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Arctic diary: Tracking wolves
Professional explorer Jim McNeill travelled to Ellesmere Island with a BBC Natural History Unit crew to capture the elusive Arctic wolf on camera.

The Arctic wolf lives in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland; only rarely does it interact with humans.

Mr McNeill has been writing a diary of his experiences on the expedition for the BBC News.

FRIDAY 23 AUGUST - SIGNING OFF

Although this Arctic adventure has been fairly static in mileage terms compared to my normal expeditions, it has been a really tremendous journey for me and has been both extensive and wide reaching in personal terms.

A wolf nicknamed Lucy (Image: Jim McNeill)
Jim found it hard to say farewell to one particular wolf, nicknamed Lucy

I've really enjoyed the camaraderie, friendship and company of the production crew and have fortified my huge admiration for a team of people that will remain very special in my thoughts for years to come.

Their dedication, tenacity and downright endurance in capturing and portraying the incredible wonders of our wildlife are facets that any of my trainee expedition members would learn heaps from.

I can't wait to see the final programme, which is part of the new series of Natural World; scheduled to be aired on BBC 2 in the new year.

I've also journeyed in so many other ways too. From the emotional ups and downs of a gravely ill mother, for whom I nearly had to depart from this project, to the in-depth knowledge I've gathered from my team of wildlife experts.

I have also wrestled with what style of book to write and how should that book be (I'm still not sure); finally, the incredible journey of discovering what an Arctic summer is like in all its glory.

Goodbye to Lucy

As for the wolves, the subject of our expedition, my experience has been nothing less than magical.

Luckily I came here with an open mind because, like so many others, I was brought up on the fears and fables of wicked wolves, such as the ones in Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs.

Having encountered real wild wolves many times during my winter expeditions I have built up a huge amount of respect based on their obviously complex behaviour and their tolerance of such adverse conditions.

This respect has been enhanced on this trip, especially by a bonding with one particular wolf - Lucy.

Jim McNeill
Live life to the full, you won't regret it

I met her in the first few days of being here and spent an hour-and-a-half alone with her on my penultimate day; it was as if she had come to say goodbye.

My overall thought, as I sit finishing this report, is how incredibly privileged I feel to have experienced such a wonderful summer and if I have any words of wisdom they are these.

All too easily, we consider ourselves bound by our daily activities and often trivial commitments.

Take a look at these boundaries and if you feel the need to experience life beyond them then prepare yourself carefully and when you feel the time is right, go beyond that comfort zone and extend the realm of your experience.

I feel as though I represent the embodiment of a normal person, but many years ago decided not to be bound by "normal".

Since then I've come to learn that almost everyone has more under their bonnet than they believe and that many dreams and aspirations are truly achievable. Live life to the full, you won't regret it.

Before I sign off for the final time, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the enormous help given to me by the crew: Charlotte Godfrey; Jonny Keeling; Mark Smith; "H" (Harry Hoskyns-Abrahall); Mike Dilger; Ian McCarthy; and of course the bosses, Fergus Beeley and Tim Martin.

Finally, my family - Lori, Mac, Kirsty and Helen - who constantly and loyally put up with my absence, and the Walker family for hosting a fantastic surprise return party!

THURSDAY 26 JULY - ANOTHER WOLF ENCOUNTER

Just as we were giving up on the wolves, they turned up again.

It was 0300 and Mark and "H" were off filming the snowy owls feeding their young with freshly hunted lemming - or at least trying to. Despite the fact that Mark had spent nine hours in the hide, he'd only seen the male come back twice with food for the chicks.

I was looking after camp as usual and a good job too!

I was sat in the tent, deeply into this book about sailing around the world, when a noise pulled me back into the land of the living.

I looked back towards the entrance of the tent, and who was there but Lucy. She'd come back to see me after all this time.

