Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada
This was our first glimpse of Frobisher Bay, the bay on Baffin Island where Iqaluit is located. After a normal June in Massachusetts Baffin Island looks like a winter wonderland of ice, rock, and snow.
After many months of planning, we have finally arrived at the jumping off point for our expedition, which is the small town of Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Baffin Island in Canada. The town was originally called Frobisher Bay, and had a U.S. Air Force Base established in 1942. The town of about 7000 people is now the capital of Nunavut, a Territory that was officially established in 1999. We are excited to be learning a little about the town, its inhabitants, and its history as we work on getting ready for our field expedition. Iqaluit means “many fishes”, and the name was chosen in honor of the excellent fishing in Frobisher Bay. Everywhere we go native craftspeople show us handcrafted wares made of local wildlife, from caribou antlers to whale baleen.
As we taxied into the Iqaluit airport, we caught sight of Ken Borek Air, the flight service that will be taking us by Twin Otter to Coats Island on June 17th.
There are several different definitions of the arctic. The one most people think of is the area north of the Arctic Circle, the line where the summer sun does not set on the summer solstice, and we are not quite that far north here in Iqaluit. But there are several other definitions of the arctic used by biologists. One is the line where the average summer temperature does not rise above 50 degrees Farenheit, and another is the treeline. Both of these lines sweep well south in the cold interior of northern Canada, and cross the middle of Hudson Bay well south of us. Our first views of Frobisher Bay as we descended through the clouds on our flight in certainly looked like the arctic landscape we are familiar with from our work in northern Alaska!
Sage, Metta and Brad on the tarmac entering the Iqaluit airport, happy to finally be starting our next adventure.
This expedition is uncharted territory for our crew from Manomet. For most of us this is our first trip to the Canadian arctic. Brad Winn worked on Southampton Island with Larry Niles on a Red Knot project, so he has the best idea of what habitats we are headed for. Paul Smith is a shorebird biologist with Environment Canada, and he and his colleague Grant Gilchrist are hosting us here in Iqaluit. It is amazingly helpful to be working with people who know the place, how to navigate the many bureaucratic challenges like permits that are necessary, and even where to find replacement parts for our equipment on a Saturday afternoon. We are very grateful for all their collaboration and support of this project, which is like most that we get involved in, impossible for us to conceive of doing alone. We’re excited to be reestablishing the close working relationship that Manomet had with Environment Canada many years ago when Brian Harrington and Trevor Lloyd-Evans regularly worked with Canadian biologists on field projects.
First step, getting our personal camping gear to the warehouse. Paul Smith, our partner from Environment Canada, flew up with us and has been taking excellent care of us, and has gone to fetch a truck to transport the gear.
We used an Environment Canada warehouse to tackle the job of sorting and testing all the field gear, then spent an afternoon shopping for food and packing that as well. Everything has to be weighed and the total must be under the amount the pilots can carry in the airplane.
All the gear we need to live in the wilderness and to carry out our research has to come here by air. Every time we fly long distances to reach these remote breeding areas in the arctic, I am amazed that the birds come bringing only themselves. What remarkable survivors they are, to be able to travel from our coastal areas in New England, already well into summer this time of year, on their way north to a still frozen arctic where it is like a New England March. We take months to plan, days to transport ourselves and all our gear, while they arrive and immediately set up territories and begin breeding.
Our first step in preparing for any arctic expedition is to collect all the various piles of gear that have been shipped by various modes of transport. This gear was shipped up from Ottawa by Environment Canada for us to use in the field. Transporting gear is one of the most logistically challenging and expensive aspects of working in the remote arctic.
Tomorrow we head out for the unknown, and we are very excited to see the first glimpses of Coats Island. We will send back updates as often as our work allows, and look forward to sharing the journey with you.
Our first pause to enjoy the surroundings came late in the evening, overlooking the town of Iqaluit from a hill above, with the long arctic evening light stretching across the distant hills, where we will soon be headed.
We are flying out to Coats Island in a Twin Otter, a huge workhorse of a bush plane that has way more capacity than the smaller planes we are used to working with. It will accommodate five people and all our gear in one load!