The worldwide Augustana College experience

Polar Bears and Puffins

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 we did not spot too many falcons that day, I would still say the trip was a huge success because of the other experiences we had. We are making good progress so far and I think our trip was really made by seeing that polar bear.

DSCF0233 (Atlantic Puffin.)

DSC_0036(Cliffs from our trip along York Peninsula. Photo credit Bridger Konkel.)

DSC_0354(Polar Bear swimming. Photo credit Bridger Konkel).

DSC_0339 (Close up on the Polar Bear. Photo credit Bridger Konkel).

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