A quick glance across the landscape on Qikiqtaruk reveals many beautiful views – hills that are getting greener and greener every day, calm waters reflecting golden rays of light and sea ice flowing in front of the distant silhouette of the British Mountains.
Beauty here, however, stretches beyond what the eyes can see. In fact, if you close your eyes and imagine you are with us, the soundscape of Qikiqtaruk is as magical as the landscape!
A diversity of bird songs. First, crane calls. We often hear the cranes before we’ve seen them – there are a few pairs on the island and it’s always a joy to know they are nearby! Then there are the waders – semipalmated plovers and sandpipers dashing across the mud spits and occasionally warning us with their alarm calls that we are close to their nests. The call of a Wilson’s snipe, a unique melody coming from the air passing through their tail feathers whilst in flight, is the usual soundtrack to our walk up to the field sites. We have also heard red-throated loons, but have yet to see them!
Winds of various speeds. From a gentle breeze rattling the seed pods of last year’s grass spikes to strong bursts of air blasting through camp and shaking the window shutters, listening out for the wind is often our first indication of what the weather is like outside.
Arctic bumblebees. Among all the new sounds for us here, one stood out with its familiarity. Could it be, we thought, a bumblebee? A bumblebee it was indeed (Bombus polaris), and the biggest bumbleebee I’ve ever seen nonetheless! As they hurry from flower to flower, their jolly buzzing merges with bird songs, reminding us that soon summer will be in full swing.
Silence. Finally, the quietness. All the sounds here are so much more distinct because usually it is so quiet – even a gentle wing flap by the nearby pair of tundra swans resonates through the air. We have all enjoyed taking quiet walks after a day of fieldwork – a time to look, listen and take it all in. Even after just a few days on the island, we can all feel the landscape change – we can see it, we can hear it, and thanks to all the data we’re collecting, we can study it, too!