Polar Migrations

The Barents Sea region well north of the Arctic Circle encompasses territory from Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland. The area is uniquely wild and is home to one of the last truly nomadic herding cultures on earth, the reindeer herding Sami people.

We had an opportunity to travel to the Norwegian region of Finnmark in Norway’s far north to observe this remarkable landscape first hand in the waning days of winter. Gearing up for an expedition like this meant shifting to our cold weather kit. After three weeks in the Caribbean swimming with whales this presented some challenges.  The temperatures were cold with averages during the day of – 10 degrees C and as low as -30 degrees C at night. One of the most beautiful spectacles in nature, the aurora borealis or “northern lights”, are often visible at this latitude on cold clear evenings. We ventured out a few evenings and braved the cold to witness this. During this expedition we also explored the rocky, treeless coast and ventured far into the frozen river system that separates Norway from Russia in the land of brown bear and wolverine. We traveled by snowshoe, snow mobile and dog sled into the birch forest areas where reindeer graze for the winter before they make a spring migration back to the coast – a trip they have been making for thousands of years with the indigenous Sami people. The people were warm and welcoming and the landscapes were dramatic as you can see. In another post we will report more about the region’s political organization formerly known as Lapland and now known as Samiland.

Here are a few images recorded along the way. We have included a few examples of artwork by indigenous artists we found in special places on our journey to help tell the story. Huge thanks go to Kevin Clement of Zegrahm Expeditions who lead our trip and also to Kaare Tannvik, our mentor and guide for this journey. They lead us back in time into places that most people will never see. And our traveling companions from South Africa and the USA were wonderful to be with for this extraordinary adventure.

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Steller’s Eider Drake

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Long tailed duck drake

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Magnificent King Eiders in flight

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A Painting by Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa

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Read more.. Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

We are still sifting through the images and savoring the experience of our recent trek down Sandy Neck here on a frozen Cape Cod but this has not stopped us from continuing to get outside in the frigid but beautiful winter landscapes here to find the wild things. The weather is forecast to change and warmer temperatures with lots of rain and wind are expected shortly….so we thought we would post some of the images we have recorded in the past week including a host of beautiful raptors and some uncommon waterfowl. We also have had a few additional snowy owl encounters and a sighting of a White Fronted Goose among the Canada Geese on a local golf course.

This will likely be our last report for awhile as we head south to Caribbean waters to be with our friends the Sperm whales of Dominica and the Humpback whales of the Silver Bank near the Dominican Republic. Check back for these reports in a few weeks.

White fronted goose (right) - A rare Cape Cod visitor

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge - Chatham

Snowy Owl in flight

North Chatham overlooking Tern Island toward the Outer Beach

Northern Harrier in flight - Fort Hill, Eastham

Great Blue Heron in flight - Fort Hill

Northern Shoveler (male)

Northern Harrier

Hooded Mergansers in flight - Eastham

Fort Hill view of Nauset Beach

Hooded Mergansers in flight

White fronted goose in flight (left)

Peregrine Falcon overlooks the frozen turf at Eastward Ho!- Chatham

Red Tailed Hawk - Chatham

Surf Scoter - Morris Island, Chatham

Common Goldeneye - Morris Island, Chatham

Read more.. Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

In the Kingdom of the Snowy Owl

Our winter explorations of the wilderness areas of Cape Cod were taken to a new level this past week. Working with expert tracker and Cape Cod Naturalist Todd Kelley we embarked on an epic hike out on to a wintery and frozen Sandy Neck with the goal of walking all the way to the point and returning. Walking along the frozen edges of Barnstable marsh and into the beautiful maritime forests of red cedar, pine and even a few wild holly trees interspersed with the  tundra-like feel of desolation and dunes was an awesome backdrop to search for the magnificent snowy owls that have been reported over the pat 50 days out there. The frigid temps on this day did not deter  the Neck’s predator population of raptors from scouring the snow and ice for rodents and small birds. Amazingly we had 7 separate snowy owl sightings (probably three different birds), and also had great views of red tailed hawk, merlin, northern harrier, sharp shinned hawk and even a short eared owl! Our days walk covered an exhausting 17 miles and was made even more challenging as we had to break our own trail through 5 – 7 inches of crusty snow on top of the frozen sand. Absolutely a day of “mindblowing” wonder…and after a few days of recovery the day will go down as one of the best we have ever experienced on Cape Cod at any time of year. See what you think. A few images follow.

Female merlin

At the point

The Point....at the half way mark. Lovin' it!

Incredible look at the amount of insulation in feathers that these owls possess.

Short eared owl in flight

Northern Harrier hunts the dunes (a female)

Down the home stretch

Short eared owl perched in the distance

Read more.. Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

One of the benefits of the continuous storm track we have seen on Cape Cod this winter is the incredible “post storm” landscapes that are left once the snow stops and the system’s move up into the Canadian Maritime Provinces. One needs to bundle up but the results are worth it. In particular the magnificent snowy owl has been easier to find and shoot! Check out our latest images here.

