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GREENLAND The Land of (mostly) Ice! Part 2.

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Greenland sits only slightly further north than the northern tip of the Shetland Isles and although we always thought there was an outside chance we'd get to Iceland after all it's a fairly popular destination, not too distant and several friends have been and told us how good it is, if a tad on the very expensive side, but Greenland was a real bonus as after losing out on a previous trip to Iceland during the dreaded Covid 19 epidemic, Greenland meant that this was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up.


The first hour of light saw our first major iceberg followed by Humpback Whale, Fin Whale blows and a Leach's Petrel all before breakfast - what else would the day hold?

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Even bigger icebergs was the answer!

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Which included our favourite, which looked like either the Sydney Opera House, or the tent from Billy Smart’s Circus!

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At sea the Big Four was still only the Big Two with only one Puffin and no Gannets seen but plenty of Black Guillemots close to the coast.

Then into Prins Christiansund we went, a full day’s cruising in one of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth.

In the sound we had Iceland and Glaucous Gull, Great Black Backed Gulls and shed loads of Kittiwakes.

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But in reality, it was the scenery that took centre stage. Glaciers, glimpses of the icecap, intrusive volcanic dykes and other rock formations, waterfalls; the Sound had it all, a veritable geographers and geologists paradise...



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and icebergs that looked like swans.

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All this spectacular scenery was brought right down to earth when we sailed past this perfectly formed U-shaped glacial valley straight out of a school geography textbook.

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One of the passengers, a keen geologist, had been through here five years ago and this valley was then filled with a glacier, and he remarked that we saw only 10% of the ice he had witnessed previously, a significant sign that all is not well with our planet.

Whilst in the sound we got a brief view of a couple of Harp Seals and hoped for the iconic sighting and subsequent photo of one hauled out on an ice flow. In the water they behaved very much like the South American Fur seals that AB had encountered on previous travels. Some passengers managed to see one ‘hauled out’ from the bow of the ship, we were otherwise engaged at the stern giving a binocular and telescopes workshop. We did, however, see the White-tailed Sea Eagles that flew over.

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Leaving the sound, we sailed north and had a slight change of plan, we would be visiting the furthest north of the port stops first rather than last. So up to Nanortalik we headed overnight.

No town in Greenland is of any real size, but Nanortalik is one of their bigger places and still only manages a population in the high hundreds. The port area was small, and it was a tender ride from the ship to the dock. It had the feel of a frontier town about it once we were ashore. We wanted to see some Snow Buntings so followed the calls we heard through an industrial estate until we found them up on a bluff by a communication tower.


On the way we passed some familiar looking orchids but also a new species for all of us, Northern Green Orchid. Similar in form to our Marsh and Common Spotted Orchids but differing in having green flowers rather than the purple of ours.

A splash of blue was provided by Arctic Harebells and there was a new species of willowherb for us too, Arctic Fireweed whose pinky flowers were all around.

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The town could hardly be described as pretty but it did have a feature church (with a raven on the roof again!) and interestingly many of the houses had painted on windows rather than the real thing, maybe the price of windows is prohibitive with everything needing to be imported or maybe glass loses too much heat in the winter?

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The appearance of the people in the town was very different to the people we had encountered previously with definite Inuit features and a smiling countenance.

The local ladies of the towns ‘WI’ equivalent gave us hot tea and coffee and made us welcome.

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There were a small number of butterflies among the buttercups, but we never got close enough to get an ID on them, precious few other insects around doing any pollinating but there were midges doing the biting thing!


In the harbour we had both Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.

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Now Nanortalik means ‘Place of the Polar Bears’, but we’d have been very lucky to arrive when one was present as, apparently, they're not that regular or frequent a visitor despite the name. There had, however, been one about three weeks earlier, some passengers were shown video of it ambling menacingly around the outskirts of town. The nearest we got to one was on this mural down the main drag and the three oN the coat of arms (see above) in the Town Community Building.

