Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Beer Bottle Beach

With the amount of planes I've been on, I've been still getting use to landing and taking off on a regular runway.  Flying in a little twin otter was surprisingly, much smoother than I expected!  We stopped at a few places, Cape Dorset for fuel and Coral Harbour to pick up another coworker, Jo, who is from Southampton Island.  Each area had a distinctly different type of habitat, from the rocky and hilly tundra, cliffs, to wetlands.  It was incredibly neat to see the land change as we flew and even try to spot some sort of wildlife from the air.  Eventually we began to see Coats Island...and this definitely not your typical runway!  After 3 passes to ensure the rocky beach was safe for landing, our amazing pilots did the smoothest landing I could of imagined.
Then it was time to load all our gear out...and hike it up to camp. Which was on top of a cliff. Around 1km away.  It is a very strange feeling watching a plane fly away without you.  You suddenly realize you are pretty much alone on an island in the middle of Hudson Bay.



It took us most of the day to load all of our gear across a river and then fully down to the end of the beach. From here, we used a pully system to haul each bag individually up the cliff.  Once it was 3/4 of the way up, we then carried it the rest of the way to either our sleeping cabin or to our kitchen cabin.

Pully system on the cliff face
Hike up to the cabin
A few days later we had our first day off and went on a hike to a place that is locally known as Beer Bottle Beach.  This beach received its name thanks to Guinness!  You read that right...the beer company. Apparently back in 1959, Guinness was celebrating their 200-year anniversary and to celebrate they dropped 150,000 bottles into the Atlantic Ocean. Beer Bottle Beach, is an area where many of these bottles had been found, so on our day off we really wanted to find one!  We got somewhat lucky, finding a few broken bottles.  Later on in the field season, Jo, was a sweetheart and went out and actually found us some intact ones!!

Beer Bottle Beach


A Guinness beer bottle!
Caribou tracks along the beach
The landscape all around this hike was stunning. Besides visiting the beach, we visited an abandoned arctic fox den, wandered around a wetland hoping to find some shorebirds (we spotted Semi-palmated Sandpipers and heard a Red Phalerope!), and I even made a freezie out of sea ice.  During our hike I also saw my lifer King and Common Eider (photos will be in Arctic Birds post..to come).
Ice chunk along beer bottle beach

Marshes on Coats Island

Raised ponds along the tundra













































Another thing that the arctic is great for, is finding bones!  No matter where we walked you were guaranteed to find anything from walrus shoulder, to caribou hips, spines, and if you are lucky you can sometimes find a fully in tact skull!

Vertebrae in the sand

Shoulder in the sand






























Still to come: Arctic birds, mammals, flora, etc.  I am off to Washington, DC, next week for a ornithology conference...so when I get back there will be even more to catch up on!

Hope everyone is keeping cool!

Beer bottle close ups:







Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Intro to the Arctic

As some of you might know, I took a quick, six-week field gig up on Coats Island, Nunavut.  It was one of the handfuls of times I’ve ever been on a plane and my very first time in the great Canadian tundra.  Unfortunately, we had to cut our field season short this year, but it was an amazing experience in an amazing place.   I have so many photos to go through, that it could very well take a few months! However, my intention is that there will be a series of posts will be about the adventures on days off, wildlife and/or plants, field life, etc.

My first few days were spent in Iqaluit, on Baffin Island.  First off…the airport is something you would see out of a Beatles album.  It was SO adorable. 


It was mostly cloudy on the flight over and I wasn’t able to see the view until we descended under the clouds.  When we did, the first thing that I noticed was ICE. I never thought in July I would be in a place where there is still ice!  The next trait of the land that registered in my brain was the tundra.  Just rolling hills of rock with splashings of ice.  No trees, no buildings, no hydro corridors, no roads.  It was just pure, untouched land.


The other surreal thing was the fact that it was 24 hours of daylight.  I stayed awake until around 1am the first night just staring outside.  I couldn’t stop!  I just couldn’t believe where I was, what I was doing, and that it was 12am and still sunny.  In fact, I took to my snapchat account which was able to place a timestamp on my photos. 

The midnight sun
The next day was a day full of grocery shopping, gathering enough food for a full month (!).  I had heard about how expensive things were in the north, but didn't fully realize how expensive things really were.  Often times it was for items I wasn't even expecting.  The Italian in me almost started crying at the price of pasta ($10.99!).













Once all of our chores were completed, my coworker and I took a trek to Apex, about 10 minute drive from Iqaluit.  Here is where the original Hudson Bay Outpost was! How neat was it to see and read a little about the little white buildings with red roofs. I remember in History class reading all about the Hudson Bay Company, but it was really neat seeing that history in person.


Original Hudson Bay Company Building located in Apex, Nunavut






























From here, we hiked up the Apex hill where we were able to view a stunning view of Frobisher Bay. It was a long hike up, but little did I realize this would be one of the easier hikes!  From up here we spotted Glaucous Gulls, Herring Gulls and Red-throated Loons.


