By Sarah Hewitt
I leaned over the railing on the bow of the icebreaker, The Ocean Endeavour, just as the rocky cliff face of Prince Leopold Island emerged from the fog. The tiny island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut had little vegetation and was almost completely surrounded by sheer cliffs. From here, the peaks appeared lifeless and cold.
We were more than 3,200km, from Toronto and yet, our guides assured us, 200,000 couples fly to this island each year.
Birds, that is.
Even though the island is just 65sqkm, it’s the largest seabird colony in the high Arctic and a federally protected migratory bird sanctuary. “Its claim to fame,” said Tony Gaston, a retired research scientist who’s worked on this island since 1975, “is that it’s got all of the major Arctic species. On a fine day, there isn’t anywhere with a more exciting vista of birds and scenery.”
We loaded into a Zodiac – 10 of us in the inflatable boat – and it pitched steeply in the icy water as the ocean swell and arctic wind carried us close to the island’s vertical cliffs. I gripped the sides, hoping that neither my gear nor I would go overboard. As we approached, the cliffs themselves seemed to come alive.
On a fine day, there isn’t anywhere with a more exciting vista of birds and scenery