Saturday, March 6, 2010

Snowmachine Trip

February was on the warm side for us, and that in turn led to many overcast/whiteout or stormy days.  On one of the better weather days,while on the cold side, I took advantage of the clear skies and sunshine for a trip.

It was a great feeling to be out in the sunshine after the dark days of deep winter. I traveled around 30 Km, enjoying the day, looking for caribou and foxes, which are the main large animals we have here this time of year.  I saw several small groups of caribou, from a single animal to a group of 7 cows, for a total of 30 head.  The sun was still low when I took a few pictures of one of the groups, and the snow drifts reflected an orange-red glow to the scene. 


Group of Caribou cows feeding with pale sunlight reflecting on the snow drifts.


           Caribou cow close-up.

Besides the caribou, I saw two white foxes and one very dark red fox.  The white foxes were too far away for pictures but I watched them through the binoculars as they went about their day hunting for lemming nests under the snow.  As an adaption to winters in permafrost country, lemmings and voles make grass nests above ground during the winter months.  This in turn provides a winter food source for the foxes by having the rodents where they can catch them more readily.  Also, white foxes that are not attached to a den or raising pups, move around in the summer looking for abundant food sources like water fowl nesting colonies.  When they find a area of abundant food, like waterfowl nests, they cache most of the eggs for later.  Most of the time it isn’t the fox that made the cache that finds the food, as that fox could be hundreds of miles away by winter time.   Over the millennium this has developed into a survival technique that helps the foxes make it through the lean winter and early spring months when food is hard to locate. 

When I saw the red fox, it was moving somewhat in my direction, so I drove over to a mound that was more in line with the fox's line of travel, and waited to see if it would come close enough for pictures.  With the cold temperatures (-25F/-32C), I kept my camera inside my fur parka that I was wearing.  That  way I don’t have to worry about it being out too long and having the battery frozen up when I'm ready to take a picture.  When the fox was about 200 meters from me, it realized I wasn’t just a dark spot on the mound and changed direction, moving away.  I started up the snowmachine and started following it, angling along its direction of travel.  It let me get close enough for a few pictures before it picked up speed and loped off.  


A dark red fox checking me out.

I then headed away from the fox, and after it watched me and was satisfied that I was indeed leaving, it turned and continued in the direction it had been going.  I’m sure it had a den off in that direction and will check it out later in the spring.  While I was looking for more caribou to film, I found what the red fox had been eating on, a dead yearling caribou.  It has been a hard winter for the caribou in this area as we have had two periods of melting and/or freezing rain.  This makes it harder for the caribou to dig through even a small amount of snow, and combined with all the blizzards and some cold temperatures, many of the yearlings have perished.

From there I worked my way home as the sun was starting to set and picture taking conditions were about over.

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Arctic Smoke Signals by James W. Helmericks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.