Greenland, Iceland and the Hebrides, June 2008

For a list of the birds seen on this trip click here

This was a trip to Greenland and Iceland on the M.V. Black Prince, a Fred Olsen ship. I was the on board naturalist / wildlife lecturer. The cruise started from Greenock and called in at Stornoway in the Hebrides where we were able to visit Harris and Lewis, and then proceeded to Rekjavik and Heimaey in Iceland, before crossing the Denmark Strait to Greenland. We had three different landings in Greenland, before returning directly to Greenock.

Weather was on the whole very nice, especially in Greenland.


Thursday June 26th - Depart Greenock, Scotland.

Friday June 27th - Stornoway, Scotland.

Saturday June 28th - at sea to Heimaey, Iceland

Sunday June 29th - Heimaey, Iceland

Monday June 30th - Reykjavik, Iceland

Tuesday July 1st - At sea to Greenland

Wednesday July 2nd - At sea to Greenland

Thursday July 3rd - Narsarsuaq, Greenland

Friday July 4th - Qaqortoq, Greenland

Saturday July 5th - Nanortalik, Greenland

Sunday July 6th - At sea to Greenock, Scotland

Monday July 7th - at sea to Greenock, Scotland

Tuesday July 8th - at sea to Greenock, Scotland

Wednesday July 9th - Greenock, Scotland

Thursday June 26th. 2008

My wife and I arrived at Greenock from our Norfolk home to join the Black Prince on her cruise to Greenland and Iceland via Stornoway. The Black Prince was the first ship that I had travelled on as a ship's lecturer a number of years ago, so it was nice to be back on board.

We left Greenock under grey skies and squally showers at 5pm. We saw several Gannets and Fulmars as we left harbour, and headed to Stornoway.

Friday 27th. June 2008

We arrived on schedule at 11am local time in Stornoway. Excitement was immediate as I spotted a summer plumaged adult Great Northern Diver in the harbour, just in front of our ship. This  bird should not have been here. By rights, it should be on its breeding grounds in Greenland.

As soon as we were permitted, I got off the ship and made my way to the area of the quay which gave me a great view of the bird. I had never seen such a close summer plumaged adult before. This particular bird seemed to be feeding on large prawns or possibly crayfish which it kept catching underwater and bringing to the surface to feed on. In poor light for photography, I did manage some reasonable shots which are viewable on the birds section of photographs.

Later I went on one of the ship's excursions to Harris, which is in effect connected to Lewis, the island of which Stornoway is the capital. The weather improved and in addition to several more likely birds, such as Eider and Cormorant and Greylag Goose, I also saw a Red-throated Diver. In addition to the birds, there were a couple of Common Seals in the harbour at Stornoway, and plenty of Bird's Foot Trefoil and Lady's Bedstraw at the pristine beach at the south of Harris.

We rejoined the ship and then began our two day crossing to Heimaey, and island off the south west coast of Iceland.

Saturday 28th. June 2008

Few birds were seen today, mainly Fulmars and Herring Gulls. However, we were rewarded with our time on deck with a pod of about 8 Long-finned Pilot Whales, approximately half a mile off the starboard side of the ship.

Sunday 29th. June 2008

Today we arrived at Heimaey at 7 a.m... On a previous cruise here, we were unable to land due to bad weather, so it was an exciting prospect to spend a day on the island. The weather was also beautiful. We took an early excursion tour by coach of the island which was very useful. We heard all about the volcanic eruption in the 1970s which was so unexpected, and the fact that the whole island had to be evacuated overnight in the islands fishing boats.

We went to see one of the numerous Puffin colonies later on and wondered at the other nearby islands of the Westman group, where Puffin hunters spend the summer in more or less total isolation from other humans.

I then took a boat trip which circumnavigated Heimaey. It was a bit rough at times, but I did get close views of the Guillemot and Razorbill colonies on the cliffs. Numbers of Puffins were hard to estimate but the sky was full of them much of the time.

In the afternoon I had a walk around the town with my wife over the area which is now buried under up to 50 feet of lava. Over 30% of the town was lost in the eruption.

