National Geographic : 2009 Apr
from the sea in near-vertical cli s. ey re not sheer walls like Yosemite s El Capitan, though. e cli s contain millions of rock outcroppings wide enough to support a nest but o en too pre- carious for predators like the arctic fox. It s a perfect breeding setup. Pairs of fulmars, Brünnich s guillemots, and black-legged kitti- wakes, sometimes intermingled on the same cli , will claim a ledge for the season and raise their chicks on seafood caught just o the balcony, available 24 hours a day in the nightless summer. When the birds take over a cli , the transfor- mation can be profound. Once, while riding a former shing trawler around an inner Spits- bergen ord, I looked up to see a light dusting of snow on a tombstone-gray sea cli . Glass- ing the scene with my binoculars, I realized I wasn t seeing snow at all. It was the blending of tens of thousands of kittiwakes nesting on cli ledges, their white heads creating a pointillist e ect from miles away. As impressive as Svalbard s summer birds are, they re sort of nature s carpetbaggers: here for the good times, gone for the bad. Come Sep- tember, most will be winging south. It s hard not to reserve your highest respect for Svalbard s year-round residents, each of which seems to employ one of two common strategies to sur- vive the brutal Arctic winter: Keep hunting or cache extra energy. e master practitioner of the rst tactic is the polar bear, of course, which spends much of the winter hanging out around seal breathing holes, waiting for dinner to surface. e arctic Inspecting a human interloper, this female polar bear noses into photographer Paul Nicklen's cabin after munching on his snowmobile seat, his camera bag, and his hat. The icy strip of land just outside was a "bear superhighway," Nicklen recalls. "They'd come hungry, looking for food." Bruce Barcott s story about the European bee-eater appeared in the October 2008 issue. Canadian-born Paul Nicklen is a frequent contributor to the magazine.