Saturday, 28 June 2014

June 24th
Yesterday's events meant that we really had to rethink our flying schedule. As I keep saying we know virtually nothing about the breeding biology of these birds, this is what we are up here to study and we now have the chance to collect data from a a good number of additional nests, our best estimate would be five or so nests up in Aurland Fjord in NW Axel (assuming we can find them all) with another five or six on the two islands in Flat sound. This number more than would triple our current sample size, I had said to Ian before the trip if that I would be very surprised if we found more than 20 nests, so 15 or so is not to be sneezed at. We spoke to Tim and Polar Shelf, got a price for the extra hours that a search visit and a logger retrieval visit would entail and worked out some time windows that would suit. Slots on the 27th or the 30th looked good and so it was now just a case of sitting and waiting.
Alistair Fotheringill (spelling?) of Trials of Life, Blue Planet, Frozen Planet etc fame is up here with the second camera crew that is filming for a new multi-episode wildlife series called "the hunt". They are using the Cineplex system (gyro stabilised ultra powerful camera thingy) mounted to a helicopter to try to film wolves hunting Musk Ox. This involves he and the cameraman Jaimie, waiting around until the field team (based at a den a few miles north of here) call to say the wolves have left for a hunt. So they are spending a lot of time in our tent (helicopter on standby), drinking tea and coffee and regaling us with some great tales of some of the most famous wildlife film moments (David Attenborough with the blue whales, hunting dogs, wolves killing bison etc). 

June 25th
To kill some time, we took the ATVs (not quads as I have been told by the Canadians) east to the head of Slidre fjord. We had to cross a couple of large braided rivers, which would have been impossible a week ago. Melt from much of the surrounding tundra is now waning and the snow is really only lying in deep valleys, and on the higher tops. We spotted several Brent goose parties, including some likely breeders, but no rings. We stopped at the third large river delta that enters at the top as it is fed from the Sawtooth mountains (see pic of Ian, Chantelle and Tom) as these have glaciers, which cause daily spates as the sun warms the snow. This means a river that can be easily crossed in the morning can become a raging torrent by mid afternoon. We had some lunch and spotted a nice group of king eiders (3 males and a female), before driving inland to the summit of a large gently sloping hill. The top and the west side was a massive sand dune and carved with deep meltwater channels and descending was not the easiest, but we eventually found a way down (after a few false starts). It was now mid afternoon and the rivers we had crossed earlier had started to rise with the heat of the sun. The water that was clear in the morning had turned a dark sludgy grey brown making judging the depth tricky, but we crossed fairly easily. All of the rivers and streams had turned a similar colour and we had some entertaining moments on the way back, including my ATV deciding to pack up right in the middle of a rushing stream.

June 26th
An absolutely glorious morning here, light wind and not a cloud in the sky and an almost balmy 9 degrees C. Alistair from the film team came in first thing with the weather forecast looking set this way for the next four or five days. We were just thinking about what we might do when a call came through from Glenn at Polar Shelf asking if we could move our planned flight to search for nests forward a day. We quickly got our gear together and hooked up with Bill, the pilot of the second helicopter (there are two of these here at the moment because the hunt film team have block booked one of them). Bill is also from Newfoundland, and like John has been flying up here for many years. We took off in bright sunshine and had yet another spectacular flight across Eureka Sound and up over the Schei Peninsula and Axel Heiberg to Aurland Fjord in the north west, checking the fuel caches and looking for caribou on the way. Aurland Fjord was still very much fast in sea ice, with little signs of any break up, but several of the islands were pretty much bare, including the one we had seen nests on, named Axel F by Tom (he grew up in the 80s). Axel F turned out to be much much bigger than it looked, and in keeping with the previous extraterrestrial descriptions of the landscape up here, looked like some of the photos that the Mars rover has been providing (see pic of Ian, Tom, Chantelle and Bill to get an idea). The rock is very brittle and clinkered, and over much of the drier parts of the island these small shards are arranged in a remarkably uniform manner, almost like the paving on a steamrolled road before the tarmac is added. Of course it was wet...very wet and muddy, in the low lying areas between the dry high points. There were also some deep snow drifts, which supplied much entertainment for those not caught in them.

