Sunday, 15 June 2014

Resolute Base

Sat 14th June
Still very much on UK time so awake at 4am local time and of course the 24-hour daylight does not help. It was a beautiful clear morning here, but looking out of my window across the island to the frozen Lancaster sound and Devon Island the first flurries of snow began. After a substantial breakfast (impossible not to given what is on offer), we went to the stores to check on our gear and food supplies. Everything is so well organised up here that this did not take very long. George (the store manager) pointed us in the direction of everything, including some of the kit we left here 7 years ago on our last visit! We also had our first wild mammal of the trip; an Arctic fox, still with much of its winter coat attached was foraging around the base (we saw a second animal later on with a biscuit in its mouth).
We decided to go for a bit of walk (see pic of Chantelle, Ian and Tom)
to try and burn off all the calories we have been consuming. Out on the road that head NW out of Resolute, we could pick out distant harp seals and their pups out on the sea ice. We also saw our first Brent geese, a flock of about 20 birds flying east (the wrong way) down Lancaster Strait and a small group of snow geese calling as they disappeared into the low cloud. The snow had become more persistent by this time and so the first twin otter (see pic) that had taken much the gear up was grounded in Eureka. This will delay our departure tomorrow. The advance BBC team have found a wolf den up there so they need to get in sharpish (as do we).
At dinner Anwar (one of the BBC cameraman) mentioned he had seen some dark geese up on a marsh near the base dump. This is one of the few areas of wetland nr to the base, which is otherwise rocky and very well drained. When we got there it turned out to be a spectacular little spot, many 10s of purple sandpipers displaying (which involves lots of buzzes, grunts and raising of wings), sanderlings, Baird’s sandpipers, grey plovers, American golden plovers, absolutely stunning red (grey) phalaropes (see pic), greater snow geese and of course a small group of 27 Brent (all looking in pretty good condition and still carrying plenty of fat).
The true highlight of the day came when we spotted 3XYY and AZRY in amongst the flock. AZRY was alone, and is a bird that was ringed in Iceland in 2007. He spends the winter in North Dublin and doubtless Matt Silk will know him well. 3XYY was with her partner, and we saw them both last month on the Alftanes peninsula nr Reykjavik. This is quite an interesting pair as they are part of a small population that spend the winter in Jersey. Really is great to see them all up here, but it seems unlikely that these birds will breed this year as it they should really be on eggs by now.

Sun 15th June
Awake at a ridiculous hour again, still snowing, so decided to try and get some photos of the geese. Arrived at the site slightly disappointed and surprised to see them gone as there are not many places for them to go around here at this time of year. The reason for their absence became clear when a huge female snowy owl lifted from a nearby rock!
The BBC team have just boarded their aircraft, and have left for Eureka. We will leave in a couple of hours as long as this break in the weather holds. Watch this space for (less regular) updates on our expedition to discover what actually happens to these birds during their short breeding season at 80 degrees north.

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