For many, the first signs of spring are blooming flowers, budding trees, rain showers, and the return of warmer weather. For us in the Arctic it is not much different, except we don’t have trees and our flowers don’t come out until July. So what are our signs of spring? It usually starts with kids playing outside at all hours of the day and people going out camping, hunting, and ice fishing because of the longer daylight and warmer weather. Warmer weather being a relative term as it is -15ºC to -20ºC right now but this feels wonderful and balmy compared to the usual -40ºC winter weather. Another sign is the return of wildlife including caribou (haven’t seen one yet this year), Arctic hare (they are all over the place) and Ptarmigan (saw my first one group of Ptarmigan yesterday after work).
But the true sign that spring has arrived is the return of the a small bird called the Snow Bunting. The Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), sometimes colloquially called a snowflake, is a bird of the high Arctic and snowy winter fields (it has a circumpolar Arctic breeding range through the northern hemisphere). It is an early migrant bird that stays later than any other birds and the arrival of this bird is a sure sign of spring. I heard my first Snow Bunting on March 18th and was awarded with my first sighting a week later. This is the earliest that I have seen the Snow Bunting here in Baker Lake, usually I would start to see them in mid-April – so is that a sign of an early spring! We shall see, but I won’t get too excited yet as we’ve had blizzards here in Baker Lake at the beginning of June (yes, that is right June!) that lasted 2 days. But it is exciting nonetheless as the warmer weather and longer days will bring the return of many other songbirds, wildlife and bugs! -Sophia