Expedition to the Arctic – June 25, 2002
After successfully surveying the area surrounding our main esker we decided to tackle the esker to the southeast. Between the two, we found two pairs of sanderlings who were not yet nesting in the same area as the two found last year. One of those birds was banded on the Delaware Bay, thus proving that our study area is populated with sanderlings that come through the bay. Along the south esker we found only two displaying knots presumably indicating nests. We decided to return later to find the nests. After a complete sweep of the two eskers we found five possible nests in an area with six in 2001 and twelve in 2000. On our return, a sudden downpour of icy rain soaked us. We were mostly prepared but the 5-km trip back to camp turned into a sodden and dispiriting march.
None of our experiences prepared us for the storm that hit the following night. Our first indication was a barometer that fell from a high of 1004 mb to about 993 mb in just a few hours. Then, Johnny received a report on his VHF radio that a storm with gusts up to 60 mph was heading our way. Immediately we shored up our tents to take a blow that would just be short of hurricane strength. While lugging 70-pound rocks to anchor the tent, rain started falling in sheets, and strong winds began whipping through the cook tent. It was bad but manageable, so we decided to head for our tents and get a good night’s rest. The pressure continued to fall and by 1:00 a.m. it bottomed out at 978 mb, a 24 mb drop in just six hours! It was difficult to sleep.
Then at 3:00 a.m. the rain and wind stopped, and for a brief and tense few minutes all was quiet. You may have thought it was over. Then, without warning, the wind shifted to the north, rose to over 50 mph, and blasted our tents with an icy rain. For four very long hours the storm raged, flattening two of our tents and caving in the sides of several others. Although we were prepared for this storm, the unknown magnitude made me very anxious. Would it continue to rise? Finally the pressure began to rise at about 6:00 a.m. and then rose very quickly throughout the next day. By 3:00 p.m. it was back to 1004 mb, and we continued our survey on the esker.
The following day brought the very best Arctic weather, sunny and warm with no mosquitoes. By 1:00 p.m. we were stripping off our outer garments and still feeling warm.
We decided to survey the most outlying portion of our study area, which is over 8 km away. We planned for a full day of hiking and surveying. Midway, we encountered calling knots. This began a daylong search that yielded a nest and a better understanding of knot behavior. It started when we began a sweep with the ten of us abreast, each recording what we saw. Immediately, several birds began calling and displaying above us. Thus began a debate amongst us as to whether this was territorial behavior or a response to us within a territory. Eventually, two knots landed in a wetland that was the center of at least four different calling birds.
We tried an experiment. Bruce walked into the area where we first elicited a response, and a knot called from the east. Within seconds, the two knots on the ground flew in the direction of the calling bird. Bruce, Humphrey, Mark, and I followed and began a quick search, and within minutes Humphrey came upon a nest with three eggs. A pleasing end to a hard day.