Svalbard: 100% character

8 08 2013

There is so much natural beauty on the island archipelago of Svalbard that there was bound to be one species that dropped the ball, so to speak.  There is no denying that the mighty walrus is not an outright looker, but what they lack in aesthetics, they make up for with loads of character.

Naively, before seeing my first walrus, I thought of them as a juicy prey item for the largest predator on earth – the polar bear.  Split seconds after seeing my first walrus, I realized just how wrong I was!  It was never in doubt that they were big creatures, but I was really surprised by just how big they actually are.  The average size of a male is around one thousand two hundred and fifty kilograms (about two thousand seven hundred and sixty pounds), and the average length is just over three meters (ten feet).  Those nifty stats simply mean that if they are bothered by a polar bear, or anything else for that matter, they don’t actually have to do anything, they just stand together and hold their ground.  We did actually see some interaction between a polar bear and a herd of female walruses, which came to naught as soon as the wary mothers had (rather roughly) escorted their young to the safety of the water.

We had a number of good encounters with walrus on the safari, each one leading to some pretty decent photo opportunities.  Getting up close to the walrus was not a challenge.  The first encounter we had, they came up to us (wildlife photography made easy).  We were still sorting out cameras and approaches on the beach when a couple of the bigger lads came to see what we were all about.  The way they pop their heads up out of the water and inspect you is very cool, even gentlemanly.  Once they were comfortable with us, they stopped the bobbing up and down, and just had a good look.  It was a great opportunity to get some detail-revealing portraits.  On our second encounter, we crept slowly and quietly up to a large herd of mature males that were sleeping on the beach.  They were sleeping with conviction, so it was not difficult to get within fifteen meters.  The sounds emanating from the herd combined with the sheer volume of snot and drool didn’t help their case, but what fantastic animals!  A true surprise.  I had gone to Svalbard sure the polar bear was easily the ‘trophy’ species, but the all-out character of the walruses won the group of us over.  It was great getting the chance to study these massive, blubber rich beauties (beauties used loosely there), and take some pretty (pretty used loosely there) great images.

 

To join me on safari, click here!





Svalbard: Arctic cuteness

5 08 2013

One of the species I was really hoping to see on this safari was the arctic fox.  I have been to the arctic twice before, but these little beauties have eluded me on both occasions.  I figured that at this time of year they would not be wearing their (more well known) all white uniform, but would be in what is known as the blue phase, or their summer outfit, which would give me a better chance to spot one (the white fur on white snow makes spotting them in winter a tricky business). 

 

We checked a few areas where the foxes are seen regularly, but to no avail.  It seemed that this was going to be a species that would laugh at me from its secret hiding spot for a third consecutive visit to the cold north, until the second last day.  At around four thirty in the morning (remember the midnight sun – we started out at one thirty) we found our first fox – an extremely nervous individual that ran like an arctic blizzard, giving us only a quick look at over one hundred meters.  Not great, but it counted (I did manage to grab a photograph of the fox, but even with all the equipment in the world, let’s be fair, it was a long, long way away).  It put a smile on my face and a tick on my list, but being a photographer, I (as always) hoped for a second opportunity.

 

After a solid midday sleep, we set out again on a final attempt to find some foxes, and boy did we strike gold!  Twenty minutes into the search, we had a quick glimpse of a fox on a small ledge above us.  We slowly followed, and had been led to a den site.  The female fox had moved up over some rocks, and while we were scanning the area, three small balls of fluff started rolling around in the afternoon sun.  Fantastic!  I could hardly believe our luck, but left the disbelief for later, because I was concentrating through twelve frames per second.  The three little foxes were an estimated twenty days old, which is just old enough to be ignorantly playful, but young enough to be absolutely cute.  We were lucky enough to spend close to three hours with the little foxes, and got the images I was hoping to get.

 

To join me on safari, click here!