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Quietly bobbing, the still, dark waters of Ennadai Lake glisten and reflect the colours of sunrise. Around you are the shimmering colours of autumn; vibrant reds and bright yellows, providing the ultimate backdrop to this great event. Male caribou are rubbing their antlers against the trees, shredding the velvet, and sparring with the others.
There must be twenty or so, but counting seems irrelevant now as you have put your camera down to really absorb this magnificent sight.
The caribou are crossing the lake, island-hopping to the other side, as part of their autumn migration. The Quamirjuaq herd is 350,000 strong and at this time of year, roam the Barrens west of Hudson Bay offering some of the most beautiful photo opportunities for wildlife and nature enthusiasts as groups of up to twenty in size can be spotted, sometimes with their calves.
Arctic caribou migration
This grand migration is embarked upon by the caribou to find food and lay on fat for the rutting period and the winter. Despite the huge numbers, you really have to be in the right place at the right time to witness them, and we can do just that.
Where and when
Late August and September the caribou are in the Barrens around Hudson Bay and can be seen during excursions from the Arctic Haven Wilderness Lodge. You can also see them in the spring months in the same place, best time being early May as they head to their calving grounds further north. The Ennadai Lake and surrounding Barrens provide a natural corridor for the migrating herds each year.
The spring migration starts in early March and lasts until May as the caribou separate themselves into groups and migrate separately. The pregnant females and some yearlings, as well as the barren cows will start to migrate first, with the bulls following in their footsteps. Then there is the calving and similarly to the wildebeest in Tanzania on their migration, there is a high level of synchrony with the births. This is more than likely to be so that the calves are over-abundant, too high in numbers for the predators to kill, ensuring that enough survive to develop.
By late June and July, the mosquitos start to emerge and the caribou look for windier grounds in huge post-calving aggregations. But as the mosquito attacks subside, they are hounded by two even worse insects, the warble fly, which buries under the skin of the caribou, and the nose-bot fly, which bears live larvae in the caribou’s nostrils. Rather than escaping these strong-fliers, the caribou stand, heads low on the lookout and can often be seen aggressively stamping and shaking their heads to get rid of them.
The autumn migration can begin any time between late-August and October, and they move slowly southwards, feeding and laying on fat in preparation for the winter months. The bulls are shredding the velvet from their antlers at this time and can be seen rubbing them on trees, or fighting with each other. Then they continue migrating through the rut, which sees the bulls fasting for two weeks. This very brief two week mating period goes towards explaining the brief calving period as well. Then comes the spring again and they start to migrate northwards to the summering grounds.
How can I see the caribou migration?
We suggest seeing the migration in the autumn, or even the spring. Both avoid the myriad of insects and you may see the herds swimming across the lakes. Our Caribou Migration and Autumn Arctic Tundra safari runs late August to September and also includes other wildlife, from wolves and wolverines to bears as they gorge on berries to prepare for hibernation. This safari can coincide with seeing the incredible northern lights. You'll be walking, sometimes within metres of the caribou, watching them swimming from your aluminium boat, exploring wolf dens and watching out for migrating snow geese.
Best time to go