June 19th – Letter from Svalbard #3 – A Day at Diabas

On the edge - the main Thick-billed Murre catching area. - D. Ruche

We spent a day at Diabas learning how to catch and process Thick-billed Murres from a couple of very experienced field workers. The opportunity to learn from them was critical for the success of this venture as they will be moving on to other projects on the 20th. Following is a series of photos with some commentary where useful:

Kjetil using the hook to capture a Thick-billed Murre. - D. Ruche

We use a hook and/or a noose pole to catch the birds. It looks much more gruesome than it actually is and the bird is only in this predicament for a couple of seconds.

Processing the bird. - D. Ruche

Holding the bird for processing - keep the head in the dark.

It is imperative, when not taking head measurements, to keep the bird’s head tucked up under your sweater or jacket as it is very strong and has a nasty bite. Keeping it ‘in the dark’ seems to keep it much more relaxed.

Using calipers to take the head/bill length measurement.

A data logger attached to the coloured band will be a rich source of information on this bird.

We recovered two birds with these data loggers. They will provide a history of the birds’ movments for the past year.

All done and ready to go.

It's VERY important not to be standing under the bird when it's released.

Seabird colonies can be scented from quite a long distance away. It’s quite important not to be standing under the bird when it’s released as, almost invariably, it defecates upon release.

Just part of the colony - the further down you are, the messier it gets.

Note the colour band 'MC' - these bands can be read at quite a distance with binoculars.

Each day we will spend a couple of hours searching the cliffs for coloured leg bands and try to identify the letter/numbers. This will provide vital information on survivorship.

The walk to and from the camp will never be dull:

The views are breathtaking.

Male Barnacle Goose guarding a cliff-edge nest.

Barnacle goose nest at the edge of the cliff

Puffins are abundant in the area.

Another view.

My home for a good part of the next 6 weeks.


8 thoughts on “June 19th – Letter from Svalbard #3 – A Day at Diabas

  1. Hey honey…..glad to see you’re wearing a hard-hat, but I’ve doubled your life insurance for the next 6 weeks anyway!
    Love, Marg

  2. I hope you don’t have to cash it but, in reality, you’re in much more danger driving to work in Burlington each day than I am here…..

  3. Before I forget. If you’re into nature photography I would highly recommend this website: http://www.wildnature.no
    This features the work of Eirik Gronningsaeter. Eirik spends most of his time either working on bird/wildlife projects or travelling the world to do nature photography. His work has even been picked up by National Geographic. Eirik has been instrumental in helping me learn the ropes up here. His blog (on the site) is also quite interesting to read.

  4. It looks like you are having an amazing time! How far down can you reach the birds with the noose poles from the cliff tops? It looks exciting and treacherous!

  5. With a noose-pole I can reach down…comfortably…about 10 feet. I say ‘comfortably’ because I’m leaning out over a 200-foot drop tethered by a climbing rope to the rocks above. Takes a little getting used to.

  6. Hi Rick,
    Just out of curiousity do the Murres and Puffins nest close together. Do either of these birds have any natural predators trying to steal their young and as a percentage relative to the young what is their survival rate from birth until they leave the nest.

    By the way the Swedish Budweiser Cheerleaders will be in your area for a photo shoot within the next month. Make sure to take lots of pictures.

    Rob Gerrie

  7. Wow, the pictures are amazing and I love your updates. Be careful on those cliffs!!!
    Love, Chriss

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