Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Resident Ptarmigan

We arrived at Lake Hazen in perfect time to record flowering times this year. In 2013 I had to wait 2 weeks before anything flowered and in 2014 the purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) was already flowering when I arrived. This year the purple saxifrage started flowering about 3 days after we arrived and now the arctic willow (Salix arctica) and arctic bladder-pod (Lesquerrella arctica) are just beginning to flower. Interestingly the purple saxifrage at higher elevations are now in peak flower while those near the lake at lower elevations are only just starting to flower. Lake Hazen is still 100% ice covered (~1.5m thick ice) which may explain why plants are flowering earlier further away from the cold lake air. Camp Hazen by the lake is a little cold but if I walk 1/2km inland it is much warmer.

Arctic bladder-pod (Lesquerella arctica) and
arctic willow (Salix arctica) are just coming in to
flower at Lake Hazen in mid-June.

There is a pair of rock ptarmigan that have taken up residence at Camp Hazen. The male keeps his white winter plumage all summer and is strutting around camp courting the female who has changed to a mottled brown summer plumage so she will be better camouflaged while sitting on the nest. I got quite a start one evening when I was entering our day’s data into my computer and heard the male on the roof of the research tent making a load cackling courting call.

Camp Hazen’s resident rock ptarmigan. The female changes
to a mottled 
summer plumage for camouflage while on the nest
while the male retains 
his winter plumage all year at Lake Hazen.

We had a surprise visit from some military folks in a chinook helicopter! Apparently they are stationed at Alert and are conducting some survey work and cleanup of old air fuel drums. It took a week to fly the chinook from Petawawa to Alert. Alert is about 150km northeast of our camp on Lake Hazen. One of the young Petawawa lads was surprised to see people up here and asked if we had enough water and food!

Surprise visit from a chinook helicopter with the still frozen 
Lake Hazen and Johns Island in the background. The lake ice 
is ~1.5m thick this June. We collect our water through an 
augered hole in the lake ice.

Thanks to Amy and Fred (chef extraordinaire and awesome wildlife photographer respectively who were vising the Quttinirpaaq National Park for 2 weeks) for taking this blog post ~2000km south to Iqaluit where there is internet and to Chris for posting on the blog.

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