Wednesday 20 September 2023

A little bit of ice and not a lot of green - Part 3

The Safari woke up to fog the next morning which meant a bit of a relax and leisurely breakfast before disembarking in to the huge metroplois of a little over 2000 people that is Quatatoq. Apparently it's Greenland's sixth largest town and even has a top flight football team - in a league of six...and today was match day. In fact all the season's matches were to be played over consequtive days, after the thaw and before the freeze starts again. A few of the guests and IH wanted to go to the match so we decided to join them. But begore that there was some after breakfast watching to be done before disembarking onto the tender for athe short ride to the quayside. There wasn't much going on in the harbour, a guest had reported a single early morning unidentified dolphin before the fog set in but other than that it was 'just' the usual Glaucous, Iceland. Great Black Backed Gulls and a small number of Lesser Black Backed Gulls.

Once on shore we asked direction to the footy stadium but were now unsure if we'd get to see any of the match as the 'back aboard' time wasn't much after kickoff. We came across a souvenir shop and had a quick look deciding what to purchase on the way back to the ship rather than carry it round all day. From the shop we'd not gone far when one of the other passengers told us of some ducks in the stream running through town. Now Harlequin Duck was very high on the list of wanted birds, if not right at the top, and this rocky torrent looked bob on for them so we were a little disappointed only to find a well groun young Mallard and a handful of adults even if Mallard was a new species for the trip. Barely hiding our disappointment we headsed on up the hill in the general direction of the footy stadium, we'd not gone far when are attention was focus on a cracking pair of adult White Tailed Eagles soaring right overhead...and we hadn't brought a proper camera...dohhhhhh. And even mor dohhhhh we never thoughth to try to get some video with our phone.

It was a very mild day again now the fog was long gone, it was t-shirt sleeves weather again, not what we expected in Greenland at all. Over the hill from the eagles was a large glacial lake set in a depression in the mountains. It was school summer holidays and there were several kids enjoying a probably chilly swim and diving from the big rock above the house.

The little bay in the foreground looked very inviting so off came the shoes and socks, trousers were rolled up and we had a good few minutes paddle...well of all the things we expected to do in Greenland. a place we never expected to be able to visit in the first place, a paddle in the lake was well down below the bottom of the list. It looked inviting and it was lived up to our first impressions it was jolly nice in there not cold at all in the shallows. We even very nearly caught a little fish in our hands. Not sure what the local chap watching was  thinking but he did have a look of incredulity on his weather beaten Inuit face, especially as we walked back up to the road and then up the hilltowards the stadium in bare feet - don't think he could quite believe his eyes. A couple of Octobers ago IH had a paddle at Spurn Point and a pound to a penny this Greenland lake was warmer than the North Sea!

Eventually we arrived at the stadium and on the edge of the car park saw two things of interest. The first was this pretty little blue flower whose ID still eludes us. It was growing on the edge of the ditch separating the car park from the road. Again we weren't sure what the locals might have been thinking when they were watching two grown men, tourists at that, crawling around in a ditch on their hands and kneews photographing lordy knows what with their phones.

The other thing we saw was a football, and an almost fully inflated one at that. Well in such close proximity to a 'Premier League' stadium it would be rude not to take advantage and have a kick around. IH is quite fit and sporty but was wearing hiking boots, we were shod in trainers and haven't kicked a football for x years - where x is a large positive integer so the game wasn't quite as skilful as Manchester City or Barcelona would play! All the same it was great fun and worked up a fair old sweat. And the surroundings weren't bad either.
Wonder if they ever fill that huge terrace
The teams came out for their pre-match warm up but we had to leave before kick off to make sure we got back to the quayside in time for the last tender. We never did find out who won.

Birds also seen around and about were the ubiquitous Ravens, a few Snow Buntings, Common Redpolls and one guest got a Lapland Bunting using the Merlin App when they heard an unfamiliar call on their walk aruond the lake.

Back aboard Borealis it was chastening to hear tales of guests being offered slices of whale meat in the fish market, some even tried it! On the way back to the ship the tender went past the biggest building in town, the seal skinning factory - it had a lovely mural of a Harp Seal sitting on an icefloe painted on it; you know, that photo we really wanted to get.

Once we got going back down the fjord we saw a couple of packs of Harp Seals along with two individual seals' heads. Could these have been either Bearded Seals and/or Hooded Seals or were they 'just' Harp Seals that had become separated from their pack?

Closer to the open sea we had a Humpback Whale and more Fin Whales.

Birds included the usual Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Puffins but no Gannets, a guest reported a Pomarine Skua and other than Iceland Gulls and Glaucous Gulls there was precious little else. As dusk began to fall so the fog returned.
Much later on a nocturnal perambulation of the deck in search of the aurora AB came across a boat load of stwaways, dozens of them, in the form of Wheatears.

And not just the Wheatears he also found a pair of mating moths, again of unknown species - somehow between us we'd all neglected to pack our concise guide to the moths of Greenland. And no he didn't see any sign of the aurora.

