Edward's Birding Diary
|23 September 2009|
Tunu nunaanngilaq - nujuartuuvorli*
Without having visited the place I've had a bit of a thing for Greenland for many years The promise of spectacular scenery, the harsh environment and the totally different culture made Greenland seem an irresistible location, so much so that I wondered if I'd be disappointed when I actually went. I'd been putting it off for years (too expensive, I could see more new birds virtually anywhere else in the world etc.) but at the end of June JÓH and I took the plunge and booked a flight to Kulusuk on Greenland's east coast. The east coast of Greenland is far more sparely populated than the west coast, being home to only 3,500 people in two areas, the area round Ammassilik at 65°N and Ittoqqortoormiit at 70°N.
Apart from these two areas and a couple of Danish scientific bases the east coast is wild uninhabited; and it's only just under two hours away by plane from Iceland, the shortest international flight. And what a flight it is! An hour or so into the journey, we began to see an oil-like slick on the water, the edge of the ice pack.
Above: This is the view when you step out of the airport terminal at Kulusuk
The slick became thicker until we were flying over great icebergs, some so large that they contained their own lakes of brilliant blue meltwater. The approach to Kulusuk airport can only be made in good weather as the coastal mountains form a formidable barrier, and the view on stepping on to the tarmac at Kulusuk airport surely rivals that of any other airport in the world. My first impressions of East Greenland left me speechless: high, jagged mountains as far as the eye could see, separated by stretches of deep blue sea, choked with ice. We did the 45-minute walk to the village of Kulusuk in open-mouthed amazement at the surroundings, the only birds being Snow Bunting, Wheatear and, rather surprisingly, a Redwing. The village of just under 300 people was bustling with life, with kids kicking a football around, village elders on benches watching the world go by and people milling around and socialising in the pleasant sunny weather. We didn't stay long in Kulusuk, but got onto a speedboat for the 30-minute white-knuckle ride to Ammassalik island, weaving through labyrinthine channels in the sea ice, and still gasping in wonder at the serrated ramparts forming the coastal mountain range.
Tasiilaq, the only real town on the east coast, seemed vast after Kulusuk and has about 1,900 inhabitants. It's an immensely attractive place: a jumble of brightly coloured timber houses arranged on steep hillsides around the harbour, but although more orderly than Kulusuk, it retains a particular dishevelled charm about it. Needless to say it is surrounded by spectacular mountains, with the conical mass of Polhems Fjeld on the opposite side of the bay being particularly impressive. It is said that once you think you've seen the world, there's always Greenland, and Tasiilaq is a gateway to adventure, be it mountaineering, kayaking or expeditions on to the Inland Ice. JÓH and I weren't as adventurous as that and spent our time walking around the village (fascinating) and on a day hike behind the village over into the next valley.
No Polar Bears or Narwhals and a mere seventeen species of bird but these four days in East Greenland were simply superb. My fascination for Greenland proved to be well justified and I have no doubt whatsoever I'll be visiting Kalaallit Nunaat again soon. What a place.
*Please refer to your nearest Greenlandic dictionary