The worldwide Augustana College experience

Bird Is The Word

Up until the past two days we have been pretty lucky with the weather up here. Although we have had some foggy days we were able to get on the boat soon after we got it in the water. Once we got the boat ready to go, we started to get really busy with trips to nearby islands to process birds and survey nests. Traveling by boat is one of my favorite ways to get around, so I was pretty excited for our first day trip. I quickly learned how unbelievably cold it can get when we’re on the boat! The temperature around base is generally very comfortable, it can get chilly on foggy days, but once you get near the water the temperature gets significantly colder. Then add in the wind from speeding across the water and the spray that occasionally hits you and you’ve got yourself a chilly ride. Thank god for the big survival suite that I wear when we’re on the boat. Its like a snow suite that is bright orange and unfortunately makes me look 60 lbs heavier, but it sure does keep me warm! It’s well worth the trade off. Once you’re bundled up the rides are pretty amazing. It’s sad that most people that stay on the base don’t go anywhere outside of the surrounding areas. There really is so much more to see around here.

Since a majority of our work is done off base we have traveled to a handful of places so far. We’ve made trips to Saunders Island, the Witch’s Tit (an island in the bay), Booth Sound, and other islands in the area. Our time at Saunders Island was spent catching black-legged kittiwakes. Last year geolocaters were placed on a few of the birds so our goal was to recollect them. We were really successful re-catching the birds that had the locaters on them, and we were able to track their movement over the past year. While Kurt and Bridger were on the island catching the birds the rest of us processed the birds on the boat. I wasn’t paying attention when I was holding on to one of the kittiwakes and it ended up biting my face! It left a nice scratch from my nose down to my lip. I think it made me look really tough so I didn’t mind it, but I wasn’t too happy with it biting my hands up! Along with scratches I always ended up leaving the island covered in poop, my favorite natural perfume… I would make sure to take a burning hot shower as soon as I got home! On one of our trips to Saunders Island we went around to the other side of the island and it was like we had traveled to a different part of the world. We pulled up to a beautiful beach, it would have been perfect if the water was about 40 degrees warmer, a small waterfall, and soft green grass. It was like a piece of paradise placed within the arctic land. We ended up collecting most of the samples for my project, so I got to spend a few hours relaxing in the grass while Bridger rappelled down the cliff and collected the eggs. We also had a bit of success at the Witch’s Tit with catching puffins. Last year a handful of puffins were caught and released with geolocaters attached to their legs by Kurt and the High Arctic Institute, and we have been able to re-trap one of them so far. Since we’re stuck on base for the next couple of days due to high winds, we’re hoping to get back out there this week and re-catch as many of the puffins as possible. Unfortunately we weren’t as lucky when we made our trip to Booth Sound.

Last week we took a trip up north and spent two days in Booth Sound looking to re-catch phalaropes with geolocaters on them. We didn’t even see one flying around, but we were able to catch new birds and attach locaters to six of them. Hopefully next year they can re-catch some of them. I would have to say my favorite part of the camping trip was watching the net gun in action! It was fun to watch even though the loud bang it made when the net was discharged made me jump every time. I was also very happy to say that we survived the night free from polar bear attacks. I can be a bit paranoid so despite the alarm we had set up around our campsite, I would react to every sound that came from outside my tent. Polar bear sightings aren’t really too common out there, but it would have been incredibly dangerous if one would have strolled through our camp. It took me a decent amount of time to fall asleep, but I couldn’t entirely blame it on my anxiety! It can be a bit hard to fall asleep when the sun is high in the sky and it feels like 11 AM instead of PM. Even though I had my slight freakout, I was happy to get off base for a bit and spend the night in the wild.

Along with continuing to re-catch birds catch new birds I’ve started working on my project that I will be continuing throughout my senior year. So far I have collected eggs from black-legged kittiwakes, common eiders, and thick-billed murres and over the next few days I will be measuring and opening the eggs. After we dry the samples, they will be sent to a lab to be tested for their total mercury content. Although I’m a bit nervous to cut open eggs with developing chicks inside, I am really excited about my topic and feel very lucky to have the opportunity to conduct my research.

Holding an Atlantic Puffin

Holding an Atlantic Puffin

Catching phalaropes at Booth Sound

Catching phalaropes at Booth Sound

 

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