July 14, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 12

DAVE: We watched the possible den with a high-powered spotting scope, and both Dean and I saw a white animal arise out of the tundra, disappear for a few minutes several times and then reappear a few times. Then the animal gradually left the area and began heading west. Both of us think it was a wolf, but neither is certain enough that it was not a hare. So we still can't say for sure that this is the den or rendezvous site. We are watching from about 2 miles away, and it was very windy (and cold --summer here is over as of today!), so it was hard to get a really good read through the scope. We may take another look tomorrow. We also set up some possible behavioral tests near our campsite in case a wolf approaches our base area, but none did up until midnight, so we gave up on that, too.

DEAN: Cold and cloudy today. Hopefully, it’s not the end of summer up here just yet. We went down to the end of the fiord to the river to see if we could see wolves again where Dave spotted one heading down a slope yesterday. It was not too bad getting there as we were traveling downwind, but once we were at the river and facing the direction of the suspected den, we could feel the full force of the wind. Both of us had to put on extra layers of clothes. Even my toque (wool hat) came out. We watched for about an hour and a half when both of us saw a white object moving at the suspected den site. Unfortunately we were 2 or more miles away, and even with the spotting scope, it was hard to make out a definitive shape. It was likely a wolf, but we couldn't absolutely rule out an arctic hare. Arctic hares are very white and large, and they are visible from a long way. However, the movement behavior was so unlike a hare and so much more like a wolf that it would be a safe bet that it was a wolf. If a wolf, then the odds of repeated sightings of wolves in the same spot two days in a row hint strongly at a den site. We took bearings with my GPS at two different spots, so we'll plot those on the map and get a better estimate of distance to that site. Our quest for the den may be successful yet. Cold ride back - into the wind all the way!

It may be hard to imagine how it could be difficult to distinguish between a hare and a wolf with a high-powered spotting scope. But as Dean notes, arctic hares are big, and from a distance, they look even larger than they are! They are 22 to 28 inches long, and they weigh between 9 and 12 pounds. Arctic hares are not the same as snowshoe hares or rabbits. They have huge feet, comparatively short, black-tipped ears and, although their fur changes color farther south according to the season, they remain white all year on Ellesmere. Unlike rabbits, whose young are born blind and naked in a burrow, arctic hares are born in a nest in June or July with their eyes open and with a snug fur coat. They eat the bark, roots, shoots and roots of dwarf willows as well as grass, flowers, saxifrage and the little cranberries that carpet the ground in some places in the arctic.

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