After about an hour and half we reached the far end of the island and despite a lot of searching and a couple obvious territorial males we could not find a nest. We returned up the other side of the island and soon found our first female. On the very top of one of the rubble pavements, just over 500 miles from the North Pole, completely open to the elements was a nest with five eggs in it! With a clutch weight of around 400g, this is about 18% of the departure mass of an average female in Iceland (and this is after a flight of well over 2500km that crosses the Greenland Icecap). How on earth do they manage to do this? This is one of the puzzles we are trying to solve. We soon found a second nest on the next hilltop (three eggs this time), but despite more searching and another male holding territory, we could not find any more, so we returned to the helicopter. This was a mixed outcome, we had hoped for five nests and found two, we flew low over a couple more likely looking islands in the fjord, but no luck...frustrating...and so we started to revise our numbers down, another five or six we hoped.

The day was still clear and after about 40 minutes of flying Bill set us down on another island to the south and left to refuel the helicopter at one of the caches we checked on the way north. The island looked promising from the air, but on the ground it was a different story, it was very very wet (and of course muddy), probably only clear of snow for a few days. The only signs of life on the island were a few moss and saxifrage plants, a musk ox skeleton, some old goose droppings and two Arctic terns feeding at a small crack in the ice. We decided it would be known as Amund Minor, because of its similarities to Ringnes, icy, muddy and no animals.

Bill returned after about 30mins and we headed down to the first Island in Flat sound (named True Brant Island by Ian, for reasons that will become apparent in the next few sentences). This was the island that had one certain nest on it with the possibility of one more based on our quick fly over a couple of days earlier. We landed at NW tip just at the edge of a glaucous gull colony, straight away we could see quite a few geese on the island and presumed there were a number of non-breeders. Within a few minutes we found our first nest, closely followed by second and third (this one the female had left covered with her down see pic).and a forth and so it went on... ten nests in all!!! Including a couple right in amongst the gulls. The birds may choose these apparently risky locations, to get extra help in defending against foxes, much the same as other geese do with snowy owls and peregrines. Three of the nests had marked birds on them, including: a female (JC Red Blue) that Alyn Walsh and I had ringed on the Schei Peninsula (only a few miles away) back in 2007 and is regularly seen in North Wales during winter; TB White Blue, which was also likely a female ringed in 2009 in Kerry as an adult and NX White White, which was ringed in Dundrum, Northern Ireland. We could not believe it, particularly after the disappointments of the previous two islands. 

We then took a very short flight to Gerry Murphy Island a mile or so down the sound, where we were sure that there were at least four nests, possibly five. Gerry Murphy turned out to be an island of two halves, the first half, very much like Amund Minor, deep cloying mud and no signs of life, apart from a very old set of polar bear tracks (by god their paws are big). But soon we were upon the first nest, small red blue rings on the goose as she got off told us that this was a chick we had ringed on the Schei back in 2007. The north of the island was a series of gravel ridges separated by mud. We found another six nests after this first one, the last having another ringed bird, K6 Yellow Yellow, appropriately a Kerry bird seen regularly around the mud flats of Blennerville (nr Tralee), frequented by the island's namesake. K6YY was ringed as an adult in Kerry in 2006 making her at least 10 years old, and in that time she will have flown in excess of 100,000 miles!

17 nests from two islands and 19 in total for the day...a truly awesome (to use a word much over used by yours truly) result, bringing us to 23 study nests. Not a lot for some species, but this is close to doubling the total number of nests ever found for this population.
We checked Shamrock on the way over (but no obvious nests) and paid a quick visit to Brant Is to run a final check on our first four nests all was good and we came across a pair of red phalaropes spinning for invertebrates in one of the ponds. The day remained clear and we had a magnificent final flight (for me anyway) across Eureka Sound to the camp. A perfect end to yet another absolutely gobsmacking day.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

June 23rd
Our plan for the day was to take a long exploratory flight in the helicopter to look for nesting geese, but as is the way up here, such things are prone to change at short notice. Sure enough a couple of additional flights were needed when we spoke to Polar Shelf (who co-ordinate all of the scientific activities in this part of the world). First a team of biologists were to be flown to Axel Heiberg for a two week trekking search for Peary Caribou (a much smaller relative of its southerly cousins which is of considerable conservation concern and is really only found in the Queen Elizabeth Islands). The next set of flights was to move a group of Cambridge University geologists, who had managed to get dropped off in Strand Fjord on Axel Heiberg, but needed to be moved north to Expedition Fjord to set up their camp. However, as our planned flight  would take us out in that direction anyway, it gave us the chance to get out and explore a different area. We had another incredible (really running out of superlatives here) flight down the fjords and over the icecaps of Axel and landed in the balmy 11 degrees C of Strand Fjord (temperature at Eureka was nearer 3). We spent the next few hours looking for geese in the braided river flowing into the fjord (see pic). 

