The Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus) population is on a high year this year. For much of the same reasons as people in the south are seeing huge numbers of Snowy Owls this year, the hares enjoyed a good breeding season. With the lemming populations high this past summer predators put much less pressure on the hares, resulting in them having a lot of breeding success.
This time of year, when the hares are very active and easily seen, just how successful they are is evident. In town and in most suitable habitats outside one sees them, feeding, and fighting in preparation for the breeding season. A friend reported to me a herd of some 40-50 of them in an area not too far from here, near the old Nanisivik town site. Something I've only heard of from Ellesmere Island.
So a lot of bunnies, makes for a lot of photo opportunities. Here are a couple of images to share.
It is blueberry season up here. The weather has been gorgeous.
Those two statements together mean we have spent all of our evenings out picking blueberries, hands down one of Leah's favourite activities. Now, when I say we have been picking blueberries I'm stretching the truth a little, for I've done very little. I've birded and wandered camera in hand, played tag with the kids, built ancient inuksuit but berry picking not so much. A little, I'm more into savouring the fruits of Leah's labour.
Tonight was no exception, but it did have a bit of twist. I had something that needed attending to right after supper, and Leah wasn't about to wait. So she headed off on the ATV and the kids and I followed an hour or so later by truck.
Now, because school starts this Friday, we've been making a rather abrupt change from summer sleep habits for the kids, but it has been challenging, and they've been tired. For Hilary this evening tired translated into grumpiness and tears and by the time we'd reached the spot where Leah parked the ATV I had had enough. Knowing how tired she my strategy was to put the seat back, duck under my jacket and pretend to sleep, counting on her to follow suit
It worked well, too well. I'm not sure which of us fell asleep first. After about an hour I woke up, sat upright and looked out the window. Looking right back at me, from across the road was an Ermine. I lowered the window grabbed the camera and fired away, steadying the camera, checking my camera settings, squeaking or pishing, keeping it in view, until it finally lost interest and disappeared through the rubble of boulders.
Sometimes a little luck, and a little sleep, is all it takes.
First of all, travel with someone more observant than you, like my wife.
Walk quietly until she points out the Ermine to you, mere feet away.
Avoid crowds of screaming children.
As the Ermine starts to flee "squeak", its curiousity will get the better of it and it will come to try and choose you. Keep it up as it pops in and out of rocks, at times appearing right at your feet.
The "kind of" part, hand holding a camera at slow shutter speeds will probably result in fuzzy images. Full on camera mounted flash will not save you as the eye shine makes it look like full on, camera mounted, flash was used. When you do get a flash shot that doesn't blast out the eye shine, focus on the wrong part of the animal so the eyes and face are not sharp.
Keep taking the photos until said crowd of screaming childrens show up to see what you're taking pictures of.
Keep your best couple of images, cursing their lack of sharpness and hope people only look at them at low resolution. Like this...
First of all, find the Ermine by watching a scrum of kids chasing something around.
Position yourself in a place where you can watch the action, but where you are in no way hidden from the Ermine.
Next, pay no attention to your camera settings, or if you do make sure it is set on a slow shutter speed. Spot, one shot focus setting is desirable as well, to make sure that your auto focus does not track said Ermine.
Marvel at just how quick Ermine are, especially when chased by a group of kids. Marvel also at the Ermine's penchant for never pausing for more than a fraction of a second.
Trash the unusable photos upon getting back to the computer, and never, ever share them like this.
We have been barbequing almost nightly here. Well not here really, over in Victor Bay, where everyone goes to get away from the hustle and bustle of Arctic Bay. A tank of propane is expensive here, $150. So when they are available, and when you lay down that cash (when the mine was here a fill used to cost all of $5) you take advantage of it.
While some folks are troubled by mosquitos when they barbeque I never am. Mosquitos are only present here in low numbers, numbers that don't get my attention after the full on assault one was subjected to in Fort Providence on the mighty MacKenzie River. No, the mosquitos may send many people here screaming with their hands wildly swatting about in the air, but they barely register on my radar.
