Nature: White Falcon, White Wolf
Sun, 10/26/2008 - 9:00pm
On Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic winter arrives in September and stays for nine cold and dark months. The other seasons get just one month each. June is spring. July is summer. August is autumn. A pair of snowy white gyrfalcons and a pack of Arctic wolves must work hard to raise their families during the brief respite the sun provides. By the end of August, their jobs as parents must be complete, their young ready to take on the return of the snows. Nature: White Falcon, White Wolf airs Sunday, October 26 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1).
White Falcon, White Wolf captures both the beauty and finely balanced world of Ellesmere Island and the importance of timing for all of its inhabitants. The film, which kicks off the series’ 27th season, is narrated by award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham.
The gyrfalcons hatch early in the season when young Arctic hares, called leverets, are still small and plentiful. The chicks must be constantly fed, and the female must stay at the nest to feed and protect them while the male hunts. He must take full advantage of this time because the leverets will soon be too big for him to carry back to the nest. If he should fail to provide enough food, the chicks won’t survive. When the father slacks off in his hunting responsibilities, the mother must take matters into her own talons; drama ensues.
Snowy owls breed much later than falcons. They’re synchronizing hatching not to hares but to lemmings. Eggs hatch over a 10-day period, just as the lemmings begin to appear. And as the owlets grow bigger, it’s a full-time job for both the parents to feed them all.
The Arctic foxes have a banner year and raise a large family on the bounty of this year’s lemmings. The kits have so much to eat they can afford to put their food aside and play.
The Arctic wolves have waited with great anticipation for a sign that new pups have been born to their breeding female, who has spent a great deal of time in her den. But this year there will be no pups, and the pack spends the summer on the move, with one youngster from last year’s litter remaining very much the carefree baby. The eight wolves in the pack travel up to 50 miles a day looking for prey, but the yearling is easily distracted and finds it hard to keep up with the pack. Alone, she has little idea about where and how to find food, and her solo adventures put her at considerable risk. But she faces her world of wonder with curiosity and determination that will serve her well. Eventually, she reunites with the pack, a valuable lesson in responsibility learned.
In August, the owlets leave their nest and young falcons are ready to take their first flight. It has been a good year for the gyrfalcons. Though the wolves did not raise a litter this year, the pack is still together — still strong. This year’s breeding season ends, the temperature drops, and the light begins to fade as the world once again turns white. Next June, the cycle of life on this beautiful island will begin again.