Because of its proximity to the ice cap and glaciers the trapped bergs were considerably bigger than any we had seen so far. We found a small flock of non-breeding geese, one of which was ringed, but we could not get close enough to read it. We also found a ringed gander that likely had a female on a nest somewhere in the area, but given our previous experience with this kind of thing and the fact that the river delta was several times the size of the one we have been searching along the coast from Eureka, we did not entertain any ideas of finding her. As with the other birds, we could not get close enough to read his rings. It took John a couple of trips to move the geologists and all their kit and we spent the last hour or so just sitting and looking at the view, some of mountains starting to turn red in the late afternoon sun, cut by black and grey bands of different the rock types. It was just after 4pm when we started our flight. First we flew south west out over the Arctic Ocean to Amund Ringnes, this is an island that many of our satellite tagged birds have visited, so both Kendrew and I have long held out hope that it might be a breeding stronghold. The ice out on the ocean is quite different to that of the fjords, hard frozen, much thicker and snowbound with pressure ridges and very little sign at all that there is any water below. This ice will not melt during most summers. Amund was in low cloud so we descended to about 200 ft for the last part of the flight.

What ensued was probably the most disappointing part of the trip so far. Amund Ringnes is flat, so flat and snow covered that it was hard to pick out from the surrounding frozen sea. We flew down the east coast and it very quickly became apparent that this was not to be the goose oasis that we had hoped for. The little ground that was snow free was pretty much mud or gravel with hardly any vegetation (in fact Kendrew reminded me when I spoke to him on the phone that someone who had visited it in high summer and had described it as looking like the surface of the moon). We spent about 35 minutes or so flying over the most open areas, but all we managed to see was a snowy owl, four musk ox (so there must be some vegetation) and a long-tailed skua. We decided to cut our losses and fly back to finish our planned search on north west Axel Heiberg. Another 30 minutes and we landed at a fuel cache in South Fjord to gas up the helicopter for the last part of the trip (see pic). The temp here was also warm, but the snow was deep and so the drums were frozen to the ground. After a fair amount of chopping at the ice and levering of drums we got two of them free (although I managed to puncture the top of one of them with the axe and so it was leaking slightly). Helicopter filled we resumed our flight, searching low lying offshore islands and river deltas for geese.

In the initial stages, this proved just as fruitless as Amund Ringnes. The only highlight being a set of polar bear tracks that we ended up following up the coast for about 20 miles, but no sign of the animal that made them. Then we started to see some geese. A few small groups of non-breeders a first, but eventually we found our first likely breeders, three likely nests on the NE slopes of Bjarnason Island. Sea mist prevented us from following the next stretch of coast, but John has had 50 years of flying helicopters up here and he was not to be defeated, he took us up over the inversion (the temperature dropped from 11 to 0 degrees in about 10 seconds), above the mountains of the next peninsula, across and then back down through the cloud to Aurland Fjord and the last few islands that we had on our list for this stretch of coast. We were by now running low on fuel and so we could only have a couple of flypasts, but we hit the jackpot. We only managed to get a decent look at two of the half a dozen or so islets that are there, but we found a small breeding colony, at least 5 birds on one island, 2 on another and likely to be more. John said we had to leave and so we headed back through the mountain passes south east to Eureka. But our day was to get even better! I had asked if we could fly down the coast, John did his calculations and reckoned we had enough fuel to do this. So after another truly breathtaking flight through the mountains we returned the coast about 50 miles north west of our study islands on the Schei Peninsula. There were two final islands we wanted to check just a few miles from the main breeding areas on the peninsula. We asked John if this was going to be possible and he did what he does best, flew us in right over the top slow and low. There was at least one breeding pair on the first island, but on the second a larger round island (to be named Gerry Murphy after our shapely colleague who sadly had to pull out of this trip at the last minute because of a knee injury) we could at least four females sitting on nests; another new breeding colony! John landed us back in Eureka at 10pm with 83lbs fuel left (less than 15 minutes of flying time). The last hour or so was a truly spectacular end to a day that I think will stay with all of us for the rest of our lives.
June 22nd
We were second on the list for a flight out to the breeding islands on Axel Heiberg today. A small group of climate scientists flew in from Resolute on a twin otter first thing and John (the helicopter pilot) had to make several flights in to help the establish their camp. This meant we did not get airborne till near 7pm. We landed on Brant island to find one extra nest, one nest with an additional egg and another pair looking like they were very close to breeding. The wind was freezing and despite the nests being very well insulated with goose down (like my sleeping bag and jacket) we had to work very quickly (see pic). Tom measured the eggs and we inserted a tiny temperature logger in each one (this will allow us to work out when the eggs hatch and also how often the female leaves to drink and eat...if indeed she leaves at all). So only one more nest, which was a bit disappointing, but we had identified some more potentially good looking breeding islands in Borup fjord on the Elmerson peninsula about 40 miles due north of Eureka. The flight across Greely Fjord from the Schei Peninsula was glorious, Tom spotted a Narwhal in one of the open leads between the ice, lots of trapped bergs, hard dark cliffs rising out of white blue ice, landscape being partially reflected in the meltwater on the surface of the frozen sea... apologies.. others could put it in far better words, you could never grow tired of flying around Ellesmere an Axel Heiberg. After about a 20 minute flight we arrived at the islands we had seen on the maps, but again we were disappointed, the islands looked perfect for nesting with vegetation on the nearby shores to feed the growing goslings, but no Brent. Our disappointment was eased slightly, as by this time the sky had cleared and you could see for 70 miles plus, with the peaks of the Agassiz Ice Cap visible down the Fjord to the south east. On the way back across to the grey of the Fosheim lots of ringed seals were basking in the late evening sun by their breathing holes in the ice (the seals will have kept these open all winter).

