Carbon and caribou in Canada’s Low Arctic

A bit about my research… Written for the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club.

Field Notes

By Claire Elliott, member of the OFNC

Claire Elliott Claire Elliott

In the spring of 2013 I joined the research lab of Dr. Elyn Humphreys at Carleton University. Dr. Humphreys may be known to some OFNC members for her guided walks of Mer Bleue Bog. I was enticed to join the lab because of a unique opportunity to do field research in the Northwest Territories.

Our research program is focused on soil-plant-atmosphere interactions. Specifically, I use remote sensing technologies to investigate carbon exchange between the biosphere, the regions of the earth’s surface occupied by living organisms, and the atmosphere over large spatial scales. Remote sensing instruments collect data on the electromagnetic energy that has been reflected from earth. These sensors are typically mounted on satellites or aircraft, but similar handheld sensors have been designed for field use as well.

The Daring Lake Tundra Ecosystem Research Station. The Daring Lake Tundra Ecosystem Research Station.
Currently I am living at the…

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Normally I would not bother making a full blog post to showcase some rather non-remarkable photos, but there is always room for an exception.  Much to my embarrassment, I’ve had to admit many a time to various people that I had never seen a wild moose in person.  Growing up my family did all of our camping between Long Point and Turkey Point on the shores of Lake Erie, so my chances of seeing a moose were pretty much squat. I came closest to seeing a moose last September at the Alfred Bog in Eastern Ontario.  After a day of research I came across a large pile of very fresh scat, but alas, no moose.

Well, I can now happily say that my mooseless state has been erased.  About two weeks ago I was out at one of my study sites with two other students, when we saw a large dark animal climb down the side of an esker.  Instinctively we all thought caribou, but that didn’t really make sense because at this time of year the caribou are all much further north.  The dark colouring and large size of the animal tipped us off that it might be a moose.  We jumped up to grab our binoculars and cameras and promptly lost sight of the animal.  After a quick (15 minute) scramble over the hummocks and up the esker, we relocated our specimen in a riparian area and confirmed its identification as a moose, a young bull moose to be exact.

A young bull moose.

A young bull moose.

A few days after my first moose sighting, I was hiking with another student to a study pond and like usual we were on the lookout for any large animals.  As we approached, the other student pointed out two large brown objects lingering near the opposite shore.  Out came the binoculars, but we were still a bit far to get a good identification.  We got on the radio and let the others in the field know that we were potentially looking at two bears hanging out near our study site.  However we ate our words almost immediately when one of the large brown animals stepped out of the water and onto shore.  The long slender legs and great height of the animal tipped us off that it was not two bears.  We were actually looking at a cow moose and a calf.  So I have officially seen a male, female, and baby moose.  I couldn’t be more pleased!

Breeding Birds of Daring Lake: Herring Gull

The Herring Gull is the only gull that calls Daring Lake home during the breeding season.  I believe there are at least nine pairs of nesting gulls that live within boating distance of the Daring Lake camp. I don’t seem to see Herring Gulls as often as I’d like to in Ottawa, so it has been a treat to observe the local pairs that surround camp.

Typically the gulls of Daring Lake choose to nest on the small islands scattered throughout the lake, or even on large boulders exposed from the water, such as the one pictured below.  Egg laying took place sometime around June 14th,  and the gulls have been busy minding and protecting their nests since.  When not on the nest, the pair nesting on the pictured rock can been seen each evening on the beach of Daring Lake at the mouth of a adjacent stream fishing for invertebrates.

The boulder in the forefront of this image contains the nest of a Daring Lake Herring Gull.

The boulder in the forefront of this image contains the nest of a Daring Lake Herring Gull (the white dot on the boulder is in fact one of the resident gulls).

The gulls that have attempted to nest on Yamba Lake, the larger lake to the north-east of Daring Lake,  have been less successful. As of July 1st the Yamba still had at least 50% ice cover with the only open water around its margins.  When the winds pick up, which happens here quite often, the ice is pushed towards shore and buts up against the boulder islands that the Herring Gulls preferentially choose for nesting.  At least one Yamba Herring Gull nest has been abandoned due to the ice intrusion.

Last week an ornithologist from Yellowknife came to Daring Lake for a short stay.  His main work for the week was to collect eggs from the local Herring Gull nests.  Six eggs were collected from unique nests on Daring Lake.  The eggs are being sent to Environment Canada in Ottawa for a series of contaminant analyses.  I’m always grateful to be included in the work of the other researchers and northern government officials that visit Daring Lake.  The learning opportunities here are amazing!


Fox Update

Feisty Mr. Fox that I wrote about earlier in June has officially been confirmed to be a father!  Shortly after I wrote my last post, researchers started to see activity near the den as the pups became old enough to venture out for the first time.  I have wandered past the den on a couple of occasions and seen four different pups.  I’m told that there is a fifth pup who seems pretty shy.  If it took us a couple weeks to make acquaintance with the fifth pup, who knows, maybe there is a sixth.


fox 1

Fox pup one.

Fox pup one is the most blond of the group.  It was curious about my presence, but still rather timid.

fox 2

Fox pup two.

Fox pup two seems pretty confident compared to the other pups.  Fox pup one and two get their looks from Mr. Fox.

fox 3

Fox pup three.

Fox pup three is the lighter of the two dark pups.  Fox pup two and three’s appearance is more similar to the mother, who is brown with a black face mask.

fox 4

Fox pup four.

Fox pup four is the darkest of the pups I’ve seen.

I look forward to watching the pups grow up!