Morris Island, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Chatham

Morris Island, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Chatham

Read more.. Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

Brandt Geese forage on seaweed at the shore's edge

A pair of Hooded mergansers

The magnificent Snowy Owl. A juvenile

Young Red Tailed Hawk a bit annoyed by my interest in its meal

Mouth of the Swan River at dusk

West Dennis Beach

Near the mouth of Bass River

Red Breatested mergansers (3 females) with Hooded merganser pair

Perseverance has finally paid off in our quest to find the snowy owl and capture some images. There are still reliable reports of these beauties hunting on Sandy Neck (2), West Dennis Beach, Gray’s Beach, Nauset Beach, Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, High Head (2), Race Point, and the West End dunes in Provincetown (2). We finally caught up with this fellow late one afternoon at West Dennis Beach. For those who don’t know West Dennis Beach lies at the southern terminus of Bass River as it empties into Nantucket Sound, is easily accessible and offers an impressive winter landscape right now. In addition to the snowy owl we also found some other natural happenings including a young Red Tailed hawk who appeared to be devouring a small waterfowl, some hooded mergansers and of course Brandt geese and juvenile Herring gulls seemingly impervious to the winter chill. On this winter day the temperature was mighty cold and we had to take special care with the cameras. Air temp was approximately 10 degrees F and with windchill (SW winds of 15 kts) the temp felt like minus 10 degrees F (that is -23 degrees C)! Have not felt those temps since we returned from the Himalayas!

Read more.. Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

This is the third post highlighting our walks on the barrier beaches on the Cape in the month of January. Still in search of up close and impressive images of the Snowy Owl visitors we venture onto Harding’s Beach in Chatham in the late afternoon to investigate. As those who follow this blog know even if your prime objective is elusive there is always something interesting to observe….always. Cutting to the chase – we did not find the owl this day but other visitors caught our attention.

Brandt Geese are passing through Cape Cod coastal areas still on their way south.

American Black Ducks take flight

Sanderlings are among the few shorebirds that winter over on Cape beaches

Dusk at the entrance to Stage Harbor looking south to South Monomoy Point

Sadly a Short finned pilot whale has stranded and died over night mysteriously

Read more.. Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

Orleans - Nauset Beach

We have spent a few days hiking the beaches on the Outer  Cape as well as on Barnstable’s  Sandy Neck enjoying the winter landscapes. Largely desolate and dramatic we have also been hoping for good views of one of the many Snowy Owls that have been visiting Cape Cod from the Canadian Arctic the past month. Though we have been fortunate with a couple of nice long distance sightings we continue to look for better images. As our search continues please get outside and  check out and appreciate the beauty of winter on Cape Cod.

Sandy Neck - Cape Cod Bay side

Sandy Neck - Great Marsh side

Wellfleet - LeCount Hollow

Eastham - Coast Guard Beach

Orleans - Nauset Beach

Truro - Ballston Beach

Eastham - Coast Guard Beach

Read more.. Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

The new year greeted us with our first serious Nor’easter of the winter season. Circumstances set us up here on Cape Cod to be near the center of a convergence of several powerful low pressure systems which raced up the eastern coast packed with lots of moisture and collided with a massive arctic blast of frigid air and the result was significant coastal snowfall in often whiteout blizzard conditions with temperatures that plummeted near to zero degrees F. In Chatham we received about 12 – 14 inches and with drifts in the wind some north facing structures got buried. We clocked wind gusts to 56 MPH. Fortunately we did not lose power so the experience was exhilarating around a cozy fire. We worried about the birds and yesterday decided to range further afield to survey the land and wildlife.

Read more.. Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Transitions of the Season

Aleutian Dream at Cow Yard landing

It is that time of year when the NE Gales start to become more frequent and the temperatures drop toward the freezing mark. Our boat  Aleutian Dream has been in the water here on Cape Cod for over 6 months and the time has come to haul it for the winter season. It is always hard to give up the chance to be on the water in a moments notice. Here are some additional unforgettable images from our last adventure a week ago out with the humpbacks off Chatham Inlet.

But even as the seasons change there are still wild adventures to enjoy on land with the onset of the “off-season” quiet time on Cape Cod. Just check out these images Pam made from our porch the past few days.

Read more.. Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Cape Cod Winter Journal: Storm & Aftermath

Winter Storm Nemo, the product of two merging winter systems,  converged on Cape Cod late afternoon on Friday, February 8th as the sun was setting. Barometer fell and the wind accelerated with temperatures still warmish in the high 30′s F. Sleet and rain fell in the mix as the wind continued to build to a raging gale shaking the house fiercely. Top gust in the wee hours was 84 MPH!

By 1200 midnight the temperature began to plummet and reached the low 20s instantly freezing everything and producing fluffy snow to add to the mayhem. The storm moved rapidly eastward but was large enough to affect the Outer Cape until well into Saturday evening. We stayed close to home but did manage to get out for a bit on Saturday afternoon to observe the “white-out” conditions in the still howling storm force winds and drifting snow.

Of course we worried about the birds and tried to keep them fed when we saw their precious forms getting blown about near our feeders.

Read more.. Monday, February 11th, 2013