June 19th-21st
Not much to report over this period. We are really just waiting for the thaw to progress and the place to dry out a bit. Everything is exceedingly muddy at the moment although some of the places that were quagmires when we arrived are now bone dry, so it will not take long. We headed to the lab on the hilltop above the weather station to have a look across Eureka sound at the Schei Peninsula and Brant island. Much of the snow that was covering it is now gone, and we are hopeful that we will find more birds breeding when we return later in the week. We also re-checked the lone gander on the braided river to the east of the base...he is still there, with a female on a nest doubtless somewhere nearby, but we cannot find her!
A lone wolf visited the tent again on the night of the 20th. We think this was a different animal from the previous pair. It spent some time eyeing up Tim (the helicopter engineer) at quite close range, before heading off east up the airstrip. We were due to fly on the 21st, but the weather took a bit of a turn, snow and high winds stopped the helicopter from flying. The weather cleared a bit late in the evening to reveal a dusting of white on all of the higher ground.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

June 18th
The wind got up during the night and most of us did not sleep particularly well. Another cold and bright morning, we headed east up the fjord to see if the lone goose was still present. Sure enough it was there, and again we searched and again we found nothing. But as we were finishing a group of 14 Brent Geese flew in and landed. And yet again we found another colour ringed bird! This time it was a Red Red [see pic]. 

We caught RRCF at the Cadbury's factory in Dublin back in February and he and his partner looked in good condition. Another male caught our eye as he was behaving very aggressively... charging neck down, hissing and flying at most of the other birds in the group. He was then joined by a female, who flew in quietly from further up the valley. Had we found the partner of the loan male at last? We watched this pair for about 10 minutes, before they both took off and headed inland. But despite a 6km walk with some great views of Musk Ox [see pic] and some pretty intensive searching, we could not locate them...hugely frustrating. However, it does give us some hope as it indicates that some birds at least are still thinking about breeding.  

June 17th After the excitement of yesterday, today was always going to be a bit on the quiet side. But is started with a really beautiful arctic spring skies filled with the songs of knots in their russet breeding plumage, displaying long-tailed skuas (or jaegers depending on what side of the pond you spring from) and a cold breeze coming in from the Arctic Ocean. We successfully made radio contact with Resolute base for the first time and after breakfast we headed west up the fjord to Eureka Sound. We managed to get the ATVs about a mile along the beach after the track end before the ice prevented us from taking them further. The sound is still frozen, but the thaw is moving fast, there was a lot more surface water and many new leads have opened even since yesterday. Further along we came across some small bergs that had grounded on the shoreline, pushing black grey shingle into a series of berms, ridges and mounds. At the back of the beach we found clumps of Nunavut's territorial flower, the purple saxifrage [see pic]. We could also see both harp and ring seals out on the ice, but no bears. All of the first BBC crew are now out camping on the north of the Fosheim Peninsula at a wolf den and the second crew will start their stakeout for a new mini-series called "the hunt" tomorrow.  

