Entry Five: Flora and Fauna

 

Flora and Fauna

Greenland is a harsh environment and as a result the Arctic vegetation is typically stunted. Dwarf willows and birch, none more than a couple of inches in height grew around the camp, interspersed with Arctic White Heather and a range of flowers, including Moss Campion, Harebells, Wintergreens, Dandelions, Arctic Poppies, Alpine Cinquefoil, Roseroot and Arctic Daisies. Perhaps the most striking is the national flower of Greenland a willow-herb known as niviarsiaqwhich means “young maidens” (though its proper Latin name is Chamaenerion latifolium). The damp tundra also supports a wealth of mosses, fungi and lichens, that add yet more color to the landscape during the short Arctic summer. As for animals, the huts near our campsite testify to this area having good hunting, and the area is renowned for seals, Walruses, Narwhales, bears and Musk Ox. We were fortunate not to see any bears, since a Polar Bear in this area during the summer would be stranded away from the pack ice and its natural food (seals), and, would as such, potentially become a threat to humans. It was because of this very real threat that Dave Sunderlin and I had to take a rifle safety course before we left for Greenland, as neither of us had handled a gun before. Firearms may only be brought into Greenland with an official permit and we would all have preferred to not need one. Although we saw no bears, Jameson Land was far from devoid of animals. Lemmings were ever present in the campsite and on rainy days would be found sheltering in the vestibules of the tents. Musk Ox appeared close to our camp at Kap Stewart on several occasions, and these animals, which are more closely related to goats than oxen, showed their agility by climbing the steep escarpments of the area with astounding speed. Occasionally, seals showed their lack of fear and came in close to the shore to inspect our group as we worked the coastal exposures. The only other animal that crossed our path was a small blue-gray Arctic Fox that escaped at speed after it was spotted by a husky from the Constable Pynt airfield. The fact that we never saw these animals around our Kap Stewart campsite probably testifies more to our hunger, and the lack of food leftovers than to their absence in the region. Birds were more abundant in the area, and we always woke up to Snow Buntings and Ringed Plovers around the camp. While out to sea, Eider Ducks were a common site bobbing or flying among the icebergs. Over our stay we were visited by other birds such as Arctic Tern, Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger), Raven, Dunlin, Glaucous Gull, Gyrfalcon, Sanderling, Sandpiper and a Rock Ptarmigan with her chicks. We did not see the geese we were expecting (they are very common in Jameson Land), as they had moved west in huge numbers into the more fertile valleys by the time of our arrival.

 

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