Den monitoring in Hlöðuvík

Still full of the time spent in Hornvik, Camille and I reach the beach filled with white drift wood of Hlöðuvík and wave goodbye to the fox pack. They are going back to Súðavík and Ísafjörður after the end of the June monitoring and we will be staying in Hlöðuvík with Ester and Jónas to check on the dens in that area. As we set up the camp, a fox comes to us with eyes full of expectation. He’s a blue morph with patches of tawny winter fur still hanging on his back and tail. He looks like a badly shaved poodle. ‘New people? What are they doing? Will they leave some food for me?’ We silently cry out a little bit since both of our cameras are out of batteries, but the sight of him wandering around us is so exciting that we soon just rejoice of his visit.

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In Hlöðuvík, we are camping right next to the beach, it is the sound of waves that takes me to sleep at night. To me, it is the familiar sound of home, since I grew up in a house by the sea.

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The next day, we explore the valley behind the camp site and meet its foxes. But no luck with finding the natal den. On the second day, we hike up a ‘troll bum-seat’ (a small round valley that looks like it was made when a troll sat on a mountain) and cross over to the next valley. It is an amazing sunny day, with just a little bit of wind coming from the sea. The first den is a rocky den with no sign of activity. The second den is a real flower palace, hidden in a small green hill covered with a field of yellow and purple flowers. It has cubs, but they would not come out. We sit among the flowers and wait for the adults to come. Den monitoring is really some kind of waiting game. You just sit and wait in silence for something to happen, and it can last for HOURS. It is a very hot day, foxes are less active in that kind of weather… Camille stays on watch for that den and the rest of us move on.

The waiting game
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The third den is on a cliff’s edge. One cub jumps out of a hole. Startled not to find his mom, he quickly jumps back into the den. And it’s the waiting game again. My bottom cradled in the dry tundra, with the sun still out and warm, the view of the whole fjord, the cries of the seabirds and the glistening sea, it is quite the place to be. It’s a family of four, but the adults would not show up. We have to continue. We climb up the sharp cliff’s edge and while we move away, we see a blue male slowly making its way back to its den along the ridge. Of course, he was checking on us and waited until we left to go back home. His black silhouette against the pale blue afternoon sky is just like the fox shape on the Arctic Fox Center’s road sign. “I always see them like that in my mind”, says Ester. Beautiful… He barks as he reaches the top of the crest over his den before making its way down.

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The last den is high up and close to a steep bird cliff. It is also occupied. As we play the waiting game at the very edge, we hear the heavy flight of the guillemots passing behind us like missiles. When we finally see the cubs, they are five and super tiny. I see a little head popping out of the lush vegetation, with blue eyes blinking as if not yet used to the sunlight. The female of this den is also a blue one.

Mission accomplished! We hike back to Camille, who managed to see the whole family of the Flower Palace. As we head back to camp, the golden light of the midnight sun is reflecting in the vast ocean. Another stunning sight… We left the camp at 10:00 am and we are back at 11:30 pm. We have dinner while looking at the sun slowly tracing its way low on the horizon. What a day… ‘Takk fyrir dag !’ It means “Thank you for the day” in Icelandic.

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We spend the last two days den searching and trying to figure out the fox territories in the other half of the fjord. Finding a den can be a tedious task, sometimes we systematically searched whole sides of valleys. We will not be able to find all litters, but at least we located the active areas. Ester will return later in the season to check again. For us, it is already time to leave. The evening before we leave Hlöðuvík, we play again another round of “What was the best, what was the worst and what did you learn here”. I’ll keep our answers a secret as not to spoil the experience, but it is a good game. The bonus question, “What makes you happy in life”, is still resounding softly in my heart. The past few days have truly been a gift. We feel blessed to have been able to see a glimpse of the Icelandic wilderness, a heartfelt memory that we will surely never forget. ‘Takk fyrir dag !’

Sandra Lai

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