Location: Wrangel Island, Russia
Duration: 15 nights / 16 days
Group Size: Max 44
Level of fitness required: Easy
This unique expedition crosses the Arctic Circle and includes the isolated and pristine Wrangel and Herald Islands and a significant section of the wild North Eastern Siberian coastline. It is a journey only made possible in recent years by the thawing in the politics of the region and the retreat of summer pack ice in the Chukchi Sea. The very small distance between Russia and the USA along this border area was known as the Ice Curtain, behind which then and now lies one of the last great undiscovered wilderness areas in the world.
The voyage journeys through the narrow Bering Strait, which separates Russia from the United States of America, and then travels west along the Chukotka coastline before crossing the De Long Strait to Wrangel Island. There we will spend four to five days under the guidance of local rangers on the nature reserve. Untouched by glaciers during the last ice age, this island is a treasure trove of Arctic biodiversity and is perhaps best known for the multitude of Polar Bears that breed here.
We hope to catch many glimpses of this beautiful animal. The island also boasts the world’s largest population of Pacific Walrus and lies near major feeding grounds for the Gray Whales that migrate thousands of kilometres north from their breeding grounds in Baja, Mexico. Reindeer, Musk Ox and Snow Geese can normally be seen further inland. A visit to massive bird cliffs on nearby Herald Island is also planned. The ‘mammoth steppe’ vegetation complex, a rich and diverse relic from the Pleistocene epoch nurtures over 400 plant species and never fails to astound visitors with its sublime beauty. The number and type of endemic plant species, the diversity within plant communities, the presence of relatively recent mammoth tusks and skulls, a range of terrain types and geological formations in the small geographical space are all visible evidence of Wrangel’s rich natural history and its unique evolutionary status within the Arctic.
The human history of Wrangel Island is fascinating on its own.
Highlights include a 3,400 year old Paleo Eskimo camp in Krassin Bay, controversy over discovery and ownership of the island, the amazing story of the survivors of the Karluk, Ada Blackjack the heroine of the island, the Soviet occupation and militarisation and more recently, the establishment of this world class nature reserve.
Located well above the Arctic Circle, the site includes the mountainous Wrangel Island (7,608 km2), Herald Island (11 km2) and surrounding waters. Wrangel was not glaciated during the Quaternary Ice Age, resulting in exceptionally high levels of biodiversity for this region. The island boasts the world’s largest population of Pacific walrus and the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens.
It is a major feeding ground for the grey whale migrating from Mexico and the northernmost nesting ground for 100 migratory bird species, many endangered. Currently, 417 species and subspecies of vascular plants have been identified on the island, double that of any other Arctic tundra territory of comparable size and more than any other Arctic island. Some species are derivative of widespread continental forms, others are the result of recent hybridization, and 23 are endemic.
The learning experience of a Tatra Photography workshop is not confined to guidance and tuition you will receive in the field, as each evening a tutorial is presented to help develop your camera and wildlife photography skills. The tutorials cover a variety of topics, for example, to enhance your camera skills they provide in-depth explanations of key camera functions, such as understanding TTL metering, achieving accurate exposures, configuring autofocus settings for wildlife photography, plus showing you how to use of depth-of-field and shutter speed creatively. To broaden your craft of wildlife photography the tutorials will help you to expand your vision of a subject, by teaching you how to appreciate the qualities of light, and guide you in the art of composition. The workshop tutor will also provide constructive feedback on your pictures during the course of the workshop, to compliment their input from the tutorials.
News from Wrangel Island
Lunch arrives on Wrangel Island, and 230 polar bears show up for the feast!
A bowhead whale beached on the remote outpost in the Arctic Ocean last week, and the news spread fast among the island’s bears.
From a distance to tourists on passing ship Akademik Shokalskiy, it looked like a flock of sheep, but it soon became evident these were ravenous polar bears feasting on an unexpected meal. Nature reserve rangers on the remote island calculated there were no less than 230 polar bears arriving to devour the food. They included single males, single females, mothers with cubs and and even two mothers with four cubs each.
