The worldwide Augustana College experience

North and South of Thule

Finally we’ve had a break in the bad weather, so earlier this week we’ve been busy and have traveled North and South on the boat. Monday we finally made it up to Haklyut after about three attempts to get there before.  Our goal at Hakluyt was to sample Thick-Billed Murres and Dovekies so that we could get DNA and isotope data to compare to DNA and isotope data from murre and dovekie bones that were found at an archeological site.  This data will be used to compare the genetic diversity of the bones with that of the current murres and dovekies. We collected the samples from birds from the southern tip of Northumberland, which is maybe one mile East of Hakluyt and then on the Northern side in between both islands.

An interesting tidbit about the area is that from analysis of the blood from past years of data collection, the team has found that dovekies on the Southern end of Northumberland have a different diet than the dovekies on the Eastern face of Hakluyt. The two dovekie colonies are very close to each other, within 7 miles, but the dovekies on Hakluyt may be feeding from the channel in between the islands which was full of plankton and most likely great affected the composition dovkie diet.

On our way home from Hakluyt, we stopped along the coast and looked for some falcons.  At a valley south of Booth Sound, we stopped and looked for falcons for a few minutes than boated ahead to check out an island for eiders.  Bridger and Jeff jumped off and then brought back some gull chicks, man they were big! Then we started to head back to walk along the cliffs we were looking for falcons at, but as we boated in closer we saw a polar bear high up in the valley.  It sure was an eye-opening event because we could have easily gotten off earlier when we first stopped and could have started walking along the cliffs and ran head-first into the bear. The group will certainly have to be more conscious of bears in the future.

We continued our search for falcons and found a gyrfalcon nest near the Raven’s claw, a location where they have found Gyrfalcons in the past. We searched for feathers and collected prey remains; I managed to find one, but did not have a bag to put it in so I stuck it in my pocket, but by the time I had reached the bottom, I had lost it.  Oops! Luckily Bridger and Jeff had some good luck and managed to collect around 12 feathers.

As we were heading out of the area, Dr. Burnham thought she saw something flying up in the cliffs to our left.  She said it looked like it could be a snow bunting or a peregrine, so we turned around to get a better look. After some searching, Bridger spotted it far off in the distance. He then hiked up to the nest and found that there were chicks, but they were only a few days old–too young to band or sample.

That was all for Monday, but we had left that morning around 6am and didn’t get back until 9pm, so it was a pretty long day.

We headed out the next morning at about 7am. The little extra sleep was nice! But on Tuesday we headed South in the opposite direction towards Conical Island which is South of Thule. The island is rather beautiful and has an Atlantic Puffin colony on it, many Murres, Black Guillemots, Common Eiders, and we even a pair of Snow Geese on it (which is out of the ordinary).

After boating around and surveying the location of the puffin colony, we headed over to Agpa to catch some Kittiwakes that had been previously banded. We caught three, sampled them and added a new red band. It was pretty stinky in the nook where we set Bridger off to catch them, and when he came back into the boat, he was covered in their excrement. We then dropped Kurt and Jeff off to catch some Thick-Billed Murre chicks, but they didn’t have too much luck and only brought back pictures. The rest of the day consisted of searching for more gyrfalcons (we found one gyr nest) and peregrines (we found a pair but did not confirm the nest, the cliff they were on was SUPER steep and the rock was dangerously soft!), and chasing down Musk Ox.  As we boated into Big Bird Valley where some Danish ornithologists were camped out, I got to see my first musk ox! Then as we boated around the corner into Green Valley, we found even more! We let Jeff get off and he hunted them down to get some pictures. Then we rounded the corner into yet another valley there were even more! They were super neat, but after seeing so many Musk ox in one day, I can say I’ve seen my fair share.

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