Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 82: Last sampling day

Today was the last lake sampling day, the summer is coming to an end. Figuratively for me, days counting down, but also literally as autumn begins to take over the tundra. The dryas leaves are starting to change to yellow. The berries are all ripe, mostly eaten. The weather is cooling back down to the single digits. The rain has come back with a cold wind but warm sun. Summer is ending and fall is coming to the tundra.

And yet this last sampling day is still full of surprises as Twin Lakes Road always seems to be. Remember the last few times down Twin Lakes Road? The caribou, the two fox, the Wolf!! Today's surprise was a little different...

Giant polar bear poop! With Carley's hands for perspective.
We found polar bear poop! It really is more exciting than it seems at first. Poop has so many treasures in it for a wildlife biologist - learn about diet, parasites, general health of the animal... So, that's what we looked at! First thing to notice is the size. This is a huge bear poop! Huge! Second thing to notice is that it is full of berries. And mostly undigested berries. I didn't know that polar bears eat berries. I always thought that polar bears were mostly carnivorous. I know that they are opportunistic eaters, from the eaten seats off of the quads and snow mobiles, in fact any oil product left outside is potential food. I thought that was a reflection of their typical diet of seals, so seal oil and blubber and fat are all things that are polar bear food. Other bears eat berries, I've seen black bears eat them. But I never thought that polar bears did. And it doesn't seem like the polar bears get much nutrients from eating them either. So why do they?

The second surprise of the last sampling was also polar bear related. The third last pond that we sample was on the coast. As we were approaching the lake, a mother bear was striding along the opposite coast with a cub in tow. They were far enough to finish our sampling, but close enough to not stick around. But the cub was adorable. It was tiny! Probably only a year old. It was amazing! A bit scary, but safely distant.

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