Monday 30th. June 2008

This morning we arrived n Reykjavik, Iceland's capital, after our overnight cruise from Heimaey. I took a whale watching trip from the port. The boat was fast and we probably got out to about 20 miles offshore. The sea was not flat by any means and you ad to keep a firm grip of the rails of the boat at all times.

Three Humpback Whales were seen, to within 20 yards.  A Minke was also spotted, but not by me as it was on the other side of the boat and at the time I judged it to be far too dangerous to risk going round the other side. I was pleasantly surprised that the crew were all young people who seemed to have the best interests of these leviathans of the ocean at heart, instead of the more customary treatment of whales which Iceland has a history of.

Birds today included Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Kittewake, Black Guillemot, Eider, Manx Shearwater, Arctic Tern and White Wagtail.

Tuesday 1st. July 2008

Today we spent at sea en route to Greenland. There was a choppy sea, and the only bird species seen was Fulmar.

Wednesday 2nd. July 2008

At sea to Greenland. I sighted the coast of Greenland at 16:00. Fulmars were very numerous today, and I also saw good numbers of Great Shearwaters, long distance ocean travellers. There must have been in excess of 1,000 of them. I also spotted a single Sooty Shearwater among them. However, pride of place much go to the 5 Brunnich's Guillemots I spotted on the sea surface as we cruised along. It was a brief view indeed, but unmistakable. I missed this species on my previous trips north - a lifer at last!

I saw a Minke Whale and a Humpback Whale in addition to the birds.

Tuesday July 3rd. 2008

This morning we arrived at our first Greenland port, Narsarsuaq. I had been to Greenland before in 2004 with my wife. Narsarsuaq was a new place for us though. It was a glorious sunny day, with only a slight breeze. I took a fantastic boat trip to view the ice calving off the nearby glacier which was feeding from the ice cap. The trip was nothing short of spectacular in perfect weather.

Later, my wife and I took a walk from the ship to the 'town' - more a hamlet I would say.

Birds today included Glaucous Gulls, Lapland Bunting, Arctic Redpoll and Raven. There was also a profusion of wild flowers, including orchids which I cannot recognise so far!

Later in the day, we left Narsarsuaq for our next destination, Qaqortoq, where we arrived about 8.15p.m..

Friday 4th July. 2008

Today we left the ship to explore Qaqortoq. This is one place we had been to before. Again, the weather was wonderful. We walked over the hill which drops down to the harbour, and on to the lake behind the town. We saw several more Lapland Buntings, and the most northerly nesting landbird in the world, the appropriately named Snow Bunting. Living in Norfolk, I usually get to see Snow Buntings and Lapland Buntings in the winter when cold weather forces them to seek warmer climes further south. They are in their drab winter plumage at such times however. Now it was delightful to see them in their full breeding plumage.

After a couple of hours, we made our way back to the harbour but not before adding the Greenland subspecies of Wheatear and two Great Northern Divers (this time in the right place!).

We left Qaqortoq at 5 p.m. bound for our final Greenland destination, Nanortalik.

Saturday 5th. July 2008

When we arrived at the town of Nanortalik it was grey and drizzly. Nonetheless, the weather would not stop us exploring this place which we hadn't visited before. It was a very quiet town, as all our destinations had been in Greenland. We walked around the harbour and up a small hill. We got nice views back to the sea with icebergs which sweep in from eastern Greenland brought by currents. We were told that a female Polar Bear and two cubs had drifted here on a berg a couple of months back but sadly they were no longer here.

We did see more Arctic Redpolls, Greenland Wheatears and Ravens, and I also found a couple of Iceland Gulls.

We left Greenland for the long trip home to Greenock in the early evening.

Sunday 6th. July 2008

Very quiet sea watching. One Fulmar only seen!

Monday 7th. July 2008

Slightly better than yesterday - three Fulmars seen!

Tuesday 8th. July 2008

Very few birds - Fulmars and the occasional Gannet.

Wednesday 9th. July 2008

Arrive Greenock approximately 8 a.m. .