Phil flew home while Ray and I drove the 1330 kms to Calgary. We had originally planned to look for Ord’s Kangaroo Rat in the Great Sandhills of Saskatchewan but no longer had time to do this. After spending Tuesday evening in Brandon, we drove the rest of the way on Wednesday making a few birding stops along the way. Our highlight was … Buff-breasted Sandpiper! We found 5 of them at Reed Lake in SK and they approached to within a few metres of us for a much better look than the day before.
We had a delightful time in southern Canadian prairies as we picked up 6 new team birds and 2 new mammals. We started off the trip on a successful note as we watched Big Brown Bats leave their roost in a Medicine Hat school. As we travelled across the prairies, our focus was on shorebirds and water birds but we occasionally stopped in a small town to check out the passerines (or for our now traditional ice cream break!). We were impressed with how neat and tidy the towns were, particularly in southern Manitoba. We found 3 of our main target birds - Cattle Egret, Green Heron and Buff-breasted Sandpiper – but couldn’t track down a Golden-winged Warbler.
However, we did find an unanticipated mammal at Oak Hammock Marsh - Gray Fox. We didn’t expect to see this mammal because of its nocturnal habits but, in the early evening, we observed a pair (young ones?) on the road to the North Observation point.
We spent a day and a half in Rankin Inlet en route to Repulse Bay. It is a small town by southern standards but the second largest in Nunavut. We were put in touch with a local outfitter – Harry Htinaur – and after a brief phone call, he came to the hotel and gave us the keys to his Hummer! We enjoyed visiting the territorial park and exploring the other roads in the area. Of the 22 bird species, my personal highlight was seeing 5 Pacific Loons still in breeding plumage.
Our primary destination was Repulse Bay, a place we chose for its mammal possibilities and remote location … we wanted to experience the Arctic. Repulse Bay is located on the Arctic Circle (actually 2 miles south according to our GPS!). As with Rankin Inlet, the hamlet has modern facilities … no more igloos or sod houses! Inuktitut is their language but most also speak English. Western clothing predominates though we occasionally saw some more traditional dress.
For the most part, snowmobiles have replaced dog sleds but we saw many dog teams in both communities. I asked what the dogs were used for and was told that they were still used for tourists (in the right season), racing and some freight hauling.
|Our guide, Steve Mapsalak|
|Nathaniel with harpoon|
According to Steve, Narwhal, Bearded Seal, Bowhead Whale and Walrus were all in the area but we just couldn’t get far enough out into the bay to find them. While the ice hindered our mammal search, it certainly added to the Arctic experience. I never had imagined that one day I would be standing on some floating ice in the Arctic!
|Brian on floating ice|
Our Polar Bear sighting was certainly the highlight of the trip. Steve said that the bears usually “head for the hills” when they see a boat but this one came toward us and was swimming to an island when we caught up with it.
We are now at 475 species – 408 birds and 67 mammals – and still think we have a shot at our 500 target. Not much time to rest before we head west for a pelagic trip out of Tofino. We’ve got our fingers crossed for decent weather as there are about 10 species that we hope to get along with a mammal or two.