Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

Expedition to the Arctic – June 21, 2002

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We left Coral Harbour for our field site with some relief. Not because of the residents, who we found to be both interesting and friendly to outsiders, but because of the difficulties we encountered. One setback was discovering, after our arrival in Coral Harbour, that the generator and stove we had stored the previous year had been stolen. Thus began a day-long desperate search for a small generator. Without it, we would have no photographs, webpages, satellite phone, computer data entry and analysis, GIS entry and analysis, etc. In the end, we rented a new generator, though several residents offered theirs, including Dominic Milotte and Inuapik Ell, both of Coral Harbour. The second complication was finding that Leonie’s Place, the best hotel in town, was closed, leaving us to stay at the Esungngarq Co-op Hotel. The hotel leaves much to be desired, particularly since we helped clean it up after the last patrons, washed our own dishes, and paid high prices for the meals. After a 75 mile flight into the southern part of the island, it became clear at once that there was much more snow than in previous years. We felt hopeful that we had arrived shortly after the start of incubation. Ed Swada, our pilot, deftly manipulated the Cessna Caravan onto the esker we would soon call home. I always feel a mix of fear and excitement as the plane leaves us behind and the noise of the engine slowly fades into the Arctic stillness. We will remain isolated from family and friends for the next two weeks, with our only companions being the team and the hardy wildlife of this cold and barren land. While setting up camp we must be mindful of the polar bears. Last year we had six in the area of camp, two almost in camp. Even though all of the bears ran from us when chased, we remain vigilant with guns and bear spray. Three years ago, a young bear attacked an Inuit family not far Southampton Island. At night we will rely on a new alarm developed by Ron Porter, an engineer/inventor/shorebird bander from Pennsylvania. A nylon line stretched on posts around all our tents activates the alarm. If a bear or sleepy biologist, tugs or pushes the line it will snap a mouse-trap which sets off a car alarm. On the following day we spent our first day afield with great success. Rick found a nest with an adult sitting on eggs. Bruce watched another bird settle into an empty nest cup that we hope we turn into a nest. Finally, Mark found a nest with just one egg and on the next day had three eggs. It was a great start after walking in mostly rocky and wet terrain for about 10 km. By the end of the day we fell into our cook tent satisfied and ready to discuss everything we had found. As always, Nancy, after spending a full day walking, quickly prepared a meal for which we were very grateful. We added new tasks to our search this year. In the last two years we covered areas that spread approximately 30 m apart on either side of the eskers or ridges where we have found nesting knots. We did not have digitized boundaries, and we often roamed into adjacent areas that looked suitable. This year, we more rigidly set the search area and kept a running estimate of the outer boundary with a GPS. Now we can estimate the area we have searched and reproduce it on our computers. Rick is also creating digital maps of all habitats, our search area and the results of our surveys. Another new task included a systematic point count survey throughout our main study area. With Humphrey’s guidance we conducted preliminary point counts in the areas where we knew knots nested. With some evaluation we determined the best time and duration for the count with the intention of randomly locating new points to begin our regular count.