We had just spent several days in the vicinity of Resolution Island – the largest of several islands just south of Baffin Island and Frobisher Bay. Frobisher Bay is renowned for its high tides – rivalling (some would even claim surpassing) those of the Bay of Funday. This massive flow of water has to move into the Bay and out again at just over 6-hour intervals. I witnessed its flow when we steamed through Annapolis Strait – a large channel between Baffin Island’s SW Meta Incognita Peninsula and Lower Savage Island. It was like watching a huge river – like Ontario’s Moose River – in flood. The surface was alive, with wind, blowing against the flow, pushing up waves and upwellings, caused by the current deep down running over a rise and being pushed to the top. The captain told me that, at times, the tide runs at up to 5 knots!
This water turbulence is rich in plankton and, because of this, draws a throng of predators right up the food chain: small fish, larger fish, seabirds, seals. I saw hordes of Northern Fulmars, Dovekies (in the middle of their southward migration from Greenland), Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Thick-billed Murres in this area as well as seals.
But, interestingly, the area (Frobisher Bay south along the east side of Resolution Island) seemed to be the boundary between rich feeding grounds and poor ones – at least at this time of year. On the 8th we began to steam West through Hudson Strait to eventually rendezvous with a cargo ship that would be approaching Victoria Island and would need help getting through the ice in that area (there is none here yet – except for the odd isolated berg). As we moved West through Hudson Strait, leaving Resolution Island behind, bird numbers began to dwindle and then plummet. Fulmars, which had been very difficult to count somewhat accurately because there were so many, were widely spaced and then nearly disappeared. Counting became very boring indeed.
But then, as we were steaming by Salisbury Island, I caught sight of a large white bird winging its way directly at the ship from the island, right at the height of the bridge. And it just kept coming….at the last moment, within 10 feet of the wheelhouse (and my wondering face), it veered to the left and floated by the front of the bridge, right at viewing height. It was a white phase Gyrfalcon! What a marvellous bird!! As it drifted by, just a little way in front of me, it seemed to catch sight of me and its predator eyes caught mine….and it stared into my soul. It circled the bridge twice before winging its way back toward Salisbury Island. I think that earlier in the year when ships move through the area they attract a retinue of followers – gulls and fulmars. This bird was big (likely a female) and could take a fulmar and, certainly, a kittiwake. I’m not sure about the larger gulls, especially Glaucous Gulls. This time it was disappointed as we brought no followers. The neat thing about it was that, for me, it was a “lifer” – the first time I’d ever seen one.
Late in the afternoon, when we were just making the turn north from Hudson Strait into the Foxe Channel, I noticed another white bird flapping and gliding its way from the direction of Southampton Island in the west and heading toward Foxe Peninsula. It was large but had a very unusual “jizz” for a Glaucous Gull which is the only thing that sprang to mind. But as it got closer and I could see its flat face and heavy spotting, I recognized it as a female Snowy Owl! Wow! I’m aware that they can (and will) make long distance water crossings but this bird had to have travelled a minimum of 77 Nautical miles to have reached the ship from Southampton Island and still had another 16 to go.
So….one slow day….and two terrific birds.