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.