Baffin Island Floe Edge: Narwhals & Polar Bears

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Date: 
Monday, June 16, 2014 - Monday, June 23, 2014
Guide: 
Cam Gillies

Exciting Arctic tour with unique wildlife including narwhal and polar bears, Inuit culture and dramatic landscapes

Rugged mountains, stunning glaciers, flocks of northern seabirds, the wonderful Narwhal, and traditional Inuit culture – this is what awaits us on a truly amazing Arctic tour to the wilderness of northern Baffin Island. We experience this dramatic Arctic landscape at a time of year when the sun never sets and wildlife is returning to this very rich area of the Arctic. There are northern birds in abundance, including Thick-billed Murre, Black-legged Kittiwake, and King and Common Eiders. Other highlights include Sabine’s and Thayer’s gulls, Red-throated Loon and with much luck, we may see the all white Ivory Gull! In addition, the mixing of ocean currents from Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound makes the marine life very rich! At this time of year, the sea ice is melting back and marine mammals are traveling north along the ice floe edge where food is concentrated. We hope to see several species of seals and the amazing spiral-tusked Narwhal. With luck we will also see polar bear or the endangered bowhead whale. Remote wilderness, striking Arctic landscapes, rich northern wildlife, and fascinating culture – this promises to be the experience of a lifetime!

Highlights:

• Travel by sled on the sea ice with Inuit guides

• Unique arctic birds and wildlife

• Spectacular scenery

Day 0: Arrival in Ottawa

Participants will need to be in Ottawa the night prior to our flight to Pond Inlet.  We are happy to help arrange this night in Ottawa.  If schedules allow, we can meet for an evening meal in Ottawa.  Those arriving early may enjoy a visit the Canadian Museum of Nature before dinner. Night in Ottawa.

Day 1: Travel to Pond Inlet

We meet for breakfast and head for the Ottawa airport in the morning for our flights to Pond Inlet at the northern tip of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. After a plane change in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, we should arrive in Pond Inlet in the afternoon. After dinner we will have plenty of time for a short walk around town because the sun does not set at this time of year. Hotel night in Pond Inlet.

Day 2: Travel to the floe edge

In the morning we will explore the shoreline, tundra and ponds close to Pond Inlet. We will encounter some of the more common species such as Lapland Longspur, Horned Lark and Snow Bunting, and we will be looking for Common Ringed Plover here and elsewhere. This mostly Palearctic species has a very small breeding range in North America, restricted to the eastern Arctic of Canada. After lunch, we will depart for the floe edge. We travel by komatik, which is a wooden sled lashed together and pulled behind a snowmobile. This is the traditional means of travel for the Inuit, the only difference is that snowmobiles have replaced dog teams.

Enroute we may have the opportunity to get up close and personal with several icebergs that have spent the winter frozen in place. These can be both beautiful and enormous as they await break up of the ice before they continue to drift southward. The floe edge is where the winter ice meets the open waters of Baffin Bay and it is where the wildlife is concentrated on their northward migration. We should have wonderful opportunities to photograph and enjoy the wildlife. The birding at the floe edge should be superb! Hundreds of Northern Fulmars, Brant, Common and King eiders, and all three species of jaegers will be a treat. We will see hundreds or even thousands of Thick-billed Murres, many Black Guillemots, and with luck, several Dovekie in their very sharp breeding plumage! We will also see a collection of northern gulls: Glaucous, Thayer’s, Sabine’s, Black-legged Kittiwake, and with much luck, Ivory Gull. You have to travel very far north to find this beautiful all white arctic gull, but here we will be in the heart of its range. Unfortunately, they have become quite scarce in the last several years and are now an endangered species. We will have the opportunity to watch as these and possibly other species move northward along the floe edge.

Days 3–6: Floe edge and Bylot Island

Our daily activities will depend on the location of the floe edge and weather conditions, but will likely include these highlights. We will use a camp near the floe edge for these nights.

