Natural Beauty

A guest post by Jack Seigel. Photo by Dennis Minty

The Arctic voyages of Adventure Canada travel to what southerners consider to be the most remote parts of Canada. From the tundra ponds of the western lowlands to the glacier-sculpted mountains of Devon and Baffin islands, this landscape presents an exciting diversity of wildlife.

From the ship, distant shore appear barren—but as we approach, the tundra presents a patchwork of colour and texture. Through the season it is a palette in constant flux. The purples and mauves of saxifrage and moss campion flowers in early spring give way to the yellows of dryas and Arctic poppy in summer, which are finally replaced by the spectacular golds and reds of autumns arrival.

The ankle-high growth of willows, birches, and heathers hides the runways of lemmings as they fly from predatory jaegers. A herd of some forty-odd musk oxen casually grazes valley grasses. Their dark hair hands like curtains with the last of winter’s wool marking their passage as it snags on scattered shrubs. The entire herd seems unconcerned with our group as we raise binoculars and cameras to watch them. On nearby ponds, tundra swans gracefully guide their young among noisy cackling geese and red-throated loons. Buff-breasted and semi-pelmated sandpipers wander the insect-rich margins.

In isolated bays, we board Zodiacs and watch a pod of belugas hunting the shallows. A single bowhead whale casually drifts in the lee of the white whales. On a gravel bar, a group of walrus rests. The large male rolls his head, scribing an arc with half-metre tusks, jabbing at his neighbour and claiming his space.

Crowding the bow deck, passengers watch as the ship negotiates the final summer remnants of pack ice. Off the starboard side, ravens and glaucous gulls draw our attention to a blood-covered floe. Excitement mounts as a polar bear is sighted swimming to the distant ice, glancing back at us with indifference.

Steep cliffs fairly vibrate with life, the narrow ledges providing safe nesting for thousands of thick-billed murres and black-legged kittiwakes. In late August, the young murres—still flightless—leave the cliffs, plummeting to the ocean far below. Escorted by their fathers, they begin their long migration, swimming as many as a thousand kilometres before learning to fly at last. Below these cliffs, we see Arctic foxes patrolling the talus slopes in search of those unlucky chicks unable to reach the water.

Every year we land at new sites, awed by the beauty and excitement of wildlife encounters. But no matter how remote an area appears, we always find tent rings, sod houses. Ancient reminders of this land’s true owners. The opportunity to visit the Arctic in its glory, to meet its people and see its wildlife, is a great privilege. We leave with a renewed sense that we must begin to take the problems that we have created on this planet seriously.

After thirty-five years teaching post-secondary biology and environmental studies, Jack remains committed to conservation, education, and the hope of a sustainable future. Over the years he has consulted on ecotourism development and taught guide training internationally. Jack has guided nature tours and conducted travel study courses in in North, Central, and South America as well as in Africa and South Asia. With an extensive knowledge of plants and animals and their ecological relationships, he enjoys introducing the big picture in a relaxed and entertaining style. Jack has travelled throughout the Arctic since 1978 and first joined the Adventure Canada resource team in 1994.

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