Animals of Abisko

Posted by Ashley

Since arriving in Abisko, the NERU group has collectively encountered an impressive array of wildlife. It seems to be a relatively warm summer here this year, so perhaps that’s why so many creatures have been out and about.

From reindeer on the mire to moose on the shore of  Lake Tornetrask, these animals are so beautiful and captivating. I thought I’d share some photos and stories of a few encounters : )


A small group of reindeer in the hills near Abisko. Photo by Michael Layne

A small group of reindeer in the hills near Abisko. Photo by Michael Layne

Several group members have described reindeer sightings on Stordalen mire, and generally it seems like they just walk across the landscape with no fear of the researchers, even getting quite close sometimes while they munch on vegetation. Roadside sightings have also been common; I personally saw a close shave the other day when a group of us were going to the mire. A reindeer was crossing the road right as a car drove by (and by the way, people drive pretty fast here). The reindeer didn’t make a tremendous effort to get out of the road, so let’s just say we were all very glad that car’s brakes were good. Reindeer in the hills are also a frequent sight, and just today we found several shed antlers and tufts of the reindeer’s white winter fur while hiking in the upland areas.


Stordalen mire is a great place to study permafrost degradation and biogeochemistry, but it turns out it is also a great place to birdwatch. I could write a whole post on the birds alone, but I’m no expert so I’ll just show you some photos of the ones I can identify : ) See if you can spot the birds in the following photos. It’s tough to get a detailed up-close shot because they scare easily and don’t like to be approached. In person, however, it is easy to see them and identify the species as they walk around and glide through the air.

Arctic Terns on Stordalen Mire

Arctic Terns on Stordalen Mire. Photo by Haley Dunleavy

An oystercatcher in Norway

An oystercatcher in Norway. Photo by Haley Dunleavy

A common redshank in flight

A common redshank in flight. Photo by Haley Dunleavy

Golden Plover in the highlands

Golden Plover in the highlands. Photo by Haley Dunleavy

All of these birds are unique and have their own amazing ecological and behavioral adaptations, but the Arctic Tern in particular warrants a brief description. Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) are known for their annual migration because they fly from their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic clear across the globe, crossing over Antarctica and back up North in time for the next summer to begin. This amazing round trip covers nearly 80,000 km (~50,000 miles) and is the longest regular migration in the animal kingdom. They feed on fish and marine invertebrates in the midst of this migration, and an individual tern can live 30 years (that’s a lot of trips around the world!). It is so amazing to see these birds in flight, especially knowing how far they have journeyed just to be in this beautiful place for a short while.


A moose silhouetted against the "sunset" on the short of Tornetrask

A moose silhouetted against the “sunset” on the short of Tornetrask. Photo by Haley Dunleavy

Moose sightings are especially exciting around here; moose are a bit more elusive than reindeer and their sheer size is amazing to behold. While many of us see moose at home and know all about them, others have seen them here in Abisko for the very first time. The other day, a moose and her calf were walking along the edge of Lake Tornetrask and a few of us got to experience them up close (maybe too close, in fact). The mother showed some aggressive behavior, so we made sure to keep our distance. The above photo was taken after the pair ran away from us, but I’d estimate they came within 10-12 meters at one point. It was all very exciting : )



Common Frog on Stordalen Mire. Photo by Ashley Lang

Well, I guess I should say frog. You see, there’s only one species of frog here– Rana temporaria, the European Common Frog (or, just Common Frog). They are an amazing creature because they are able to lay dormant during the long, harsh winters here and emerge again in the spring. They burrow at the bottoms of ponds and under decaying vegetation, breathing through their skin for up to nine months of the year. I can’t imagine anything surviving in such a cold place, let alone frogs!

These frogs are very common on the mire and in the upland habitats near Abisko. I see them hopping around almost every time I go to the mire, and it’s amazing how variable they can be in color and size.

Honorable Mentions

Several really interesting native animals have been seen by NERU members but not photographed due to their elusive natures. Such animals include arctic fox, lemmings, and rabbits. Also, a shout out to some other never-seen creatures that are known to live in the area (wolverines, lynx). And then, of course, there’s this wild animal that has been sighted roaming around ANS grounds:


Photo by Haley Dunleavy


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