Thursday, October 20, 2016

Arctic Work 2016: Flora

When you think of Tundra, the first thing you often think of isn't plants. However, in a landscape where it is barren of trees, it was amazing to see a landscape where flowers, grass and moss dominate. While in the North, I tried to document much of the flora that I came across. Here is just a small collection of them. you will find their English name and then Latin and Inuktituk name in brackets.  Many of the plants have a variety of names depending on the dialect, so I will try to just include one.

The first plant that I will start out with is Arctic Fireweed (Chamerion latifolium; Paunnat). Arctic Fireweed is also knows as Dwarf Fireweed and River Beauty Willowherb.  It can often be used in tea and can also be eaten. While I didn't try it out while I was up there, I definitely will be putting it on my "to do" list for the next time *fingers crossed that a next time comes along!*.

Another flower that was Moss Campion (silene acaulis; Airait).  We saw these flowers in large clumps throughout the arctic.  It reminded me so much of a ground cover my mother used to grow in our gardens at home.  In the photo below, you can see another plant creeping along the ground called Arctic Willow (Salix arctica). 

Mountain Avens (dryas octopetala; Malikkaatwere one of the first flowers that I learnt the name of in Nunavut.  By July, we could see them stretching across the landscape and they can be seen in almost every photo that I have taken!  In researching a little bit about the different Arctic flora I saw, I learnt that the Inuit word for Mountain Avens is 'malikkat', which means the follower. What does it follow?  The sun of course! If you watch closely you will notice that throughout the day the flower rotate the direction it is facing to follow the sun.

Purple Saxifrage (saxifraga oppositifolia; Aupilattunnguat) is one of the plants in the Arctic that I did try and eat!  Often times we would find them along our hikes and they provided to be a nice little snack.  Purple Saxifrage is also the most northern flowering plant in the world!  It is also the official territorial flower of Nunavut!

Another favourite of mine was the Arctic Poppy (Papaver radicatumIgutsat niqingit). Something about poppies always make me smile, so spotting these along the landscape was something special for me.  I recently learnt that poppies are also on the Nunavut Coat of Arms representing the summer flowers.

Arctic thrift (Armeria maritima; immulik) was another purple flower that I often came across on our hikes.  It reminded me of flowers that you often see on chives.

Long-stalked Starwort (Stellaria longipes; Miqqaviat) was another species of flower that I came across.  These flowers were most often seen in a cluster and in sandy (or more disturbed) areas.  It reminded me of the Arctic version of a Daisy!

I will now end with one last favourite, Cotton grass (Eriophorum angustifolium; Puallunnguat).  I often see cotton grass in swampy areas here in the Parry Sound region, but on the tundra it held a special beauty. I would see them often times as an individual along the landscape, however sometimes there were large clumps of them that just looked amazing!

And lastly, a final plant that I have yet to ID.  If anyone knows their arctic flowers and happens to know this one before I get to look further into them...please feel free to comment your ID suggestions!!


There were so many other flowers on the landscape that I either didn't take photos of, or they came out embarrassingly blurry. To see some more flowers found in the Arctic, take a peek at this amazing online guide that I found:

The flowers along the landscape added so much to an already beautiful place.  Seeing a "barren" land trickled with colour made me realize even more that this place isn't as barren as people imagine it to be.  It is alive with colour and life.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Perry Sound Update

It has been a whirlwind month between returning from Washington, D.C., to moving to Parry Sound (again) and trying to jump back onto the thesis bandwagon. Arctic blogs are on a little bit of a hold until I can find a program to restore two of my memory cards.  NAOC 2016 conference blogs....are to come!
Excited chipmunk at Killbear Provincial Park

Post-conference I have been back in Parry Sound to finish writing my thesis, however I have been getting out and about for a little bit of birding and herping.

Migrants have been slowly trickling into the Parry Sound area. This past Monday, I headed out onto Lookout Point Trail in Killbear Provincial Park to scout for a walk I was leading Thursday morning.  The trail was rather quiet with 15 species seen.  The most exciting were Red-necked Grebes off the top of the lookout! On our way back, I was surprised to hear the drumming of a grouse.  The drumming was so close by and I was able to find it, just a few steps away!