Bylot Island

Bylot Island is part of the recently declared Sirmilik National Park and is one of the largest bird refuges in the world. We plan to go for a walk near our camp to see the remains of several traditional sod and whalebone houses, used until recently by the Inuit. On the tundra, we look for many of the common northern species that are returning from the south at this time of year. Shorebirds are sparsely distributed, but we hope to find several species nesting including American Golden-Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper and Red Phalarope. On the cliffs, we will look closely for Gyrfalcon, including white-morph individuals, and Peregrine Falcon. In the ponds on Bylot Island and around Pond Inlet, we will search for Red-throated Loon, Greater Snow Goose, and Long-tailed Duck. It should be a spectacular setting being on the tundra surrounded by the rugged snow-covered mountains that rim the eastern Arctic.

Visit to Seabird Colony

From our camp, if ice conditions permit, we will travel to the seabird colony on Bylot Island. North of Cape Graham Moore, these cliffs rise thousands of feet and host over 40,000 Thick-billed Murres and 6,500 Black-legged Kittiwakes. Hundreds of them will be coming and going from their precarious ledges as they head east to feed at the floe edge.

At the Floe Edge

We will likely spend most of our time at the floe edge with the hope of seeing some of the more elusive species that will be moving by, including the marine mammals. Waiting patiently at the floe edge should improve our chances of seeing that amazing northern whale, the Narwhal. We will be watching for groups of these bizarre creatures, with their long spiraled tusks – the male’s tusk can be up to 7 feet long! This will surely be a highlight! It is also possible to see Bowhead Whales, Walrus, and that creature of legend, Nanook, the Polar Bear, but we will need some luck for these. The floe edge will also give us the chance to see Ringed, and possibly Bearded and Harp Seals.

Day 7: Return to Pond Inlet

After a final morning at the floe edge, we leave our camp for our return to Pond Inlet. On our journey we view the towering cliffs of Bylot Island plus the spectacular landscape of mountains and massive glaciers. Hotel night in Pond Inlet.

Day 8: Travel to Ottawa and onward

We reluctantly leave this magical northern hamlet and fly south to Iqaluit and on to Ottawa, arriving in the afternoon, usually with time to catch connecting flights home. We will head home with many fond memories from this amazing adventure in the land of the midnight sun.

 

Dates: June 16 - 23, 2014

Duration: 8 days

Price per person: $5295 USD/CAD plus GST (2.5% for non-residents of Canada, 5% for residents of Canada)

Max: 12 adventurers

Tour Starts & Ends: Pond Inlet 

Fitness level: Easy to moderate walking

*Single rooms cannot be guaranteed in the Pond Inlet hotel. Single tents are available.

 

• Easy to moderate tundra walking

• Travel by komatik (sled) to the floe edge

• Comfortable camping near the floe edge

• 2 nights in hotels, 5 nights camping (equipment provided)

• 6 to 12 participants

• Cold climate

• Price does not include round-trip airfare from Ottawa to Pond Inlet ($2,660.30 CAD)

• Includes all meals

Early June is still cold in the Arctic. Temperatures may not be much above freezing and it could snow, but warm layered clothing along with the waterproof boots should keep you warm. It is usually sunny though and the sun is up 24 hours, so bring sunscreen. We will provide all of the necessary camping equipment including a warm sleeping bag for the nights camping.

Our daily activities will be focused on looking for and watching birds and other wildlife at the floe edge or on the tundra, but we won’t hesitate to enjoy other aspects of the natural and cultural history of this area.

While we have outlined the detailed itinerary, this schedule and our daily activities will be very dependent on the daily weather and ice conditions. In addition, we cannot guarantee single occupancy in our hotel in Pond Inlet.

 

Previous checklists from our Baffin Island Floe Edge Tour:

2011 Baffin Island Floe Edge Tour (pdf)
2008 Baffin Island Floe Edge Tour
(pdf)