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Expeditions and Travels

Canada, Conserving Wildlife, Expeditions and Travels

Our 10,000 mile hunt for big game

Mandy and I spent July traveling across Canada on the trans-Canada Highway and returning off the interstates through the northern US. Our ultimate destination was the northern Rockies, and our goal was to see all the marquee big game animals that live in northern US and Canada: moose, caribou, elk, big horn sheep, mountain goats, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, american bison and any predators that would show themselves wolf, grizzly, mountain lion, wolverine. We intended to hunt big game minus the kill!   Along the way we came to know more about the people and wildlife of mostly rural communities….

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels

Two Countries One Problem (cont.) – A Problem in Common

Historically in the United States, an alliance of sportsmen and animal lovers formed coalitions that aided politicians to get the job done. Now sportsmen are more concerned by gun rights and conservative politics than their own wildlife (bobwhite quail for example), and the people who love wild animals pretend they have no useful role in their conservation and sit by idly paying nothing for the privilege of their recreation. Both groups buy into industry-led efforts to draw conservationists into fratricidal bickering over issues that divide, as they do in most issues of importance in our nation. From my perspective Brazil…

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Brazil, Conserving Wildlife, Science

Two Countries One Problem – Industry Uncontrolled

The contrast between the states of New Jersey in the United States and Maranhão in Brazil cannot be greater. In Maranhão, Brazil, the small town of Panaquatira, the larger town of São José de Ribamar, and the city of São Luís would shock most visitors from the U.S. They lack proper sanitation, litter fouls most roadsides and intertidal areas, theft and violence abound, and by all appearances poverty pervades all but the most exclusive communities. New Jersey suffers the same problems, but on a much smaller scale. Here in Brazil, most people endure these harsh conditions while only a few…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Maranhão Lost and Found

We knew it was too good to be true. On the first day of trapping, we set our net in a section of the Panaquatira beach close to a site where we caught 85 ruddy turnstones last year. Our success depends most on catching turnstones, and most importantly, re-catching the ones we affixed with geolocators last year. We knew the geolocators had accumulated a full year of movement data and hoped to catch more than a few during our trip. With this effort, our team could create a new emphasis on the migratory ecology of ruddy turnstones, a Rodney Dangerfield-type…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Curupu: Kindness and Grim Deprivation

Last year, our work at Curupu went off without a hitch. Curupu is an island just off the coast of Panaquatira, composed mostly of mangrove swamp and miles of unpopulated sandy beach. Two years ago Guy Morrison, then with the Canadian Wildlife Service, performed an aerial survey of the island and found nearly 800 red knots. Last February, after catching ruddy turnstones on Panaquatira, we took the hour-long boat trip to Curupu Island, and in fairly short order found Guy’s knots and caught 110 of them. We were off the island by the next day. And when we arrived three…

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Brazil, shorebird conservation, shorebird ecology

Down to Work

We spent most of our first day in the field getting ready for the second day in the field. A trapping expedition differs significantly from most ecological investigations in that failure is a real possibility. Usually when a biologist goes into the field, he or she looks for or counts something. If there is nothing to be seen or counted, it might be disappointing, but it’s still data. In other words, zeroes count. When trapping birds, however, there is no such thing as a zero. If we are unable to catch birds, it’s simply failure. Cannon netting in a remote…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Good Water is Hard to Find

We finally reached Panaquatira beach just as the tropical sun fell like a stone, leaving us under a brilliant starry sky. The several-hour trip from São Luís to Panaquatira through the sprawling city of São José de Ribamar once again left me sad and discouraged. The roads shift from dirt to pothole-strewn asphalt without warning. The houses and commercial establishments look like there was once prosperity, but it has since been lost – or everyone just gave up trying. The disparity of income is obvious and frightening. Slums of unimaginable squalor lie adjacent to wealthy enclaves with high, mean-looking concrete…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Braving Brazil

When most people think of Brazil, they think of Rio de Janeiro, a modern city that will soon host the World Cup, and in a few years, the Summer Olympics. Or they may think of the Amazon jungle, and all the wonders of a wilderness alive with fascinating wildlife and plants that can found in no other place. Except for an eight-hour layover in Rio, we are not going to these places. Instead, we will go to a tiny town on the northern equatorial coast near the bustling city of São Luís, about 250 miles east of the mouth of…

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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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