The worldwide Augustana College experience

you have to be fit to catch a falcon

 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.

Yesterday, Kurt flew in, completing our team. That night, we decided to hike BMEWS to take samples from the female Peregrine Falcon we found there. It took around three hours to accomplish this. First Bridger had to rappel into the nest to replace the female Falcon’s eggs with fake ones and set up a noose line trap for her. Kurt and I hid at the bottom of the cliff under a camo net waiting to see when she would get caught. She was extremely wary of us; she noticed whenever the camo would move and did not like seeing Bridger’s rope in her nest. She refused to land for quite some time. After about an hour of waiting and being eaten alive by the swarms of mosquitos, we decided to regroup. Bridger moved his rope, I decided to hide off to the side of the cliff, and Kurt stayed under the camo. Finally, after more waiting, the falcon landed back in her nest and was caught. I wrote down all of her measurements while Kurt took samples and Bridger held her still. When the job was done, I got to hold her and release her. Even through all the waiting, hiking about, and mosquito bites, it was worth it to get to hold her.

After learning more about the history of the High Arctic Institute and seeing how much skill, passion, and physical strength goes into setting up the field season, I have gained a lot of respect for the members of my team and feel honored to be helping them do their research. This has been a truly amazing experience that I am lucky to be a part of. I can’t wait to take part in the rest of the research. As for today, I’m off to catch geese with the rest of the team.2015-07-07 19.49.00 (Female Peregrine Falcon. Photo Credit Kurt Burnham)

DSCF0068 (Mt. Dundas)

2015-07-07 19.50.19 (Holding a Peregrine Falcon wearing a fashionable mosquito net hat)

DSC_0162 (Gyrfalcon chicks. Photo credit Bridger Konkel)

DSC_0112 (Gyrfalcon. Photo credit Bridger Konkel)



4 Responses to “you have to be fit to catch a falcon”

  1. Mosquitoes aside, it sounds like a wonderful way to spend the summer! Keep writing. It makes me appreciate the hard work that goes into this kind of research.

  2. Sara — I’d say this qualifies as one of most scenic “hands-on experiences” you can get in college! : ) Great photos. Thanks for the update!

  3. I agree with Leslie—and keep sending photos, too, of birds and landscape and you and the team “in action.” They’re amazing. Good luck!

  4. This is a great post. I love the humor (nothing wrong with Netflix and junk food 😉 ). And your photos! Those baby birds are too cute. Can’t wait to read more. What do you eat there? I mean, I guess I don’t know much about Greenland…

Leave a Reply