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Mid-afternoon was sail out time, so it was back to work spotting wildlife from the decks. The harbour area had a little island with a massive glacial erratic rock sat on it.


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Sailing out we had more White-tailed Eagles, Humpback Whale blows, Minke Whales, three groups of Harp Seals and Long Finned Pilot Whales were reported by a guest. Wheatears and a Redwing were also seen by other guests.

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Our next stop was 'just around the corner' a very big corner, Narsarsuaq, home to a former US military hospital for soldiers wounded during the D-Day Landings. This place was tiny compared to the metropolis of Nanortalik. During the sail-in we had a couple of Humpback Whales and two Sabine's Gulls. Other good birds included Arctic, Pomerine and Long-tailed Skua. IH had a Red-necked Phalarope, which was too close to the ship and on the wrong side for all the group to see it.


There's not much to Narsarsuaq, just a huge runway, with a conference centre, a few distressed and repurposed industrial buildings, a smattering of houses and a cafe/tourist information centre/museum and a hill with a comms tower. But it also has the Greenland Arboretum, aka a hill with some proper trees on it, and a glacial lake in a valley of wildflowers. Nice.

The whole of the OWE Team were gutted when an Arctic Fox ran across the road in front of some guests close to the top building - we had to put up with 'just' lots of Wheatears and Common Redpolls.

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Abandoned American paraphernalia was spotted along the wildflower valley including a fire hydrant and an old chimney from a long-gone house overlooking the lake.


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DMcG, with IH, carried on this walk and between them reckoned they could both fit up the chimney if a Polar Bear appeared, as there was nowhere else to run and we hadn't taken advantage of the rifles on offer at the hire shop!

IH LOOKS FOR HARLEQUINS AND HOPEFULLY NOT POLAR BEARS! PIC AB

Meanwhile AB and MH looked in vain for a Foxy mammal who knew how to hide…


Bees, and indeed other insects, were few and far between in the flower valley so we were lucky to find this solitary bee which has the look of a leaf-cutter bee, but we could well be miles out on that tentative ID. We also had two species of hoverfly and later back on ship a bumble bee flew over the stern.

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The agricultural land opposite Narsarsuaq was the only agricultural land we saw and was home to the first Viking settler of Greenland, Eric the Red, whose reconstructed house you can visit for a fee.

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There is also a local sculpture depicting him and his wife putting his son on a horse!

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The bright blue iceberg we learned was composed of very, very, old compressed ice probably drifted down from the nearby ice fjord Qooroq.

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On our wanders IH found this rock covered in what we now know as Elegant Sunburst Lichen. If you're going to be a lichen why not be bright orange and have an awesome name too? What he didn't know when he picked it up is that said lichen grows on rocks which have had their nutrient status enriched by animal urine - cue lots of subsequent hand washing!

From the, very welcome, shuttle bus back to the harbour, we spotted a Great Northern Diver in one of the roadside bays but couldn't relocate it for a very distant pic once back aboard the ship.


While waiting for the ship to set sail a White-tailed Eagle flew across the harbour and landed almost out of sight behind some tall vegetation where it looked to be eating something, indeed a Raven sat close by eagerly awaiting some scraps. And if you're going to watch eagles and whales on a mild day in remote Greenland you might as well do it with a cocktail in hand as this guest did!

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The sail back down the fjord towards our final destination in Greenland was full of icebergs and Kittiwakes with Arctic Skuas patrolling for the chance of a stolen meal.

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Iceland Gulls were also numerous and sharp-eyed guest John Riley got some good shots of Harp Seals.

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As dusk fell more icebergs were in evidence.

And there were yet more icefloes that looked (if you use your imagination) like swans.

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That night, passenger Karen Burns was alerted to the possibility of the aurora from her phone app and went out for a shufty.

Dave had a look the following night at around 02.00 but it was cloudy...ah well maybe next time?

As we left and darkness descended our fellow passenger Cathy Redmond was a whole lot luckier, see below, sorry DMcG!