Grouse with camera flash

And then without the flash!

Further along the trail we also ran into a group of deer that consisted of a doe and her two fawns.

Thursday, while there are no photos (sorry!), we had a much better birding day at Killbear.  We had a total of 26 species!  7 of these species were Warblers and our biggest surprise was a Savannah Sparrow at the lookout! 

Mike has been working with Wildlife Preservation Canada this year in Parry Sound on their Massasauga Rattlesnake project.  On weekends, I have been helping him out with some field work and it has been such a treat seeing Massies again this year.  If you are further interested in this project...feel free to check out his portion of Wildlife Preservation Canada's Blog ( and/or follow him on Twitter (@OutdoorsColley)

My first day out with him, while relatively slow on the snake front, had an exciting treat in store! We noticed a little head peaking out of the trap's coverboard and once we opened it up, out popped a long-tailed weasel!  The little guy was incredibly curious and hung around the trap long enough for us to snap a photo!

On my second day of trapping out with Mike, we caught a tiny neonate snake (snake that had been born this year). While the close-up photo makes it look like a relatively decent size, you can really tell how small it is once Mike is in the photo! 

Well!  That is my fast update for now....hopefully soon I will get a chance to post a little more about both D.C in August and a little bit more about the Arctic (so many photos to share!).

Hope everyone is enjoying the start to fall!


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Beer Bottle Beach

With the amount of planes I've been on, I've been still getting use to landing and taking off on a regular runway.  Flying in a little twin otter was surprisingly, much smoother than I expected!  We stopped at a few places, Cape Dorset for fuel and Coral Harbour to pick up another coworker, Jo, who is from Southampton Island.  Each area had a distinctly different type of habitat, from the rocky and hilly tundra, cliffs, to wetlands.  It was incredibly neat to see the land change as we flew and even try to spot some sort of wildlife from the air.  Eventually we began to see Coats Island...and this definitely not your typical runway!  After 3 passes to ensure the rocky beach was safe for landing, our amazing pilots did the smoothest landing I could of imagined.
Then it was time to load all our gear out...and hike it up to camp. Which was on top of a cliff. Around 1km away.  It is a very strange feeling watching a plane fly away without you.  You suddenly realize you are pretty much alone on an island in the middle of Hudson Bay.

It took us most of the day to load all of our gear across a river and then fully down to the end of the beach. From here, we used a pully system to haul each bag individually up the cliff.  Once it was 3/4 of the way up, we then carried it the rest of the way to either our sleeping cabin or to our kitchen cabin.

Pully system on the cliff face
Hike up to the cabin
A few days later we had our first day off and went on a hike to a place that is locally known as Beer Bottle Beach.  This beach received its name thanks to Guinness!  You read that right...the beer company. Apparently back in 1959, Guinness was celebrating their 200-year anniversary and to celebrate they dropped 150,000 bottles into the Atlantic Ocean. Beer Bottle Beach, is an area where many of these bottles had been found, so on our day off we really wanted to find one!  We got somewhat lucky, finding a few broken bottles.  Later on in the field season, Jo, was a sweetheart and went out and actually found us some intact ones!!

Beer Bottle Beach

A Guinness beer bottle!
Caribou tracks along the beach
The landscape all around this hike was stunning. Besides visiting the beach, we visited an abandoned arctic fox den, wandered around a wetland hoping to find some shorebirds (we spotted Semi-palmated Sandpipers and heard a Red Phalerope!), and I even made a freezie out of sea ice.  During our hike I also saw my lifer King and Common Eider (photos will be in Arctic Birds come).
Ice chunk along beer bottle beach

Marshes on Coats Island

Raised ponds along the tundra

Another thing that the arctic is great for, is finding bones!  No matter where we walked you were guaranteed to find anything from walrus shoulder, to caribou hips, spines, and if you are lucky you can sometimes find a fully in tact skull!

Vertebrae in the sand

Shoulder in the sand

Still to come: Arctic birds, mammals, flora, etc.  I am off to Washington, DC, next week for a ornithology when I get back there will be even more to catch up on!

Hope everyone is keeping cool!

Beer bottle close ups:

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