On the matter of tramping through the forests in the snow, I had a rather good excursion some days ago, with one of the volunteers. Someone had said that the had seen a gyrfalcon in the rocket range, and another in the woods near the quinzhee, so we took up our cameras and went out walking.
I have always loved raptors, and the gyrfalcon seems emblematic of the north. They are graceful and hardy birds, remarkably fast and agile like the rest of their kind. The Inuktitut word is kiggavik or kiggaviarjuk. They are found around the Arctic regions of the world, and into the southern latitudes as far as the US, though I do not know how often they are seen. Around here, they are apparently year-round residents, and this is a promising notion for the prospect of seeing one eventually.
We spent only an hour out in the woods, but it was a fine ramble, mostly spent in the woods and the snow — it is deeper in the forest, of course! There is a frozen lake or swamp between the Centre and the woods, but this is much more exciting than it sounds, as it is only about two feet deep when thawed. Still, it makes for better walking than the forest, being smoother and hard ice rather than inconsistent snow which by all rights requires snowshoes.
Bringing snowshoes might have been wise, but we did not. There is a snowmobile trail through the forest, and we strayed only a little, until we could stand waist-deep in the snow and look around, mostly immobilised. The forced patience was likely a good thing, for I have never been much of a birder due to an unruly restless nature. After a few minutes in the snow, we would move on to the next stop, and so we continued for some time. We saw nothing of falcons, gyr or otherwise, but there were a great many ptarmigan tracks which we found on our way back to the Centre and which were all crossing one another in the snow as if not too long before we arrived there had been some bustle of activity among the birds. They did not show themselves, but the tracks were so clear that the forest must have been full of them earlier that afternoon.
Interestingly, a few days later when some of the Earth Watch team went out on the ice, the same volunteer joined them, and she told me that they had found a feather, and blood on the snow — the feather having belonged to a gyrfalcon. Whether it had been hunting or fighting they could not say, as it was a large feather and not one that it would normally lose in a hunt, according to Science (or the one science staff member there!).
I wonder what happened to it, and where the rocket range bird lives. More than a polar bear, I want to see one of these. Whether or not I can capture a photograph.