For the birds: Greenland field journal #3

Jacob Wyco
Jacob Wyco
July 29, 2019

Plans have slowed down up here in Thule. Heavy winds and rain have kept us on base for the past 7 days. 

Weather in Greenland can be very unpredictable, going from perfect to terrible within an hour. These setbacks can cause some boredom, as we have begun to run out of work to do on base except the traps. However, we still found ourselves running around with some urgency. 

On July 11, the Burnham kids and Dr. Jennifer Burnham arrived in Thule, completing the team. The kids, Finn and Bridger are energetic yet fun to work with in the field. They were allowed the opportunity to help with trapping the minute they got on base. 

I enjoyed teaching them how to get the bird out and reset the trap. They even got the chance to encounter my favorite bird, a Lapland longspur with the band number C52. 

These little songbirds often have very different personalities. Some are very calm and won’t struggle as much, and others are terrified and don’t stop trying to escape. C52 has been captured everyday we’ve went to trap, sometimes many times in a day. I think he’s figured that getting held is a small price to pay for a free meal.

Saturday was a wash. Extremely heavy winds stopped us from even doing traps, as the wind blew them shut. This meant a lot of free time on base. 

We watched T.V., stared at each other, and did some preparation for the next week so we weren’t scrambling to get ready. What came after were the craziest 3 days so far. 

Monday started it all with a boat outing to a peregrine nest at Brian’s leap and catching eider ducks and guillemots, a type of seabird at the Witch’s Tit. The day was long but rewarding, as we caught a fair amount of birds. 

The cliffs had no falcons sadly, but we still got a camera in. These cameras are on for an entire year and take pictures of whoever is in the nests. It keeps track of how the falcons are raising young, or whether young are dying. 

After that, came a 24 hour long work day. Given the unpredictability of weather up here, we need to take advantage of every hour we get. All day daylight allows us to work these long days safely and efficiently. 

We also periodically take breaks, and we always have a fully loaded snack box full of coffee, cheese, and other foods to keep us energized. And it was definitely a productive day. 

We got three falcon cliffs completed, replacing and installing new cameras. Between cliffs, we walked a few islands surveying for arctic tern nests. We did not find any of the nests, but we did see a group of terns flying. 

The adventure was capped off by catching eiders and seabirds around Saunders and Eider Island. The seabirds proceeded to give me some nasty bites, the murres being especially powerful birds, but part of the fun is learning how to hold them so you and the birds are safe. 

Each bird is different, with different reactions to being held. I found the best way was to hold their beaks down with my thumb. That way, I wasn’t getting bit, and neither was the person trying to take samples.

The Thule experience has been amazing so far. It’s only going to get even busier, and I’m excited to continue the adventure and working with more birds.

Jacob Wyco
Jacob Wyco