The Team awoke to fog the next morning which meant a bit of a relaxed and leisurely breakfast before disembarking into the huge metropolis of a little over 2000 people that is Quatatoq. Apparently, it's Greenland's sixth largest town and even has a topflight football team - in a league of six...and today was match day. In fact, all the season's matches were to be played over consecutive days, after the thaw and before the freeze starts again. A few of the guests and IH wanted to go to the match, so DMcG decided to join them. But before that there was some after breakfast watching to be done before disembarking onto the tender for the short ride to the quayside. There wasn't much going on in the harbour, a guest had reported a single early morning unidentified dolphin before the fog set in but other than that it was 'just' the usual Glaucous, Iceland, Great Black-backed Gulls and a small number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

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It was a very mild day now the fog was long gone, it was t-shirt sleeves weather again, not what we expected in Greenland at all. Over the hill from the eagles was a large glacial lake set in a depression in the mountains. It was school summer holidays and there were several kids enjoying a probably chilly swim and diving from the big rock above the house.

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Meanwhile AB and MH had taken advantage of the morning tender and had a few hours ashore. The local facilities were good and included some sculpted rocks with a nautical theme, or maybe even a field guide for the local whalers.

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One couple enquired if there were opportunities to go whale watching, they were told “no, they are all out with harpoons”.


Sometimes it is difficult to come to terms with the lifestyle of these people who genuinely hunt within quotas to feed their children – a far cry from other folk who slaughter indiscriminately – but still a sobering realisation.


Also gave the only sighting of narwhal for the trip too!

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Birds also seen around and about were the ubiquitous Ravens, a few Snow Buntings, Common Redpolls and one guest got a Lapland Bunting, confirmed by using the Merlin App, when they heard an unfamiliar call on their walk around the lake.

Meanwhile back at the footy the teams came out for their pre-match warm up but we had to leave before kick off to make sure we got back to the quayside in time for the last tender. We never did find out who won. But they did find the executive stand.

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Back aboard Borealis it was chastening to hear tales of guests being offered slices of whale meat in the fish market, some even tried it! On the way back to the ship the tender went past the biggest building in town, the seal skinning factory - it had a lovely mural of a Harp Seal sitting on an icefloe painted on it; you know, just like that photo we really wanted to get.


Once we got back down the fjord we saw a couple of packs of Harp Seals along with two individual seal’s heads. Could these have been either Bearded Seals and/or Hooded Seals or were they 'just' Harp Seals that had become separated from their pack?

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Closer to the open sea we had a Humpback Whale and more distant Fin Whale blows.

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Birds included the usual Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Puffins but no Gannets. A guest reported a Pomarine Skua and other than Iceland Gulls and Glaucous Gulls there was precious little else. As dusk began to fall, the fog returned.


Much later, at around 4.00 am, a nocturnal perambulation of the deck in search of the aurora saw AB come across a boat load of stowaways, dozens of them, in the form of Greenland Wheatears, a magical sight, and he managed to get some iPhone footage.


And not just the Wheatears he also found a pair of mating moths, again of unknown species - somehow between us we'd all neglected to pack our concise guide to the moths of Greenland.

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As for the Aurora, yes, but not as spectacular as in Norway on a previous tour!

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The next day was an odd sort of day. We were at sea all day on the way back across the Atlantic. By now we knew we weren't going on the route published in the pre-cruise brochure - Southern Ireland was off, and we were now going the direct route across the northern coast of Ireland, a bit further south than the outward route though. The weather was mild with some cloud and a calm sea picking up a bit later in the day, but it was hard going, there wasn't much out there.

Even the decks were quiet, the seeming lack of wildlife making many of our stalwart watcher’s head indoors to do other things. The first half of the morning gave us a few Fin Whale blows, mostly distant, and a mad flurry of about an hour and a half after lunch produced a Sperm Whale, a handful more Fin Whales and a small pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins with an associating family of Long-finned Pilot Whales.


