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Arctic

Arctic, Bird Study, Conserving Wildlife, Delaware Bay, Expeditions and Travels, habitat management, Restoring Habitat, Science, shorebird conservation, shorebird ecology, wildlife conservation, wildlife tracking

The Red Knots “Vote with their Wings”

Red Knot by Jan van der Kam

Clive Minton is fond of saying, “the knots vote with their wings” as a way of saying knots concentrate in the best places for knots. Of course it’s true, animals move to the habitats they find most suitable, nature leaves little room for anything but. Sometimes however, animals use a habitat only because they have little choice — in other words, they are making the best of a bad situation. The job of a good wildlife biologist is to understand the difference. Unfortunately, it’s often not obvious. In all the places studied by this author — Tierra del Fuego, the…

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Arctic, Bird Study, conservation policy, Conserving Wildlife, Delaware Bay, Expeditions and Travels, habitat management, Restoring Habitat, Science, shorebird conservation, shorebird ecology, wildlife conservation, wildlife tracking

19,077 Red Knots Observed in New Jersey

Knots in formation

Despite the threatening forecast of a cold drizzle and strong winds, our team persevered to complete the first bay-wide count of this season. On the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay, we counted 19,077 red knots – the most seen in the state in a decade. With Delaware’s shorebird team recording 2,000 knots along their entire shoreline, the total knot count of 21,077 is not far from the 24,000 seasonal maximum of the last three years. This is good news in either of two completely different ways. One explanation is that perhaps most of the knots have already come to…

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Arctic, shorebird conservation, shorebird ecology, wildlife tracking

Arctic Field Notes: A Daily Log from Mark Peck

Ever wonder what field scientists record in their notebooks during their day-to-day work? In July 2013, biologist Mark Peck (Royal Ontario Museum) was one of five scientists who traveled to Southampton Island, a large island in northern Canada, in search of nesting red knots and other shorebirds. His daily field notes and photographs provide a fascinating look at the trials and tribulations faced by the scientists seeking to protect these imperiled species. 1 July 2013 – Left at 20:30 for Winnipeg. Arrived at 22:30 and checked into the Hampton Inn. Larry Niles, Mandy Dey, Steve Gates, and Rick Lathrop came…

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Arctic, Conserving Wildlife

Cruel Arctic Weather

At the end of the day, we were spent.

We have been home now for a few days, sweltering in 97+ degree heat, the memory of 39 degree nights as distant as the Arctic. Yesterday I debriefed with Canadian Wildlife Service Biologist Paul Smith ( one of our funders) and we discussed both our team’s and his experience on Southampton this season. Paul went early to the East Bay Camp on the southeast side of Southampton also doing surveys. Afterwards he spoke of July 16th , the day we left Coral Harbor for our homes. We had a terrible departure, the single room air terminal was filled with people…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

Summing Up Our 2013 Arctic Expedition

Our team. Back row: Larry Niles and Amanda Dey. Front row: Mark Peck, Joshua Keenainak, Steve Gates, and Rick Lathrop.

The expedition was a success simply because we are all going home safe and sound. But it was also a complete success because we achieved all of our primary goals. First, we established the presence of a new Red Knot breeding area from the ground. It is unique among the three known on Southampton Island, and already known to be one of the most important breeding sites for the rufa subspecies. Just finding it was a true Arctic expedition, taking us deep into the wilderness of Southampton Island. Our team persisted through extraordinary obstacles that made us feel “rode hard…

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Arctic, shorebird conservation, shorebird ecology, wildlife tracking

Our Last Day in the Arctic

A knot incubates her eggs on a small patch of vegetation.

We woke to a brilliant sunny day on our last day on Knot Plateau, a perfect contrast to the penetratingly cold rain of the day before. While Rick, Steve, and Mandy broke camp, Mark and I drove our ATV out to the two knot nests we had found two days prior. As we had only banded one parent at each nest, we were hoping to find the unbanded birds this time. On the way we saw our first (and last) polar bear. When it saw us coming, he slowly lumbered off in the opposite direction, posing no threat to us….

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

Arctic Rain

Mandy in our tent. We are stuck here waiting out the rough weather.

The god of Arctic weather is determined to keep us confined to our tents today. The weather is horrible, with constant cold drizzle punctuated by brief downpours. This is very likely the most rain we have ever had in our 9 years of work on Southampton Island. It’s certainly the coldest day in this year’s expedition. Our team is of different mindsets about the impact of the rain. I suspect that it will be damaging at the time of egg hatching, if only because the newly-hatched chicks are barely covered in thin down and must leave the nest site with…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Knots At Last

The first nest we found had one hatched chick, so fresh you can still see the embryonic material in the shell.