The next day was an odd sort of a day. We were at sea all day on the way back across the Atlantic. By now we knew we weren't going the route published in the pre-cruise brochure - Southern Ireland was off, we were now going the direct route across the northern coast of Ireland, a bit further south than the outward route though. The weather was mild with some cloud and a calm sea picking up a bit later but it was hard going, there wasn't much out there. Even the decks were quiet, the seeming lack of wildlife making many of our stalwart watchers head indoors and do other things. The first half of the morning gave us a few Fin Whale blows, mostly distant and a mad flurry of about an hour and a half after lunch produced a Sperm Whale, a handful more Fin Whales and a small pod of Atlantic White Sided Dolphins with an associating family of Long Finned Pilot Whales.

The Big Three were still about but in much smaller numbers and still missing the Gannets. Small numbers of Great Sheawaters tazzed about and IH had a Sooty Sheawater but really it was a case of where were all the seabirds?

Our penultimate full day at sea was a breezy but mild day, the wind giving us a choppy sea making cetacean spotting difficult and getting a confident ID even more so. It turned out to be another odd day at sea. Before breakfast we'd seen several Fin Whale blows but not a single bird, not even a Fulmar! After breakfast it was no better and hard work trying to enthuse the remaining few guests that were sticking it out with us over a Fulmar or two every hour - it really was that dead out there...climate change changing fish/plankton distributions, bird flu, just a 'bad' patch of ocean? Who knows but it was desperatly quite for long stretches. After lunch a few Great Shearwaters broke the deadlock along with just two Manx Shearwaters and AB copped for a Sooty Shearwater. A single distant auk remained unidentified. 

Eventualy a bit of blubbery action came our way with a pod of Common Dolphins racing past and under the ship, a Sperm Whale was seen fairly well as was another Fin Whale. Better was to come though. AB and a coupleof the passengers spotted some 'wrong' disturbance in the choppy water about a mile or more ahead of the ship. It took a while before we got on to it but then we saw some big breaches including two animals breaching together, at first we though they had the look of big Blue Fin Tuna about them but they were even too big for that to be right. Despite the incredible distance AB managed to fire some shots off and caught a couple breaches.

Some debate followed as to which species they were and it was decided that they were probably Sowerby's Beaked Whales - confirmation came later from shore based experts who had been sent the pics.
The notebook ends for the day with the line "AN ODD DAY!!! More blubber than feathers." In fact we took no photos with either camera nor phone all day and that must tell you something.

The final day at sea continued the quite long stretches of not a lot, still just a few Fulmars, a few more Manx Shearwaters than the last couple of days, a Cory's Shearwater and Gannets began to reappear.
Some even cruised by close to the ship.
A guest pointed out a Fin Whale blowing in the middle distance - that was a relief as now we'd had blubber on every day since leaving the mouth of the Mersey.
It continued to be hard work until we hit the coastal waters off northern Ireland when large numbers of Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwaters started to appear. Small groups of Guillemots also came into play along with smaller numbers of Puffins and the odd Razorbill. The supporting cast included some juvenile 'Comic Terns', our final Cory's Shearwater and the first Herring Gulls for a long time! With this increased bird activity it wasn't too long before an Arctic Skua turned up and by the end of the day we'd seen several. Sadly despite all the bird activity suggesting there was plenty of fish about we saw no pods of dolphins nor werde any reported by the guests, although AB saw a lunging Minke Whale in amogst a large flock of actively feeding Kittiwakes which everyone else somehow missed.
Darkness fell as we approched the northern tip of the Isle of Man, in the morning we would be woken up early already berthed at Liverpool ready for disembarking after breakfast.
What a fabulous trip...
Birds wot we saw but didn't get a pic of - Leach's Petrel, Cory's Shearwater, Sabine's Gull, Little Auk, Razorbill, Gyr Falcon, Great Northern Diver and Pomerine Skua.
What we totally missed that was seen by others - Long Tailed Skua, Brunnich's Guillemot, Red Necked Phalarope, Grey Phalarope & Red Throated Diver.
For the blubber our tally was Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale, Sperm Whale, Minke Whale, Sowerby's Beaked Whale and Long Finned Pilot Whale, Bottlenose Dolphin, Short Beaked Common Dolphin and White Beaked Dolphin, we didn't see the Atlantic White Sided Dolphins. We also saw Grey Seals and Harp Seals with the possiblility of an unidentified Bearded Seal and/or Hooded Seal which we can't count. 
We saw no terrestrial mammals although guests saw Arctic Fox and right at the end we were shown a photo of an Arctic Hare that a guest took at Signal Hill, Narsarsuaq.
All that remains is to thank AB for inviting us and OWE for including us among their number, Wifey for letting me go, brother R for looking after the pooch while we were away, Borealis' crew especially the galley, waiting on and cabin staff for looking after us so well and of course all those guests who watched with us through fine weather and foul and chatted to us away from the watches they're what makes the trip special, those guests that shared their photos for our round-up talk in the lecture hall and which we've 'stolen' for this blog, hope our paths cross again, and finally IH for 'volunteering' to share a cabin...along with his immense wildlife skills and knowledge of course

Where to next? Back on terra firma we've been out n about so we've seen some interesting wildlife to tell you about soon.

In the meantime let us know who's been breaching in your outback

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