Friday 21 October 2022

Iceland and Greenland Cruise

 My wife and I have always fancied going to Greenland - just because its one of those countries people don't really go for as a holiday destination - so, on the 21st June, we boarded Ambassador's Ambience for a 21 night cruise to Iceland and Greenland starting from Tilbury Docks in Essex. We were going to be at sea for 3 days before we landed at Reykjavik (smoky bay). Our sea days produced Kittewake, Guillemot, Fulmar and Herring Gull also Lesser-blacked Gull, Gannet but sadly, also lots of dead Gannets due to Avian Flu. We came across a few marine animals - Grey Seal, Harbour Porpoise, four Minke Whales and White-beaked Dolphin, sadly no images of any of them



Great Shearwater

After 3 days at sea we arrived at Reykjavik. We have been here before a few years ago, but I had never seen their magnificent Church, so for  me and Sue that was our main aim but I made a school boy error in not taking my camera with me!(Doh!!) as in the centre of the town is a large lake (Tjornin) with breeding Arctic Terns; there were also Whooper Swans, Scaup coming to bread being given by the local children!  Widgeon, Tufted Duck, Greylag Goose and Ringed Plover were also there and other birds of  note were Redwing, Redpoll and Raven.

We had another two sea days before we would arrive at our first port of call in Greenland which gave me ample opportunity for some more sea watching. The only interesting sightings at sea were Great Shearwater, a distant Fin Whale and three Minke Whales - and our first 'growlers' and icebergs (in the Cape of Farewell)



One of many icebergs we encountered on our cruise

Great Shearwater resting on the sea

Great Shearwaters

Our first stop in Greenland was Qaqortoq - a town in Southern Greenland. There wasn't much on the birding front , with the only birds of note being Redpoll, Wheatear, flyover of a Red-breasted Merganser and our first gull in the shape of a Glaucous Gull. 

Heliport at Qaqortoq

Redpoll (heavily cropped image)

Northern Wheatear

Glaucous Gull in flight

Glaucous Gull  feeding in the harbour

The following day found us at Narsarsuaq - a very small hamlet but very interesting as it was originally built as an American airbase called Blue West One which played an important part in World War II. The only birds of note here were Lapland Bunting and Arctic Skua - but we managed to lose ourselves for a few hours in the Narsarsuaq Museum - absolutely amazing place, and so interesting! 

Another sea day which produced my first Blue Fulmar along with Iceland Gull, Pomerine Skua along with the usual suspects - and also a distant Sperm Whale.

Blue Fulmars flying by The Ambience

Our next port of call was Sisimuit - a much larger town than we had been to so far in Greenland. Sue was lucky enough to find a Snow Bunting's nest (which was on a rocky bank below the most beautiful rustic little church.) and both male and female were returning every couple of minutes with food for their young. It's amazing to see birds that I normally only get to see in winter plumage as migratory birds in their full summer plumage, and I had my best view of a male Lapland Bunting here.


Femail Snow Bunting at nest entrance

Male Snow Bunting 

Summer plumage Lapland Buntings

Ilulissat was our next stop and we had an overnight hers so that people could take advantage of the midnight sun tours to the iceberg alley. Bird-wise, just the usual suspects again but quite a few Iceland Gulls in the harbour - and a Fin Whale blow from off the ship on the first day and the next day we had Humpback Whale blows in the distance .

The edge of iceberg alley

Ilulissat as seen from the ship

Glaucous Gull

Iceland Gull

Fin Whale blow

It's now July 4th and we are at sea on our way to Nuuk - the capital of Greenland. No new birds at sea but a couple of marine animals - a new tick for me with many sightings of Harp Seal and also a Minke Whale

Great Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls

Harp Seal

Minke Whale

Our final destination of Nuuk produced just the usual with no new birds but we enjoyed visiting the old harbour with it's museums and a spot of retail therapy in the shopping centre.

Nuuk from the ship

A beautiful blue iceberg as we were leaving Nuuk

We left Greenland behind and travelled through the Labrador Sea into the North Atlantic as we headed towards Kirkwall in the Orkney Isles for our final stop - a sea journey of four days. Added to our list were Manx and Sooty Shearwater, Leach's Petrel and also Puffin along with a few more Blue Fulmar.


I've never been fortunate enough to visit the Orkney's before but I hope to go back if I can; Kirkwall is a lovely town with a beautiful cathedral , great shopping area and fantastic people! A few birds were added - Rock Pipit, Eider, Redshank, a Great Skua terrorising the local gulls and a very northern Sand Martin!  This was also the only place I saw Black Guillemot 

A raft of Common Eider

Fulmar with reflection

Great Skua (Bonxie)

Rock Pipit

Rock Dove flying around the ship a couple of miles out from Kirkwall 

Redshank in Kirkwall harbour


Northern Fulmar

On leaving Kirkwall we had a band of pipers for our sail-away which was a great end to our amazing cruise!

On our last full day at sea before returning to Tilbury dock, we were once again sad to see so many bird corpses - lots more Gannets and Auks - mainly Guillemot. I personally didn't see any dead Puffin though.

All in all, a great trip despite not getting closer views of cetaceans, which was a bit disappointing. 

As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you have enjoyed reading about our adventure!

Next up - Shetland 2022!!