After a six hour drive to Chicago, a four hour flight to San Francisco (We also sat at the gate for a hour to fix a static intercom system), and a 12 hour flight to Auckland, we finally arrived in New Zealand! After getting our passports stamped, and going through customs we got on a coach bus to drive around the city (at 6:00 am local time). It was really cool to see the city, and the bus driver told us a lot about the history and the different places we were passing. We stopped at a park/ WWII memorial/ garden area. We took a 20 minute walk around the gardens to stretch out our legs. After that we checked into our accommodations, which are apartment style dorms at the University of Auckland. It is located at the bottom of a giant steep hill (which isn’t so bad going down as it is horrible going up). We were able to shower and relax a little before we had lunch. For lunch we got back on the bus and drove around the city a little more- this time by the harbor. We had lunch at Rickshaw Eddy’s – they ordered us sampler platters that had sliders, chicken dumplings, shrimp, wings, calamari, and some sort of pork pastry thing. There were various sauces and for the most part everything was pretty good.
The team at Thule has had a lot of exciting adventures recently! In the past few weeks we have gone camping, explored an abandoned village, seen another polar bear, and have been productive in our bird surveys and in recapturing birds with geolocators.
Last week we camped out at a location called Booth Sound where our task was to find Red-necked phalaropes that had geolocators attached to them. Searching for the phalaropes required hiking through a marsh area where at some points we were up to our knees in water and mud. At one point, my boots got stuck in the mud and Kurt had to come rescue me. Fortunatly, not too long after that we found a new Red-necked phalarope and banded it. Throughout our hike we did not find any birds with geolocators but we did tag two new birds and catch a Parasitic Jaeger chick which was really fun for us. For the rest of our time in Booth Sound, we surveyed small islands for Arctic Tern nests. Arctic Terns are pretty incredible in that they have the longest migration of any bird. They migrate across the globe from their breeding areas in the arctic all the way down to Antarctica. Arctic Terns can also be extremely aggressive and protective of their nests. At some points during my survey, I had to duck because I had some angry Arctic Tern parents trying to dive bomb me while I was counting their eggs and chicks.
The High Arctic Institute team has finally been able to get our boat out onto the water here at Thule. This means we have been taking short day trips out to islands such as Saunders and the Witches Tit to collect data from Black-Legged Kittiwakes and Atlantic Puffins. We have been aiming to catch previously banded birds and birds who had geolocators attached to them two years ago to see where they might have migrated to and expand on previous research. This is a bit difficult because at Saunders there is an estimated three hundred thousand birds there, so we have to look carefully for birds we have caught before. Bridger usually goes ashore these islands and sets up noose lines or uses a bownet to try and catch these birds while Kurt and I stay on the boat. Although it is fun and exciting when we collect data from these birds, the majority of the trips usually involve being patient and staying warm out on the boat while we wait to process a bird.
A few days ago, we took a longer outing, about 150 miles round trip, out south of base along an area called the York Peninsula. We traveled down the peninsula for over ten hours surveying the cliffs for Gyrfalcon and Peregrine falcons. Although we only discovered two possible Gyrfalcon nests, that day was an adventure for us. The cliffs we saw were spectacular and like something you could only ever dream of or read about. The pictures we took I don’t think could ever do them justice. However, we were not the only ones hanging out near the cliffs that day. While I started to doze off on the boat I heard Bridger yell, “Polar bear!” Sure enough, off the shore swimming surprisingly fast near the coast was a large adult male polar bear. We boated a respectable distance away from him to get some good pictures and decided to leave once we heard him start sniffing at us. Kurt’s motto is that if you don’t bother them then they will, hopefully, not bother us. It is better to play it safe than to be seen as a snack to a wild animal. A few hours later we saw three small boats off in the distance, which was odd because we were in such a remote area. The boats carried about five people each and they stopped when they reached our boat. It turns out they were Greenlandic and heading to Savissivik, which is a town about two hours from where we were. They were really curious as to why we were out there and we explained what we were doing and the birds we were looking for. After that we parted ways with lots of smiles, waves, and safe travels. It was pretty cool to be able to meet some new people in such a secluded area. The rest of the day we spent traveling back to base, snacking, getting out of the boat occasionally to stretch our legs out and hike, and looking at the pictures we had taken of the polar bear.