After 10 days in the field, 5 of them searching for knots, and with only one day before we must leave, we have at long last found knot nests – two, in fact. As we suspected, both still contained eggs, although one adult was also brooding a chick that was only hours old. Also as we suspected, we found them on small ridges in gravel-sized frost-cracked rock with very sparse vegetation. Finding the second nest was lucky, but it wasn’t entirely an accident. Considering there are fewer knots than the number of potential knot nesting sites in our study area,…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

The Search Continues

Arctic Fox are one of the top predators of shorebird eggs. A mottled brown color in the summer, their fur turns snow white every winter.

The rigors of conducting field work and sleeping on therm-a-rest mattresses in unheated, low-ceilinged tents are starting to wear us out. Of course, much of this is age-related. The author of this blog, being on the older side of the crew, finds the need to get dressed in a tent the size of a refrigerator box to be the most difficult part of our field experience. Ironically Joshua, the youngest of our crew, has a small campaign tent in which he can stand. We are finally settling into a routine. The days of battling the Sutton River basin were exhausting…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

Knot Plateau

Josh's skills have proven invaluable, as he has been called on to repair our ATVs multiple times. Here, he fixes a slice in an ATV’s tire from a sharp rock.

Prior to this trip, our last expedition to the Arctic was over five years ago. At the time, filmmaker Allison Argo was in the middle of producing the documentary Crash: A Tale of Two Species for the PBS series Nature, and we brought her to the site we thought would provide us with the best chance to see red knots. It had been ten years since we had visited that particular region, and we were eager to resurvey the area. But the knots were nowhere to be found. We ruminated about the sad fact that the Arctic had been depopulated…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

Third Time’s a Charm to find Arctic Shorebirds

A barren-ground caribou runs from us on Southampton Island. The caribou population fell dramatically for a number of reasons, but the Coral Harbour Hunters and Trappers Association cut the harvest drastically despite the reliance of the citizens of this impoverished community on the meat and the income from guiding hunts.

We finally made it to knot plateau! Anyone else would have looked at this barren tundra and wondered what all the fuss was about, but our team fist-bumped with pride. After three tries, we had finally made it – and as it turned out, this final approach was the easiest. Rick found a north/south ridge of high ground about 3 miles to the west of our camp on the Sutton River. Starting on the west side of the river basin, we began our journey on the same side of the river as the plateau, so we didn’t have the difficulty…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

River Crossings

The riverbank provides safe refuge from predators for hundreds of Snow Geese, which are flightless while they molt their feathers.

Our second attempt to reach the knot plateau failed, but reaching the Sutton River was no small consolation. We began the day upbeat. We broke camp at the ATV trailhead used by Inuit hunters to reach into the vast Sutton floodplain. Joshua thought it might get us to the river, and at this lower reach it would be wide and shallow. Getting there would require a 15-mile ATV trip across nasty high ground and wetland tundra, but once across the river the knot plateau would only be a short jog. Our trip to the Sutton was not as difficult as…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

On to the Land – the Search for Arctic Knots

Another river crossing (with our ATVs) on the way to camp

We left yesterday with high hopes of getting out to the plateau of barren tundra where we previously located 10 knots with transmitters over a five-year period. Remotely, the area looks like habitat similar to our 2000-2005 study area – slightly higher elevation than most of Southampton Island’s tundra, less than 5% vegetation, and inland at least 5 km. Unlike our study area, however, we can get to the plateau without a plane. We left Coral Harbor by the newly created road two days ago, and yesterday we set out to get the rest of the way by ATV. We…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Polar Bears and Roadless Tundra

Red-throated Loons

We left Coral Harbor on Wednesday afternoon to find knot habitat in the interior portion of Southampton Island. We left town with three ATVs and a truck on what we hoped was a new access road to knot habitat. The road out of town had always existed, but only went about 10 miles to the Kirchoffer Falls, a wonderful feature seen mostly by residents and the modest number of people who visit the island. Recently the town extended the road, but oddly no one we could find knew how far it went or if it was passable. Ostensibly, it had…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels, Science

In Search of Knots

A Semipalmated Sandpiper nesting in wetland tundra on Southampton Island.

While flying from Winnipeg to Nunavut, we focused on a strategy for finding red knot nests and adults with broods. We know from our 9 years of Arctic work that knots don’t occur randomly across the tundra landscape. Quite the opposite, they choose very specific places that distinguish knots from other Arctic nesting shorebirds. Most knots choose to nest in relatively barren tundra slightly higher in elevation than more common Arctic nesting shorebirds. The latter prefer the lush wetland tundra along the coast and in the bigger river drainages because of the abundant prey early in the season. So why…

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