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A Tundra Tale

On the first day we photographed the #muskox on my photography tour in #nunavik last year, we enjoyed watching a large herd (which we later believed to be 2-3 smaller herds that had grouped together) as they roamed across the tundra. It seemed one dominant bull was rounding up the youngsters and females, and sending them on their way to a high spot for an afternoon rest. We watched them become dark dots in the distance and, before moving along ourselves, decided we had the perfect spot to stop for lunch.


We’d been set up behind two large boulders, which not only acted as a protective barrier, of sorts, but also a perfect platform to rest our elbows to help steady our cameras. I decided to go out in front of the boulders and take advantage of a smaller rock to prop my back on as I unfolded my lunch on my lap.


I was facing the direction the muskoxen were headed, so it wasn’t long before I noticed the dominant bull wasn’t disappearing in the distance as the others had. It was hanging back… and then turned our way as if something had caught his attention. Hmm…. I thought. I took a quick inventory of what and who was around. The rest of my group was either sitting similarly at a rock behind me, or around the boulders to my left, so I became acutely aware I was first in line, so to speak.


I put down my wrap and was immensely thankful that while I’d left my bag behind the boulder, my camera was at my side. You can imagine the banter our group was enjoying as we watched this large bull head our way. Except for lifting our cameras to our eyes, we were all frozen in place, excited to capture the details of this magnificent being.


With one ear, I was listing for signals from our guide, in whom I had every faith would keep us safe. I was certain this bull had simply heard I make a mean wrap and wanted to find out for himself. But, thankfully, he stopped short of us and just stood and stared us.


A mature male muskox stands on the tundra in Nunavik, Quebec.
The dominant bull muskox assesses the group. Taken at 500mm and cropped.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of a wild animal seeing you… not simply glancing your way, but seemingly taking the time to observe you to ascertain whether you’re a threat to his herd. And not yet knowing his species well, I hoped that keeping still and silent is truly the universal symbol that we’ve come in peace.


The whole scene played out in a mere minute, but at the time, as my adrenaline caused the sound of my blood to boom in my ears and my arms to shake, it felt much longer.


As the bull moved on, the group was giddy. Our legs that had been aching to “hurry up and find these muskoxen” were refreshed and ready to trail them to their resting spot, where we hung back, observed some really interesting interactions between herd members, and I think I can safely say we captured some of the adventure’s best images.


If you love nature photography and hiking, and want to check this bucket-list animal off your list, join me in Nunavik this September for a week-long adventure at a remote fly-in wilderness camp!


Learn more & register today at www.helengrose.ca/nunavik


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