Willow Wishes

Even though it is only the middle of July and we have just passed our halfway point – one month on the island – the seasons are starting to turn. Each day it gets a little bit darker at night and now the sun dips below the hills north of Pauline Cove at around 2am. Some of the flowers are dropping their petals such as Dryas integrifolia (or the Arctic Avens) that has even started to produce the twisting filaments of its seeds. And, the Salix richardsonii (or Richard’s Willow) is starting to release its fluffy seed on the wind. If you pick a Salix richardsonii catkin and blow on it, like a dandelion, you can make a wish – a willow wish.

This blog post is devoted to our list of willow wishes for the coming weeks…

The Salix richardsonii flowers releasing their seed on the flood plain.


The twisting of filaments in the phenology plots.

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Our willow wishes:

  1. Please can at least one of our drones start working again. We have had some major mechanical problems and both drones are grounded. We are hoping that Shrubcopter will be airborne again soon though… and a fixed wing, some kites and a new drone are on their way to the island.
  1. Please can the wind stay brisk to keep away the clouds of mosquitoes, so that we are not driven crazy by the incessant droning, biting and itching. The mosquitos are at their peak now. We try to wait for the wind to pick up in the afternoons before going out, so that it isn’t so bad. The last few days the wind has been so brisk that there haven’t been hardly any bugs at all!
The clouds of mosquitoes that are our constant friends on the tundra now.

3. Please can the Muskoxen stop knocking down our phenocams – time lapse cameras pointed at the tundra – so that we can get record of the changing season of the tundra plants. We have repaired the third knock down so far and are anticipating more… but recently the muskox have moved away from our side of the island for a bit.

4. Please can the remainder of our field crew make it out very efficiently to us this week when the two halves of TeamShrub will be reunited after a month or more apart. It has been a long time since we have seen our team shrub friends, and we are very excited to see them again soon! It seems strange to be emailing back and forth with them when they are only an hour flight away in Inuvik!

5. Please can all sorts of really delicious (mamaqtuq in Inuvialutun) fresh fruits and vegetables come out with Team Kluane so that we can feast! We have finished pretty much all of our fresh food and are having the last of the potatoes tonight, so we are very excited that Team Kluane is bringing us exciting delights from Whitehorse and Inuvik for our final month on the island.

6. Jakob wishes he wasn’t after Isla’s cooking in the chores schedule, because Isla makes too many dishes dirty (even though she cooks delicious desserts)! It is going to be a lot more work cooking and cleaning for 9 people instead of 4, but on the other hand our cooking, washing up and lunches days won’t come around quite so often any more.

7. Please when we return to the city, can the pound be worth a normal amount so that we can go to a shop and buy things like normal people. We have occasionally been getting updates on all of the world events going on out there and the Arctic seems like the place to be even if our salary might be half what it once was.

8. Please can Otto the Walrus come back to visit us again! We miss you Otto. It was so awesome to see you for the first time, we want to see you again!

9. Please can we gain magical powers to both ward of mosquitoes and know where and when all the really cool wildlife are near us. Santo and I were passing the time on a hike out to the field discussing the magical power we would most want and we couldn’t decide between these two.

Amazing photo taken by Isla of the recent sighting of beluga whales. If only we had a wildlife 6th sense we would have seen these whales much closer when they were swimming around the point.
The Rough-legged hawk or qilriq, trying to scare away Santo and Isla from its nest.
A semipalmated plover or talutaaq.

While we wait for all those willow wishes to come true, I can update you a bit on the goings on of Qikiqtaruk. Jakob and Andy have been spending a fair bit of time in the “Drone Lab” trying to repair the broken drones. Meanwhile Santo and Isla (sometimes accompanied by Andy) have been heading out into the field to do phenology measurements, taking precision GPS measurements of the ground control markers and taking multispectral measurements from a pole. Those sequoia sensors are really cool, but can be frustrating when you try to power them using a very long USB cable that doesn’t always work.

Santo dGPSing using our Leica sensor from the NERC Geophysical Equipment Facility in Edinburgh. Thanks GEF, the dGPS system is working great! We are in range of the base-station at all of our sites.

Yesterday, we were out at plot 4, working away, when the wind started to build and build – this was great because it meant that the bugs disappeared, but it kept getting windier and windier. We were almost getting blown over it was so windy. On the way back to camp we were throwing sticks into the air and they would come right back to us like a boomerang in the wind!

Boomerangs in the wind.

Then a small storm blew in, bringing some rain, so we stuck to camp and worked on drones, building structure-for-motion models of shrub canopies, and giving a talk on the science that we are up to on the Island to the visiting birders, the rangers, and Yukon Government employees. It was a jolly evening and now the sun is back and a lovely yellow and orange Western Tanager blown in on the wind has joined us at Pauline Cove. Cameron Eckert – parks biologist and ornithologist will be jealous of our yellow bird photos!!!

The Western Tanager – this bird is normally found more than 1000 km south of Qikiqtaruk.

The most recent folks to leave the island were the crew from Heritage – Brent, Gisli and Jerry. Before their departure we had a heritage feast replete with an apple pie. Great work guys on levelling the Trapper’s cabin, lifting up the warehouses and fixing up the door to the ice house! Such an efficient team and so much heritage restored! Congrats to Brent on his 30-year anniversary of working here on the island!

Delicious apple pie.

About a week ago TeamDrone took a day off and got a boat ride out to Slump D – perhaps the second biggest retrogressive thaw slump in the North American Arctic! We saw some pretty cool features like this hole down into the permafrost where a stream was dripping off of the head wall. We saw some caribou running around in the slump too!

The hole, not quite as impressive as the bottomless pit George and I found in 2013, but still quite impressive.
Santo and the mastodon flowers in the basin of slump D.
Slump D and us walking over an ice wedge.
The boat ride with Sam and Paden to Slump D. Thanks guys for the drop off and pick up! We did manage to walk half of each way, but the bugs were pretty bad so it was awesome to have the bugs blown off by the wind of the boat!


Caribou at Slump D.

On the hike back from Slump D we found what might be the new tallest shrub on Qikiqtaruk – Tina. She is growing close to Tina slump and is a Salix alaxensis – the potentially up to 4 m tall willow species that we just discovered on the island last year! Look how tall she is! I haven’t measured yet, because we didn’t have measuring tape with us, but I have her height marked on my walking poll, we shall see if she can beat the height of Bjørn from last year.

Tina the shrub, perhaps the tallest shrub on Qikiqtaruk?

To finish off here are are some pretty flower photos, and a very old plant…

A fossil plant found by Liz the fossil lady on the beach. Is it a conifer or some other kind of plant? We weren’t totally sure.



Can’t wait to be one big TeamShrub again in about a day or so!



3 thoughts on “Willow Wishes

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