Posted on: July 12, 2013
Author: Stephen Brown
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During our last week on Coats Island, we were graced with a second stretch of good weather, which enabled us to finish deploying our geolocators on Semipalmated Sandpipers! We placed 35 units in all on birds from Coats Island. As we wrapped up our scientific work, we also began preparing for next year, when we will be faced with the difficult task of finding and recapturing the birds to remove the geolocators so that we can download the data. We continued to find new nests every day, and as it became clear that our mission would be accomplished, we enjoyed the abundance of birds and vast depth of this special wilderness even more.
One task in our final few days was setting up cameras on 5 shorebird nests to test their ability to document nest predation next year. Another was gathering data for Environment Canada on the Canada Geese on Coats. Brad and I spent a day going all the way to the coast to find Canada Goose nests. While we were there, we had the special treat of seeing the ice at the coast up close for the first time.
The second to last day, we were back to classic Arctic weather again – cold, periods of hard rain and strong winds. We took advantage of the bad weather to work on many other tasks such as beginning data entry. Our last full day dawned fairly clear though still very windy, so we took down the cook tent before another storm could blow in. While packing up, the Arctic Fox we had seen nearby came very close to camp and, coming across a King Eider nest, stole and cached the eggs while we watched. That evening the ocean ice pack 10 km to the north was finally breaking up, with a patch of open blue water visible in the distance.
Breaking camp is always a lot of work, since everything has to be packed up for the long trip home. We made the arrangements for the plane to return and started to look forward to seeing the pilots who had dropped us off just a few short weeks before. Brad had arranged to take a special trip by plane to the southwestern part of the island, where some satellite tagged Whimbrels spent time last year getting ready for their southbound migration. He will post the story of that trip soon. The plane came on time, which was a minor miracle. We flew both in and out on the day that was scheduled, which has never happened to me once in 12 years of Arctic research!
On the way back to Iqaluit, we stopped to refuel at the airport in Coral Bay on Southampton Island, where our colleague Larry Niles would be arriving shortly to start his work on Red Knots.
Flying back over Hudson Strait and Baffin Island, we were amazed at how snowy and icy it still was. The spring takes a very long time to come to the Arctic, and at the end of June it still looked like winter.
We had a quick turnaround in Iqaluit, just long enough to finish the official paperwork required for our project, put away all the gear, and repack for the long flights home. After a nice farewell dinner, we headed to Ottawa, where we reconnected with Paul Smith to deliver data sets and share stories of both of our field seasons. We flew home knowing our work had gone extremely well and that we had been privileged once again to spend time in such a remarkable wilderness. We will post more soon on the Whimbrel exploration trip, and then later some final thoughts on the field season.