THE ARCTIC'S WHITE WOLF
Arctic wolf (BBC)
The Arctic wolf is actually a subspecies of the grey wolf
In comparison it has a shorter stature but a bulkier build
Scientific name for the Arctic wolf is Canis lupus arctos
It ranges across the Canadian Arctic and north Greenland
Packs will prey on caribou, musk oxen, hares, lemmings

I quickly grabbed my camera, altered the lens and got out the other side of the tent to see that she and two companions were nosing about in the trailer.

They all started to run off, despite my gentle greetings, but it wasn't long before Lucy returned and we managed to spend the next hour-and-a-half in each others' company.

It was really magical, just what I needed to inspire me again. It had been so long since we last saw them that we'd almost given up.

At 0430, Mark and "H" turned up from the hide, and having passed the wolf den on the way back, knew they were around again.

Mark, as ever, immediately got the camera into action and was capturing bits and pieces of behaviour.

By 0600 the wolves had all gone back to the den for a sleep, so we took our chance to sleep as well.

Rising at 1400 turned out to be perfect timing.

Having had breakfast, washed down with some tea, the wolves were on the move again. They passed our camp and headed westward, with Mark and "H" following.

WEDNESDAY 25 JULY - TRUE IDENTITY

Entering our final 10 days, we took stock of what material we had filmed and what we needed to capture, which we would concentrate on in the last few days.

Our hide, dubbed the "sweat box", was moved from near Sally the snowy owl up to the fox den where Mark and producer "H" were concentrating their efforts.

Jim McNeill  Image: Jim McNeill
Jim took the ATV for a spin down by the beach
There had been little sign of the wolves except for three young ones who came back to the den to rest and play for about 24 hours before disappearing. We're all hoping to see them again before we leave.

The whole of River Three was covered with chicks - ruddy turnstone, sandpipers, jaegers and snow bunting - all being protected by their parents as they wandered around the riverbeds.

It's amazing what pluck some of the parents have. I was driving the All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) down to the beach on a test run, having fixed the vehicle, and to my astonishment this ruddy turnstone leapt out in front of me apparently pretending to have a hurt wing.

I slammed on the brakes coming to a halt less than one metre from the bird and saw that she'd been protecting her young chicks a couple of metres further on. Lovely to see!

Filming  Image: Jim McNeill
The programme will now have to focus less on the wolves
In my previous entry, I promised to reveal the real identity of "H". He is, in fact, Harry Hoskyns-Abrahall, who has just turned 32 years old. We celebrated by cooking him real pancakes.

He is a seriously all-round good egg, as far as I am concerned. Dashingly handsome, six feet and five inches tall, a thick head of dark hair, complete with square jaw, kind blue eyes and good teeth - if he was a horse I'd buy him.

Harry's a really nice guy and a knowledgeable and truly dedicated wildlife enthusiast. Fergus - the boss in Bristol, you may remember - refers to him as his "feral friend".

"H" is the one who sits for hours on end, some way away from the hide, advising Mark about what's happening around him so Mark can capture the event on video.

TUESDAY 24 JULY - A DAY IN THE LIFE

I was trying to imagine a job description that went something like this:

We would like you to erect a dark cloth tent approximately 1.5m in length, breadth and height in an exposed, windy and cold position; crawl into it with a very big tripod, a large camera with enormous lens, a tiny stool, some lunch, dinner and breakfast; a couple of thermos flasks; some warm clothing (hats, gloves, down jacket, etc.) and a good book.

Tent   Image: Jim McNeill
Filming wildlife requires plenty of patience
We would then like you to stay there, awake and alert, for the next 11-and-a-half hours to film something that may or may not occur. Do not let on that you are in there, act covertly, and do not come out until you are helped out by someone else.

This is precisely what Mark Smith, our cameraman, did to film Sally the snowy owl and her first few chicks feeding.

With the nest about 25m away, Mark couldn't make the slightest noise in case it would frighten Sally away or she'd look at the camera. Such dedication, patience and downright personal suffering continue to amaze me.

When I went to collect Mark on the ATV at 0600, he insisted on walking the 3km back to camp "to try to get my head back together", he said. I could fully understand what he meant.

