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Musk ox, Many Caribou, and More

Photographer Christopher Crowley writes about his Great Summer Caribou Migration trip:


"Some impressions from the barrenground land… The unique tundra landscape itself was worth seeing. Highlights of the wildlife opportunities were herds of muskox and caribou, as well as encounters with a lone bull caribou, an arctic hare, and nesting gyrfalcons. There were interesting archeological sites and artifacts of the previous human inhabitants. Lastly, taking off and landing on water in the floatplane was a blast!"

"The Esker-Terrestrial Landscape. The tundra is an otherworldly landscape. From esker ridges and hilltops, the view extends for miles in every direction. It becomes immediately clear why these eskers are the favoured local byways for traveling caribou, musk ox, grizzlies, and wolves." '

"In this barren land, the smallest flicker of motion by prey or predator is readily spotted from hundreds of yards away. Atop the esker, the walking is also far less strenuous than down in the flatlands. There, the squishy muskeg (peat bog) is waiting to slurp down a foot or leg should you miss your step in hop scotching from one mossy hummock to the next. What isn’t bog is outright water. A maze of lakes, kettles, rivers and creeks blocks passage at every turn. From one esker, you can plot the best course to the next esker."

"Dinner on the Run. The circle of life is pretty small on the tundra. Caribou eat lichen. Almost everything else eats the caribou. Circles lie within circles. Every spring, large herds of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) migrate hundreds of miles northward to the calving grounds and return later in the summer. We watched as several groups of caribou, hundreds in each group, crossed a river. In places they swam, heads bobbing in the river."
"In shallower places they waded, stumbling on slick rocks. The calves had to hustle to keep up with the crossing adults. Once the herd reached land, however, they were all off and running with a rumbling of hooves oddly muted by the soft ground. "

Click to enlarge photo


"Not all of the caribou make the full migration trek. Many bull caribou remain behind to await the return of the herd. By mid-summer, they appear to be starved for company. When we performed the “caribou dance”, with camera tripods displayed like antlers and heads bobbing up and down to mimic foraging caribou, we were able to entice a lone – perhaps lonely – bull caribou to travel hundreds of yards to investigate. Not once. Not twice. But three times. Each time it approached, the bull bobbed its head up and down, sizing us up. Then it performed a prancing dance. Deciding at last that we were probably not the company that he was seeking, the bull departed."


"Hare-Brained Adventure. I first spied the arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) browsing far below my perch on the hill, on the opposite shore of a pond that lay between us. It was too far away to photograph well, and the intervening terrain was too unmanageable to approach it quickly. Besides, the adult gyrfalcon in the nearby nest was busy feeding pieces of an unlucky plover chick to its own two chicks. By the time the gyrfalcon breakfast was over, the hare had disappeared into the bushes. After spending several hours hunched behind the camera watching the gyrfalcons, I decided to get up and stretch my legs. When I returned to the camera, the arctic hare was sitting between the tripod and the camera bag. (Maybe he wanted to check out the digital photography gear.)


After waiting for the hare to move off so that I could retrieve the gear, I followed it to a kettle pond, where it browsed on the green grass at the water’s edge. Later I followed it up the hill, where it perched for a time just gazing out over the landscape. Another day, I found it eating grass at the edge of that pond below the gyrfalcon nest. After a stealthy approach hidden behind the bank of the pond (or so I believed), I came within ten feet of the hare. When I slowly rose up over the edge of the bank with the camera, the hare looked over at me as if to say, “I knew you were there the whole time”. It yawned and went on with its business of hopping, grazing, and preening. A few lingering, white winter hairs still sprouted amongst the gray summer attire."


Click to learn more about the 'Great Summer Caribou Migration' on which Chris Crowley participated!


About the Photographer. Chris Crowley, from Orford NH, is a research engineer by vocation and a wildlife photographer by avocation. In pursuit of wildlife, he might be found trekking to visit chimpanzees in Tanzania, gorillas in the Congo, or exploring the Peruvian rain forest. He has dived the Galápagos Islands, Fiji , Papua New Guinea, the Solomons, Yap and many Caribbean sites. At work, he might be floating weightless aboard NASA's zero-gravity aircraft in research pursuits. Some of his images and articles, have been published in magazines (Alert Diver, Sport Diver, Skin Diver, Natural New England, Nature Photographer and Northern Woodlands), textbooks, a calendar, and a Nature Conservancy poster. Visit the web site to view additional images.


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