For the latter half or so of July I was incredibly fortunate and privileged to sail from western Iceland to Greenland aboard the National Geographic Explorer as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. The trip was so full of highlights that I'm still wrapping my head around it; I'm working on photos and movies, making plans for curriculum development and community outreach built around my experiences, and journaling about some science themes I found interesting on my PolarTREC page.
I thought I'd share one experience that most readers of this blog can relate to. On our last full day at sea we were heading up the western coast of Greenland towards our departure point of Kangerlussauq. In the early afternoon the announcement went out over the ship's PA system that Blue Whales were spouting off the bow in the distance. Pretty much all of the ship's guests turned out to see this most amazing creature, the largest animal to ever inhabit planet Earth.
A pair of the behemoths were feeding, following a pattern of short-interval blows at the surface for a few minutes before diving for 5 or so minutes. While the whales were down it was pretty quiet aboard, with folks chimping over cameras or having conversations about other places they had seen whales, what pertinent field marks to observe, etc. As their time down stretched most kept a keen eye peeled to see where the far & fast-ranging rorquals would surface next. When the whales spouted there was a din of shutter clicks along with actual ooohs and ahhs (some coming from my own mouth, I'm sure.) But in one of the lulls something caught my eye- amongst the ubiquitous Northern Fulmars and steady stream of Iceland Gulls there was first one and then two darker, more ominous-looking birds powering along in purposeful flight off the port side. Jaegers! (Er, maybe since we were in Greenlandic waters, Skuas?? Can I get a ruling...)
Anyway, both were of a good size and had the chesty look and double-flash in the underwing to be confident calling Pomarine. The fact that one sported nicely maintained tail spoons didn't hurt, either. So there I was, my attention turned perpendicular to everyone else's, firing my camera like a madman at 5fps until my buffer filled while about everyone else waited for the Blues to reappear, probably wondering what the heck was so special about the "sea gulls" I was so intently photographing. The birder in a group always eventually outs him or herself, right??
"So I was watching Blue Whales off the coast of Greenland and then this happened..." Admittedly, something I never thought I'd say prior to this summer. Sukkertoppen Bank, Southwest Greenland 27 July 2013.
Ever curious, this adult Pomarine Yaeger took a victory lap around the ship. I'm not sure how many guests took serious notice but I sure appreciated it! Sukkertoppen Bank, Southwest Greenland 27 July 2013.
Anyway, I'm not too tunnel-visioned to ignore something as awe-inspiring as a Blue Whale and got some images I'll be pleased to share alongside the jaeger pics! More importantly, it was such a cherry on top of the whole trip to be in the presence of magnificence, both avian and cetacean.
I also had a fantastic time working with the 8 young explorers on board, a nice warm up for Camp Avocet next week! Also, I would be remiss if I didn't thank National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions for offering me and 13 other educators the chance to visit the Arctic this summer. Our students, colleagues, and communities will benefit incredibly from the experiences we've had!
Stand by for posts from Delaware and watch out for awesomeness from the young birders and other leaders I'll get to rub elbows with!!
p.s. If you are still with me thanks for reading. Here are a few other bird photo highlights from the trip- enjoy!