As a person that puts up with a fair amount of suffering myself, on my solo polar expeditions in particular, you can imagine we have quite interesting conversations before bedtime.

In the next instalment I'm going to reveal who producer "H" really is - cue the James Bond theme.

MONDAY 23 JULY - SUPPLIES AND SURPRISE

Having lost the wolves again and there still not being any sign of pups or mother at the den, it was mooted that the "shape" of the programme might have to alter slightly.

Perhaps not concentrating quite so much on the wolves and bringing the other wildlife to the fore. The chances of filming the wolves predating, we had to admit, was extremely remote and we would be incredibly lucky.

ATV, Jim McNeill
The team had to replace the "dead" ATV with a new one
This was mostly because of our inability to follow the wolves. They are able to get across the tundra's rock-hard hummocks far better than we can on our ATVs. So it was back to seeking out new areas and different wildlife.

But first, it was time for Jonny to depart and for our re-supply to arrive; along with a replacement ATV for the one which I had pulled the handle bars off.

This was quite a major undertaking because, as the light was better at night, we'd been working during the normal night time and sleeping during the day.

Having just gone to bed, we had to get up at 0700 to give the charter aircraft company the local weather conditions. We then gathered up all the excess kit and Jonny's personal belongings and loaded them in the trailer.

Plane pick-up

Mark deserved a well-earned rest, so he stayed back at camp while Jonny and I walked the hard 10km to the airstrip while "H" drove the ATV and trailer; not an easy or comfortable option by any means.

The day was really hot with no wind at all, and the mosquitoes were plaguing Jonny and me. On several occasions, Jonny even resorted to using his bug head-over. This is a net that covers your entire head to prevent the little pests sucking your blood out. It's only partially effective and makes you even hotter.

Landscape  Image: Jim McNeill
Jim took a high route back to the camp
We got to the top of a ridge overlooking the airstrip we had used three weeks earlier and could see the "dead" ATV ready to be returned.

Just as we reached the ridge, the plane came in and landed, but not on the strip. Instead, the pilot touched down on the beach of a nearby large lake. Apparently, the pilot had not been told about the strip and landed where he could.

I set off for the aircraft while Jonny went to drive the stricken ATV over to the aircraft. Meanwhile, the crew had unloaded the new ATV and began making their way over to the airstrip.

The pilot, Richie, apologised for not landing on the strip and said he would fly the aircraft over to the airstrip, which was pretty fortunate as the broken ATV didn't want to start up again.

Musky smell

My job was to get the new supplies back to camp whilst "H" explored a nearby valley.

It was quite a journey back. I took a high route over the nearby mountain, too high in fact, and had "fun" trying to get down the slope without turning over. Then I had to negotiate the tundra hummocks which, with the big load, took ages and pounded my back which I had damaged the previous week.

Musk ox  Image: Jim McNeill
The musk oxen could not smell the team
Eventually, having made it back to camp with my back in shatters, we set about seeing what goodies the plane had brought us.

Fresh fruit - ah! Pop drinks - ooh! Crackers - ee! More coffee and tea - all were greeted with great delight. We were feeling a little more civilised, as it had been a whole month since "H" and I had had real food.

The evening brought a great surprise. A whole herd of musk oxen came over the brow of the eastern river bank to munch away at the hairy lousewort and drink in the river. The wind was blowing in a direction that meant the animals "cannot smell us", Mark explained.

There were 16 of them in total, including four young ones. I'm always amazed at how secure they look on steep ground. It was a lovely end to a very hard and long day.

SUNDAY 22 JULY: THE RETURN OF THE WOLVES

Just as easily as they had vanished some seven-and-a-half days earlier, the wolves suddenly reappeared, apparently without a care in the world.

Arctic wolf (Image: Jim McNeill)
The wolves reappeared as quickly as they had disappeared

It was about nine in the morning and both Mark and Jonny had been up all night filming other creatures. Both were shattered but they weren't going to miss the opportunity of getting some wolf action.