Information on this unique gathering has been passed to the international scientific group that monitors Chukotka and Alaska’s population of polar bears. The staff of the Wrangel island nature reserve continue observations of this unusual polar bear conclave.
Your tutors for this expedition are Ben Hall, Elliot Neap & Andrew Parkinson
Ben is one of Britain’s foremost wildlife photographers. His personal approach to nature photography lies in the creative art of ‘seeing’. His aim is to use his pictures to communicate his personal vision, to generate an emotional response and to excite the viewer’s aesthetic sensitivity. He is described by “Living Edge” magazine as ‘a passionate and experienced wildlife photographer, with a perfectionist’s eye for detail’. Ben’s work is represented by Getty images, RSPB Images and Naturepl and is sold worldwide.
Ben specialises in bird and mammal photography and has won numerous international awards including category wins in the British Wildlife Photography Awards and the Windland Smith Rice International Awards. In 2009 he was named ‘Geographical’ Photographer of the Year. He is a regular contributor to clients as diverse as BBC Wildlife, PhotoPlus magazine, Digital SLR User, Photography Monthly and many more. He has appeared on numerous radio and television programmes including BBC’s Walk on The Wild Side and is a member of the 2020VISION photo team. Ben has just finished writing his first book, Wildlife Photography Workshop, which he co-authored with Ross Hoddinott.
Andy is a feature contributor to National Geographic magazine and a multi-award winning wildlife photographer. His images have been awarded three times in Wildlife Photographer of the Year, three times in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year and in 2016, as well as winning two categories he was also named as the overall winner in Bird Photographer of the Year. He is also the most successful photographer in the history of the British Wildlife Photography Awards with over 30 awarded images and three category wins. In 2012 he was named the Nature Photojournalist of the Year with a portfolio of 12 images captured whilst working on assignment for National Geographic.
Andy works exclusively with wild animals and birds and has also appeared on various TV and radio shows, most notably on Countryfile when he attempted to show comedian Jo Brand how to capture images of wildlife. He is also becoming known as much for his writing as he is for his images and among others he writes regularly on wildlife/environmental/ethical issues for his regular Opinion piece in Outdoor Photography magazine.
His images are marketed all over the world by a network of the world’s leading international agencies including Getty images, Nature Picture Library, RSPB Images, FLPA and NHPA/Photoshot and his images have been sold in more than 50 countries worldwide. He also produces regular photo features for some of the world’s most prestigious magazines including National Geographic, Audubon, Geo and Terre Sauvage. He is also the UK’s most prolific feature contributor to BBC Wildlife magazine having completed 9 photo stories for them, often on subjects which he finds close to his Derbyshire home. His images have also appeared in magazines such as New Scientist, National Geographic Traveller, Geographical and Natural History, newspapers such as the New York Times, Daily Telegraph, Times, the Guardian, Independent as well as online media such as HuffPostUS, on the home page of search engine Bing and on the Discovery Channel.
He lives in Derbyshire with his wife Claire and their two dogs.
Elliott is an award-winning professional wildlife photographer supplying stock images to Getty Images and Frank Lane Picture Agency (FLPA). Elliott’s images regularly feature in various media, and alongside his photographic and guiding roles, Elliott produces feature-illustrated articles and has his own column in Practical Photography magazine, one of Britain’s leading photography monthlies.
Although Elliott studied Business and Marketing and worked in IT for Intel Corporation among others, by 2002 the photography bug had bitten! His new vocation developed in leaps and bounds, and by 2005, wildlife photography had become a full-time career. Elliott won his first award in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2005, with subsequent exhibition images and awards in The International Photographer of the Year, British Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Windland Smith Rice International Awards (Natures Best), and the International Loupe (Aperture) Awards.
Elliott is a popular and attentive leader, and uses his experience, superb technique and trained eye to assist his guests in getting “the picture”. He is our Polar specialist, and also has extensive experience in east Africa.
