Expedition to the Arctic: Aerial Surveys – June 29, 2003
Aerial Survey for Red Knots in Foxe Basin
by Dave Golden
The Red Knot – Atlantic Brant Aerial Telemetry Survey portion of this year’s Arctic expedition is an International partnership among the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Atlantic Flyway Council. Our purpose is to identify nesting locations of red knot and Atlantic brant, two migratory birds of special importance to New Jersey. Over the next week, we will be conducting aerial telemetry surveys around the Foxe Basin to locate red knot and brant that were equipped with radio transmitters earlier this year in New Jersey. Red knot were radio tagged in Delaware Bay during thier spring migration. Atlantic brant were marked on there wintering areas along the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey, as well as coastal areas of Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Connecticut.
Our 5 person crew will consist of 3 biologists and 2 pilots. Paul Castelli, from the Division’s Bureau of Wildlife Management , will be conducting the brant telemetry survey. David Golden with the Division’s Endangered Species and Non-Game Program will focus on the red knot telemetry. Daniel Bordage, from the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), will record the track of our survey route and conduct visual surveys for brant and other Canadian wildlife. Last year, visual surveys of this type revealed valuable records of many different species including brant, Canada geese, snow geese, and eider colonies, as well as locations of narwhals, beluga whales, walrus , and polar bears, just to name a few. Completing our crew are Pilots Brent Este and Pat Carter. Brent and Pat are pilots with Unalik Airlines and will be flying the Twin Otter airplane that will take us to the birds.
Our trip started 2 days ago with a 10-hour drive from New Jersey to Ottawa, the Capital City of Canada. Here we met with Daniel, and 2 other CWS biologists Kathryn Dickson and Steve Wendt. Steve and Kathy had been on the survey last year and were able to provide maps, computer tracking equipment and advice useful to this year’s survey.
Yesterday we flew from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the Capitol of the Inuit territory of Nunavut. The people and the scenery here have been great. Iqaluit has served as the staging point for much of our work so far and shortly after arriving, we met with the pilots to discuss the route we hope to fly over the next few days. Our initial flight plan was based largely on the maps of potential red knot habitat produced by the Rutgers CRSSA lab and data collected by Paul, and members of CWS, on brant habitat in the area. Paul was able to fly in many of the same areas in 2002 and therefore has some idea of key brant areas around the Foxe Basin; most of these areas nicely overlap with potential red knot habitats. This year, our flight plan has been further informed by data from 10 brant carrying satellite transmitters. As recently as this morning, we received an email detailing the location of these 10 brant as of June 28th (see map). This has resulted in some slight modifications of our flight plan to ensure we fly over the areas where these “satellite” brant were located.
What has altered our flight plan the most, however, has been the weather. We were prepared to depart this morning to fly the first leg of our route, but due to foggy conditions and low-visibility over the Foxe Basin we could not leave Iqaluit. As we waited for updated weather reports that would factor into our plans for tomorrow, we tended to our gear and solved some last minute equipment problems. Conditions are expected to only slightly improve for tomorrow, but the hope is that some telemetry work can be completed. Visual surveys will likely have to be postponed for at least one day, however. As it stands now, we plan to take off early tomorrow morning and fly across the northern portion of the Foxe Basin and stay the night in Hall Beach, on the Northeastern coast of the Melville Peninsula, or Nanasivik, in northwestern Baffin Island. From there, the weather or birds will dictate our next move.