Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

Expedition to the Arctic – June 18, 2002

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Risking colder and more unpredictable weather we decided to begin our 2002 Arctic Expedition ten days earlier than our previous trips. We are trying to carry out our surveys when red knots more actively defend territories. Predicting the timing of knot breeding remains elusive, however. Last year’s incubation started at least ten days earlier than the previous year, leaving us asking the critical question, what is normal? We still have a lot to learn about the complex breeding behavior of the knot. Earlier is better for other reasons. There will be more snow to limit our search area substantially, and the polar bears should remain on the pack ice.

The first task is to systematically search for nests as we have for the last two years. This will include all nests though we will still focus on red knots. A new job this year will be to conduct a systematic survey of birds. The two surveys will be linked so that we can assess the best time and method to count birds in areas where we know the number of nests and nesting pairs. Our preliminary plan is to first search for nests while we conduct morning and late afternoon surveys. Our second goal is to expand our surveys of birds to a much larger area. We need to provide a base survey that could be recreated each year and applied in different red knot nesting areas, such a northern Southampton and King William Islands. We will conduct this part of our work in close cooperation with Jon Bart, who is with the USGS and the leader of Arctic wide surveys of shorebirds.

Fortunately we have added several new members to our team who will help us achieve these goals. Dr. Rick Lathrop from Rutgers University, Dr Humphrey Sitters, editor of the Wader Study Group Bulletin, Jeff Tash the Geographic Information Specialist from the ENSP and Bruce Luepke of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who participated in both the 1999 and 2000 Arctic trips. Together with Mandy, Mark, and Nancy we have sufficient varied expertise to conduct this year’s expedition. Johnny Alogut our guide for three expeditions has just completed a semester at Nunavut Arctic College in Environmental technology.

We had a more complicated trip to the north this year, which gave us a chance to see Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. If there is one city in Nunavut, it is Iqaluit. It has a main street, museum, and several roads that reach miles into the interior. We were struck by the haunting figures in the Arctic College’s sculpture garden. From Iqaluit we traveled to the smaller, predominantly Inuit communities of Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay, and Coral Harbour, the only community on Southampton Island.