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Andre Wille's picture

Each day in the field I continue to see new species of animals. There are surprises around every corner. On our drive back to Fairbanks, the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve sits on one side and Gates of the Arctic National Park on the other. Near Atigan Pass, a Golden Eagle flew directly towards our moving car. Amazed, we later saw that it was being chased by a Northern Harrier (Hawk). Later, on the other side of the Pass and in the Boreal forest, a moose stood in the road as we rounded a corner. Considering the demands of life in the arctic, I was amazed by the diversity of life. While it does not compare numerically with ecosystems such as the tropical rainforest or coral reefs, the arctic does have a lot of wildlife. Because the land is so open, much of it is relatively easy to see. In the book "Land of Extremes" Alex Huryn describes the North Slope as a hub for bird migration. "If one plots their migration routes on a map, similar to those showing the routes of airliners between major international airports, the north slope appears to be a hub, gathering numerous converging flight paths across the globe-from Antarctica, New Zealand, Africa, India, China, Japan, North America, and South America." To get to the North Slope, some of the birds have to travel incredible distances each way. For example, one banded Arctic Tern flew 13,750 km from waters off Antarctica and was recovered in the Arctic. The Northern wheatear migrates to North Africa each winter. The American Golden Plover flies to the pampas of Argentina. All of these birds migrate to the north each summer to take advantage of the incredible productivity of the land and availability of habitat.

Like animals that migrated to Toolik and the high arctic , it is time for me to return home. This will involve a somewhat epic migration in its own right. To get from Toolik to Fairbanks, Team Squirrel will drive the Dalton Highway, taking turns at the wheel for about 8 hours. Then I will catch a flight to Seattle, on to Denver, then home in Aspen. Though I felt at home in the conditions I encountered in the arctic, my visit came at the optimal season of the year. The living, especially at Toolik, was easy. Like most of the animals I saw at Toolik, I don't think I am adapted for the rigors of a complete arctic year. Lacking the physiology to hibernate like a ground squirrel, or remain active all winter like ptarmigan or fox, I must migrate south.

Here are some of the animals I encountered during my stay at Toolik. Bird Species list (50)

Lapland Longspurs

Smith's Longspur

American tree sparrow

Rock Ptarmigan

Willow Ptarmigan

Bluethroat

Northern Wheatear

American golden plover

Semipalmated plover

Golden eagle

Peregrine Falcon

Northern Harrier

American kestrel

American Robin

Grey-cheeked thrush

Northern Shrike

Snow bunting

Savanah sparrow

Yellow warbler

Red necked phalarope

Least sandpiper

Long tailed duck

Northern Pintail

Greater scaup

Shoveler

Cackling goose

Canada goose.

White fronted goose

Tundra swan

Short eared owl

Long tailed jaeger

Glaucus gull

Arctic tern

American widgeon

Lesser yellow legs

Wilson's snipe

Yellow billed loon

Pacific loon

Yellow wagtail

Horned lark

White crowned sparrow

Red Breasted Merganser

white winged scoter

Rough legged hawk

common raven

Gray jay

Bank swallow

American pipit

Hoary redpoll

Common redpoll

Arctic ground squirrel

Moose

Caribou

Dall sheep

Vole

Snowshoe hare

Grey wolf

Red fox

Grizzly Bear (tracks)

Arctic Grayling

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