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Travel

Although they are naturally selected to be shorter and stockier

than artificially selected domestic breeds, Sable Island herds

are genetically horses, not ponies. Their wind-blown manes,

forelocks and tails are their most common features. We

wondered how they could see through the forelocks that

sometimes covered their eyes.

Our trip was in June, whenmany of the horses were shedding

their thick and shaggy winter coats. They travelled in bands

comprised of a dominant male, mares, yearlings and foals.

Sable Island has 40 to 50 bands of horses. Family bands of

five-to-eight individuals are themost common. Young stallions

that don’t yet have a harem often travel together in bachelor

groups. Females usually give birth between April and July. We

watched long-legged fillies and colts nursing and following

their mothers.

Horses are itchy.They are always looking for places to scratch

their backs. They roll in the sand to relieve the itch. They also

rub against the fence surrounding Environment Canada’s

meteorological equipment on the island. “When we’re

watching TV and it suddenly goes fuzzy, we know that a horse

is rubbing its rear end against the satellite dish,” said Daryll

Mooney, who was the Parks Canada operations co-ordinator

during our tour of Main Station.

To minimize their footprint, the two Parks Canada staff

use the pre-existing Environment Canada infrastructure.

“Three Environment Canada staff live in apartments on an

eight-weeks-on, eight-weeks-off rotational basis. They’re

self-sufficient with a dishwasher, fridge, WiFi, satellite TV

and cooking equipment,” explained Daryll. Three diesel

generators provide electricity. “Our maintenance guys are

very resourceful, because they can’t just go to Home Depot for

spare parts.” Other buildings include Zoe Lucas’s laboratory,

the carpentry shop, warehouses, the Environment Canada

office, the staff house (where visiting researchers stay) and

the officer-in-charge house.

“Collecting climate data on Sable Island goes back to the 1800s,”

said Jonathan Sheppard. “It helps us understand the dynamics

of global air currents.” Sable Island weather is characterized

by wind and fog (125 days of fog every year). During our tour,

white mist temporarily obscured Main Station.

Daryll didn’t allow us to approach the buildings because

roseate terns were nesting in the heath. “They will dive-bomb

you if you get too close,” he said. “The birds aggressively protect

their nests from people and horses that may trample them

and from gulls that try to eat their eggs. Last year, we had six

pairs of roseate terns.” (Roseate terns are listed as endangered

in Canada, with fewer than a dozen breeding pairs.)

Gulls soared above and cautiously watched us from their nests.

“The adult plumage of a herring gull is white, with grey on the

back and black wing tips,” explainedMarkMallory, a seabird

biologist and resource person on the cruise. His on-board

presentationmade us eager to look for other birds, including

great black-backed gulls (the world’s largest gulls), Northern

fulmars, great skuas, shearwaters, Arctic terns and the Ipswich

sparrow, the only endemic bird. He posted a bird checklist on

the bulletin board for passengers to record sightings. After

we returned, Adventure Canada sent us the list.

When on-board ornithologist Sarah Wong accompanied us

on a walk, she warned us to be careful: “Herring gulls nest

Photographing wild horses

from a distance

Daryll Mooney,

rotating Parks Canada

operations co-ordinator

Environment Canada and Parks Canada buildings at Main Station

Horse harems

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