“There’s a bravo down by the bug people”This morning, we returned to Button Bay, eager to collect more intertidal invertebrates, especially polychaetes. I drove over first, with Sandra, while Christy returned in our Zodiac to pick up Jayme and Lauren. Sandra and I set about collecting, and soon all 5 of us were happily messing about on the cobble beach. Just before Christy returned, a Parks Canada employee visited us on an ATV. He seemed quite happy that we were there, and that it would probably be good if more researchers spent some time in the intertidal, working on the animals that are near the bottom of the food chain.
I was happily picking amphipods out of my net, close to the water’s edge and near the middle of the beach, when I decided I should probably have a quick look around at the horizon, to make sure no bears were approaching. I looked up, and scanned to my left (to the South). It took about 2 seconds for my brain to process the images – a large male polar bear, perhaps 300 or 400 kilograms, was walking at an angle across the beach, moving closer. The image-processing took so long I think because he didn’t immediately match my bear-search-image, as he passed behind and over the large boulders scattered across the beach. I think he was about 400 metres away, and while he wasn’t looking or moving directly at us, he was certainly aware of us, and I was acutely aware there was nothing between him and me but air and a beach he could move over much faster than I.
I called out in my sometimes-quite-useful loud voice, not shouting, “Bear! I have a bear over here, on my left!”, and my companions immediately stopped working, packed up our equipment, and we promptly started moving off the beach, away from the bear. Nobody panicked, and we got moving pretty quickly without serious problems. At one point, I glanced back at the bear, and briefly considered my options: I could a) keep moving, and try to get my companions to move a little faster and in a tighter group, the better to protect them from the still-getting-closer bear, b) stop, turn, and fire a firecracker round to try to slow or stop the bear, or c) stop, put the gun down, and pull out my camera, as the bear was quite beautiful. I went with option (a), so I must apologize, I can present no pictures of this bear.
As we reached the edge of the beach and started climbing up the gentle slope through the lime grass, our friendly neighbourhood Parks Canada employee showed up again on his ATV. Shortly after that, a second Parks Canada employee on an ATV arrived. As we stood there, pointing out the bear (he was temporarily not visible behind a large pile of rocks, maybe 200 metres away), the radio on one of the ATVs crackled to life and we heard someone say the above quote: “There’s a bravo down by the bug people”. “Bravo” is Parks Canada code for “bear”, apparently sometimes foolish tourists listen to Parks Canada transmissions and try to approach polar bears, making everyone’s jobs more difficult. Not surprisingly, we were the “bug people”.
The two Parks Canada fellows told us they were going to try to move the bear down the beach, while we decided to return to the other side of the river. There’s a couple of buildings (outhouses, a small office) near where we parked the Zodiac, so Christy and Sandra elected to stay there while I drove Lauren and Jayme back to Churchill. As I’m the only one of our group with a firearms license and therefore the qualifications to carry the shotgun, Christy and Sandra would be relying entirely on Parks Canada to keep the bear away.
The ride over the flat-calm Churchill River was fine and trouble free. The run back to pick up Christy and Sandra was a very Arctic moment – I was alone in a small boat, racing across the cold blue water with a shotgun, a radio, and a pair of binoculars, swerving to avoid small flocks of Eider ducks and pods of beluga whales. I was having a great time, but I think others were more worried by the whole episode.
The rest of the morning was significantly less exciting, but in the afternoon Christy and I took the Zodiac (now officially named “The Zodiac of Adventure”) out onto the river to dredge for benthic invertebrates. Dredging is not easy, and we had little success at first because the dredge was so awkward, and did not stay on the bottom well despite being basically a large block of steel. Eventually we were able to get the dredge to bite into the bottom, and we dragged up a bucketful of what initially appeared to be mussels. In fact, we did grab a large number of Mytilus (probably edulis), but the bottom 2/3 of the dredge was full of lovely worm-bearing sediments.
Christy has been complaining lately of not having much to work on, and feeling like she’s wasting time. Now, she has several kilograms of bottom muck to pick through for worms, and no longer complains.
I needed to clear some of my traps, so after we dropped everyone off at the CNSC, Jayme and I popped out to Bluffs A. On the way back, we spotted a single caribou, grazing on the tundra.
This is my favourite of the pictures I took of the caribou Jayme and I saw. I like the Northern features of this shot, especially the tundra buggy depot in the background.
Tomorrow we plan to visit more of the interesting freshwater and boreal-forest habitats near Twin Lakes, including the infamous fen, a large area of nearly-still shallow water thoroughly infested with mosquitoes.