Birds of prey

On Spitsbergen there are no birds of prey. No raptors, falcons or even owls. I often get the question why not, there is enough for them to eat near bird cliffs (at least for part of the season). In most Arctic/tundra ecosystems the main dish for these birds are lemming however. And those are also absent on Spitsbergen. I think it’s a combination between the two. The lack of their favourite prey (lemming) combined with the remote location of Spitsbergen made it that these birds never colonised the archipelago.

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Great Skua

Their niche is also taken already. Glaucous Gulls and these Great Skuas have taken over the niche of predating on birds on Spitsbergen. Near bird cliffs or breeding islands of geese and ducks one often finds many Glaucous Gulls and several Great Skuas waiting to take their turn.

Somehow the Great Skuas have always proven difficult to photograph. On shore we don’t really get too close (not to disturb them and they can be really aggressive) and in flight I was always too late. Until these guys were circling the boat for most of the morning, allowing me to grab a few pictures in flight.

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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