The three of them ("H" included) went to the den, located about 2km up river, and watched the wolves sleep, move, stretch and sniff around the den. All of this was expertly filmed by Mark - how he kept his eyes open I have no idea.

I was left in charge of the camp as usual but had a wonderful surprise when a beautiful fox crossed the river just in front of me. It had come from the east and was obviously looking for food.

The Arctic fox grows a beautiful white fluffy coat in winter to keep it warm and is not very big. In fact, the Arctic hare is quite frequently bigger, although it would be considered a good dinner by the fox, given half a chance.

The fox's summer coat is quite strange but still beautiful; the face, tail, back and outer sides of the legs being dark and the rest light grey. It's as if they've had a summer makeover by an over ambitious spray painter.

The fox was also on the "shot list" to ensure the programme covered the entire story of what goes on during the Arctic summer.

Arctic wolves (Image: Jim McNeill)
The pack soon headed off again across the sea ice
I followed this one across the river to see where she went. She clocked me straight away and kept stopping, turning and sitting down to make sure that I wasn't following her. In no time at all she had disappeared across the plains to the west.

I went back to camp and continued to sort out the equipment and excess food to be returned with our pick up and re-supply that was due to arrive in a few days.

Jonny Keeling was a late replacement for Fergus Beeley, who had unfortunately broken his leg just weeks before on a filming trip in South America. Jonny's own schedule did not allow for him to stay for the duration so he planned to return on the re-supply.

The following morning, at six o'clock, I heard the sound of an ATV returning and got out of the tent to see Mark manically waving goodbye to me as he shot past the camp toward the beach.

I quickly realised he was in hot pursuit of the wolves who had had enough of idling around and were off already on their next hunting trip - this time eastward.

At 0830, Mark returned to camp and just fell off the ATV, reminding me of the cowboy films when the exhausted, half-dead hero, who had been chased by Indians for days, staggers into camp to pass on the all important message - "They're coming!"

Apparently Mark had followed them along the beach and, to his surprise, they suddenly turned south over the sea ice toward an island eight kilometres away.

The sea ice was in no condition for us to traverse, so he took to high ground to film them disappearing over the ice. This added a new dimension as we had assumed that this time of year the sea acted as one barrier that they would not cross.

But just as we have come to learn, it doesn't stop these incredible creatures. The puzzling thing was that only seven had returned and then gone off again. Could the alpha female be in a den somewhere else? Will we ever find out?

SATURDAY 21 JULY: CONCERN FOR THE WOLVES

There was now real concern in the BBC camp regarding the wolves.

They'd been gone for seven whole days and the majority of the crew felt that they were not necessarily coming back.

Even if they did come back they couldn't possibly have pups which would have starved by now. Unless we just didn't see the mother coming out of the den at night to get some fresh air.

Unless she had such a cache of food from previous hunting forays she didn't need feeding, or unless the hunting party had been unsuccessful so far and had nothing to bring back to the pups and mum.

All of these points of conjecture made it rather difficult to plan events.

Jonny Keeling exchanged emails with Fergus Beeley back in Bristol, who in turn sought the advice of various scientists and series producer Tim Martin.

Jaeger (Image: Jim McNeill)
The team focused on the birds while they waited for the wolves

The plan was to continue filming Sally the snowy owl throughout and look for some Arctic hares to film, perhaps with leverets.

We could also get more footage of the Jaeger nest, especially when the eggs hatched.

Another plan was to look for a fox den in the hope that we might be able to film a mother and cubs.

So Mark kept filming what he could around the story while Jonny, "H" and I kept trying to locate other stuff.

When the crew does find something to film, the dedication of these guys comes to the fore.

No matter how tired Mark and Jonny are, they are always on the case, eventually returning to camp exhausted having perhaps captured just a few seconds of the final programme, if anything.

Arctic flower (Image: Jim McNeill)
Jim McNeill's interest in plants made him the camp's resident botanist

Fundamentally, they are all wildlife people and occasionally their particular area of interest comes through.

