81ºN Birding ‘Club’

Dark morph Pomarine Skua in the pack ice
Dark morph Pomarine Skua in the pack ice

I don’t really keep bird lists anymore. I used to have two lists, one with all birds I had seen in the Netherlands and one with all birds I had seen in total. Every now and then I would find a new species or even twitch a new species. But over the years I lost interest in chasing rare birds. I still like birds, but only if I can take nice pictures of them. With rarities that is rarely the case. At the moment I wouldn’t have a clue how many birds I have seen in the Netherlands, or in the rest of the world.

I do still keep a few lists though. First of all my Dutch dragonfly-list (slightly above 50 at the moment). The other lists are all here, on Spitsbergen. My Spitsbergen bird list consists of 52 bird species, the Northern Pintail being the last addition. Then I have a list with all birds seen above 80ºN and even a list of all birds seen above 81ºN. The latter is quite short, with only 11 species of birds. I always find this list quite amazing. At 81ºN you’re within 1000km from the North Pole and on Spitsbergen there is no land above 81ºN, only sea and ice. Twitching birds is out of the question, so it’s just a matter of being outside (or on the bridge) a lot.

The most amazing bird on this list is the Arctic Tern. We saw several of them this high up, which is really amazing, especially when you realise they have to go all the way down to Antarctica for winter… They’ve got a long way to go.

Next time I’m above 81ºN I’ll be out again. First of all looking for Polar Bears and other wildlife, but also keeping an eye out on the birdlife, it should be possible to get a few species more, I think. I still haven’t seen Arctic Skua’s, even though they are quite common on Spitsbergen. At this latitude in the pack ice the Pomarine Skua, like the one in this picture, is a lot more common.

Otherwise I’ll have to go to Greenland where there is land above 81ºN.

I wonder, will there be anybody else who keeps a list like this? How far did they get?

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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