Even though I’ve only been at the Thule air base for a little over a week, I have already learned so much. I learned how to set small bird traps, how to measure wings, tails and beaks, how to put together blood sampling kits, and even how to drive stick shift and play Danish pin billiards. We have been catching small birds, hiking a lot, and still unloading lots of gear. There has been a lot to do, and it has all been exciting and fun.
The other day, Bridger and I decided to hike up Mt. Dundas, which is an extremely steep mountain that flattens out at the top. Hiking up, I had the brutal realization that I probably should have spent the first part of my summer working out rather than watching Netflix and eating junk food. The hike was so steep that for most of it I had to use my hands to pull myself up and make sure I didn’t fall backwards. After about a half mile climb, I was almost to the top and needed to use a rope to get past the steepest part of the mountain. It was a real pain to hike but it was worth it. The view from the top was incredible; I could even see some seals down below by some of the sea ice. Once we were at the top, Bridger and I found two adult Gyrfalcons and their nest. Bridger rappelled down into the nest to find four Gyrfalcon chicks that we will band later in the season. On the other side of Dundas, we found two Peregrine falcons and their nest which only has eggs in it now. The hike was worth it to see four falcons and four chicks. The trip taught me that in order to effectively do research, one should be in pretty good shape and be willing to be sore the next day in order to get the necessary data.
For our last day in Japan Stephi, Gage and I decided to visit Korea town. The streets were filled with K-pop stores and many tasty looking restaurants. While I have never had any experience with K-pop, I found the stores to very intriguing and even entertaining. While many of bands emphasized male pop groups there were a few female groups. It was interesting to see how feminine some of the male singers were.
After walking around for a while the entire group got ready to head out for our final diner together. Dr. Nagase decided to take us to a restaurant that served Shabu Shabu. This dish is very similar to what we might call a “hot pot.” Here we all had meat that we would cook in a pot and then would dip into different sauces. The last encounter with everyone was rather sad but it was definitely a memorable moment for all of us. Especially when we had to run to the train together so that everyone wouldn’t miss their flight!
P.S Stephi and I had the opportunity to stay a couple of extra days in Tokyo. So for our final days we went to a Robot Restaurant and then a Maid Cafe. Kawaii!!
I have been at the Thule air base in Greenland for two days now and it is already starting to feel like home. I flew in yesterday morning on a C17 military aircraft. The plane ride was not like your standard commercial flight. The inside looked like what I imagine spaceships to look like and the seats were made out of a mesh material, although I was not sitting in my seat for most of the flight. Because we left the United States at around 1 in the morning and it was a 5 and a half hour plane ride, most of us on the air craft got to sleep on the floor of the plane. Even though I was bundled up in a blanket, a sweater, and had gloves on it was still hard to sleep because of how cold it was.
Once Bridger and I landed in Thule, we got our paperwork done at the base and moved our luggage into the barracks we will be staying in. Then we got to work right away setting up for the field season. This is Bridger’s 9th year coming to Greenland as a member of the High Arctic Institute team, and he and I are supposed to set up this first week until Kurt Burnham, our leader, gets in. All of the gear we need was kept in a storage facility on base, so Bridger and I spent the day yesterday getting a forklift and moving boxes of gear, unloading the boxes, and transporting the gear back to our office in the Barracks. There is a lot of hard work and manual labor that needs to be done before we can go out and start catching birds. After a long day at the storage facility, Bridger and I set out on a hike to Dave’s Eyrie, which had an incredible view of the base, the islands we will be visiting later in the season, and all the ice caps. That is where I spotted the first Peregrine Falcon of the season flying above the cliffs we were on.
I was too busy preparing for my presentation at Hitachi Construction Machinery’s headquarter that I couldn’t have time to write about my amazing trip to Kyoto – the former capital, as well as one of the oldest cities in Japan. Kyoto, to me, was magnificent, in the way that the city was beautifully surrounded by mountains and rivers with many temples, shrines and castles. Before coming to Kyoto, I expected to see mostly traditional houses. However, Kyoto was more modern and busier than I thought. Kyoto station was huge and its architecture was very impressive. This is also one of the most visited place in Kyoto!
Today began with a tour of the Tierra works factory. This was the last HCM facility that we were invited to see. This establishment had very distinct and diverse characteristics. There were many workers that ranged from local Japanese workers to foreigners from places like the Netherlands or South America. Our hosts, as always, were very kind and entertaining. Nomura-san, an employee of HCM, made the trip quite the experience by providing songs and plenty of jokes for us to hear.
