies being dropped and the aircraft themselves, as well as all of the other mundane events, like the marathon, weddings and polar golf!

Abundant wildlife that we enjoyed seeing in the Arctic

We enjoyed the bright sunshine and had lunch out on deck and then, before we reached our planned destination, right on the other side of Alexandra Land, we came across a large pod of beluga whales;  the captain reckoned they were staying around, so we should go out in the Zodiacs to try to get closer.

We were a bit doubtful ‘cos it was about half an hour or so before the boats were launched and we were at sea and predictably, they were long gone, however, there was a big bonus – our first polar bear was there posing for us on an iceberg – all very exciting! Anyway, we had been promised a landing, so 19.00 dinner was abandoned and at 18.30 we went off to do a landing on the tundra.

Sunday-10-Large-35

 

There are four national park rangers who came aboard yesterday and will stay with us whilst we are in Franz Josef Land. As they say, their job is to protect the polar bears from us, so they go ashore first and scout for bears and then they either post a perimeter, within which we can wander, or they lead and escort single file groups on a longer walk. Each of them carries a high-powered rifle.
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Back for dinner and then we had a call for anybody who wanted a zodiac cruise close to the edge of the glacier. Still broad daylight of course, so back into our gear and off we went again at 22.30 for about an hour. This also meant we were very late in the bar tonight!

Learning about birds and polar bears as I head to Franz Josef Land

John has already spent two previous blog posts telling of his adventures while on an expedition to the archipelago of Franz Josef Land, a part of Russia. Here is an update on what else he came across on his fun Arctic wildlife cruise.

Day 4

Hearing about a range of fascinating wildlife

On Saturday at sea, we had a morning talk about the birds we could expect to see in Franz Josef Land. I’d read that upwards of 50 species have been or can be seen on the islands, but it seems that we will probably only catch a few of these. The northern fulmar, black-legged kittiwake, Brünnich’s guillemot, black guillemot, little auk, Arctic tern, glaucous gull, pomarine skua and rare ivory gull all nest within the archipelago.

It was interesting hearing about the Brünnich’s guillemots and little auks. Both referred to as “penguins of the Arctic”, they are black and white and both dive and swim underwater to feed. The difference is that they can also fly, albeit on very short wings that they flap a lot; they do not glide and soar like gulls and petrels.

This afternoon, while ashore, we had a briefing on polar bear safety. We were always accompanied by armed guides and should a polar bear appear unexpectedly, their job is to check it out and if it is being too curious, scare it away. In extremis, they would shoot to kill – but fortunately, this has never happened with a boat-based group and we hope it never will.

Reaching Franz Josef Land at last

Later that afternoon, we crossed into Russian waters and anchored off the military base at Nagurskoye on Alexandra Land. Here, the land is covered with thick snow and there are floating bergs and floes. It is noticeably colder, too – and we were all out on deck in full cold weather gear.DSCN4559

On arrival, Zodiacs went ashore and returned with a party of Russian military officers who set up in the lounge. Over a period of four hours, we then had to present ourselves individually with passports for immigration and visa checks.DSCN4563

It took time because the officials were soldiers who had never done this before and were acting on instructions – we were only the second expedition to make a first landing in Russia here, with most others instead starting off in Murmansk.

 

No shortage of variety as I continue my fun Russian High Arctic cruise

In an earlier blog post, John recalled his enjoyable time spent in Longyearbyen, the largest settlement on the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago. However, that was only the start of his journey to Franz Josef Land. Here is a follow-up account of what else he came across on the way there.

Day 3

An undoubtedly cosmopolitan group of passengers

I’ve had a fun start to my expedition in the Russian High Arctic, where the Sea Spirit is the ship transporting me. My experience certainly leads me to recommend Arctic cruises in the Svalbard, but my fellow passengers and I had much more than the ship itself to check out.

On the first Friday of my journey, following the previous night’s briefings and safety drill, there was our first dinner. There were various nationalities on board, including Germans, Australians, Kiwis, Israelis, Dutch, Swiss and other Brits.

Even though we were tired, it was really quite difficult going to bed because of the bright sunlight. I have been there before in the midnight sun, but still strange! We also saw our first whale, a humpback blowing and then diving, showing a beautiful fluke.

