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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Study in White: Polar Bears and Ivory Gulls of Svalbard

Tuesday 29 May to Tuesday 5 June 2018
Pre-tour extension: Longyearbyen, Norway from Monday 28 May
with Luke Seitz as leader

2018 Price: Cruise berths starting at $3,900

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An adult Ivory Gull is one of the great hopes on the Svalbard cruise. Photo: Luke Seitz

The Norwegian island of Svalbard, or Spitsbergen, is full of spectacular landscapes and wildlife. It lies within a stone’s throw of the North Pole, at around 80 degrees latitude, with twenty-four-hour sunshine for the entire summer. Our new cruise, with Oceanwide Expeditions (See “Notes” below), will explore this wonderful destination, with a particular focus on finding two of the planet’s most stunning Arctic residents: Polar Bear and Ivory Gull. The supporting cast will include numerous jaegers, Great Skua, Reindeer, Walrus, millions of seabirds, and a sprinkling of whales and seals.

Pre-tour extension: Longyearbyen, Norway.

Day 1: The pre-tour extension begins at 6 p.m. with a meeting in the lobby of our hotel in Longyearbyen, Norway. Night in Longyearbyen.

Day 2: We’ll spend the morning birding around the town of Longyearbyen, where Red Phalaropes (in their full breeding garb), Purple Sandpipers, and Common and King Eiders potentially await us. The diversity here is slightly higher than it will be during our cruise, so we’ll target various other shorebirds and waterfowl before we set sail. Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese are among the breeding species around town, and we’ll surely see many spiffy Snow Buntings.

Cruise Itnerary:

Day 1 (Extension Day 2): In the late afternoon we’ll board our ship and set sail. Night on board m/v Plancius.

Days 2–7: We’ll have nearly six days to explore the nooks and crannies of Svalbard from our ship. Flexibility is important: our exact itinerary will be dependent on weather, ice conditions, and recent wildlife sightings. This is a dynamic ecosystem, and we’ll be confident in the experience of our crew to lead us to the best areas, both on land and water, to look for birds and mammals.

At these high latitudes, bird diversity is very low—we’ll likely see fewer than two dozen species—but what the high Arctic lacks in quantity, it makes up for in exceptional quality. Svalbard is one of the most reliable places in the world to see Ivory Gull. This enigmatic ice-dweller, pure angelic white with an orange-tipped bill, will be at the forefront of our minds as we cruise up to the northern part of the island. With some luck, we hope to be rewarded with a sighting or two. Other enticing possibilities include high-latitude breeders such as all three jaegers, Great Skua, Dovekie, and Thick-billed Murre.

The spectacular mammals of this region are certainly on an equal footing with the birds. Two big targets are Polar Bear and Walrus, and our trip is well timed for both of these special beasts. Additionally, there are several species of seals in the region and quite a few whales: we’ll keep our eyes out for Blue, Fin, Humpback, Minke, and Beluga. 

Even during lulls in wildlife action the scenery of Svalbard is remarkable. The dramatic fjords and icebergs are a delightful backdrop for our birding; indeed, just being in such a beautiful location is sure to rank among the highlights of the trip. Nights on m/v Ortelius.

Day 8: This morning we’ll return to Longyearbyen, where the tour will conclude with a farewell breakfast before we transfer to the airport for flights back to Oslo and onward.

Updated: 21 June 2017


  • Cruise berths starting at : $3,900
  • *See link below for full pricing details
  • Longyearbyen Pre-cruise Extension : $500
  • Pre-cruise Single Supplement : $135
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Maximum group size eight with one WINGS leader

* Please see the Tour Information page for cabin descriptions and pricing, deposit requirements, and the cancellation and refund policies applicable to this cruise.

** CASH ONLY PRICING: Deposit & balance payment for this cruise must be done by check, money order, or bank wire. No credit cards please.