Professor Khromov is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers (+8 staff members) and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
- Classification: Russian register KM ice class
- Year built: 1984
- Accommodation: 50 berths expedition + 8 staff members
- Shipyard: Finland
- Main engines: power 2×1560 bhp (2x 1147 Kw)
- Register: Russia
- Maximum speed: 12 knots (2 engines),
- Cruising speed: 10 knots(one engine)
- Bunker capacity: 320 tons
- Superior Plus cabins: Have two lower berths, wardrobe, drawers, desk, a private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. These cabins have windows.
- Superior cabins: Have bunks (an upper and lower berth), wardrobe, drawers, a desk, a private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. These cabins have windows.
- Main deck cabins: Have two lower berths, wardrobe, drawers, a desk, washbasin and porthole. The nearby showers and toilets are shared with other Main deck cabins.
Day 1: Anadyr
All expedition members will arrive in Anadyr, the administrative centre of the Chukotka region, before getting to know your Expedition Team and crew on board the Professor Khromov. If flights are on time we plan to depart Anadyr this evening. As we depart you are invited to join the captain, officers and the expedition team on the bridge. The Anadyr estuary is renowned for its Beluga Whales.
Day 2: Anadyrskiy Bay
As we sail across Anadyrskiy Bay towards the Bering Strait there will be introductory lectures, an introduction to the staff and ship and a series of compulsory briefings and safety drills. There will also be a chance to relax or enjoy bird photography and/or settle into ship life and for many of you adjust to the time changes. This afternoon we will be in the vicinity of Preobrazheniya Bay where there are outstanding ‘Bird Cliffs’ which we will Zodiac cruise before dinner.
Day 3: Yttygran, Nuneangan and Arakamchechen Islands
Yttygran Island is home to the monumental ancient aboriginal site known as Whale Bone Alley. Whalebones stretch along the beach for nearly half a kilometre. There are many meat pits used for storage and other remains of a busy whaling camp that united several aboriginal villages at a time. In one location, immense Bowhead Whale jawbones and ribs are placed together in a stunning arch formation.
Gray Whales are frequently seen around the island. After landing at Whale Bone Alley we will take the Zodiacs on a whale-watching excursion.
We may also cruise close inshore of neighbouring Nuneangan Island (Bird Island) where a large number of seabirds nest.
Day 4: Cape Dezhnev and Uelen Village
Sea conditions permitting, we will land at Cape Dezhnev early this morning. The north-eastern most point of the Eurasian continent, it is sometimes possible to see the coast of America from this remote and lonely outpost. It is also an historic landmark named after the Siberian Cossack, Semyon Dezhnev, who in 1648 became the first European to sail from the Arctic to the Pacific. A steep scramble from the beach brings you to an abandoned Border Guard base, a monument to Dezhnev and another to all the sailors who have sailed these seas. Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska lies 89km across Bering Strait. A few nautical miles to the west of Cape Dezhnev we visit Uelen Village; the most north-eastern village in Russia. Archaeological work has revealed that walrus, seal and whale hunters have lived here for over 2,000 years. Today the population is predominantly Chukchi, with some Russians and Inuit. Hunting is still very important but the village is also one of the largest centres for traditional Chukchi and Inuit art in the world. We will be entertained by villagers and visit the bone-carving workshop during our visit. Sculptures from the bone-carving workshop in Uelen can be found in most of the major museums in Russia.
Day 5: Kolyuchin Island
This small island was once an important Russian Polar Research Station and one of a number dotted across the Arctic. Sadly with the collapse of the USSR there was no money to maintain them and they were abandoned; the buildings are derelict but the wildlife the men studied are still there. Near the abandoned station at the north-western end of the island are some of the most amazing bird cliffs in the Arctic; puffins, guillemots, gulls and cormorants can be observed and photographed from just metres away. At the south-eastern end of the island there is a prominent walrus haul out, it is one of the easiest places to observe them and get some good photographs.
Days 6 to 10: Wrangel and Herald Islands
Ice and weather conditions permitting, we will spend the next few days on Wrangel Island and if possible we will also include a visit to nearby Herald Island.
