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Arctic

conservation policy, Conserving Wildlife, Expeditions and Travels, Uncategorized

Inuit Wisdom on Conservation

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In July of last year, our trip in search of red knots from my home in Greenwich, NJ to the small Arctic town of Coral Harbor in Southampton Island took us to some of the most remote wilderness in this hemisphere. But we also leaped from a modern socially connected world to one with third world communication and economic systems. You can’t use your cell phone in Coral Harbor, in fact neither can the mostly Inuit population. They use Facebook with enthusiasm but have virtually dial-up internet speeds. The cost of a case of coke is $45. An overnight stay…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

The Search Continues

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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Arctic, Conserving Wildlife, Delaware Bay, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Returning to the Arctic

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The odd thing about the shorebirds of Delaware Bay is that they are not really of Delaware Bay but of the Canadian Arctic. The most important part of their lives is spent in the barren high tundra of the Arctic, in places like Southampton Island, located on the north end of Hudson Bay. We have worked in Southampton Island for 6 years studying the red knot but stopped because the decline seen in Delaware Bay was more than apparent in the Arctic – birds literally disappeared from our wilderness study site. It’s been 8 years since then, and now we…

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Arctic, Bird Study, Expeditions and Travels, Science

No Luck for Knots Canadian Arctic 2007

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We spent the last day in the field re-surveying Mt. Pelly for red knots. With the coordinates of the three nests found in 1999-2003, we used GPS to cover much of the area we had surveyed at the start of the trip but without success. We went back to Mt. Pelly that evening to listen for knots, but still no luck. We stayed to watch the sun, still far from the horizon even though it was nearly 11:00 pm, but eventually a strong cold wind drove us back to camp.   Gwen pointing out a red knot nest cup on…

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Arctic, Bird Study, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Climate Change or Just Lucky? – Canadian Arctic 2007

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A cold wet fog ended the long run of unseasonably warm weather we’ve had since our arrival on Victoria Island. Normal for this time of year is a high of about 46 degrees but over the last five days we have basked in temperatures as high as 75 degrees. Although most of the town of Cambridge Bay enjoyed the short reprieve from winter, it felt ominous. Was this global warming in action? Or was it just an odd spell of warmth punctuating the usual cool summer weather? Climate change or not, it was glorious. Warm gentle breezes, coupled with a…

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Arctic, Bird Study, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Looking for Shorebirds on Mt Pelly – Canadian Arctic 2007

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Our camp lies at the base of Mt. Pelly, about 12 miles north of Cambridge Bay. More a big hill than a mountain, Mt. Pelly nevertheless imposes a mighty presence in this large flat landscape. Imagine a steep mound rising ominously out of the tundra like a giant being with it own wildlife community clinging to its sides: peregrine falcons, ravens, rough-legged hawks, American pipits, horned larks and rock ptarmigans have been seen on Mt Pelly for as long as people have been recording wildlife. No doubt they were here long before people first came to this land. Standing on…

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Arctic, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Studying Red Knots in the Canadian Arctic 2007

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Thursday, June 28, 2007 Snow and Ice first started appearing from the jet window about an hour north of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. We were still an hour south of Cambridge Bay, Nunuvut, our final destination and where our expedition would begin. From our warm perch at 10,000 ft, we could first see a remnant patch of ice on the edge of one of the constellation of ponds and lakes that dot the tundra. Within minutes, the ice remnants turned to into the predominant feature of the landscape; the vast unbroken wilderness of tundra stretching thousands of miles to the north,…

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