26.10.2009 - 18:15

Field work in Hornvik summer 2009

Cliff Hornbjarg when we arrived in early June
Cliff Hornbjarg when we arrived in early June
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As before, we had our base camp in Horn, eastern Hornvik in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, and the key-area was the three walleyes of the cliff as well as the coastline, usually 6 territories and 13-16 den sites. This cliff probably hosts the highest arctic fox density in Iceland, perhaps vider.
Ester (AFC-NAVE) visited the area for one week in June, two weeks in July and five days in August. 

The object of the first week in June was to assist Tobias Mennle, film producer and Frank Drygala, biologist. They were introduced to the area and the fox couples who had territories in Cliff Hornbjarg. They then continued independently and Tobias filmed the life of the foxes, the birds and the landscape of Hornstrandir throughout the summer. 

Tourist effects on denning arctic foxes I:
During this first week, Tanja Geis, a volunteer from The University Centre of Isafjordur (www.hsvest.is), took care of monitoring a fox pair in their territory where a tourist path is passing through. This was the first week ("before season") of three in measuring the tourist effects on the behaviour of denning arctic foxes. A study which we undertake as our part of a co-Nordic project with collaborators from Iceland, Norway, Faroe Islands and Greenland (see: www.thewildnorth.org). This is the second summer of this project which started as a pilot-study in the summer 2008.

In July, Ester came to Hornvik with a French film crew, lead by Marie Helene Baconnet at Ecomedia (see: http://www.myspace.com/mariehelenebaconnet). They got assistance in finding foxes and birds and great landscape for their film about the arctic foxes. 

Tourist effects on denning arctic foxes II:
The second week in July was the "high season" week of monitoring for the tourist effect project. Now we had two volunteers: Danielle Stollak from US and Henry Fletcher from UK.

The last week of monitoring ("after season") took place in August and it was Ester who took that shift.
Tobias continued to film the life of the foxes in Hornstrandir, now the pups had grown and become more alert than before.

The last project was then to assist and guide two Italian photographers in finding foxes and birds and photograph them in the magnificent landscape of Hornvik.

The main events of the summer:
There were at least six adult foxes around the camp in June, all of which were extremely tame in the beginning and all of the blue morph. When we had examined the whole cliff (3 walleyes and the coastline of eastern Hornvik), it turned out that out of 6 territories, one had a non-breeding pair and one was empty (without any inhabitant, never seen that before). The couple we used to monitor the year before turned out to have moved out of the "high quality" den sites from last year, up to 400m in the cliffs above, with their young pups. They remained impossible to monitor since they were so alerted and inaccessible. We chose another breeding pair with a den in the middle of a tourist path, at the edge of the cliff.

We also had two apparently single non-breeding individuals visiting us to the camp. One of which (blue female) became very tame, the other (white male) was more afraid of other foxes than to humans, but stayed afar. Of the others, there was a female (blue morph) who seemed non-breeding in the beginning and she became extremely tame. Her home range was narrow, along the shore and towards the camp, not a "regular" territory. 
This female eventually became the star of the summer, posing for photographers and filmmakers for all the food she could get. In mid July it turned out that she had been hiding 4-5 tiny pups, at least a month younger than other pups in the area. Her mate (blue male who was hanging around in her area) was apparently not the father of these pups, he stole everything she brought home and later on, Tobias witnessed him killing one of her pups. After that the female wasn´t seen for a while and there were no trace of her other pups. In August, when we arrived again after two weeks off, no foxes were seen in the area for the first 2 days. We also heard from people in other areas of Hornstrandir that there were "no foxes around anymore". This was strange.

Then a couple of Italian photographers arrived in August and this could become "a situation" since no foxes were seen - fortunately our tame female friend came running and posed for us, wonder what we would have done without her. At that time, kittiwake chicks were still in cliffs, besides several guillemoths, but seemed to have difficulties and were starving and dying in front of us, some problems with food availability from the sea... bad for the birds but good news for the fast growing young foxes.

Results of the comparison of the arctic fox response to tourists between months and years are not yet ready for publishing.