Ptarmigan hunting and why I love the fall in Nuuk!
Nuuk is at its best during the fall in my opinion, fresh air below freezing, and lots of icebergs just outside the city and on its beaches because the winds have shifted, bringing them out of the large fjordsystem right to our doorstep.
It’s also a photographers dream because sunrise is at a reasonable hour and sunset isn’t far behind, giving an amazing day of pink hues. And as soon as the darkness comes the sky will randomly light up in bright shades of green, reminding us we line in GREEN-land… oh god, that was a terrible pun, sorry about that.
Anyway! another reason I absolutely love the fall/winter in Nuuk (October/November), is because we can go ptarmigan hunting! Ptarmigans are highly adapted to the Arctic and is one of the few bird species that stay in Greenland over the winter. It is the only bird that goes from grey and black summer camouflage to a complete white during winter!
A ptarmigan hunt is fairly simple, you either straight up go hiking with a rifle from the city, or you go a bit further out by boat before you start the hike and hunt. We usually go with the boat and explore new places.
Because ptarmigans are so damn well camouflaged they’re incredibly difficult to spot, BUT, they leave tracks, and if you can find fresh tracks they’re usually somewhere nearby, and eventually you’ll spot 1, and once you line up the shot you realize there are more! There are always more! Once having taken the shot often spooks the birds and 4-5 others, you hadn’t seen at all, suddenly fly a bit away, that always makes me feel like the guy in charge of the velociraptors in the first Jurassic Park movie.
The last time we went ptarmigan hunting we went by the foot of the second most iconic mountain by Nuuk – Hjortetakken, and my father immediately caught 7 birds that will contribute to our Christmas dinner.
A few interesting facts about ptarmigans:
They know when to change from their summer plumage to winter by noticing the average amount of daylight hours, which is pretty smart. Imagine doing it by the first snow, and then it melts and leaves you in complete white surrounded by black and reddish fall colours. Huuuge disadvantage. The same the other way around, if you wait too long to change you’ll be a black bird in white surroundings. Not very promising either. But it turns out that measuring the average amount of hours with sunlight is a pretty decent indicator of when to change plumage, and you can actually trigger this biological reaction in a lab with fake sunlight! Interesting I tell ya.
By looking at the picture above you can clearly see what makes the male and female birds different. The black line from the beak to its eyes indicate that it’s a male, and during the summer this part turns red, which in females it doesn’t, here’s another picture of a female: See the difference?
Fact Nr. 3:
Ptarmigans actually make their own snowshoes! They will grow tiny fleshy pectinations by their otherwise scaly feet which also grows soft feathers, which essentially increases their foot size to the double and probably keeps them warm too! The more you know!