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

June 16th
Awoke to the sound of snow hitting the tent. It was a cold night but, the bests night's sleep since leaving home. Ian and I set up the antenna to try to call Resolute base on the radio, we could hear them but they couldn't hear us. After breakfast we returned to the river we visited yesterday. The lone goose was still there, but despite an extensive search, we could not locate a nest. We flew for the first time this afternoon, out to Brant Island, across Eureka Sound (nr the Schei Peninsula on Axel Heiberg). We could almost certainly walk there, probably even quad there, at the moment as the sea is frozen solid.A quick flight over the island produced several Brent geese, some glaucous gulls and a couple of Sabine's gulls. But there is still an awful lot of snow and ice cover. We flew across the isthmus that links the Schei and Axel to a second breeding island, but it was completely snow covered and we saw no birds. After about another half an hour of flying the surrounding coast we had seen about 100 birds, but these were mostly in sall groups with very few looking like they were on breeding sites. We headed back to Brant island and John (the pilot) set us down on the western tip. The island is entirely flat, just a meter or two about sea level (we actually struggled to find it from the helicopter) and looks a bit like the flattened spoil from a gravel pit. After a couple of minutes of searching Tom [see pic] spotted the first nest, a female lying perfectly still with her neck stretched low across the ground [see pic] and her partner worrying nearby.

Two eggs suggested she had only just started laying. These birds will produce one egg every day or so and will end up with a clutch of four or five.. The female on the second nest we found just a few moments later was ringed!!!

White Red UN is a bird that we caught just north of Reykjavik during the Eyafjallajokul eruption in 2010 and she frequents the Crumlin area of Dublin during the winter months. We found only one more nest, with an additional couple of pairs looking like they were close to laying. Clutches of two, two and one point to this being a very late season, which is good because it means we have not missed anything, but bad as the birds that do manage to lay now may not have enough time to rear their families before the harsh weather returns in late August/early September. On the journey back we saw several small groups of ringed seals hauled out on the ice.

So a mixed day... great to find nests, but we had hoped for more. The sun was warm out there today and so we are hoping that the melt will progress quickly over the coming days and more birds will start to breed. We are considering several options, particularly if we cannot find any more nests, and we may have to fly further afield if we are to be able to make some sense of what causes such marked variation in breeding success in this population.

June 15th Cont..
We left Resolute in snow and low cloud and after about two hours of flying it began to break up and we got spectacular views of the icecaps and mountains of Axel Heiberg Island, before a breath taking flight up the frozen turquoise and white sea of Eureka Sound. After a few hours of sorting out kit, food beds etc., we took our quads east along the fjord to a large braided river where some geese had bred successfully in 2007. Snowmelt is in full swing up here and there is a lot of mud, most of which seemed to have found its way on to Ian and Chantelle, both of whom were riding pillion.

After much searching of the rivers gravel beds we spotted a lone goose, possibly with a female on a nest nearby. We walked a line quite far up the river following it until it eventually took off and flew all the way back down to where we started (literally a wild goose chase). We stopped to watch a couple of Musk Ox on the way back. Magnificent animals, although surprisingly small, with a real sense of the prehistoric about them. As we got closer they eventually ran off coats swaying and mud flying everywhere. We got back to camp and went to meet the other teams to discuss helicopter scheduling. There are two BBC crews (making different documentaries) and a couple of scientists all working on wolves and so there is a fair amount of demand for time in the air. As they are setting up camps, we agreed to go for a short flight tomorrow to check out some of the known Brent goose breeding sites. Just after dinner I glanced out the window to see two huge white wolves right outside the tent, sniffing at our gear. We rushed outside to get a better look and after spending a minute or so eyeing us up they both rather nonchalantly [see pic] decided that we were not worth bothering about continued their exploration for a few minutes, before loping off up the airstrip. Highlight of the trip so far!!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Resolute Base

