As mentioned before in a previous post, when den monitoring or den searching, there is a lot of waiting involved. In a round Icelandic valley, the hanging stillness is tempered only by the sound of water running from the many waterfalls and the chirping of the songbirds. What do you learn while waiting for the arctic fox? Well, patience of course. You learn that it is okay not to rush, that it is actually when you stand still that things will happen. You have time, why not take it?
First, you look a bit around, follow the clear-cut edges of the cliff in the evening light, the majestic flight of the fulmars, observe the fog rolling slowly over into your valley, the rocks covered in moss and lichen or the summer flowers gently rocking in the wind… When waiting gets a bit long and you’re pretty much done contemplating the beauty of nature, then you get a little bit deeper into your heart. You think about all the crossroads of life that made that today you are sitting here waiting for a fox, you think about what your next step might be, you think about that other time and that other place when you felt at home leaning against the heart of someone you love…
And then suddenly, from the mid of the fog or the brilliant blue of the sky pierces the most beautiful sound in the world: the arctic fox’s territorial call. The bark, clear and high-pitched, usually comes as a series. “Akakakakakak… (pause) Akakakakak… (pause)” The sound helps you locate the fox with your binoculars. There it is! You learn to hone your observation skills to tell each individual apart, which I’ve never really done before since I am so used to relying on coloured ear tags.
Is it a blue morph or a white one? A male, a female? Have I seen it before or is it a new one? You have to pay attention to the patches of winter fur, the shape of the face, the color of the eyes, the gait… Unlike its Canadian counterpart, the Icelandic arctic fox is a tricky one, it keeps you guessing, it’s like you never really know what it is up to. Maybe I need a little bit more time to get to know it better. But time is also a tricky thing, you have time but you also don’t. Tomorrow, I am leaving the Westfjords. Will I ever come back to this place? You never know… I think it is the moment for me to apply what I learned in the field: shut up and be patient.
Many of the past arctic fox volunteers say that coming to Hornstrandir was a life-changing experience. It is not my first time ‘fieldworking’ in the tundra, but to me, the Icelandic experience had that raw feeling of a gem in hiding, so authentic and so unique.
No near-death stories this year, as all the volunteers of the June fox pack were experienced and the weather was kind to us. But be prepared and keep your eyes opened, because anything can happen: a ghost sending Skyr into the sea, meadow pipits growing bigger in the fog (“they were like THIS BIG”), scent-marking behind two guys from the BBC Natural World…
Come and join us ! You’ll see for yourself 🙂