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9 July, 2002

July 9, 2002

Three days at Fox Den Camp - new sites, new sounds, renewed excitement and enthusiasm! The weather finally made a change for the better, lots of sun, some wind, a few buggy moments - probably the arctic at its best, and I am right in the middle of it to see new life come forth.

As I haven't had the opportunity to journal in the last 3 days, I can't believe how much there is to try to summarize. When I write from day to day, at times, it seems that things are moving slowly up here. To look at three days of activity now appears almost overwhelming. Eggs are hatching, new duckling, cygnets and goslings are moving around, hens and young are brooding - new life can be found in many new places. Not only is there bird activity, but new flowers are blooming almost daily, grasses are getting greener and willows taller. Ice has now disappeared from all of our area lakes and ponds, and many more aquatic invertebrates are visible - squirming and wiggling around. And yes, more terrestrial bug life, as well. So, let me start there - with the irritating bugs!

One must actually admire the tenacity and persistence of the mosquitoes. It can be freezing cold here for 3-4 days, snow/rain, wind - weather that forces humans to look for shelter - but the mosquitoes wait patiently under plant leaves and tussocks for just that right moment. As the temperature warms, the mosquitoes spring forth from their hiding places with a hunger that makes mine look minimal (and if you saw how much I eat up here, that would amaze you!). These blood-thirsty irritants blow in the wind, sense heat or blood or a calm area, and zooooom, hit their target in a straight line. Their proboscis (sucking mouth part) is extended and ready to penetrate whatever it contacts first. It will poke through skin, clothing, hair. If it doesn't attach to you instantly, they appear content to swarm and buzz in any area that provides escape from the wind. At any one moment, if the temperature is warm enough, one might look at the side of the body away from the wind and see anywhere from 5-50 mosquitoes crawling around on a shirtsleeve! Actually, that is a pretty good place for them. If they aren't there, they may be crawling on your lips or in your ear, or better, into your nose or mouth! At that point, I remind myself of their importance to other life in this area, cough a couple of times, lick my lips and pretend it is not that bad!

At times, there is much to take my mind off the mosquitoes. I've noticed if I look around for new flowers that I can almost pretend they are gone. The flowers are so tiny, it takes concentration to find all the many hiding flowers. When found, their colors, shapes and adaptations for survival allow you to be preoccupied with thoughts beyond that of the buzzing and crawling.

If that isn't enough, there are times that fairly large groups of caribou are still passing through. The last two days there has been a renewal in caribou numbers. Yesterday, there was a group of about 20 bulls - some with quite impressive antlers - walking on a ridge I was approaching. They began to run away, got a little curious and came back. They then got nervous and headed into the lake to swim across, but changed their minds and swam back. They stood for a while longer looking at me, then began to move away. What incredible animals! Then this morning, as I began to head back here to camp, there were about 100 caribou walking across another ridge. This group was a mixture of cows, calves and bulls - none as large as yesterday, though. To see them lazily move north, grazing on the grasses and lichens, calves playing, and all enjoying the bug-free windy morning. Great to see them again as their numbers have been low lately with most of them already up further north to escape the flies and mosquitoes and find more food.

Now, how about bird life? Incredible! Three days ago I saw the first swan hatchlings (cygnets). Two of four eggs in a nest had hatched, one of the new babies was still wet, but the other was dry, fluffy and alert. They are a really light yellow color, with a little darker colored, flat bill. The newly hatched babies are large enough to fill both of my hands as I hold them. They look so fragile, but at the same time, they are incredibly prepared for life just hours after hatching. They can walk and look around, they can hide, and just a couple days, they are swimming and ready to leave with their mom and dad.

King Eiders are also hatching. I have not had the chance to see any, yet, though. I did see a nest in which the eggs were all pipped (cracked) and the ducklings were pushing to get out, but I couldn't stay and watch as I felt the mom needed to get back on the nest. The others all saw two nests of newly hatched ducklings and even saw some goslings walking around with their parents. New life is coming forth!

I will definitely be getting a picture or two up this week - even if it takes a day to upload one picture. The new hatchlings must be shared! Good to be back to Olak and have the opportunity to tell more of what is going on here. Thanks to many of you for the emails! I've enjoyed reading them!


April M. Metz

Web Designer/Coordinator

Department of Earth Science

Rice University

P. O. Box 1892

Mail Stop 126

6100 Main Street

Keith-Wiess Geological Laboratories

Office 318



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