After hopping our way along the Greenland coast for a few weeks, we crossed over to Bylot Island to continue our journey in the Canadian Arctic onboard the Arctic Tern. Being on a sailboat, we usually stay away from vertical walls of endless rocky cliffs where we can’t anchor or find shelter… but this is exactly where our two scientists, Christie and Kieran, were determined to go. And so we went.
After rolling around in the swell, puking over the side and going on a few scoping missions to find a suitable landing spot with the zodiac, we finally made it to shore with all the gear. This was day one of many that would be spent climbing ridges, catching birds and getting pooped on while attaching instruments that would allow the scientists to unveil the intimate secrets of the mysterious foraging behaviour of Thick-Billed Murres. We now know a little bit more about where they go, how often they feed and how far they have to fly to feed their chicks during their short Arctic breeding season…
Fun facts about Thick-Billed Murres:
These spend their lives at sea. They come to land only once a year, to breed. They lay a single egg and incubate it for 4 weeks. Once the egg hatches, both male and female take turns flying up to 100 km to find fish to bring back to feed their chicks. This keeps them busy for 3 weeks. After that period, the chick jumps off the cliffs and falls directly to the ocean where it later moult and grows flight feathers. Adult Thick-Billed Murres can dive down to 200 meters to catch fish.
View from the top of the cliffs at Cape Graham Moore.
We had put these leg bands on 20 birds last year. We caught 12 of the same birds again this year and got data off of 7 of them.
These birds come back to the same cliffs every year to breed. We had to catch the same birds as last year to retrieve some of the data loggers!
Kieran O’Donovan uses a pole to catch Thick-Billed Murres on the cliffs at Cape Graham Moore (Bylot Island, Nunavut).
It took us a while to find a suitable landing spot at the bird cliffs. Vertical walls of rock are typically not where we land with our zodiac!
Christie, Sam and Kieran on the bird cliffs! They didn’t smell very good when they came back onboard after a full day of work…