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Akpatok Island, Hudson Strait
Akpatok is a large island in Hudson Strait, Canada (approximately 60.2 N 68.4 W). I was there with Adventure Canada (www.adventurecanada.com) July 2015. There were polar bears on shore, drawn to the island by the large nesting colonies of thick-billed murre. Contrary to what you may have heard, neither the birds nor their eggs or chicks provide more than a snack to a polar bear, and at that, one that is hard to digest. Bears need fat. Fat comes from seals. To hunt seals bears need ice (they cannot match a seal’s speed or mobility in water). No ice means no polar bears. Land foods will never make up the difference. Nevertheless, at a time of year when they are in the middle of their long summer fast, thick-billed murre are better than nothing and the polar bears appear in significant numbers.
The most unusual polar bear/human interaction I’ve ever seen – and certainly the most amusing – is detailed in the photos below. A big male bear climbed up the cliff to a great height, made himself comfortable, and then watched as a tourist plane flew right by him. I cannot say for certain this is what that polar bear climbed up to see, but there were no birds nesting anywhere near that part of the cliff, and as far as I can tell, other than the scheduled flight by Air Inuit, no reason to climb so high. Anyone who’s been around polar bears knows they are very smart. How smart? No comment…
You can hear me read the essay I wrote about this particular polar bear encounter on Living on Earth, http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=16-P13-00003&segmentID=6
Mark Seth Lender
Polar Bear Climbs the Talus Mound
Polar Bear at 400′ – Nothing there, and thinking, “Higher?”
And higher he goes!
HERE COMES THE PLANE!!
There goes the plane…
And Polar Bear lies down.
Prairie dogs are to the prairie what krill is to the ocean. Without them, that sea of grass is a dead zone. Mark Seth Lender visited a prairie dog colony in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan. What impressed him the most was not their value, but their bravery:
Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs, Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
© 2015 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved
Dog on Guard does a jump-up bark, jump-up bark again. And all over Prairie Dog Town all the other dog guards jump-up back: below that ridge; up on the knoll; across, in the open, below the shadow of the mesa that rises like a wall. Must’ve seen some thing, some one. Got them started like the tattoo on a child’s tin drum. Could have been a hawk rolling on silent wing in the bright morning air. Could have been coyote, hungry enough, prowling the prairie on a daytime walk. Coulda been prairie rattlesnake sliding across the sunlit road with her rattle in the air. But our eyes are pretty much as good as any Dog of the Prairie, and I haven’t seen a thing round here. Perhaps they only jump-up bark to say: “I’m at my post, I am on guard, I’ve got your back.”
And the prairie dogs not on guard go about their business:
Dog, lying low.
Three dogs standing up.
Dog chewing on a blade of grass like some old farmer.
Young dog all stretched out on the black earth to cool herself…
But now Dog on Guard crouches like a spring held in place by the thickness of a hair. And it’s jump-up bark nose in the air mouth in a howling shape. This time quite clear what he sees:
Three nights ago badger came here on a raid. Tore the hell out of that mound over there like a steam shovel on a bad-drunk-day. Claw marks in the soft dry dirt, square and long and straight (and sharp as a cut nail rake). And, on the parched clay where water puddled in the rains (the cracked landscape laid out like tiles on some abandoned floor) there are skulls. A jawbone, incisors pointing up like tusks. A skeleton where a ferruginous hawk made a kill, bones laid out in perfect parallels
Prairie dog nightmares. And us, our kind, the very worst of them:
10 yards –
5 yards –
10 feet –
The closer I get the faster that guard dog barks, clipped and tight, the tone ascending:
White-tailed doe crosses the road at a run.
- Dog on Guard does not move.
Burrowing owl tucks out of sight.
- Dog on Guard just stares.
Big Bison Bull resting on his side, raises his great head, down in the arroyo way down there…
- Dog on Guard stands firm, until the last dog is safely underground all over Prairie Dog Town.
Red moon rising on the red prairie, full as a rising prairie sun. When day comes it all begins again: Dog on Guard. Just like the day before (and the day before that) if he survives the night.
Mark Seth Lender’s guide in Grasslands was Wes Olson. Support for Mark’s fieldwork was provided by Tourism Saskatchewan.