Visiting the Arctic – Mammals

While in and around Utqiagvik, Alaska, I did not see many mammals. I was hoping to see my first Polar Bear, in the wild, but that did not materialize. They are pretty uncommon during the summer. But since bears have a way of appearing unexpectedly, our group of photographers did watch the surroundings to avoid unpleasant surprises.

While scanning the sea ice for life, I did spot some seals but only at a distance.

Caribou were absent too; well live ones anyway. They migrate south and east during the summer.

Lemmings make up a staple diet for the Snowy Owls. Unfortunately, I only had about a 2 – 3 second glimpse of one before it disappeared in its burrow.

The only other mammal species seen was the Arctic Fox. The first individual had a damaged eye. The second kept its distance from our group. And my third sighting was absolutely thrilling.

The Arctic Fox vixen chose a den site underneath a building that had very limited access to the public due to water over the road. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/500. ©Stanley Buman.

Driving one of the short roads outside of town, I met another vehicle with its window down. So, I stopped to talk to the 3 gentlemen in the car. They were kind enough to inform me of the whereabouts of a fox den.

The road was not in the best condition. Water covered it in at least 5 – 6 places. I was able to drive through approximately four pools. But the next pool was considerably bigger, about 3 feet deep, and had a soft bottom. I parked, waded it plus several other smaller pools, and walked the 1.8 miles down the road to a set of buildings. I immediately saw the Arctic Fox vixen laying out on the sunny side of the building, taking a nap. She definitely knew I was in the vicinity but showed no fear. Sitting down on a large wooden beam, I waited to see what would happen. After about 15 minutes, the kits came out from underneath the building and nursed.

The Arctic Fox kits explored the territory around their den site. This one was curious about me. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 800, f/7.1, 1/1250. ©Stanley Buman.

Being well fed and rested, the action soon began. They were a little wary of my presence at first but that soon wore off. Then the kits acted like you would expect; running, chasing, jumping, sparring, exploring, and pestering the vixen.

The Arctic Fox kits do a lot of sparring with one another which helps determine the pecking order of the litter. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 640, f/8, 1/640. ©Stanley Buman.

The kits started wearing down about 1 ½ hours after my arrival. I slowly packed up my gear and started my walk down the road. It was thrilling to me that the kits did not run for cover when I departed. It was the BEST afternoon of the whole trip. Of course, it was on the only afternoon that I wasn’t sleeping.

6 thoughts on “Visiting the Arctic – Mammals”

  1. What a day for you Stan! Sounds like a great trip..and I hope you have gotten some sleep since returning home.

    1. Sue, it is good to hear from you. It took about 5 days to get back to a normal sleeping pattern and catch up on missed sleep. But it was well worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat. The land of the midnight sun was incredible from a bird photography standpoint. And the fox kits were a huge bonus.

  2. Hi Mr Stan,
    Now, did I read it right these Kits were from a zoo, in the area?
    Now you know, that I really had trouble reading your success.
    Your efforts were well worth the images you recorded.

  3. Carol Gronstal

    Wonderful photos and narrative. That must have been a thrill! Why did you sleep in the afternoons? Taking photos at night?

    1. Thanks Carol. With 24 hours of daylight and the low sun angle at night, the nighttime was the best time for photography. We usually photographed from 7:30 p.m. – 4:00 a.m. and then again from 7:30 a.m.- 11:00 a.m. So the bulk of my sleep was in the afternoon hours.

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