Wonderful Day on the Tundra

Friday, November 25, 2022

Sunday, November 13th was our first full day on the tundra.  The schedule for each day on the tundra was basically the same.  Coffee, hot tea and snacks available in the lounge beginning about 6:00AM, breakfast at 7:00 and depart the lodge on our tundra buggy at 8:00, in search of bears, other wildlife and general adventure.  Breakfast was always a hearty meal to get the day started.  Today we had French toast, bacon and sausage and eggs along with a great bowl of fruit and you could have oatmeal, cereal, etc. as well.  During breakfast we learned most people really didn’t sleep a lot last night because of the aurora and just the general excitement of being on the tundra.  To add to the excitement, we saw really big bear tracks out our windows this morning.  We both woke up several times during the night and looked out our little window but never saw a bear walking by.  We had great hopes for the day.  First things first, after breakfast and loading everyone into the buggy, Mark, our great driver, drove over to the kitchen and transferred our lunch into the rear of the buggy.  We were fed way too much excellent food on this adventure!  It was about a twenty minute buggy ride with everyone looking out the window searching for our first wildlife sighting.  Mark brought the buggy to a stop and cut off the engine and pointed out the front window.  Finally, we all spotted the big sleeping bear.  FUN FACT.  Just for the record, polar bears are not bright white.  Their coat actually has no white pigment. In fact, a polar bear’s skin is black and its hairs are hollow.  Their color is determined by the lighting and their surroundings. When light strikes the polar bear fur part of the light is absorbed and the rest is scattered away.  Normally, polar bears appear white because the fur is scattering the sunlight which is also white.  White is a good color because its the best camouflage on the snowy tundra.  But on very cloudy days, the bears may appear grey or a little yellow due to oil from some of the prey they have recently eaten or orange at sunset.

Now back to our bear.  It was large and a little yellowish in color and sleeping.  We watched it for quite a while.  Occasionally it would lift it’s head a little and we were hopeful it would get up but no, it always just put it’s head back down and slept some more.  After a while we had all taken all the pictures we really wanted of this sleeping bear.  Our guide had given us some history of the area and some of the problems the polar bears are facing due to less polar ice and honestly, we were all getting a little bored.  That is when our driver told us some upsetting news.  Yesterday, this sleeping bear was the only bear that yesterday’s tour group saw except for some tiny spots of distant bears out on the ice.  The ice had begun freezing and the bears were moving out to catch seals.  He said that this bear would eventually wake up and move but …. When?? He couldn’t promise us that we would see anything else today.  Anne was pretty devastated by this tale and really thought maybe Mark was joking.  The buggy got very quiet.  Anne and Donna just looked at each other not knowing what to say. Mark was very serious and just wanted to be truthful with us.  After several minutes we all began to look out with our cameras and binoculars again. Suddenly Donna said “Don’t look over there look over here.  Over here!  There are two bears walking over here!”  The bears were on the opposite side of the buggy, walking toward the ice.  They were not right next to us but they were close enough to see with the naked eye and good pictures with the zoom on the cameras.  Mark started the buggy and we headed toward the bears, hoping to get closer before they made it to the ice.  We followed those bears for a good while, taking lots of pictures.  As we got closer to them we could see it was three bears.  A little later we saw three more bears.  The two smaller ones were sparring – so amazing to get to see in the wild.  They were slowly making their way toward the ice and we followed as long as we could.  Sometime in the middle of all this we started seeing some smaller animals.  Later in the day we saw three amazing little arctic foxes.  The arctic fox is a much smaller fox – solid white – blends in completely with the snow.  We saw a silver fox – beautiful.  We watched this one while he jumped up, dove down in the snow (almost cartoon like), dug around and eventually caught the prey, a small lemming (rodent), we think.  We also saw numerous Willow Ptarmigan throughout the day.  They were in full white splendor.  This is the state bird for Alaska and we saw many on our Alaska trip in 2014.  In May we saw them in white but later in the summer got to see their “summer outfit” with lots of brown feathers.  The topper on the cake this day was seeing a Snowy Owl!  We never thought we would get to see this beautiful owl.  We were told they had all migrated south by now but we rounded a curve and saw something different on top of a large bolder we had passed earlier.  Anne didn’t know what it was at first but Mark sure did and quickly positioned the buggy so we could get some pictures.  What an absolutely amazingly wonderful day!! We saw numerous polar bears and all the other critters mentioned.  Mark and our guide Ward were so surprised.  Ward said he had only led one other adventure where so much wildlife was spotted in a single day.  Donna was our super spotter.  By the end of our trip Mark was wanting to hire her to spot for him.  We still have two more days on the tundra so check back for more of our amazing subarctic trip.

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