Simon Damant story and pictures

McClintock bay safe and sound aboard the Tecla while a force eight gale batters this bleak west coast of King William Island, no a single life to be seen.

However ever since we reached the Canadian shores of Baffin Island wildlife of one description or another has been observed.

As we arrived at Pond Inlet a few Narwhal were spotted in the distance but unfortunately were soon gone. Once ashore in this Inuit settlement the vegetation was in some abundance and even the Artic and dwarf willow could be found hugging the ground along with such flowers as the yellow Artic poppy. Most flowering plants though seemed to have long gone as they had mostly flowered in the spring time just after the melting snows.

After leaving Pond Inlet the Tecla sailed past Sirmilk National park on Ballot Island with many Snow geese seen grazing the all to sparse vegetation and the Fulmar, our constant friends circling around the boat, little auks and gilimots were common and a Pom skua. We pasted through Navy Board inlet and out into Lancaster sound where the Tecla pasted through sea ice, a large group of seals were seen swimming as a shoal. After that only the sporadic seal was seen and we soon arrived at Beechy Island which is somewhat attached to Devon Island at high tide. Here the geology turns into a shale limestone and is as 74 degrees north. A few Glaucous gulls were seen but on the whole it was remarkable for the lack of vegetation, a most sterile landscape although at ruins of Northumberland house hundreds of Artic poppies could be seen.

The next leg of the journey passed through Peel sound to Four rivers bay, here there was a lot more vegetation especially around the small rivers with signs of Musk ox and caribou. The plan was to stay the night but with an incoming tide with the associated pack ice a hasty retreat to the sea was required but every cloud has a silver lining for just outside the bay we encountered a polar bear on the ice with many seals in the vicinity which were mostly ringed seal although a few Bearded seal were seen, it may have been possible that there were some Harp seal but not confirmed. We did expect to see more Polar bears but encounters with the thick pack ice mostly at night and in the fog where minds were more concentrated on avoiding the ice and finding possible leads through the icy maze probably prevented their observation. However during the day when the ice was less dense birds like the Phalarope, Artic tern, sandpiper, fulmar and Glaucous gull were all present along with the occasional Eider ducks and plentiful seals.

The stop in Weld bay allowed us to view a few caribou grazing on the coastal fringe, vegetation cover was more extensive here with a number of late flowering Saxifrage including the purple saxifrage, nodding bladder campion, alpine white heather, Sudetan lousewort, Lapland diapensia to name a few.  As to birds there were quite a few snow geese and loons, on one of the lakes a family of red throated loons were seen while in the bay the yellow billed loons were in abundance while a small flock of lesser golden plover were spotted in a wet boggy area. Snow buntings were always present in most localities and a few pipits or something similar were seen. Most interestingly we saw a Polar bumblebee among the tufted saxifrage, the only bumblebee species in the whole of the Artic region.

Further sailing down past the Flanklins strait and into James Ross strait led us to Spencer bay and the small settlement, although the landscape looked a bit dull in fact there were some most excellent walks to be had into the surrounding area, low lying but hilly with rocky outcrops of Gniess and many lakes made for very interesting walking. Many of the lakes had small groups of Snow and Canada geese on then and some were loons took refuge. This area is the major route taking by the caribou and a hunting ground for the Inuit and many skeletons of Caribou could be found. Occasionally as you passed a lake and if it had the right sandy conditions the holes of Artic ground squirrel were found and very rarely one could sneak up on them sunning themselves although in the summer they tend to hide in the rocky parts. It was also pleasing to see a peregrine and a nest with two half grown chicks though at first they looked like Gyrfalcons, alas they were not. In the same locality  a winter coated Artic hare bolted from cover to run at speed until out of danger, others were seen elsewhere. On another rocky cliff a pair of Rough legged buzzards came to mob me so I guessed there nest was very close by. Of the plants the willows were relatively   common and larger, many toadstools were also evident. However in a very boggy bit there was Northern water carpet not a plant Ive seen before, very small and yellowish with multi cups for flowers. As to lichens the Gneiss rock seems to have the greatest variety such as the Map lichen, Sunburst lichen and Jewel lichen. There are other very noticeable lichens on the soil such as Mane lichen  and yellow lichen but the most interesting not because its beautiful because its not, is the Tripe lichen which is edible and one that early overland Franklin expedition ate to to survive!!!!!!!. As to fish, there may be some but for all our efforts we could only catch a few small cod and these were the only fish we caught since arriving in Canadian waters, Greenland was far richer in fish!!!!!!! so the elusive artic charr remains a fable.

Our next stop was Gjoahaven and it was noticed that we no longer had the company of the Fulmars, in fact the bird life on the sea had much diminished since leaving the ice behind although more geese were seen flying here and there. Now this small settlement is situated on King William Island and as such the landscape is very barren so not expecting much we walked inland and were pleased to come across some lakes were snow geese were seen, it was also noted that there were numerous lemming burrows almost everywhere which are the main food for snowy owls, well not long after that but a Snowy owl was seen perched on the highest rock in what can only be described as a very flat landscape, we got within 100 meters before it look flight and was absolutely white.

So sailing on, the Tecla took shelter in McClintock bay before the gale force winds arrived which allowed us another walk on King William Island, the vegetation was again very sparse but many snow geese and Canada geese were observed including the blue form of snow goose, a few lemming holes were evident but it was the Artic fox that made the day as it chased after some snow geese to no avail. Caribou signs were all to evident and a few musk ox tracks but none seen and the only flowering plant found was the Purple saxifrage.

The gale has hit us and venturing out from the Tecla this day is not very inviting, we shall sit this one out and enjoy some idleness.

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