Having Tea with Polar Bears – Part 3

This week, I’m sharing photos of arctic creatures other than Polar Bears.

First: A Covet of Ptarmigan

No, it’s not a typo. Ptarmigan travel in a Covet, not a Coven(, but think of all the fun if they were a coven). Our guide explained Ptarmigan were hard to see and explained what they sounded like. “That’s how to find them,” she said. “Listen.” And she was right. 

I stood on the back of the rover watching bears. The only sound was the clicking of cameras, the occasional whispered, “Did you see that?” the wind in the willows, waves and ice washing onto the shore, and then there it was: kuk-kuk-kuk. (Spelling of gathered from the internet.)

This time of year, their feathers take on this blush color.

You may notice a pinkness about them. That’s not a color filter on the camera. They eat a lot of red berries, which gives them that color. See note: Our driver said they made especially good eating while eating the berries. I didn’t remind him I was a vegetarian, but it is good information to know the day you are trapped in the arctic.

I’d describe the sound as a cross between very tiny automatic weapon firing or the breaking of very tiny bones. (Sad commentary that most of us know what these sound like.)

Link to site with recordings of Arctic Ptarmigan.

When I heard the sound, I moved away from the other humans on the back of the rover and looked down. There they were – a whole covet of Ptarmigan. They were beautiful once I could see them. Their camouflage is amazing. Before I knew what was happening, the little birds were all around our rover.

That’s not a filter on the camera. These birds glowed in the sunshine.

If you think the birds were hard to see on the road, take a look at this one. The only way to see it was to see how the sun made it glow.

These little birds walk well – for birds.
One of the ways they keep warm is to puff up their feathers.

Next: The Arctic Fox

What the photos of the arctic fox do not showis the intricate interlacing of silver on the fox’s face. These foxes are amazingly fast and agile. They would dash across the road or pounce up from their perches on stones to dive into snow hunting prey. That’s when we see them.

Hard to see, but this fox has silver laced throughout its face.
Easy to see the silver at the tip of the tail.
The thick black coat makes the fox look more like shadow or rock than fox.

Notice how dark this one is as she sits, perched, waiting for the lemmings beneath the snow to move. Perhaps they learned how to hunt from the Polar Bear.

The Arctic Owl

On our last day on the tundra, as we drove off the protected lands and back to town and our hotel, our guide jumped off of her seat, yelling at the bus driver to stop. She opened the door and pulled her binoculars to her eyes. There it was: The Arctic Owl.

Almost half a mile away, on top of a tree, was a tiny speck; that speck that I needed binoculars to see was the Arctic owl. Luckily, our guide had spent a good deal of time studying the owl for one of her graduate projects. If not, I would not have been able to see the arctic owl and mark it off my list of beings to see.

The hardest of all the species to see.

The owl is hard to find in the wild.


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