Sunday, January 24, 2010

Arctic Odyssey 4

(Click on the images to enlarge them.)

After witnessing the majesty of the snow bear I really didn't think that anything else on the voyage could live up to it. Perhaps only another bear! The following morning was clear and we headed for a small canyon that was home to a huge bird colony. The scouting party went ahead to check out for bears and when the all clear came over the radio we headed off to shore in the zodiacs. There was a small chanel of open water in the ice and we had a limited amount of time in which to get to shore and return to the ship before the chanel closed and we would be stranded. It was exciting and scary in equal amounts and right up my street for adventure.

The frozen tundra was alive with tiny alpine plants that clung to life in the icy conditions. We tiptoed as best we could in wellies between them not wanting to damage them as they had taken decades to grow into squat little mounds of just an inch or so across. Our impression of a boozy ballet over we reached the narrow entrance to the canyon. Suddenly one of the scouts signalled for us to look at a point half way up the canyon wall to where the cliff rose and the scree descended. Staring intensely I realised that we were not a lone, there just at the base of the cliff sat a small Arctic Fox. She was looking back at us with the same intense stare.  She had been hard to spot because she was wearing her 'summer' coat of rich brown and cream.

Her Ladyship gripped my arm and I could see that she was struggling to hold in a squeal of delight. This was what she had come to the Arctic to see. Little did she know the amazing encounter she would have over the next couple of hours. The entrance to the canyon was narrow and the path was only a couple of feet wide with the steep scree slope to the left and rapid flowing stream to our right. The water was in full flow as the melt water raced to meet the icy sea at the shore.

Once inside the canyon the tens of thousands of birds nesting on the cliffes made a deafening cocophany of sound and created the illusion of a moving ceiling as they flew constantly above. Every inch of the cliff was taken and the walls shimmered as the birds restlessly flapped their wings or changed their position to get a better foot hold. Then the Arctic Fox darted into the past on her scree ledge and we realised that she was accompanied by her cubs, four of them. It is unusual for so many cubs to be born and for them to survive to the age they were was incredible. However this mother and her family were extremely lucky, the canyon was the perfect hunting ground. Fresh chicks delivered to the canyon floor daily, if not hourly. As we watched she circled the canyon checking for new food, her cubs following her every move. Whenever she found a chick she would quickly deposit it into one of her 'larders' secreted about the canyon. They know all too well that the feast will last for only a few short weeks and they must be prepared for the long winter to come.

As we all stood watching this magnificent spectacle the expedition leader took her Ladyship deeper into the canyon. He knew that this was what she had dreamed of seeing and after a few short moments she began to inch her way slowly up the scree slope. She managed to get half way up and lay motionless as the Arctic Fox mother and her cubs darted apprehensively past at the top.

She lay there for almost an hour on the freezing ground, not daring to move. Then as we were nearing the end our time there the mother fox inched her way towards her Ladyship, finally as if on command she lay down beside her. For the next ten minutes they lay together sharing body warmth and so much more, the cubs happily playing about on the new feature that had appeared. I could only imagine the excitement that her Ladyship was feeling at that point. Then by another unseen, unheard command she stood up, stretched and was heading back to the cliff base to start scouting for food again. As she reached the top of the scree she turned around and momentarily stared at her Ladyship, as if reading each others mind they both turned at exactly the same moment and each headed back to their own world.

17 at confession:

Maggie May said...

So pleased that there was a photo of the fox!
You've had some really good adventures.
Enjoyed your last post too!

Nuts in May

Chris Pittock said...

Amasing! What an exciting experience. I more jealous than ever now. Lol.

I'm guessing that the last photo is one of the cub and not Mum?

St Jude said...

Maggie May - thank you, there would have been photos of her Ladyship with foxes but we were so awestruck that we forgot to take any.

chris - No the photo is the mother fox, they are smaller than our native foxes. That was in fact the moment she turned to my daughter before she went on her way.

Wandering Coyote said...

Oh, man, what an incredible encounter! That is almost an other-worldly encounter, I have to say. The picture of the fox is absolutely adorable! That belongs in National Geographic!

Madame DeFarge said...

Brings back memories of our visit to the same place, except our fox didn't have a tail. Great photos.

St Jude said...

Wandering Coyote - It was a lovely fox. We have the photo hanging on our wall.

Madame DF - The fox with the missing tail was still around, this one they think was her daughter. The 'grandmother' was still looking robust and had a couple of cubs of her own.

Pat said...

'Little did she know the amazing encounter she would have over the next couple of hours.'
What a lovely cliff hanger sentence and you didn't disappoint. What a magical experience and I felt some of the wonder. Thanks for sharing.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

What a fantastic post! How can people hunt foxes? It defies logic.

Wellies. Tee-hee. I wish I was British.

St Jude said...

Pat - I am so glad that you felt it too, it was a special moment.

TUB - hello there. I am so glad that you enjoyed the post, I always enjoy reading your blog. Having lived in the country there are times when the fox population becomes too large and they cannot sustain their population, at times like that it is sad to see some of them wasting away. I have to say though I would prefer a humane cull and not hunting, that to me is barbaric.

You can call them wellies too hun, and be an honorary Brit.

St Jude said...

By the way I also meant to say that there is never any excuse for hunting Arctic foxes, they are too few and too precious.

Charlie said...

I agree with Pat: what a magical experience, especially when human and animal turned to each other to say goodbye. It is an experience your daughter will never, ever forget.

Thank you for such an uplifting story.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. It's at moments like that when all the other crap going on in your life gets pushed sharply back into perspective.

Kim Ayres said...

What an incredible encounter! And that's a superb pic of the fox :)

St Jude said...

Charlie - her Ladyship still talks about it with so much excitement.

Polergirl - you are right it is this kind of occurance that puts life into its true place.

Kim - thank you, I would love to take the credit for the photo but it was his Lordship who took it.

white rabbit said...

What can I say? Amazing post - amazing photos - even more so when enlarged

*exits doing a 'we are not worthy'*

St Jude said...

White Rabbit - thank you, but I think you are too modest.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Equal, and dangerous, amounts of awe and envy!

Excellent photos, too.

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