For "H", it seems to be birds and I'd say the same for Mark. Jonny is evidently a good all-rounder.

As for me? Well no-one seems to know anything about plants so I've picked up the mantle having a natural interest in them and I am rapidly becoming knowledgeable on Arctic plant life.

It's not just plants either. Insects abound and whoever it was that told me mosquitoes didn't exist above the latitude of 75 degrees - well I'd like them to join us at our base camp for a day without insect repellent!

FRIDAY 20 JULY: CROSSING "MR BIG"

It was my turn to explore the outlying areas, and this time I thought I'd go north to try to get a view over the low-lying plains to the other side where another fiord comes in.

The ATV stuck in mud (Image: Jim McNeill)
Getting bogged down in the river delta

The day was beautiful; there was a slight chill to the breeze but hardly a cloud in the sky. The idea was to try to get to the other side of the large river delta that carries much of the melt water from the mountain range.

The delta was scattered with lots of smaller rivers, all of which ran into River Two. The first few crossings went really well and at each crossing I'd take a GPS reading so that I could return the same way and identify it for future use.

Then came Mr Big! I searched for any sign of a shallower, faster flowing section. It was a while before I found a possibility, a stony bank that was as deep as I really wanted to go.

It went upstream for around 30m but fortunately crossed from one side of the river to the other with deep channels either side. I had made it and was completely chuffed with myself.

Unfortunately, just as you think you're doing well, something has to spoil it. As I attempted to cross the next stream, I realised that I had been swamped by thick mud.

Muddy boots (Image: Jim McNeill)
Moments later, the water began to rise rapidly

Out came the shovel for the second time this week, and after half a dozen attempts to dig out the ATV, she came free. I was euphoric, yet shattered by the one-and-a-half-hour ordeal.

Then I noticed that the river level had suddenly begun to rise. I was on a mud flat with water rapidly rising, making passage across the flat less and less likely. I scouted around the patches that were still relatively dry, trying to find a place to cross onto more secure ground.

Each one proved too risky. I leapt off numerous times to see if it was OK underfoot, but each time my boots would sink in and I'd have trouble getting them out. On one occasion I got so stuck that I lost both boots and I had to roll out of the mire as I just kept sinking in.

Things were getting a bit hairy - I had to get out, and fast. I chose what I thought was the best possible route across two sections of three metres of who-knows-what.

With the longest, driest run-up, I thought I could get some forward momentum that would hopefully keep me from getting stuck.

I backed up Polaris and went for it, hitting the first section of water at 30 miles per hour. In just 3m, I had come to a very rapid and sticky halt.

I made the decision to abandon the ATV and look after myself. I was exhausted enough from the previous digging out and I thought I might need some energy to get myself to a safe position. I wasn't sure how far the river might come up and the rapidity with which it had risen so far alarmed me.

It took me quite a time, and I lost one boot three times, but I made it to the other side of the delta, exhausted but relieved.

I walked for another two or three kilometres, hoping to find a way across the marsh lands and around the lakes but to no avail.

I climbed the nearest hillock which gave me a great view and used the satellite phone to call in.

"How are you?" asked Jonny.

"I've had better days," I replied.

THURSDAY 19 JULY: TOUGH TERRAIN

It was Jonny's day to do a bit of exploring and increase our knowledge of the locality, so he followed our tracks east and was able to get over the river that was too strong for "H" and me previously.

Ellesmere Island  Image: Jim McNeill
It is easy to underestimate distances on this terrain
We've all noticed huge daily changes in the rivers around here.

Sometimes they are full and flowing and others, a little trickle and easily fordable.

I think it has something to do with the fluctuation in temperatures and therefore how much melt water is being carried.

It is also dependent on whether some big piece of snow has suddenly slipped into the water way up on the mountainside.

Jonny went to a sharp and distinctive headland overlooking the fiord that on a previous expedition my team called "never-ending point" due to the never ending journey getting there.