What did register on my radar the other day while I was barbequing was this fellow. This was the view from Leah's parents tent where I was cooking. A good size male bear had wandered in to Victor Bay and happily was noshing on someone's cache of seal meat on on the point. By this point it had already been chased off once or twice, but would not go far. As soon as things would calm down it would wander back.
All well and good while the seal out there lasted, but it is only a few hundred metres from some tents, including that of our eldest resident.
After supper, we got closer and I managed to catch a couple of photos, still from a safe(ish) distance until the battery on my camera died. My spare back at the truck.
I was pretty content at that point, although it would have been nice to get closer. That wasn't happening without someone with a gun coming along. Such as the wildlife officer.
Back at the truck, fresh battery in hand (or in camera) we headed back to Arctic Bay, and on the way there we met said Wildlife Officer. Hoping to tag along as he chased the bear away, we turned around and chased him back to Victor Bay.
It was a chase that I just couldn't win, as I followed him out to the bear. I was behind him all the way, scrambling over the rocks in an effort to catch up. As he neared the bear, I paused to snap off a photo of him and his son with the bear, and then continued on.
As I closed in he let loose with the shotgun, firing a bear banger (a shell that explodes in the air with a loud bang) and the bear turned and ran a little ways. The next shot sent it down onto the ice and I snapped some photos as the shots continued and eventually drove the bear out into the bay. It eventually settled on a bergy bit.
In the early spring, when the Sun has warmed and you can feel its strength, even if the air temperature stays cool, the lemmings emerge from their tunnels under the snow. Before the snow has a chance to glaze into a hard, shiny crust their tracks can often be seen as they go on excursions under the warmth of the Sun.
I often see their trails, meandering for great lengths and wish I could catch one out in the open. I figured that a lemming, slowly out for a walk on the snow would make an excellent photo. Even though they aren't leaving any trails on top of the glazed snow I finally saw one on top of it yesterday.
As the kids and I drove down to Victor Bay I saw one on the expanse of snow along the road. As I pointed it out and pulled to a stop (well pull is a bit of an exaggeration as I just stopped in the middle of the road) it slipped down onto the shoulder.
When I got out it took off, with a speed and an urgency that must come with being pretty much the bottom of the food chain and on the menu of most predators up here. And while it might have made an excellent photo it was one I still don't have. There was no slow walk on the snow as it made a beeline away from me, and I found it impossible to get one in focus shot of it, just a lot of blurry lemming butt photos that might have well been photos of Bigfoot.
It was only when it finally paused ducked into a bit of a tunnel just below the surface I managed to get a shot of it peeking out.
As it took off again, off the snow and into the rocks I finally loosed Travis on it, as he'd been right behind me clambering to catch it. He made quick work of it as it hid under a rock and I ended up with the money shot. My son, who shares an Inuktitut name with this tiny speedster, holding it gently. After showing the others, and taking a bite for his efforts, he let it go. It once again raced across the snow to the rocks, leaving me with even more blurry, out of focus, lemming butt photos.
Now that the first migrants have begun arriving we tend to get out for a drive almost every night, looking to see who is new to the neighbourhood. Sunday, after seeing the first Canada Goose of the year, we continued on to First Bridge, where this Arctic Hare hunkered down in the lea of a boulder having a nap.
After snapping off a few photos without arousing his/her attention we moved on, making our way to Second Bridge. Now the road has not been maintained since the airport opened in January, so this was our first trip that far this year. Lack of a spare tire kept us from pressing on.
When we returned the hare was still in the same spot, still huddled down napping conserving energy. So I got out and tried to move a little closer. The hare was nonplussed.
As I climbed up off the road the hare finally got up, fed up at being wakened for a photoshoot.
A couple of steps closer and it stood up on all fours, then slowly stretched. I had come in too close, but it still seemed rather unconcerned. (This last photo was not even at full zoom - taken at 220mm to fit it in the frame)