Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

Expedition to the Arctic – July 13, 2001

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Our fourth bear finally arose about 1:00 p.m. Stretching and yawning, he lumbered slowly into the water and swam off to the northwest. He moved out of sight within an hour. After our close call of the previous day, the bear coming within 100m of camp, we decided to step up our precautionary efforts. We now share in all-night watches, and during the day, we split into groups equal to the number of guns we pack. We realized we must take it seriously. Johnny told us he rarely sees more than 3 or 4 bears in a year of wandering about the island and its icy waters. Slowly, we pick up new broods or nests. Brad and Mark found a nest close to our camp, of the pair that has puzzled us for at least the last week. A lone egg filled the nest cup indicating either predation or hatching. An intensive search by Johnny and Bruno turned up no new broods in the lake and wetlands closest to the nest. We did locate two new broods in the wetlands east of our camp. After an intensive search of wetlands, Bruno and Mark found two broods in a large wetland east of camp. We captured one adult with 3 chicks and instrumented the adult with a new transmitter. We now have three broods to follow. I stayed with the family until they roosted at 8:00 p.m.

Most of our effort now goes into collecting data. Barry and Steve followed the brood of our only nest. In one night the adult bird ushered her two chicks over 640 meters from the nest cup to a nearby sedge meadow wetland. There she stayed following a circuitous path of only 300 meters. After two days she led the observers back to the same spot they started, at the exact time. On the third day, however, the adult led her two chicks, with Barry, Nancy, and Brad in tow, on a wetland tour of over a kilometer. In one 90-minute period the chicks covered nearly half a km over rock and water obstructions that appears overwhelming for these two-inch youngsters.

Meanwhile, Mandy and Nancy spent several days following the other brood. Hugging a lakeshore of mudboil and small wetlands, the adult and her brood of four chicks picked insects in an area the size of a small suburban lot. At one point a long-tailed jaeger showed interest, landing within 50 meters of the hapless chicks. They froze, their black and white down making them nearly invisible in the dryas and rock. Perhaps without us in the area, the jaeger would have taken the birds. Instead, he lifted into the stiff arctic breeze and flew off to find food elsewhere. The following day, Mandy, Steve, and Johnny followed the family 1.2 km across the lakeshore only to return to the original location by the end of the day.

We revisit most of the birds found nesting in the area. We need to determine the outcome of their nesting, as a measure of the influence of predators. We also want to distinguish the nesting habitat of each species to help discriminate the nest cups we count. It requires a lot of travel. In the last week we have re-located nearly 50 nests, mostly golden plovers, long-tailed jaegers, and king eiders.