River on Ellesmere Island   Image: Jim McNeill
The team noticed daily changes in river flow
The very cold atmosphere of winter as well as the ground we're travelling on tends to fore-shorten estimates of distance and size, which can be very frustrating if you're not used to it.

From there he climbed up on to the mountain to its very summit, about 700m, and saw the spectacular view over another fiord, big sharp mountains and a massive ice cap rising to 2500m.

I always think of ice caps as yummy ice cream which has just been dolloped on a mountain range. I'm beginning to dream of real food; that's a sure sign of having too much of the super-freeze-dried muck.

TUESDAY 17 JULY: FUNNY FARM

As the wolves were still away hunting - it had been 72 hours now - cameraman Mark was eager to capture the other bits of footage which will make up the whole story and so went off to the beach to see what he could find.

He came back with some great "sequences" [these I've learned are a variety of shots such as close-up, mid-shot (half person), cut-away (not sure about this one) and general views; all put together to make sense] of melting ice pans, eider ducks, drifting sea ice and other birdlife such as snow geese and squaw ducks.

Arctic hares (BBC)
Arctic hares put on quite a show
The amazing thing about most of the wildlife around here is that they are so tame. I guess because they hardly ever see human beings they don't recognise us as a threat.

I remember one winter expedition when hauling all our equipment up a very steep gully and half way up team medic Fizzy shouted to me from below. I looked up puzzled as to what she was calling about but soon realised that I had company. Not one metre away from me, an Arctic hare had come to say hello.

I felt as though I could reach out and stroke it but instead I just bid him good day and he passed through, totally un-fussed.

Arctic hares are beautifully white with the very tips of their ears jet black and really quite large; about the size of the largest pet rabbit you might think of and often larger than the Arctic fox; although the fox does prey on hares.

They're pretty barmy too. Mark managed to film some in the low sun, late at night, hopping, boxing, jumping and spinning around as if the ground had suddenly turned red hot.

Cameraman Mark (BBC)
The wildlife in the Arctic seems to have little fear of humans
What's perhaps most comical is when they stand up on their hind legs looking around and then hop off kangaroo-like.

He also managed to find leverets (young hares) which are light grey-brown like our own pet rabbits.

Apart from size and a few antics, hares are quite different from rabbits in that they give birth to their young out in the open and as soon as they are born they can see, have fur and can jump around within hours.

Rabbits on the other hand are born blind, naked and quite helpless and therefore need the protection of a cosy warm warren. This is probably why there aren't any up here in the Arctic - they'd have problems burrowing into the permafrost!

FRIDAY 13 JULY: BOGGED DOWN

We all agreed that the more we knew about the whole area, the better we would be at trying to capture some of the film sequences that were required. So "H" and I planned a recce trip going further east than we had been before.

Whoopee! Back to exploring! So "H" and I - suitably equipped with food, water and a safety call strategy (this was my primary job, apart from the dishes!) and trusted iron horse Polaris (the all-terrain vehicle, ATV) - took off to discover the eastern boundaries of the wolf pack's territory.

Arctic fox and hare (Jim McNeill)
Caught in the same shot: An Arctic fox and a hare
It is said that territories could stretch anything from 100 sq miles to a 1,000 dependent upon the amount of food available; food being muskoxen, Arctic hare, caribou and lemmings.

We headed along the beach first towards River 4 which we crossed without much of a problem. Then we came to River 5 which although we could cross most of it, the last deep, fast-flowing channel proved too much of a risk to Polaris to justify.

These ATVs were crucial as our means of travel and we didn't want to lose that ability.

So, we headed inland along the western bank of River 5 which started to get steeper and steeper and revealed a deep gorge as we approached the first of a series of mountains running parallel with the coast.

It turned out to be very deep and sheer and a very dramatic landscape to look at.

The adjacent land on our bank was just like a desert, virtually devoid of any life save for the most hardy of plants. Having worked out we couldn't cross this river further up, we started to ascend the foothills of the mountain but it got progressively more rocky and therefore more uncomfortable, especially for H riding shotgun as ever.

