Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Intro to the Arctic

As some of you might know, I took a quick, six-week field gig up on Coats Island, Nunavut.  It was one of the handfuls of times I’ve ever been on a plane and my very first time in the great Canadian tundra.  Unfortunately, we had to cut our field season short this year, but it was an amazing experience in an amazing place.   I have so many photos to go through, that it could very well take a few months! However, my intention is that there will be a series of posts will be about the adventures on days off, wildlife and/or plants, field life, etc.

My first few days were spent in Iqaluit, on Baffin Island.  First off…the airport is something you would see out of a Beatles album.  It was SO adorable. 

It was mostly cloudy on the flight over and I wasn’t able to see the view until we descended under the clouds.  When we did, the first thing that I noticed was ICE. I never thought in July I would be in a place where there is still ice!  The next trait of the land that registered in my brain was the tundra.  Just rolling hills of rock with splashings of ice.  No trees, no buildings, no hydro corridors, no roads.  It was just pure, untouched land.

The other surreal thing was the fact that it was 24 hours of daylight.  I stayed awake until around 1am the first night just staring outside.  I couldn’t stop!  I just couldn’t believe where I was, what I was doing, and that it was 12am and still sunny.  In fact, I took to my snapchat account which was able to place a timestamp on my photos. 

The midnight sun
The next day was a day full of grocery shopping, gathering enough food for a full month (!).  I had heard about how expensive things were in the north, but didn't fully realize how expensive things really were.  Often times it was for items I wasn't even expecting.  The Italian in me almost started crying at the price of pasta ($10.99!).

Once all of our chores were completed, my coworker and I took a trek to Apex, about 10 minute drive from Iqaluit.  Here is where the original Hudson Bay Outpost was! How neat was it to see and read a little about the little white buildings with red roofs. I remember in History class reading all about the Hudson Bay Company, but it was really neat seeing that history in person.

Original Hudson Bay Company Building located in Apex, Nunavut

From here, we hiked up the Apex hill where we were able to view a stunning view of Frobisher Bay. It was a long hike up, but little did I realize this would be one of the easier hikes!  From up here we spotted Glaucous Gulls, Herring Gulls and Red-throated Loons.

Red-throated Loon on the Bay

On our way down we walked “in” the bay.  One fact that I learnt during my hike was that Frobisher Bay in Nunavut has the biggest tide next to Bay of Fundy! It was really cool to be able to walk on the flat and in little puddles spot crabs and little shrimp. Throughout the rest of my time here I would always look out into the bay and just be amazed at how fast and far the tide can drop and rise.

Panorama along the Apex Trail....Tide is out!
Panorama along the Apex Trail...Tide coming back in
We continued walking towards land and eventually spotted my first breeding plumage Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting!  How beautiful they were!

Walking during the low tide
Lapland Longspur 
Further along the pathway, I felt almost like I was in a commercial for Newfoundland or Ireland. The rolling hills of rock and green (although in this case it was mostly moss!), and no trees. It was stunning.  Eventually we stumbled across a very angry sounding bird, and realized after some snooping around, that it was a lifer!  A Northern Wheatear!  To top it all off, we also found its nest.  Staying a safe distance away from it, we were able to get some amazing shots with our zoom!
View along the Apex Trail
Female Northern Wheatear
Male Northern Wheatear

We were able to tour the town a little bit as well. The architecture is so funky and colourful.  We ate at a variety of restaurants and I just have to say, the Muskox Burger from the AMAZING.  Surprisingly, Iqaluit also has an amazing Shawarma Restaurant!  At most places we went, local artists would walk around with their drawings, carvings, crafts, handmade jewellery, all trying to sell them.  The art...was beautiful.  I purchased Inukshuk and Polar Bear carvings from two local artists...and it really took me everything to not buy more.  They were all authorized by the province and their craftsmanship was phenominal.

Another thing that struck me so much about this town was how friendly everyone was!  No matter where I went there were smiles, friendly hellos, and just an overall warm vibe.  I really hope that I get the chance to visit there again in the future!

What an amazing introduction into the north this was.  The next day, I was in a little 6 seater Twin Otter off to Coats Island.

Teapot on top of Apex hill

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