Red-throated Loon on the Bay

On our way down we walked “in” the bay.  One fact that I learnt during my hike was that Frobisher Bay in Nunavut has the biggest tide next to Bay of Fundy! It was really cool to be able to walk on the flat and in little puddles spot crabs and little shrimp. Throughout the rest of my time here I would always look out into the bay and just be amazed at how fast and far the tide can drop and rise.

Panorama along the Apex Trail....Tide is out!
Panorama along the Apex Trail...Tide coming back in
We continued walking towards land and eventually spotted my first breeding plumage Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting!  How beautiful they were!

Walking during the low tide
Lapland Longspur 
Further along the pathway, I felt almost like I was in a commercial for Newfoundland or Ireland. The rolling hills of rock and green (although in this case it was mostly moss!), and no trees. It was stunning.  Eventually we stumbled across a very angry sounding bird, and realized after some snooping around, that it was a lifer!  A Northern Wheatear!  To top it all off, we also found its nest.  Staying a safe distance away from it, we were able to get some amazing shots with our zoom!
View along the Apex Trail
Female Northern Wheatear
Male Northern Wheatear



We were able to tour the town a little bit as well. The architecture is so funky and colourful.  We ate at a variety of restaurants and I just have to say, the Muskox Burger from the Stonehouse...is AMAZING.  Surprisingly, Iqaluit also has an amazing Shawarma Restaurant!  At most places we went, local artists would walk around with their drawings, carvings, crafts, handmade jewellery, all trying to sell them.  The art...was beautiful.  I purchased Inukshuk and Polar Bear carvings from two local artists...and it really took me everything to not buy more.  They were all authorized by the province and their craftsmanship was phenominal.

Another thing that struck me so much about this town was how friendly everyone was!  No matter where I went there were smiles, friendly hellos, and just an overall warm vibe.  I really hope that I get the chance to visit there again in the future!


What an amazing introduction into the north this was.  The next day, I was in a little 6 seater Twin Otter off to Coats Island.

Teapot on top of Apex hill














Monday, June 27, 2016

Darlington Piping Plovers

Last week, my labmate Dan and I took a bit of a break and went to Darlington Provincial Park in hope to see the Piping Plovers that were nesting there.

Piping Plovers are a species at risk here in Ontario listed as Endangered. In 2007, Piping Plovers began nesting again along the Great Lakes along the Ontario shore around Lake Huron.  Here on Lake Ontario, the last documented nest according to the Ontario Recovery Strategy for Piping Plovers was 1934 on the Toronto Islands or 1916 at Presqu'ile Provincial Park.  SO, this news has been really exciting for this area as its been over 80 years since they have nested on the lake!!


Darlington Provincial Park set up enclosures to ensure the best chance of nest survival.  These include a caged area (to protect the nest from not only being trampled, but by depredation of raccoons or other egg eaters, and also a larger roped off area to allow the birds as much space as possible to forage and not "run-into" humans on the beach.  During daylight hours volunteers are also there ensuring that people follow the rules of the enclosure, that there are no off leash dogs, or any other human imposed things that could harm the young.  They are doing a great job!

Plover on the nest
Dan taking photos near roped off area
Once we arrived at the Park we headed almost straight to the beach. The first of the two nests were very close and we were delighted to see three young scampering around!  They were super adorable and reminded me of little marshmallows on sticks.  It was such a delight to be able to see them!

Young Piping Plover

Young Piping Plover

Adult Piping Plover
The second nest was a little further on the beach.  At this time, the nest had not been hatched and so we saw the adult on the nest in the enclosure.  Hopefully all eggs will be hatched shortly and fledge successfully!

On our way to and from the second nest we noticed..or more like were harassed...by a nesting Killdeer.  The killdeer carried on for a few minutes of our walk with its broken wing dance, followed by more "kill" screaming, etc.  The beautiful adult had 4 eggs on its nest, and hopefully they will be successful!

Oh no!  My wing is broken...I am hurt...follow me!
GO AWAY HUMANS.

Earlier in the week, Dan mentioned that a Least Tern had been seen around the area!  We assumed that it would be gone by then, however one tern seemed to catch our eye!   It was certainly different from the others: did not have a full cap, a little greyer, black bill.  We got incredibly excited, however we quickly realized that all these ID marks just didn't quite fit the bill for an adult Least Tern.  In fact...it didn't quite fit the bill for any adults except one from Alaska.  After more digging and reading through some field guides, we determined that it was actually an immature Common Tern.  So not as exciting...but still exciting that we were able to catch our ID.






It was a great day trip and I was so excited to see my first ever Piping Plover.  I hope that this wasn't just a fluke year, and that these birds begin to nest again on Lake Ontario...and most of all nest successfully!

This will probably be my last post before I head up to Nunavut for the month of July!  But I am excited to come back with plenty of posts and stories to share. So I hope that everyone has a fantastic month of July!!  See you all again in August.

Until then...here are some more photos: