Sunday, August 17, 2008

Part III, Day 10: 080717

Today was the last day of sampling, as tomorrow will certainly be consumed by logistical tasks, like pulling the boat out of the water, and packing up all our stuff for storage and / or transport. We started in the morning by heading towards town, to help David clear his pitfall traps located near the “Welcome to Churchill” sign on the road. That sign is a little puzzling. While it’s true the airport is outside of town and therefore this sign would be visible to anyone arriving from a flight, it otherwise seems to serve no purpose. There is nothing else here, the only way to get here is by air, rail, or if you’re really special, ship. Why not put the sign at the airport? Why put it some arbitrary distance outside of town, beyond the outlying buildings?

There are large patches of open and very flat tundra near the town of Churchill. This picture was taken from just South of the road, looking towards the river. Distances are very deceptive in the North, the river is probably at least a kilometre away.

We also visited several locations along Goose Creek, a major tributary of the Churchill river, including the marina (another boat ramp! Joy!) and the pumphouse. At both locations we met a family group of German tourists, who seemed remarkably unconcerned by the biting insects. While the bugs weren’t as bad as I’ve seen on previous days, they were certainly around and hungry.

While we were at the pumphouse, which is a few kilometres upstream of Goose Creek, Chen and David found some polar bear tracks. I’m certainly no expert, but given the daily tidal flooding of this area, I think any tracks found in the nearshore mud should be considered a day old or younger. So, there was probably a bear about. As this is an area of abundant willow vegetation, which I am informed is a favourite sleeping location for polar bears, I didn’t stray too far from the truck. We were running late for lunch anyways, so we didn’t spend long there. However, the German tourists apparently decided they wanted to meet this bear, and set about following the tracks along the riverbank. Crazy people, they had all the best predictors of an unpleasant bear encounter: thick, visibility-blocking vegetation; small children and old people; no local guide or companion; and no predator-deterrence. I wonder whatever became of them?

Bear tracks. None of the visible human boot-prints are mine, I think they might have been from Chen’s boots. He wears about a size 8, so those bear paws are around 30cm long.

After lunch, we returned once more to Twin Lakes. David had some quite productive pitfall traps in the forest near the lake, and I wanted to get down into the fen on the far side of the lakes as well. This fen has a small pond with a very soft bottom and margin; last year we saw a caribou here. Not surprisingly, the mosquitoes were quite numerous here, but not so bad that we couldn’t function.

The more distant fen, viewed from on top of the bluffs at the end of the road.

My companions happily collecting critters from the edge of the pond in the fen. Notice the large areas of apparently-dry bottom – this is extremely soft, thoroughly water-logged sediment, and I have yet to find the true bottom.

We also visited the “Burn site”, a patch of boreal forest that burned in a forest fire about 5 years ago. Within the regenerating forest, there is a medium-sized pond, with some trees near it that are older than the fire. This suggests to me that this pond provided something of a refuge from the flames, but I don’t know enough about forest fire dynamics to say more than that.

The East end of the pond inside the burn site. That’s David collecting collembola among the reeds at the far end.

The sky was doing interesting things today, and I was impressed by this view of our trusty Suburban against a distant rainstorm.

I spent most of the evening picking through mud from the dredges that Christy et al. conducted yesterday. Lovely worms, amphipods, and other critters were hiding in the thick, dark mud.

Tomorrow we’ll pack up all of our stuff, get the Zodiac of Adventure put away, and just generally prepare to leave.

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