The Polar Regions have long fascinated travelers with a wide range of interests, such as adventure sports, exploration, rare polar animals and geography. Among those diverse groups, perhaps none are quite as passionate as bird-watchers!
The extreme ends of the earth are an ornithologist's dream. Despite the barren nature of much of the Polar Regions, birds thrive there; in fact, some areas are teeming with Antarctic and arctic birds, many of which are found only in these remote locations. If you fancy spotting black-legged kittiwakes, Atlantic brants or even spoon-billed sandpipers in their natural habitats, you'll want to visit the places that are most likely to offer you those opportunities.
Here are the top bird-watching expeditions in the Polar Regions.
Viewing a bird cliff in Svalbard. Photo Credit; Dr Sam Crimmin
Spitsbergen In Depth: Big Islands, Big Adventure
This 14-day circumnavigation of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, departs from Longyearbyen, Norway, on board the modern and well-equipped Ocean Nova.
Weather and ice conditions in the region dictate the path you'll take – if conditions allow, it's possible to circumnavigate all of Svalbard. Each expedition is different, but one of the key landing sites is Alkefjellet, where you'll find stunning cliffs filled with hundreds of thousands of arctic birds.
Drift silently in a Zodiac beneath the din of northern fulmars, great skuas, black guillemots, glaucous gulls and more. Introduction to Spitsbergen: Fjords, Glaciers and Wildlife of Svalbard also offers the chance to visit this incredible bird cliff.
A rock ptarmigan in the Canadian Arctic. Photo Credit; Dr Sam Crimmin.
Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland, Spitsbergen
On this 15-day expedition, journey from high above the Arctic Circle through the wilds of East Greenland's fjords and the biologically diverse Spitsbergen.
At landings and adrift around Spitsbergen, you might see arctic birds, such as arctic terns, skuas, long-tailed ducks, kittiwakes and ivory gulls. At sea, ornithology experts will coach you in bird identification, in preparation for your exploration of the impressive East Greenland coast.
After exploring ancient Thule settlements, you'll sail through Scoresbysund, the world's largest (and many say most spectacular) fjord system. Scoresbysund's fertile land combined with open water, as well as the protection from wind that the steep, rising edges of the fjord provide, make this an incredible environment for land species and birds alike. Here, your guide will point out a wide range of bird species, including barnacle, pink-footed and snow geese; king and common eiders; Brünnich's and black guillemots; herring, glaucous and great black-backed gulls; red-throated and great northern divers; plus, whooper swans, long-tailed ducks, little auks, puffins, fulmars, kittiwakes, arctic terns, red-breasted mergansers, ptarmigans, ravens, snowy owls and Greenlandic gyrfalcon.
Penguin Colony in South Georgia. Photo Credit; Dr Sam Crimmin
South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari
This 16-day adventure begins in Buenos Aires, where you may spot great kiskadees, common rufous-collared sparrows, shiny cowbirds, chalk-browed mockingbirds and European starlings. En route to South Georgia, keep an eye open for imposing albatross and petrels at sea.
A biologically diverse island, South Georgia is home to millions of penguins, with some king and macaroni penguin rookeries numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Thanks to the support of donors like Quark Expeditions®, the nonprofit South Georgia Heritage Trust has undertaken the incredible task of restoring the island's endemic bird populations through the eradication of rats. South Georgia pipit and pintails are now returning in great numbers.
Bird-watching in the Polar Regions is a fascinating and unpredictable activity for both amateur and professional ornithologists. Contact an experienced Polar Travel Adviser to learn more about what specific areas and regions to visit in search of specific polar bird species.