The Big Three were still about but in much smaller numbers and still missing the Gannets. Small numbers of Great Sheawaters tazzed about and IH had a Sooty Sheawater but really it was a case of where were all the seabirds?

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Our penultimate full day at sea was a breezy but mild day, the wind giving us a choppy sea making cetacean spotting difficult and getting a confident ID even more so. It turned out to be another odd day at sea. Before breakfast we'd seen several Fin Whale blows but not a single bird, not even a Fulmar! After breakfast it was no better and hard work trying to enthuse the remaining few guests that were sticking it out with us over a Fulmar or two every hour - it really was that dead out there...climate change altering fish/plankton distributions, bird flu, just a 'bad' patch of ocean? Who knows but it was desperately quite for long stretches. After lunch a few Great Shearwaters broke the deadlock along with just two Manx Shearwaters and AB copped for a Sooty Shearwater. A single distant auk remained unidentified.


Eventually a bit of blubber action came our way with a pod of Common Dolphins racing past and under the ship, a Sperm Whale was seen fairly well as was another Fin Whale. Better was to come though. AB and a couple of the passengers spotted some 'wrong' disturbance in the choppy water about a mile or more ahead of the ship. It took a while before we got on to it but then we saw some big breaches including two animals breaching together. At first we thought they had the look of big Blue Fin Tuna about them but they were too big for that to be right. Despite the incredible distance AB managed to fire some shots off and caught a couple of breaches.

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Some debate followed as to which species they were, and it was decided that they were probably Sowerby's Beaked Whales, a ‘lifer’ for all the team - confirmation came later from shore-based members of OWE that had been sent the pics.

PIC AB

The final day at sea continued the quite long stretches of not a lot, still just a few Fulmars, a few more Manx Shearwaters than the last couple of days, a Cory's Shearwater and Gannets began to reappear.


Some even cruised close to the ship.

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A guest pointed out a Fin Whale blowing in the middle distance - that was a relief as now we’d had blubber on every day since leaving the mouth of the Mersey.

It continued to be hard work until we hit the coastal waters off Northern Ireland when large numbers of Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwaters started to appear. Small groups of Guillemots also came into play along with smaller numbers of Puffins and the odd Razorbill. The supporting cast included some juvenile 'Comic Terns', our final Cory's Shearwater and the first Herring Gulls for a long time! With this increased bird activity, it wasn't too long before an Arctic Skua turned up and by the end of the day we'd seen several. Sadly, despite all the bird activity suggesting there was plenty of fish about we saw no pods of dolphins nor were any reported by the guests, although AB saw a lunging Minke Whale in amongst a large flock of actively feeding Kittiwakes which everyone else somehow missed.

Darkness fell as we approached the northern tip of the Isle of Man. In the morning we would be woken early already berthed at Liverpool ready to disembark after breakfast.

What a fabulous trip...


For the blubber our tally was Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale, Sperm Whale, Minke Whale, Sowerby's Beaked Whale and Long-finned Pilot Whale, Bottlenose Dolphin, Short-beaked Common Dolphin, White-beaked Dolphin, and Atlantic White-sided Dolphin.

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We also saw Grey Seals and Harp Seals with the possibility of an unidentified Bearded Seal and/or Hooded Seal which we can't count.


We saw no terrestrial mammals although guests saw Arctic Fox and right at the end, we were shown a photo of an Arctic Hare that a guest took at Signal Hill, Narsarsuaq.

Iceland brought something of the expected but Greenland was very special and certainly different and the combination of the two is superb and can be heartily recommended. Big thanks to Fred Olsen and Peel Talent for the opportunity.


All that remains is to thank Borealis' crew especially the galley, waiting and cabin staff for looking after us so well and of course all those guests who watched with us through fine weather and foul and chatted to us away from the watches, they're what makes the trip special, those guests that shared their photos for our round-up talk in the lecture hall and which we've 'stolen' for this blog, hope our paths cross again.

PIC AB

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