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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.
4 hours ago