Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Arctic Vacation, Somerset Island, Canada: July 9, 2019

Attack of the Jaeger
Today, we chose an all-day ATV drive to the "Badlands" guided by Richard and Vicki. By default or because in this group of people going to the "Badlands" we were deemed the most robust, Dan and I ended up driving solo ATVs instead of being passengers in the golf-cart like ATVs.


Quickly, we ran into another attacking jaeger. It was actually a jaeger pair, and we didn't see their nest. A few meters farther along and we saw a sandpiper hoping along next to the trail. She hopped right onto her nest which had been made less than a meter from the trail. She posed for us but didn't show us her eggs.

Sandpiper nesting in Arctic Willow
At the "Badlands" so called because of the cracked, mostly bare land, we finally some muskoxen. There were four and they were far. We parked the ATVs and tried to sneak up on them as well as possible given that we were all dressed in bright yellow jackets and many of us have a hard time skulking as low as we needed to be so the muskoxen wouldn't see us.



The inner wool of the muskox coat is called qiviut. It is stronger and warmer than sheep's wool, softer than cashmere, it does not shrink in any temperature of water, and it is expensive. The qiviut can be painstakingly gathered from the ground after muskoxen have molted or removed from hides after a hunt. These males are in need of some serious grooming.


Even with the wind to our advantage, we were detected. The muskoxen moved slowly away and then ran away. We headed back to the ATVs for lunch and wildflower photos.


Photo courtesy of Brian of Canada
Arctic Avens
Flat-topped Draba
Flat-topped Draba
Arctic Poppy
Arctic Buttercup
As a group we gave stalking the muskoxen another try after lunch. We found two. We were once again downwind, and keeping low we managed to get much closer. When they noticed us, they sauntered farther away. We persisted stalking and trying to stay out of their line of sight. Eventually we found a green mound, formerly used as a lemming castle, from which to photograph. Despite favorable wind conditions, they saw the seven of us with our bright yellow jackets and colorful hats even though we were uncomfortably stooped or kneeling low on rocks behind the green mound.

When irritated or ready for a fight, muskox rub their noses on their forelegs to deposit musk (hence the name). These males were warning us. They pawed the ground and rubbed their forelegs. They warily and slowly moved away with more pawing and musk scenting suddenly turning their ire on each other.


Arriving at a shallow crevice, the muskoxen faced each other and slammed into each other's head. Qiviut flew and skulls crashed. They did that a few more times and then slowly sauntered off into the distance all the while keeping several meters from each other.


We walked back to the ATVs just as the rain began for our ride back to the lodge. Driving the ATV was fun after all. When in doubt, go fast. I did.

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