Wrangel Island is one of those islands that you have to visit to appreciate. The earliest human occupation is dated 3,200 years BC and it has been established that they were seasonal hunters from Siberia. The island’s presence was speculated about and marked on maps by early Russian explorers but it wasn’t until 1849 that it was ‘rediscovered’ by the British. A Canadian expedition attempted to establish a permanent settlement and claim the island for Canada; they were evicted by the Russians who claimed the island.
Today it is a Russian Federal Nature Reserve of international significance and importance. A lot of its significance lies in the fact that it is a major Polar Bear denning area. In fact it is sometimes referred to as a Polar Bear maternity ward on account of the large numbers of pups born there. It is also the last landfall for migratory species flying north. Each summer thousands of birds migrate here to breed, including Snow Geese, Snowy Owls, skuas, Arctic Terns, Sabine and Ivory Gulls.
There are many landings that we can make to search out wildlife, wild flowers and Arctic landscapes. Polar Bears will be high on our list of animals to see and with a little patience we should be rewarded with a number of encounters. Musk Oxen and reindeer were introduced to the island in 1975 and 1948 respectively.
We also have a chance to visit Dragi Harbour where the survivors of the Karluk which was crushed by ice in 1914 scrambled ashore and lived until they were rescued. If ice conditions permit, we will explore Herald Island to the east of Wrangel Island.
Note: Our activities and number of landings and location of landings will be governed by the amount of ice around the Island. Some of our time will be spent “ice cruising” this is a very productive way to see wildlife especially Polar Bears and Walrus.
Day 11: North Siberian Coast
Although well mapped and charted, there have been very few Expedition Cruises and consequently there is a lot of scope for expedition landings. Depending on weather and sea conditions we will attempt an expedition landing today. There are several choices, at Cape Vankarem there is a seasonal large walrus haul out. The area around the Cape is bounded by narrow sand ridges with numerous coastal lagoons and inlets; nearby there is a small Chukchi village whose residents still make their living hunting walrus, seals and whales. There is another smaller Chukchi village called Nutepelmen which is situated on a spit at the entrance to Pyngopikhin Lagoon, further west of Cape Vankarem.
Day 12: Kolyuchin Inlet
So huge that it is visible from satellite photos, this inlet contains vast numbers of waterfowl and migratory waders. We concentrate our visit on Belaka spit near the mouth of the inlet. It is a wild, desolate landscape that is strangely beautiful. We search the dunes and tidal areas for birdlife including Emperor Geese and Spoon-billed Sandpipers. Gray Whales frequent the area and are sometimes spotted feeding only metres offshore.
Day 13: Bering Strait and Chukotka Coast
Early morning we will pass the Diomede Islands, sometimes called Tomorrow Island and Yesterday Isle because they straddle the International Date Line. Here Russia and America are separated by only 2.3 nautical miles of ocean. We will remain in Russian territory as we cruise south past the islands.
In 1867 when the USA purchased Alaska from Russia the new boundary was drawn between Big (Russian) and Little (USA) Diomede Islands. This makes Big Diomede Island Russia’s eastern-most possession. The island was originally inhabited by Yupik Eskimos but after World War II the native population were relocated to the mainland. Today there are no permanent residents but the Russians maintain a Border Guard station there. It is an important island for birdlife with good numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common and Brunnich’s Guillemot and Horned and Tufted Puffin. We will Zodiac cruise the coast near the station, the bird numbers in this region are spectacular, especially puffins.
Later this afternoon we may make a final expedition landing on the Chukotka coast, our last chance to enjoy the wildlife and tundra landscape.
Day 14: At Sea
Join the staff for an expedition recap and a disembarkation briefing, and then simply relax as we sail across Anadyrskiy Bay towards Anadyr. Tonight we will enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate our journey.
Day 15: Anadyr
After breakfast it will be time to say our farewells. After breakfast we will head for the airport.
Note: During our voyage, circumstances may make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include poor weather and/or opportunities for making unplanned excursions. Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed.
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