The worldwide Augustana College experience

Camping out in Booth Sound

This past week, Sunday, July 8th to Saturday, July 14th, Bridger, Jeff and I camped out in Booth Sound. The goal for the week was to recapture the arctic terns that were banded with geolocators two years ago.  Last year they attempted to do the same, but only recaptured 1 out of about 24.  Our other goal was to capture shorebirds, to collect DNA, mercury, isotope, and feather samples, and to band the birds.

Booth is a bay north of Thule and is quite beautiful. Before setting up camp, we stopped at a location where peregrines commonly nest.  We watched the male and female fly about, perch in a couple of places, but couldn’t quite find a nest. Bridger even climbed up on top of the cliff and couldn’t spot the nest. After spending a while, hoping that the female would return to the nest, we headed over to our camping location. When we boated into the bay, we drove past some islands where eiders were nesting, and it was quite a sight to see flocks of common eiders flying in all directions.  We even saw a king eider, which is a bit rare.

Camping at Booth we had a few days of good weather and a few days of not so good weather. The trip began well, and we spent our first day checking out the tern islands and counting nests. Tern eggs are hard to find because they blend in pretty well with their surroundings.  They like to nest directly on the gravel and their egg looks almost like any another rock, but its a brownish color with specks on it. So we walked slowly across the small little islands, watching each step carefully. We checked out five different islands and didn’t find anything too promising.  There was one nest on the eider island, about five on the main tern island, and three on an island further into the bay. In the past the islands were covered with tern nests, so this was an unpleasant and surprising outcome. While on one island we spotted a tern above with a geolocator; it flew in and then flew back out and out of sight. Bummer! Even if we see a tern with a geolocator, we can’t catch it unless it has a nest that we can trap it on. So while seeing that tern gave us an inkling of hope, our attempts of capturing the bird are quite hopeless if we cannot find it’s nest. After surveying the islands, we decided some of the birds looked like they were carrying extra weight, and were performing mating rituals, so we decided to wait a few days and come back just in case the terns were in the process of establishing nests.

That night and the next day we spent hunting down shorebirds. We got the net gun, which is a pretty cool contraption, all set up and marched our way into the marsh land.  My clumsy self managed to fall in a stream soon after heading out there, my boot got stuck in the mud pulling me one way, while I had already shifted my weight in another direction. I headed back to camp to change into clothes and let the wet ones dry.  While I was gone Bridger and Jeff found a red-neck phalarope nest, and managed to catch two adult phalaropes.  By the time I made it out there however, the phalaropes had learned the game and were impossible to sneak up on.  The next day we went back out, and decided to head deeper into the valley towards the ice cap. We found a lake with two pairs of geese on it and decided to try and catch one sitting on a nest. While Jeff was sneaking up on the nest, a king eider hen appeared right out of the blue before and flew off her nest and right over Bridger and my head.  We had no idea that the eider was nesting right next to the Canada Goose.  She was pretty well hidden.  But that was a neat event, considering Bridger, who has been coming to Greenland for the past 7 years, has never seen a King Eider nest. It can be hard to tell Eider hens apart, but King Eiders, unlike Common Eiders that nest on small islands, nest inland, and have a darker underside than the Common Eiders.

Our attempt to catch the Canada Goose was a futile attempt, unfortunately, so we moved further into the valley to see if there was anything of worth. We stopped for lunch on a ridge looking out over Booth and then head back home. While we didn’t catch any birds the entire day, we swept a good amount of the Booth Sound area, and saw some pretty neat sights.  We walked from one river system to another, through marshy, mucky areas, and large flat areas of stones.  Walking through an area so big, without many land marks like trees or buildings, it was hard for me to figure out where we were in relation to our campsite.  Because there was nothing very tall, it sure was hard to gauge how far we had walked.  You could say the land looks flat from afar, but up close, the land rolls with small hills and ledges, so something you see one minute, like our bright yellow tents, can easily be lost. When we made it to a big river, I crossed over thinking that our campsite was still ahead, but instead I found out it was right behind me! If I had been out there alone, it sure would have been easy to get lost!

That night and the next few days were a mixture of sitting out the rain in our tents, reading books, and sleeping.  One of the days I only left my tent once before dinner to eat a granola bar and use the bathroom.

When the weather seemed to clear a bit, we checked on the tern islands again, but didn’t find many improvements.  We located maybe two terns with geolocators, but like before they didn’t seem to have established nests, so there wasn’t much we could do.  It is beneficial to know though that there are terns still alive with geolocators after two years. We also went back out to catch more shorebirds, and had more luck the second time around. We caught a few more red-neck phalaropes and two purple sandpipers! We used the mist net this time along with the net-gun. The mist net seemed to be a futile attempt because the birds were very aware of it, as it blew in the wind, but we somehow managed to trap one phalarope in it that was more concerned with avoiding the three of us than the mist net.

Because we were not finding nesting geolocated terns, and we had caught about as many shorebirds as possible, there wasn’t much we could do at Booth.  We spent our last day or two sleeping and reading in our tents, hiking around, making additional unsuccessful attempts to find nesting terns, building chairs out of rocks, and even finding rocks and a buoy to play bowling.  Due to the weather, we were uncertain when were going to be picked up, but we all crossed our fingers that it would be soon.  We were anxious to work, so it was an exciting day when we called in on Saturday and and Kurt told us that he was coming to get us!

All in all, it was an awesome experience, but I sure was glad to come home, take a warm shower, and put on some dry clothes.


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