Arctic Fox

Arctic Fox, Photo by E.J. Peiker

Arctic Fox, Photo by E.J. Peiker

Thank you to E.J. Peiker for giving permission to use his beautiful photo of an arctic fox.

In November, after returning from an evening tour of the tundra on a Great Bear polar rover, my tour group headed to the back of the Churchill community complex to observe the Northern Lights over the shore of Hudson Bay.  We watched a gentle band of green light form an arc across the sky from east to west.  As the Aurora curtained faintly, we caught a glimpse of movement from the south side of the shoreline.  A red fox trotted over and then sat nearby, observing us for a few moments before heading off again.

Red Fox Visitor (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

Red Fox Visitor (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

While appreciating this close encounter, I looked at the star-lit sky and saw a red-orange light brightening along the Northeast horizon.  It was around 9:30 pm.  A discussion ensued about where the light was coming from, before we all realized that it was the moon rising!  We were blessed with another beautiful moment to savour.

Moonrise, Hudson Bay (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

Moonrise, Hudson Bay (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

As if it couldn’t possibly get any better, we spotted more movement along the Southeast shore.  An animal was coming towards us.  It was an arctic fox!  The fox appeared to glide up and over the rocks in a zigzag pattern.  He paused on the high points of the rocky shore to survey the landscape before continuing his route in a hurried fashion.  With short legs moving rapidly, the fox jumped up on a nearby wooden bench to once again survey his surroundings – this time, just metres away from our group.  Seconds later, he pounced onto to the snowy ground, and trotted off to the north edge of the parking lot, waving goodbye with his incredibly bushy, white tail.  Amazing!

Arctic Fox Tracks (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

Arctic Fox Tracks (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

These tracks measured 4cm in width x 4.5 cm in length.  They are very round, like a cat’s prints.  The fresh tracks did not reveal much detail, likely because of how furry the fox’s feet are.  The two tracks on the right show that the fox was trotting across the landscape.  The far left track may be from when he/she jumped down from the wooden bench that was facing the shore.

Shore of Hudson Bay (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

Shore of Hudson Bay (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

The previous photo shows what the rocky shore of Hudson Bay looks like during the day. The arctic fox was able to manoeuvre him/herself easily over and around rocks like these at night.

Fox Scat (Churchill, Manitoba, November, 2014)

Arctic Fox Scat? (Churchill, Manitoba, November, 2014)

Arctic foxes eat eggs, young birds, and small rodents like voles and lemmings. They also eat ringed seal pups and carrion.  This fox scat was deposited beside the sign welcoming people to the Churchill Wildlife Management area.  The scat measured approximately 4 cm in length and 1.75 cm in width.  One end was tapered and the other end was rounded.  It reminded me of a cat’s scat.

Fox Skins (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

Fox Pelts (Churchill, Manitoba, November 2014)

On our last day in Churchill, we visited the visitor centre located in the train station.  Can you identify these four fox pelts?

Furthest to the left: Arctic Fox, Cross Fox, Silver Fox and Red Fox.  All foxes in this group have a white-tipped tail.

Cross Fox, Photo by Ann Schletz (Churchill, Manitoba, November, 2014)

Cross Fox, Photo by Ann Schletz (Churchill, Manitoba, November, 2014)

This Cross Fox was cleverly using the dark machinery to hide his whereabouts.  Fantastic camouflage!

We learned that as a result of climate change, the slightly larger red foxes have moved northward and are competing with arctic foxes for food and space. Arctic foxes are similar in size to a large, fluffy housecat.  Their scientific name Alopex lagopus means “hare-footed fox”.

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