Sat 14th June
Still very much on UK time so awake at 4am local time and of course the 24-hour daylight does not help. It was a beautiful clear morning here, but looking out of my window across the island to the frozen Lancaster sound and Devon Island the first flurries of snow began. After a substantial breakfast (impossible not to given what is on offer), we went to the stores to check on our gear and food supplies. Everything is so well organised up here that this did not take very long. George (the store manager) pointed us in the direction of everything, including some of the kit we left here 7 years ago on our last visit! We also had our first wild mammal of the trip; an Arctic fox, still with much of its winter coat attached was foraging around the base (we saw a second animal later on with a biscuit in its mouth).
We decided to go for a bit of walk (see pic of Chantelle, Ian and Tom)
to try and burn off all the calories we have been consuming. Out on the road that head NW out of Resolute, we could pick out distant harp seals and their pups out on the sea ice. We also saw our first Brent geese, a flock of about 20 birds flying east (the wrong way) down Lancaster Strait and a small group of snow geese calling as they disappeared into the low cloud. The snow had become more persistent by this time and so the first twin otter (see pic) that had taken much the gear up was grounded in Eureka. This will delay our departure tomorrow. The advance BBC team have found a wolf den up there so they need to get in sharpish (as do we).
At dinner Anwar (one of the BBC cameraman) mentioned he had seen some dark geese up on a marsh near the base dump. This is one of the few areas of wetland nr to the base, which is otherwise rocky and very well drained. When we got there it turned out to be a spectacular little spot, many 10s of purple sandpipers displaying (which involves lots of buzzes, grunts and raising of wings), sanderlings, Baird’s sandpipers, grey plovers, American golden plovers, absolutely stunning red (grey) phalaropes (see pic), greater snow geese and of course a small group of 27 Brent (all looking in pretty good condition and still carrying plenty of fat).
The true highlight of the day came when we spotted 3XYY and AZRY in amongst the flock. AZRY was alone, and is a bird that was ringed in Iceland in 2007. He spends the winter in North Dublin and doubtless Matt Silk will know him well. 3XYY was with her partner, and we saw them both last month on the Alftanes peninsula nr Reykjavik. This is quite an interesting pair as they are part of a small population that spend the winter in Jersey. Really is great to see them all up here, but it seems unlikely that these birds will breed this year as it they should really be on eggs by now.

Sun 15th June
Awake at a ridiculous hour again, still snowing, so decided to try and get some photos of the geese. Arrived at the site slightly disappointed and surprised to see them gone as there are not many places for them to go around here at this time of year. The reason for their absence became clear when a huge female snowy owl lifted from a nearby rock!
The BBC team have just boarded their aircraft, and have left for Eureka. We will leave in a couple of hours as long as this break in the weather holds. Watch this space for (less regular) updates on our expedition to discover what actually happens to these birds during their short breeding season at 80 degrees north.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Friday 13th June: Ottawa to Resolute Bay

Very smooth and often breathtaking journey up from Ottawa to Resolute Bay today. Arrived at the airport way too early as we got our departure time wrong, but this gave us time to get all our kit on (including guns) with relative ease. Landed at Iqaluit on the SE shores of Baffin Island with a two our turnaround, so had a little time to explore the town. The inlet is still icebound (see photo of Ian) so it wasn't exactly warm and the town has changed much since I was last here in 2007, lots of new buildings and roads.We also hooked up with Chantelle Masson, a student from Iqaluit,  who will be working with us this summer. The plane that took us up to Resolute base, via Arctic bay  only seats about a dozen passengers (the rest of it is given over to cargo). On the plane with us was a team form the BBC including Gordon Buchanan who will be up in Eureka with us filming wolves. There was a lot of cloud for the first three hours, but it cleared just as we were landing giving us spectacular views of Arctic Bay and its surrounding cliffs. After a short wait at the airport while the plane refuelled we were off again. There is still a lot of snow and ice around, but a massive polynya was visible between Devon and Bathurst Islands (where the fabled north west passage runs). The skies cleared completely as we landed in Resolute bay, very cold indeed (blizzards here last week and more snow forecast for tomorrow). But it is encouraging to see a lot of snow free patches. The geese will need these in order to although it has been a late spring, the birds could well be on eggs already...we will find out early next week.
Resolute base has also changed a lot as well, about three times the size it was in 2007. The rooms have everything a scientist needs (desk, internet access, bed, shower and a view...see photo of the view from my room). We are in the new wing named after Marty Bergmann a really nice guy who looked after various members of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group on previous visits here and who was tragically killed in a plane crash on the island a few years back. The food, particularly the baked goods has not changed...still very very good. I am glad we are only here for a couple of nights.... We will be sorting out kit for tomorrow with BBC guys and all of us are due to fly up to Eureka on Sunday. Really looking forward to getting there.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Canada Expedition Begins

At 455am tomorrow morning my alarm will go off and we will start a journey that is going to take us all the way to the north Queen Elizabeth islands, where our East Canadian High Arctic Light-bellied Brent geese breed. Due to arrive at Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island sometime on Friday, it will be Monday before we get to Eureka base on north Ellesmere (near to where we found breeding colonies in 2007).  Will they still be there? Will last week's blizzards have put a stop to any breeding for this year? What other animals will we encounter: polar bears? wolves? Only one way to find this space...