All my critter posts so far have focused on mammals, but we see so many interesting birds while sailing that I thought it was time for an avian critter post. Two years ago, on the Alaskan North Slope, we were lucky enough to see a snowy owl. We watched him for hours as he swept low over the tundra and perched on whalebones. Since it was summer in the Arctic, he was hunting in full daylight (even though it was close on midnight), and the low angle of the sun made for lovely light for photography. Continue reading
Although getting to know the people of Tikiġaq was what made our stay there so special, the wildlife and the landscape were wonderful, too. No, we didn’t see a polar bear but yes, our probable snowy owl sighting was in fact a snowy owl! These beautiful birds are high on the wish lists of both birders and Arctic travelers: 2 feet tall with a 4-5ft wingspan, they’re majestic birds – the largest species of owl. The almost completely white plumage of the male makes him a kind of Arctic symbol. Fortunately they’re not endangered or threatened, but their habitat (tundra) and range (strictly Arctic in summer, further south into Canada and Eurasia in winter) make them not so easy to spot in the wild. Owls in general aren’t easy to spot, being nocturnal, but of course the 24hr sunshine of the Arctic solved this problem for us. So it was with excitement akin to what we’d felt on seeing the muskoxen that we saw our snowy owl a second time, and this time without a doubt as to what he was! Continue reading
Our unexpected but wonderful stop on Point Hope stretched into a week. From July 23 to 29 the northeast wind blew constantly, increasing in strength all the time. It would have made for unpleasant upwind sailing and slow progress; furthermore, our Dutch friends aboard Necton had reported from further north (they’d left Nome ahead of us) that the north wind was pushing the sea ice down on shore and they’d had quite a bit of trouble, getting trapped several times. All that combined with the fact that Pt Hope was rapidly becoming our favorite place on the voyage so far made the decision easy: we would stay until the wind changed.
A chance meeting with two Tikiġaq (Pt Hope) residents – Pete and Pauline – cemented that decision. We’d rowed ashore again to verify our potential snowy owl sighting with the zoom lens and, while tramping around the tundra twitching at every white bird, two Inupiat on an ATV approached us and introduced themselves at Pete and Pauline. They were headed out to the ruins of the original village of Tikiġaq (on the end of the peninsula, about 2 or 3 miles from the modern village), to dig for artifacts. We were immediately interested and ended up spending the whole afternoon with them, poking into the sod and whalebone iglus there, opening up Pauline’s cold cellar and crawling on the permafrost within, and learning a lot about Point Hope’s history and their own lives and culture. Continue reading