So we then proceeded to follow the base of the mountain around to a high point looking north.

We were travelling further up River 3 (the one we're camped on some 6km downstream) when we came across a patch of green high up on the eastern bank.

On further investigation we found a lush area of many different plants and lots of grasses. H surmised that it was probably a fox den, although perhaps not currently used.

THE ARCTIC'S WHITE WOLF
Arctic wolf (BBC)
The Arctic wolf is actually a subspecies of the grey wolf
In comparison it has a shorter stature but a bulkier build
Scientific name for the Arctic wolf is Canis lupus arctos
It ranges across the Canadian Arctic and north Greenland
Packs will prey on caribou, musk oxen, hares, lemmings
I took photographs of the various flowers and we then proceeded up the hill to the top of the bank and headed off in the direction of the highest point. I wanted to get a reasonable view of the valley which the peaks we could already see lined.

Then disaster struck! I ran the poor ATV into a small patch of really wet mud and got her well and truly stuck. We had pushed our luck for so long and now it had run out. The ironic thing was the fact that if you were looking for a muddy patch, it would have been very hard to find it.

So we got our satellite phone into action and called for Jonny to come and help tow us out with the second ATV, which he did some three hours later.

Meanwhile both H and I took it in turns to reach the top of this particular mound and see the fantastic view of the river valley descending from the big mountains. (A braided river apparently; one which splits up into little braids or streams over a wide area. This then turns into a beaded river when they all start joining together).

We all returned to camp later and had a good chortle at me getting the machine stuck!

TUESDAY 10 JULY: CAMP'S COOK

The following day I woke at 1000 hrs despite not finishing filming until 0300 hrs.

My duties now were all about supporting the crew as much as they needed: filling the ATVs and generator with fuel; filling cooking stoves with fuel; putting hot water in the thermos flasks; water fetching; battery charging; tiding; making breakfasts, brews and dinners; ensuring everyone has their polar bear protection on them and that they know how to use it; and anything else concerning the safety side of things, of which there are daily considerations.

Arctic plant (Jim McNeill)
Plants poke through the snow and ice
In short, chief bottle washer, cook and camp nag!

The crew was eager to get on with the filming and so during the next few days we made all sorts of plans and changed them according to what was working or appropriate, or not.

We moved a hide in to film the snowy owls on their nest. I saw some of the "rushes" which looked fantastic (apparently this term originates from when they used to get the film processed overnight and "rushed" back to the studio for people to watch).

We were all laughing because Mrs snowy owl - I think I'll call her "Sally" - looked as though she was doing a sort of shake-your-bottom dance as she spread out all over the eggs to keep them safe and warm.

She's obviously going to be a great mother, carefully rolling and tending to each one of her clutch of seven, in turn.

I took Jonny off to "show him the estate", well eastward anyway, down to River 2, including the dreaded Jim's Drift so that he knows where to cross the river if they are in hot pursuit of the wolves as they go out hunting.

The river itself has subsided a bit but is fed by a number of melt-water mountain rivers so will take a long time to diminish to a trickle like so many of the others, if indeed it does at all.

The wolf can have a huge range

On occasion, the weather has been absolutely awful: dark skies with swirling, incessant wind and quite heavy rain - more of that 6cm annual average.

The rain fell as snow on the mountains just east of our encampment, reminding me of Scotland again.

We saw one wolf returning from hunting, all on his own. He was very anxious to find the others and was howling for them to come back. I'm reading in another book that their howls mean things and I'm sure this one was saying: "Where are the rest of you? Come home, I'm lonely!"

Mark managed to get some footage of it.

Click here to read the previous instalments of Jim's wolf diary.

Jim McNeill runs the Ice Warrior Project, which organises expeditions in the Arctic


SEE ALSO
Arctic diary: Tracking wolves (1)
10 Jul 07 |  Science/Nature
Mission to Ice Island
24 May 07 |  Science/Nature

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