Friday, 17 August 2018

Muskox survey by helicopter

Having had to wait almost a week for good enough weather to fly into Alexandra Fiord, one of the first tasks upon arriving at Alex was to conduct a muskox survey. This was the first time I had flown in a helicopter, so I was super excited not only to fly in a helicopter but also to see Sverdrup Pass and participate in the muskox long-term monitoring program.
Flying up to Sverdrup Pass, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut
conducting a muskox survey - my first helicopter flight.

We flew by helicopter along the valley leading to Sverdrup Pass and over Bache Peninsula recording the number of muskox and number of calves we saw. I was the rear guard facing backwards in the helicopter on the look out for small herds and lone males that Greg Henry and the pilot, Stig, did not spot and rechecking the counts the front men called out. It was a lot of fun scanning the ground for muskox and cool to see them from the air.
Herd of muskox with 2 calves seen from the helicopter during
the muskox survey up to Sverdrup Pass.

We counted 67 muskox, including 10 calves, on the way up to Sverdrup Pass and 51 muskox and 7 calves over Bache Peninsula. The proportion of calves were higher than usual suggesting a high reproductive rate this year.
Walking across the tundra back to the waiting helicopter at
Sverdrup Pass after collecting Arctic white heather
(Cassiope tetragona) for a dendrochronology study.
We landed at Sverdrup Pass to collect long stems of Arctic white heather (Cassiope tetragona) for Elise’s dendrochronology study. These stems that are less than 1ft (30cm) long can be up to 150 years old. The vegetation at Sverdrup Pass is more like Lake Hazen vegetation than to Alexandra Fiord vegetation - less green, discontinuous vegetation with species such as Pallase’s wall flower (Erysimum pallasii) that are not often found at Alex.
Pallasse’s wallflower (Erysimum pallasii) at Sverdrup Pass.
This species is quite common at Lake Hazen but not at Alex.
The flowers of this mustard family (Brassicaceae) species
have a beautiful honey smell.
View from the helicopter on the flight back to Alex from
Sverdrup Pass with Hayes Fiord, in the foreground
and the Agassiz Icecap in the far distance.

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