Close encounters of the bird kind

The next day, we were sailing at a speed of 15 knots up the north-western coast of Spitsbergen and into the Barents Sea, then across to the archipelago of Franz Josef Land.img_2583

We made one stop on the way, off a small island called Moffen, where we saw a haul-out of walruses about 300 yards distant. We also saw a few seabirds, including some puffins and Brünnich’s guillemots. Otherwise, it was a day of briefings, lectures and food.dscn4540

After dinner, we had a call that we were passing the last point of land in Svalbard, Christian XII Island. The snow-capped mountains were now receding into the distance and the sun continued to shine brightly as we thought of sleep. We were now higher than 80 degrees north!dscn4551

What did I get up to in Franz Josef Land?

In my story so far, we have only just reached Franz Josef Land, which is administered by Russia. However, it won’t be long before I tell you a lot more about what I saw and did on this Arctic archipelago. I can’t wait!

 

 

Happy New Year!


Kerry’s superb wildlife art is exhibited at a number of venues, especially in the UK and, like Wildfoot, she will be at the next British Birdfair at Rutland Water in August.

Before that, Wildfoot will be promoting visual art of a different kind at The Photography Show at the NEC from 18th to 21st March. Come and see us on Stand B73 and learn about special wildlife photography expeditions and opportunities in the world’s wild places.

Kerry writes a regular blog about her adventures meeting these animals and her creative process, which we are proud to share with you.

 

Hi there folks I hope that this, my latest Blog for Wildfoot Travel, finds you all like myself – well, thoroughly recovered from the festive season, rested, refreshed and looking forward to a new and hopefully exciting fun-packed, adventure-filled year ahead of us!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The closure of 2016 bought with it exciting news that our mortgage had been finalised at last on our new home, which we’d previously been privately renting, in Cheshire (having previously relocated from Leicestershire).  Now you might be thinking ‘what exactly has this got to do with my Blogging as a wildlife artist?  Let me explain …  Since my relocation to Cheshire I have, for the past months, been having to work out of two temporary studios – one being our conservatory and number two being our spare upstairs room having been unable to physically move my original studio from one county to the next.  However I’m at last so pleased to say that my days of going back and forth between these two ‘perfectly fine for now’ locations in our home will be gladly phased out over the coming months as our garage transforms from ‘occasional dumping ground and storage overflow’ to ‘custom studio conversion’ … needless to say I’m a little excited – understatement of the year even though we’re only in January lol.

Okay let me get you all up to date since we last chatted (well I chatted and you read) and because I’ve a mind like a sieve no make that a colander it has bigger holes items wont necessarily be in chronological order lol, so here goes:

With many new adventures peeking over the not too distant horizon I thought it to be an ideal time to create a new logo for myself and so set about the time consuming task, with only Skye my constant canine companion and a copious amount of coffee keeping me company.  Six hours later and with a rumbling tummy the task was complete and my new logo was born.  And all of this just in time for my second meeting with the Managing Director and Visitor Services Manager of Knowsley Safari Park here in Cheshire …  A day that I’ll not easily forget or want to for that matter, for as far as meetings go it was perfect and the outcome even better after having been referred to as the resident artist (their words not mine lol).  Well it all sounds grand doesn’t it until you realise that there isn’t anything set up there at all yet and that the reins controlling this venture lie in my hands alone.  Daunting yes, mind boggling yes, exciting oh YES!!!  Never being one not to have a go, and knowing that nothing happens on it’s own I’m jumping in at the deep end …. but with armbands of market research holding me afloat lol.  This baby will either sink or swim but as I don’t intend to call her Titanic I just might be onto a winner so watch this space lol …

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When I last chatted with you I was in fact about to commence a private commission of a Welsh Collie named Minnie, well I’m pleased to say that the commission was completed ahead of time and delivered to a very satisfied customer in North Wales.

The commission that is now on my easel is for my latest client … the one and only Chris Packham!  Due to the subject matter the actual painting itself has to be kept under wraps so to speak but Chris is more than happy for you to know that he values my work a great deal and I in turn feel very honoured that from the vast array of artists that he knows he chose me to create this specific painting for him.  However I must admit that not being able to share this particular work in progress does make me feel like a secret agent lol. As soon as Chris has his finished painting, and that shouldn’t be too long now, I’ll be able to share it with the rest of the world and hopefully you’ll have found it worth waiting for 😉

With this new commission on my easel other works for mere mortals such as myself, only kidding, have had to stay in the wings for the time being.  I was hoping that by now I’d have more work on the Sumatran Tiger and Wolves paintings but at alas it isn’t meant to be just yet:

lionsRest assured, as I do, as soon as Chris’s commission is complete the wolves project will be back on my easel and worked to completion much to the ‘about time’ of three clients whom have already reserved the first batch of limited edition prints to be taken from this painting.

