This year we have a short “turnaround” time: back from camp on the Wednesday night and spend the next 36 hours catching up. Shower (yes!!!), laundry, call Canada, sleep in a soft bed, data entry, food shopping for the next 6 days, data entry, replenish banding supplies, and a lot of other nit-picky details. And ‘presto’, you’re heading back to the field. So….to make a long story short I didn’t get around to posting a blog entry last week. Things haven’t changed so I think my strategy will be this: instead of a bunch of writing, I’ll mostly post pictures and fill these in with descriptions of what I’m doing and/or what you’re seeing in those pictures.
I’m in camp with an exceptional “crew” of 4 very bright and very talented young women:
Stephanie is about to start a Master’s at the University of Quebec at Rimouski.
Cindy, from France, is half way through her PhD, studying both Brunnich’s Guillemots (in Svalbard) and Adelie Penguins (in the Antarctic).
Julie, also from France, is working on a Master’s modelling population dynamics in birds.
And now for the two (visiting) males – token members of the Diabas Guillemot Team:
Sebastien Descamps, whom I first met in the Canadian Arctic at East Bay on Southampton Island, heads up the project for SEAPOP/NPI.
Steffi, who is 11 years old, was lent to us by one of the “logistics guys”, Jens, at Norsk Polar Institut. He is an extremely affectionate dog and has taken readily to the loving that everyone showers on him. I’m not sure how good he will be at scaring away bears but he’ll let us know when/if they’re coming.
As the term Diabas Guillemot Team suggests, we’re at the cliffs at Diabas, on the south side of Isfjorden, about 20 km east of the main Svalbard town of Longyearbyen to study Brunnich’s Guillemots. The cliffs, which run for about half a kilometer, are home to about 1600 Brunnich’s Guillemots (or Thick-billed Murres as they’re known in North America). They are one of the most numerous seabirds in the world with a circumpolar population of over 6,000,000.
It is amazing how these birds can spend so much of their incubating time with their chests propped against the cliff wall, helping to position their large (very warm) brood patch over the egg.
We have spent the last 2 weeks at the murre cliffs at Diabas looking for previously banded individuals, banding new ones, mapping nests, and then monitoring these nests for eggs or signs of predation – the main predator being the three to four pairs of Glaucous Gulls that patrol back and forth along the colony. On a set of 20 birds we put data loggers that will be retrieved next year and will tell the story of where that bird has been in-between.
Note the very conical shape of the egg which keeps it from rolling off the ledge…usually.
To incubate the egg, the bird (and both parents take part) pull the egg up onto the top of their feet and then lower their brood patch over top of it. When handling some of the adults I’m surprised at how hot their feet are.
This bird has a data logger attached to the colour band on its left leg. Next year we will retrieve it to see where it has spent the non-breeding part of its life. Many Svalbard birds evidently winter off the coast of Newfoundland/Labrador.
The boat hangs around at the base of the cliff until we catch a bird or two and then motors off to another site.