Robin's Adventures

Arctic Circle, Greenland, and Iceland
Jewels of the North

Bird Cliffs of Alkefjellet

We were awed by the three hundred foot tall dolerite cliffs and columns used by thousands of Brunnich's guillemots as a breeding colony. Every nook, cranny, and jutting shelf of rock was used as a nesting site. The birds stood facing the cliff face holding the eggs in place on these narrow surfaces. We floated along at the base of the cliff in our zodiac and tried to take in all of the activity around us.

Urban Living Guillemot Style

Brunnich's Guillemot don't build nests, but instead lay their eggs directly on the surface of the rock cliff. They stand facing the cliff face to hold the egg in place. Both parents work together to incubate the egg. When hatched, a chick will spend 18 to 25 days on the cliff before attempting its first flight to the sea. Once in the ocean, the chick will stay with its father for about 8 weeks.

Don't Look Up!

As we floated along the cliff face we were immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of the active guillemot colony. There were thousands of birds and large numbers of them were taking off or landing at any given moment. That meant the sky was filled with birds in flight and nothing below them was safe from guano fallout. While we managed to come through the entire excursion unscathed, many of those around us returned to the ship with white stains on their clothing. The unique experience of the bird cliffs, however, is not something we will soon forget.

Arctic Fox

There was an Arctic fox hanging out near the bird cliffs. These crafty predators often prey on the guillemot chicks. When the young chick takes its first flight from the cliff to the ocean, some do not make it all the way. As soon as these birds touch down on the land, the fox is off to make a kill.

Predators Abound

Glaucous gulls were also hanging around the bird cliffs. The guillemot rookery provided an inviting smorgasbord for the gulls. They were quick to swoop in and steal an egg or a chick that was unattended. The guillemots had to be ever watchful to keep these predators at bay.

Taking to the Water

Guillimots have to work very hard to fly because they have a short wingspan. The short wings, however, serve them quite well as they dive and swim underwater to hunt for food. These birds can dive to almost 500 feet and stay under water for up to four minutes.

Whalbergoya Island

We spent the afternoon on Whalbergoya Island checking out the walrus. Walruses are social animals and hang out in herds. Their Latin name, Obodenus rosmarus, which means "tooth-walking sea horse," is fitting because these large creatures often pull themselves out of the ocean and onto the ice by using their tusks.

Portrait of a Walrus

The walruses that we saw were very expressive and quite amusing to watch. Most walruses live between 20 and 30 years in the wild. Males are generally not ready to mate until age 15. Females become sexually active at 4 to 6 years, but generally only have one calf every two years.

Walrus Adaptations

Walruses can be up to 12 feet in length and can easily weigh between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds.

Their flippers are rough in order to give them traction on the ice and they can rotate their rear flippers forward to help walk on land.

The whiskers on a walrus serve as a sense organ and they use them to help find food on the murky ocean floor where they search for mollusks, snails, and crab. An adult walrus can eat 3,000 to 6,000 clams in a single feeding.

Time for a Swim

A couple of the walruses grew tired of sunbathing and lounging on the beach, so they headed into the ocean to frolic around and hunt for a snack.