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Another ‘possible adventure happening in the not too distant future’ that appeared over the horizon just before Christmas was this: I received a phone call completely out of the blue from a dear friend whom I’ve known for around 9 years but hadn’t spoken to in a while.  After the normal hello’s and how are you’s there was a pause and a chuckle (from his end not mine) and then a cascade of words that were music to my ears …. I thought that would wake you up during my ramblings lol. Well to cut a long story, and an even longer conversation, short the outcome of our conversation was indeed a positive one – my friend (I’ll be able to share more details later) is in the process of setting up a new business and would like me onboard too.  He currently runs photographic tours to his two favourite places in the world Botswana and Estonia but intends to branch out further to include art safaris hence his phone call to me!  Needless to say I agreed that I’d love to accept his offer (once I’d picked myself up off the floor that is lol). So now, for me at least, it’s a waiting game while the new business’ website gets built and the cogs begin to turn.  So yet again more news on this next time…

More news coming in next Blog but here’s a taster:

I’ll be taking my Knowsley Safari Park market research work into Knowsley Safari Park itself as part of stage one in creating an art-based catalogue of events there …. *  Art journal months one and two…

  • January will still hopefully be seeing the launch of my YouTube channel…
  • February sees the start of my Wildlife 2017 Workshops in Leicestershire and an additional one running in Northants the week after …
  • March sees the birth of another new venture I’ve been asked to create this time at Chester Zoo – Under the umbrella title of Chester’s ‘Bloom Campaign – engaging people with wildlife on a local level‘  I’ll be running ‘Watercolour Wildlife’ workshops…
  • And April sees me take my Wildlife Workshops to Bedfordshire
  • Oh yes and before I forget I’ve also been asked to tattoo someone!  Lol so more news on that too next time ?
  • Plus I may have more news on Botswana and Estonia by then …

May I take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to those of you who’ve been taking the time to correspond with me with not only encouraging words regarding my Blog but my work too – all comments are truly appreciated.

Okay I think it’s time to wrap this Blog up for today as I need to go and get creative and I’m sure you’ve had enough of my ramblings for one day lol…

If you would like me to add anything in particular to these Blogs on Wildfoot Travel’s website then please do feel free to let me know and I’ll see what I can do.  You can contact me via email at  [email protected]

Well it’s over and out from me for now
Be blessed and thank you once again for following my endeavours.
Looking forward to chatting with you all again soon
Love & peace, Kerry xXx

A great time in Longyearbyen, the Norwegian Svalbard’s capital

In the summer, John from WILDFOOT travelled with his wife to Franz Josef Land in the Russian High Arctic on the expedition ship Sea Spirit. This is an account of his incredible journey, which took in various attractions of our Arctic cruises to Spitsbergen.

Days 1-2

A very early and quiet start

Upon arriving by flight in Longyearbyen at 2am, the first thing that struck us was the fact that it was still daylight. This was truly the land of the midnight sun! The airport bus calls at all of the town’s hotels, which are used to late arrivals.

As breakfast was not until 10am, we had a bit of a lie-in before going out exploring. Longyearbyen is in a valley on Isfjord’s shore. Originally a mining settlement, Longyearbyen still has remains of timber cranes, pulley systems and shaft entrances on its hillsides. At the time of year we visited, it was all very barren, with patches of snow on the higher ground.img_2543img_2547

There is plenty of beauty to behold in Longyearbyen

We walked for miles around the outskirts of town and went to a gallery, where we met an artist who paints sketches based on local wildlife and artefacts. We also saw some amazing monochromatic oils – including almost pure white snow and ice scenes, some also with an impression of a mountain or a feint pink sunrise or a night scene with a moonlit icy hillside.

On the hillside near town, there is a small forlorn cemetery with a few graves marked with simple white crosses. We wandered here and looked across the town and the fjord at brightly coloured modern buildings imposed on a harsh unchanging landscape. img_2548

The museum was very interesting, if overrun by tourists. That day, ours was one of just three boarding expedition ships, each with about 100 or so passengers. However, in port that morning was a big German cruise ship with about 1,000, and this will probably be their only landing in Spitsbergen, so, for them a visit to the museum is a highlight.

Our Arctic adventures didn’t end here!

Then, having skilfully avoided the expensive craft and clothing shops, we set off for our Zodiac transfer out to our ship, the Sea Spirit, which was at anchor in the fjord. As for where it took us – we will detail much more about that in a follow-up blog post.