After having a lovely tour of HCM’s diverse factory we headed on a train to Kobe. Thats right ladies and gents, this is the town where the legendary Kobe beef originated. Our hotel was in the ideal sport, surrounded by Chinatown, the train station, as well as an owl cafe (H00T H00T). After exploring the town for a little while we met up with an Augie exchange student, Mai. She took us around town and brought us to a rather unusual restaurant that served pallea, pizza, and ribs.
Greetings! After traveling from Tokyo, we arrived in Minakuchi. It is in the countryside, so it is very different from Tokyo. I like it. Anyway, we were taken to our hotel by some employees from Hitachi Tierra, that we will be visiting tomorrow. Then they took us to a ninja house. It is the only real, surviving ninja house in all of Japan. It was absolutely cool! The house is something like you would only see in movies or books. There are hidden passages and traps all over the house, and some of the pits are quite deep. Additionally, the house is multi-level; the second level has a short ceiling. This is because enemies can be trapped there and be unable to use long swords. Meanwhile, ninjas use short daggers, so they can still combat in the space. There are also small windows so that the ninjas could keep a look-out for enemies. Throughout the house, there are different kinds of ninja tools too, like shuriken. We got to visit a small gift shop there too, so I bought some ninja-related souvenirs. I really enjoyed the ninja house experience, and I would go back if given the opportunity.
We started our day by leaving our hotel in Ueno, Tokyo for the train station. We dragged our luggage to Ueno Station, stored our belongings, and got on the train for the mountains. As we moved out of the city, the landscape transitioned into an expanse of rice paddies and traditional homes, with the mountains standing in the background. As we traversed through the rural scenery, the mountains grew larger as we approached our destination. We made a brief stop before we transferred to our bus in a small mountain town where we enjoyed tempura and soba noodles at a traditional restaurant. We went to grab a quick snack for later, and nearly missed our bus that then took us farther into the mountains. As we rode through small towns, we were surrounded by the tall green mountain scenery. Japanese mountains definitely have a different character than any other mountains I’ve experienced. Despite how grand they are, they have a sense of humbleness which I think closely mirrors the people of Japan. Eventually, we reached our destination. Our hotel was a large traditional style accommodation. We removed our shoes once we entered the establishment, put on our slippers and were served tea as our rooms were sorted out. The lobby overlooked a beautiful, rocky, clear stream that was located just below the hotel. We were taken to our rooms that had traditional tatami mats and overlooked the stream below. We quickly put on our yukatas (a type of casual kimono) and went to the first onsen (a bath fed by hot springs).
Once we got there we stripped down and washed off before entering the bath. The first bath was constructed out of igneous rocks and had and had a door that lead to an outdoor bath that overlooked a steep waterfall and the clear stream. It was incredibly relaxing, until my heart started to race and my head was throbbing from the heat. The baths are fed by hot springs, which needless to say… were scorching. I had to take a quick water break to cool off and then tried the indoor bath, which was significantly cooler and did not nearly lead me pass out. After a while, we left the bath in search for another one. We went to the bottom floor where we found an indoor bath. Emily and I were the only two there, and in the corner there was a small waterfall decorated with rocks and a Buddha statue. The temperature in this bath was much more tolerable so we were able to stay longer. We then made our way back to the bath we were previously at and braved the hot water once again. It was amazing how exhausting sitting in hot water could be, so we passed out on our tatami mat until dinner time. Dinner was held in a private room with multiple courses and after dinner we were entertained by hotel staff with traditional dances, song, and my personal favorite, taiko drumming. After a quick dip in the bath, we went on a night time stroll through the village and then went to bed.
We woke up early to enter the onsen before breakfast… which I learned is not such a great idea. After exiting the bath, my muscles began to tense up, and I began to stumble around as my vision went black. I sat down and chugged water until I regained control. Fun tip: don’t use an onsen when you’re running on an empty stomach. I grabbed a trusty Pocari Sweat (a life saving electrolyte drink) from the gift store and felt significantly better by the time breakfast rolled around. When we were done eating, we went for a walk through the village and found a spring fed foot bath across the river. We made our way back to the hotel, caught a bus, and then we were off to another popular mountain resort area. After several transfers we arrived at Kusatsu where we enjoyed a pasta lunch. The downtown area surrounded a large hot spring that smelled of sulfur. We walked through the town,