Sunday, June 21, 2009

Life in Cold Air - Vancouver Island Alpine Special

From July to September 2008, I spent most of my time in the beautiful central mountains of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. As part of a team of 4, we were set to survey alpine peaks for Vancouver Island Marmot, White-tailed Ptarmigan, and rare plants.

The weather was very variable, even though it was the middle of summer. Predicting weather patterns on Vancouver Island is practically impossible, as you can stand on a peak and see snow to the north, sunshine to the east, rain to the south, and impenetrable fog to the west. Weather pretty much determined where we could and could not venture.

Luckily, for the most part, we had the help of a helicopter to keep us mobile, as some of the hikes between mountain were extremely arduous and to our knowledge, had not been attempted before.

Mosquitos were the most abundant species we found, followed closely by Black Bears (Ursus americanus, below, swatting at mosquitos). The bears didn't give us too much trouble, even though we encountered over 40 of them during the summer. A couple of very close run-ins with mothers and cubs kept us on our toes.

The Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) is Canada's most endangered mammal. They occur in high alpine meadows, and hibernate for about 8 months of the year. During the short time they are active, teams of biologists are out radio-tracking them, trying to identify new individuals and look for pups. The marmot below had at least 2 pups running around it's den.

The species we were really after though, was the White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus saxatilis). A vulnerable endemic sub-species is found exclusively on Vancouver Island. We surveyed for them in areas where data was lacking, to help conserve habitat that wasn't already protected. The highly-cryptic ptarmigan allow you to almost step on them before they give themselves away. Their plumage varies between seasons, in winter they are all white, and in summer are a mottled reddish/brown/grey colour. The one below was photographed on my last day and is in a transitional state from summer to winter plumage.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful collection of photos, Nigel. Thanks for visiting Wings Among Us, rgds. madibirder