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Canada: High Arctic Ice Floe

Search for one of the most bizarre animals on Earth, the Narwhal, from the High Arctic floe edge in the land of the midnight sun! Good chances for Polar Bear, Beluga, Walrus, and hopefully Bowhead Whale to boot. All during day expeditions from our basecamp, heading out onto the ice in snowmobiles with local Inuit guides. While birdlife is scarce, we have good chances to see Ivory Gull, along with King Eider, Gyrfalcon, Little Auk, and Thick-billed Murre. We are planning this trip specifically in the best week of the narrow spring window when Narwhals and other cetaceans migrate through the region, briefly staging along the edge before continuing on their way into the inaccessible ice fields.

Next Dates

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Price: $

TBD

Leaders:

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Single Room Supplement: $

TBD

Group Size Limit:

10

Deposit: $

TBD

Tadoussac Extension

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Price: $

TBD

Leaders:

Add a Title

Single Room Supplement: $

TBD

Group Size Limit:

7

Deposit: $

TBD

This tour cost includes the extra hotel nights required in Ottawa and return domestic flights from Ottawa to Arctic Bay. Some information online might suggest that June or even July is a better month to visit the region, but these days the ice has usually melted too much for successful wildlife expeditions later in the season. We want to stress that our dates are optimal, and have been chosen very carefully with all factors considered.

Accommodation:

A warmed tent/yurt camp (with shared bathrooms) near the floe edge. Temperatures at this time of year usually hover around 0°C but tents are equipped with propane heaters and proper “cot-style” beds with bedding to keep us comfortable. The basecamp has generators for charging and a heated dining tent.

Walking difficulty:

This is an easy tour with limited walking on the ice, since a lot of our time will involve scanning.

Tour cost includes:

All accommodation, main meals, drinking water, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, tips to local drivers and guides, travel permits, entrance fees, and guide fees.

Tour cost excludes:

Flights before and after the tour start/end, visa, travel insurance, tips to tour leaders, laundry, drinks, and other items of a personal nature.

Dates may need to be shifted by up to 36h to match the flight schedules released closer to the date. Please do not book international flights until you receive the confirmed start/end details from us.


Day 1: Arrivals into Ottawa (YOW) before lunch. Flights to the Arctic are subject to short-notice changes, so this early arrival is required. We will go out for some local birding in the afternoon, looking for Canadian classics like Hooded Merganser, Ruffled Grouse, Cedar Waxwing, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.


Day 2: Taking a flight north to Arctic Bay (included in the tour cost), we will be welcomed by our local Inuit guides and stay overnight in the town. In the land of the midnight sun, we will still need to make sure we diligently go to bed at appropriate times so as not to become exhausted!


Day 3: Travelling for about four hours by skidoo (a snowmobile-pulled sledge that can transport bags and people), we’ll head straight for the temporary basecamp set up near the ice edge. We’ll quickly install ourselves and get started right away, scouring the ice for wildlife of the north. Our local Inuit guides all are born and raised here, so are very familiar with navigating the ice to find open water and animals.


Day 4-5-6-7-8: Five full days at the floe edge at basecamp. During these days, we will spend a lot of time scanning the waters and trying to connect with our main target: Narwhal. These fantastic animals travel through the region during this time of year and can often be encountered at very close range, given that they hunt underneath the ice! Chances for Beluga and Walrus are similarly very good, while Bowhead Whale sightings are a little less regular. Every day, we make a small commute from camp to various sites along the edge, just to make sure we have a good spread and can scan the ice as well for one of our other targets: Polar Bear. These are not easy to find, but consistently scanning the ice and the edge does pay off, with most groups seeing multiple individuals during their stay. More common are the cute Ringed Seal, strange Bearded Seal, and Arctic Fox (some of which will hopefully still be white). All up, some really exceptional wildlife watching!


Bird diversity during this tour is of course low, however, we do plan on visiting a seabird colony consisting mostly of Black-legged Kittiwake, which attracts other breeders such as Little Auk and Thick-billed Murre. The highest prize here is the chance for Ivory Gull in beautiful breeding plumage, with adults sometimes visiting the colony but unfortunately not nesting and thus not guaranteed. We do plan on spending time chasing any white gulls flying past on our general day activities, and if any cold northerly weather system hits us, there is even a small chance of finding Ross’s Gull. Other birds in the area include King and Common Eiders, Black Guillemot, Northern Fulmar, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, Long-tailed Jaeger, and Snow Bunting. Our tour is set in the best week of the year for Narwhal, so we’re a little early for Pacific and Yellow-billed Loons, but it is definitely still possible to have sightings of these too.


Day 9: We’ll bid farewell to the floe edge after a final morning session, commencing the skidoo ride back to Arctic Bay for overnight in a comfortable hotel. A little birding around town in the evening will hopefully allow us to find Rock Ptarmigan and a handful of other species.


Day 10: Flight back to Ottawa (included in the tour cost) for overnight.


Day 11: The tour officially ends this morning, and those on the extension drive to St Lawrence. For anyone wishing to fly out immediately, we suggest booking flexible tickets with your international airline so as to avoid problems if we get stuck in Arctic Bay for a day or two. Participants joining the extension will not have to worry, since any delay will just reduce our birding time a little bit without any influence on your later departure date.



TADOUSSAC EXTENSION


Day 1: Following our overnight back in Ottawa, this morning we drive east in the direction of Tadoussac. We will have a few stops along the way, enjoying some of the boreal birds this part of the world has to offer, including many returned neotropical migrants. In the evening, we'll attempt to see Beluga from shore upon arrival in Tadoussac.


Day 2: After some early morning birding in the famous dunes of Tadoussac, known for hosting many tropical warblers on their northbound migration, we board a zodiac to get close-up views of Beluga. We have chances for other cetaceans including Humpback and even Blue Whale, although it's a bit early for the latter. In the afternoon, we'll head out to a sheltered cove to get close looks at Black Bear, which is easy to see in this area. 


Day 3: We will spend the morning in the boreal forest near Tadoussac aiming for a number of boreal breeding birds including Spruce Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Pine Grosbeak and many boreal warblers including Blackpoll, Bay-breasted, Magnolia, and Chestnut-sided Warblers while on the lookout for mammals such as Groundhog and Snowshoe Hare, for which we have a good chance. In the afternoon, we'll have our first attempt to hear and see Bicknell's Thrush, which occurs nearby in a few isolated pockets. 


Day 4: In the early morning we'll have another attempt to hear and see Bicknell's Thrush. The extension ends this afternoon. Flights can be taken from Quebec City (YQB), or participants can be dropped back at Ottawa for late night flights (YOW). 

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