Aside from reindeer and Santa’s elves, the North Pole and the surrounding Arctic Circle host a plethora of fascinating creatures—from yellow-billed loons to polar bears—which have helped illustrate the mystery and intrigue of the habitat on Audubon's pages for decades.
They may not prance across the tundra, but yellow-billed loons add to the Arctic orchestra, wrote
Jeff Fair in 2004: “A loon's wail breaks the silence beneath the wide Arctic sky, a cry almost wolflike, with the tenor of a bassoon in its upper ranges, or of a strong wind whistling through telegraph wires across a Dakota prairie.”
Arctic ground squirrels also have a part in the symphony. “The Inuit people named the animal sik sik
after its incessant calls,” Les Line explained. They’re also know for their unique ability to counteract the cold: They “supercool” themselves in below-freezing temperatures. “Arctic ground squirrels range from Siberia to Hudson Bay, and their colonies are found from treeline meadows to the coastal plain,” Line wrote
in the May-June 2008 issue. “What’s important is well-drained sandy or gravelly soil that enables easy digging of labyrinthine burrows. And the tundra’s rock-hard permafrost must lie at least a meter below the surface. Deep in these multilevel complexes are dens where the squirrels spend seven or eight months curled into a tight ball in a nest of caribou hair, lichens, and grasses.”
Above ground “latitude has stripped the tundra bare of trees, leaving only a waterlogged mantle of moss, sedge, and diminutive wildflowers, none much more than four inches high. The low vegetation and perennial daylight give the visitor an excellent chance of actually seeing North America's largest mammals at work and play--moose, wolf, musk ox, caribou, and all three species of the continent's bears: black, brown (also called grizzly), and polar,” wrote
contributing editor Susan McGrath for a special 1988 issue dedicated to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The Arctic’s stunning beauty and wildlife are two reasons why we have focused on it again and again, calling for its protection from oil and gas drilling, not only in 1988, but in 2003
, and even in 2010
. This holiday season, just remember that if you can’t get up there to see it for yourself, we’ll take you.