Arctic, shorebird conservation, shorebird ecology, wildlife tracking

Our Last Day in the Arctic

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We woke to a brilliant sunny day on our last day on Knot Plateau, a perfect contrast to the penetratingly cold rain of the day before. While Rick, Steve, and Mandy broke camp, Mark and I drove our ATV out to the two knot nests we had found two days prior. As we had only banded one parent at each nest, we were hoping to find the unbanded birds this time.

Red Knots aren’t the only birds nesting on Knot Plateau. Here, a Long-tailed Duck keeps a wary eye on our progress.

Red Knots aren’t the only birds nesting on Knot Plateau. Here, a Long-tailed Duck keeps a wary eye on our progress.

On the way we saw our first (and last) polar bear. When it saw us coming, he slowly lumbered off in the opposite direction, posing no threat to us. The next day, Josh’s father, Solomon, judged from the picture that the bear was 9-10 feet long and in very good condition. A polar bear coming off the ice in good condition is not likely not to be dangerous and will only seek a cool place to sleep.

Fortunately, our only encounter with a polar bear was on the last day of our fieldwork. Bears live mostly on the ice pack, feeding on seals to fatten up before coming ashore to survive the short Arctic summer.

Fortunately, our only encounter with a polar bear was on the last day of our fieldwork. Bears live mostly on the ice pack, feeding on seals to fatten up before coming ashore to survive the short Arctic summer.

We often encounter bear dugouts where they will stay for a few days at a time keeping cool and sleeping.

We often encounter bear dugouts where they will stay for a few days at a time keeping cool and sleeping.

Unfortunately for us, the adult knot with newly hatched young had already left with the chicks in tow, presumably for the nearest wetland. And the incubating bird on the second nest was the bird already tagged with a geolocator. With nothing more to be done, we made our way back to camp to help finish packing.

A knot incubates her eggs on a small patch of vegetation.

A knot incubates her eggs on a small patch of vegetation.

The same knot in the foreground shows the difficulty of finding them.

The same knot in the foreground shows the difficulty of finding them.

The sun lit the tundra landscape as we returned to civilization, but after a punishing 6 hour ATV ride and facing another 3 hours to get to Coral Harbor, we decided to stay for the night in cabin constructed by the Hunters and Trappers Organization for arguably more desperate Arctic travelers. After waking to another brilliant day we finished the final leg of our trip to Coral Harbor, where we will stay the night with Joshua’s family, Suzy McKitrick and their daughter Sophia. The next day we will begin our two-day journey by commercial flight back to Newark, anticipating the shift from 45 degrees to 95 degrees, but glad to be coming home.