Where eagles soar in the land of the Midnight Sun
'˜We can never guarantee that you will see them', one of our guides announced as she flung a piece of raw fish into the sea alongside the SS Orca. '˜But when we feed the gulls they are never far behind.'
‘We can never guarantee that you will see them’, one of our guides announced as she flung a piece of raw fish into the sea alongside the SS Orca. ‘But when we feed the gulls they are never far behind.’
Minutes earlier we had left our Hurtigruten cruiseship, MS Polarlys, and joined the smaller boat as it entered the narrow mouth of the Trollfjord. This awesome sidearm branches west from the 25 km long strait that separates the islands of Lofoten and Vesteralen, in the Nordland region of the Arctic Circle.
Forbidding mountain peaks surrounded us on all sides as our skipper steered us towards the west end of the 2km fjord. Trolls turn up everywhere in the folklore and place-names, but we were hunting a slightly less elusive inhabitant of the Norwegian coast.
The sea eagle is northern Europe’s largest bird of prey. Also known as the White Tailed Eagle, when fully grown, can have a wingspan of 2.6 metres and weigh up to 6.86 kg. They feed mainly on fish and small mammals and build nests in trees and rocky ledges.
Noisy flights of gulls continued to mob our boat but eagles were nowhere to be seen. We saw Arctic terns and small guillemotsnesting in precarious ledges below the cliffs.
But we had almost given up hope when our skipper turned the boat around to rendezvous with the Polarlys. Then a shout went up;a juvenile eagle was spotted standing sentinel on a smooth rock by the mouth of the fjord.
Now the eagles were putting on a show for us, their dark silhouettes outlined against the snow-tipped mountains. At one point there were three flying in formation above our heads like a squadron of low-flying aircraft. A fourth dived into the sea a few hundred yards away.
An excursion to Trolljord is part of Hurtigruten’s summer cruising schedule. It can also be reached by taking the overnight ferry from Bodo on the mainland, which is known as ‘sea eagle town’.
When our time was up the Orca returned to Svolvaer in the Lofoten Islands where we met our cruiseship. In Svolvaer painted wooden houses perch on stilts in the water, set against a
dramatic mountain backdrop. Entering the harbour you pass racks used for drying the stockfish that powered much of the region’s economy.
Days earlier, on the northbound section of the cruise, we joined crowds on the deck to admire the spectacle of the Midnight Sun. We sailed from Tromso towards the rocky headland at Nordkapp or North Cape that, at 71 degrees north, marks the most northerly point in mainland Europe. From May to July this part of the Arctic Circle is bathed in sunlight for 24 hours each day, making it difficult to sleep without an eye-mask.
On day eight, en route south to the city of Bergen, we revisited Tromso to attend a midnight service at the city’s Arctic Cathedral. It was just before the witching hour and the sky remained half-lit by the sun’s rays. During the long summer, the constant sunlight brings the wildlife out at all times of day and night. As we pulled into the quay, the sun’s disc appeared to roll along the arches of a road bridge, as Arctic Terns whirled and ducked around our heads. It was fitting end to our expedition.