April this year has been busy in every sense. Frantic at work, but with two very different trips to enjoy as well.

The first was an adventure to Svalbard on a land based trip searching for polar bears. I have beeb here twice before in the summer, but this is the first time that I have tried earlier in the year.

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The idea was that in early April, the sea ice should be breaking up and the bears coming into the fjords to hunt for ringed seals in the last remaining areas of ice where the seals are giving birth. The good news for bears, but bad news for photographers is that this year there has been much more sea ice than for the last five. This means that the bears had a huge area to roam in search of their prey out at sea(ice!). We arrived at our base, the old coal miners cabins in  Longyearbyen and sorted out the snowmobiles before venturing out for eight days and over 1000km on the search!

Initially we had some success finding arctic fox and reindeer so we were very optimistic.

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It is amazing to think that these animals scratch a living in this savage environment.

Our first full day found us driving across a glacier in a white out, and later a couple of the guys managing to crash through the surface ice on one of the fjords (definite need for bicycle clips for them!!!!) quite exciting!!

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Riding these things at uptown 100km/h was quite fun to start with, but after a while………!

Anyhow, the search continued and we focussed initially on the old Russian  settlement of Pyramiden, where a bear had been sighted. This is a bizarre place which used to have a coal mine, but is now just inhabited by a handful of Russians in an old hotel! They have to stay there year round in order for Russia to maintain her claim on the area.The town itself is completely deserted, and would be a landscape photographers dream. After a very long day, we reached our destination and found a newborn ringed seal on the ice near the old town .It was delightful.

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It’s mother was clearly anxious to get it into the safety of the water, but these youngsters are not able to swim for the first few days.

Whilst in this area, we also had the best fox encounter with this beautiful white example.

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There was also a much more cautious dark form of arctic fox hunting in the area. He kept his distance but was nice to watch!

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From here, we decided to head to the east coast as we thought this would be our best chance. En route we saw many more reindeer.

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Following the reindeer, we were also able to get close to the only bird to make an appearance, the ptarmigan. They often follow the reindeer looking for food where the snow has been disturbed. These stunning white birds were also fantastic in the white landscape.

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This is a very beautiful place and the ice we encountered was fantastic, as were the glaciers seen from the very unusual perspective of being on foot near their fronts.

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The bears remained elusive. The scenery was amazing and we spent quite a while including a very cold and uncomfortable night on our snowmobiles out on the sea ice, looking.

_DSC4517While driving between icebergs on the sea (that last time I visited, I was on a ship!!) we finally found our bear. A female with two new cubs, no more than 30m away. We had to back away rapidly and she took her cubs in the opposite direction into an oncoming snowstorm and some very difficult terrain. We could not follow her and that was it!

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This was the only shot I grabbed before she disappeared.Hard to believe that even with tracks to follow, we had no joy!

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Better luck next time.

It was a great trip nonetheless. Our guide Pieter was fantastic, and the the other guys great companions. Thanks to all of you.  I look forward to another crack at polar bears soon.

The second trip was back to see Carles and Roger in Catalonia. These guys have a great selection of hides, and my targets for the weekend were twofold.First, was the display antics of a very Spanish bird, the Little Bustard. Although they do live elsewhere, Spain is probably the world’s major population for this wonderful bird. They live in grassland and arable farmland, and the males display in the mornings at a lek. It is a very comical display, with the bird initially just calling.

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But then starting to puff out his collar and leap about a metre into the air. My male must have done this fifty times in the hour or so before he got bored!

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This morning display was followed by an evening with a very unusual animal.The genet, a small carnivore looking quite like a cross between a cat and a large mustelid. They are normally extremely shy and highly nocturnal, but this wonderful female has been getting sufficiently used to my guide Ivan, that she now appears before dusk.

It was truly incredible to be so close to this animal that I had never seen before.

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She seemed quite relaxed and allowed me to shoot for several minutes before disappearing back into the forest.

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It was also nice to se that she was heavily pregnant.  My final day, sadly ended with another whole day from before dawn in an initially freezing, to a subsequently boiling hide waiting for a goshawk. I spent a day in this hide two years ago with no success and should have learnt my lesson. I could even hear the bird calling, but he would not come into view. Might try back in Norway where they seem much more co-operative!

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