Sunday, October 14, 2012

July 2 - two people fly out, caribou encounter, rafters

The view from my tent in the morning

Today was a notable day in many ways. First off, I woke up to people talking near my tent, along with a background noise of caribou grunts. I left my tent and stood with the other people who were up, all of us watching the herd of 800 or so caribou all spread out below camp across the swamp, their grunts and the plaintive calls of calves echoing across the landscape on this windless morning.
Brad was lying down on the slope by camp, and had animals ~20 meters away from him at some points. Once the close part of the herd left we went to the scope to see what else was around, and watched two wolves loping across the river bed, and a bear feeding on a caribou carcass that Brad had watched a wolf kill earlier in the morning – one of the six wolves he had seen before most people woke up!
This morning is also the morning that Brad and Mark will be departing camp, weather permitting, so we said farewell as we headed out to work for the day. We had to wait for a while before heading out, since the aforementioned bear walked right through where we were headed, but since he kept heading east we were soon able to press on in his wake.
After a few nest checks we were down in the 7s, and as we looked south there was a wave of caribou cresting the ridge – a living river flowing in our general direction. I quickly suggested that we go lay down in their potential path, in a ditch near where I had seen many caribou tracks worn into the ground recently. As they neared they caught our scent, about 300m off, but once the herd leaders declared their ambivalence about our presence, the rest of the herd followed along.

This male had a rack about as wide as a caribou is long!

This male had an eye on us for quite a while

For about 10 minutes we had a herd of roughly a thousand caribou walking around us as close as 8-10 meters, calmly feeding and ambling along. There were massive bulls with antler spreads wider than a caribou is long, calves trotting along by their mother’s sides and periodically suckling, and then hundreds of animals in between. They were grunting and snorting the whole while, along with the bugs and the visuals we were getting the full sensory experience.

You can see the winter fur being molted in the facial area

The limb coming out from the lower-left of the head of this caribou is in fact it's hindleg, being scratched by an antler

This bull was so dark that it was reminiscent of a moose

The grizzled faces look wise to me

We went on from this once-in-a-lifetime experience to band a Semi Sandpiper and return to camp by 2pm – not too much work to do when there aren’t many nests to find or check. But the excitement of the day was not over yet!
Around 4 or 5 I heard someone exclaim “People!” Sure enough, two rafts had landed on the runway area below our camp and were setting up tents. It turns out that the same raft trip showed up here last year on the exact same date, they put in up in the mountains and then float down the Canning for a couple weeks. Apparently they will be here near us for three days! On top of it all it has been mercifully windy most of the day – no bugs since early afternoon!

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