To the Strange “Buttons”

The Story of the Bowdoin-MacMillan Arctic Expedition of 1934

On a grass-covered area at the western end of Lacy Island were tracks, droppings, skulls, and other evidence of polar bear. The Buttons, therefore, as the Eskimo had reported, are a rendezvous for this great white king of the north. We were not so fortunate, or unfortunate, as to meet with one of these beasts during our survey of the islands. In this same section of the island we discovered ruins of ancient Eskimo igloos. Nearby were heaps of large boulders which proved to be the graves of the people who had been laid to rest near their homes. In some of the graves time and the elements had bared the skeletons, and alongside the remains were deposits of spears and bone weapons used by these primitive people in their hunt for the walrus and polar bear. Similar graves and igloos were discovered on MacColl Island.

Near one of the Eskimo graves, well protected by an overhanging stone, was a nest containing five young of the American pipit. This delicate little warbler-like bird, whose nest we frequently discovered elsewhere among the rocks and in the tundra, winters in the United States, but migrates to the far north to build its nest and to rear its young. The pipit is eminently successful, for it is the most abundant species of land birds found in this region. The ancestors of the pipits were the associates of the Eskimos who once lived there. One can readily picture an alert little native boy watching one of these birds and perhaps matching his skill against it in his first lessons in hunting.

The snow bunting, a striking white and black bird of the sparrow family, nests in the cracks of the cliffs. Some of the nests were placed so deep as to defy all attempts to extricate them. Several which we were able to examine were made on a well-defined pattern, with a thick foundation of soggy moss and a cup of fine grasses beautifully lined with the pure-white breast feathers of the ptarmigan. I can think of no bird that better typifies the land of ice and snow than does this hardy little bunting.

Our sojourn on the islands seemed all too brief, for they are rich in biological interest. But what about those queer noises that were reported by the sailors aboard ships passing the Buttons? We came to the conclusion that they were either a product of the imagination or else are produced by the terrific tides rushing between the rocks, or by the ocean swell pounding in the cavernous thunder holes which occur along the cliffs exposed to the sea. Sounds of this sort are quite pronounced during certain conditions of the tides and winds, and perhaps are enough to kindle the curiosity and speculation of any person possessed with a vivid imagination.

In the midst of our interesting work we heard a siren whistle echoing and re-echoing from cliff to cliff. It was the “Bowdoin” back from Cape Mugford with Doctor Potter and his assistants. We were glad to know of their safe return, but it meant the end of our reconnaissance of the Buttons.



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