The worldwide Augustana College experience

The Final Week

Saying goodbye to Dr. Burnham and Jeff Johnson on last week’s flight back to the US marked the beginning of our final week in Greenland, which meant there wasn’t going to be much more time spent out on the boat capturing birds and a lot of time was going to be devoted to packing the place up. It took us one week to get ready for the field season and one week to close camp down.


I must admit that once I realized we were essentially done for the year, I was pretty sad.  It had been an exciting time capturing and collecting different birds, hiking cliff faces looking for feathers below nests, and simply boating around and seeing amazing sights. After having a week of bad weather, I felt that I had missed out on some opportunities, I wanted to do more, see more, hold more birds.


Luckily we had the opportunity to go out once more.  On Sunday, we headed back to Saunder’s Island where we had spent a considerable amount of time before trying to catch kittiwakes with geolocators. We had spotted a bird there with a locator before, but it wasn’t breeding so each time it would disappear and not return so we never got our hand on it.  This last trip was our final attempt to catch the flighty bird.  Contrary to its previous behavior, the Kittiwake was on its nest when we boated in and returned after our first attempt to catch it.  Bridger then set up nooses to catch it when it landed again on its roost, and we sat and waited for it to return.  Despite the bird’s willingness to cooperate with us it wouldn’t get caught in the trap, and we sat out on the water for about 4 hours scaring it up and waiting for the bird to come back before we finally decided it was time to throw in the towel.  We went ashore to scare up the bird one last time, and then lo and behold! It was caught!


We then headed back to Thule to gather some of the people from our barracks to show them around on the water.  With them, we headed out to Eider Duck Island and the Witch’s Tit to look for the young polar bear that we had seen before. Unfortunately we weren’t able to find any polar bears, but that meant we could get onto the Witch’s Tit to catch some Atlantic Puffins! In the past, the team has caught 4-7 puffins, and up until this point we hadn’t gotten any. We managed to get two birds measured and sampled, and everyone had a chance to hold the first one we caught. The puffins are pretty feisty birds and make a low growling sound.


Also around the Witch’s Tit we encountered some new rare species.  While circling around looking for the Polar Bear, we saw a White-Fronted Goose in the sky.  This was the third of this species ever spotted in Northwest Greenland.  Pretty neat to witness! Also, we found two Razorbills. They were nesting by the puffins and look similar to Thick-Billed Murres.


Then after taking in the sights at the Tit, we headed over to Saunder’s to catch some Thick-Billed Murres that nest close to the water.  Bridger had a hard time keeping the Murres in the net, but he managed to catch one! It was a much tamer bird than the one the team had caught for me to practice holding so it was much easier to hold (or maybe I have just gotten really good at holding strong birds!)


Then one of the guests on our boat mentioned that he had wanted to see some dovekie so we went on the wildest boat ride ever chasing down flocks of dovekie.  I almost go flung off the boat!


It was a full day of boating and ended up being a very successful day as well!


The rest of the week we spent packing up all the supplies and inventorying everything.  All in all it was a bigger project than I anticipated and I am very glad to say we are finally done! We continued to trap passerines in the tank farm, which provided a very nice break from the endless amounts of lists. I mastered my trap setting skills and we ended up using all of our 100 color bands plus 6 extra from another set of bands over the course of the entire season (although we did break a few as well).  Most of the birds we caught in the tank farm were Lapland Longspurs and a few Snow Buntings. Most of the birds we caught were either Juveniles or adult females, but we had a hard time distinguishing which they were because they have very similar plumage. It was near the end of the molt for the birds too, so it was possible that males were in there winter plumage as well. There isn’t much information available to help distinguish the different sexes and ages, so it made it hard to know what to look for.  Nevertheless, it was quite fun to examine the different birds and note differences and distinguishing characteristics such as a brown spot behind the head, darker streaking around the face, or a long “spur.”


All in all the Tank Farm project trapping passerines was a fun way to end a very rewarding summer.  While this field season has come to a close, it will be interesting to see where my experience leads me in the future. I hope to spend time working with wildlife in the future whether it be through research or rehabilitation. Maybe I’ll find myself back up in Greenland doing work on birds again. Who knows?

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