Nagruk Harcharek in Utqiaġvik, Alaska. Nagruk is the station manager at the Barrow Arctic Research Center and has lived in Utqiaġvik all his life. Photo: Oliver Milman / The Guardian

By Oliver Milman
22 April 2018

Utqiaġvik, Alaska (The Guardian) – Last July, Nagruk Harcharek was savouring a bucolic visit to a cabin that sits on the lip of the Chipp river, deep in the Alaskan Arctic, when something caught his eye. Shimmering on a rack where he hangs his caught whitefish to dry was, astonishingly, a dragonfly.

“I’d been going to camp there for 30 years and I’d never seen one, I couldn’t freaking believe it,” said Harcharek. “I was amazed. I just thought, ‘Wow’.”

Dragonflies aren’t completely alien to Alaska, but the sight seemed as jarring as watching a hippopotamus stroll the Champs-Élysées. As the Arctic heats up, at around twice the rate of the global average, its remote but hardy communities are experiencing first contact with species that are flying, scurrying and swimming northwards.

The task of documenting anecdotal sightings of these newcomers falls to Craig George, a wildlife biologist with a snowy beard, spectacles and well-worn hiking boots. George, originally from New York, has spent four decades observing Alaskan wildlife but in recent years has generated sheaves of records on unusual arrivals.

Last summer, a child was stung by a wasp, the first time anyone could remember this happening in Utqiaġvik, a coastal town formerly known as Barrow that is the most northerly settlement in the US.

A sphinx moth, a species with a wingspan as much as 5in across, was reported by a baffled resident as being some sort of bird. An actual bird, a kestrel, which has gone from rare to almost commonplace in just a few years, was tended to by George after it sought refuge in his workplace, the North Slope Borough. Arctic squirrels, previously little seen, have also taken up residence around town.

“People here often don’t know what these sub-Arctic species are and to be honest, sometimes I don’t either,” said George as he looked through his records, muttering about the the odd creature (“Hmm, rusty blackbird”) as he went.

“One reason I’ve stayed here so long is because every year there’s something new,” he said. “It’s amazing but also a bit concerning. The change is happening so, so fast.” [more]

'Amazing but also concerning': weird wildlife ventures to northern Alaska

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