20 October 2007

Log Book Transmogrifies....

Wanted to let our readers know that I have found it to be too much to write two blogs a day while traveling, so I will be discontinuing this one and just writing on the Southern Cross blog. Check out the reports there please.

08 October 2007

Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada 8 October 2007

I am sitting in the truck during a heavy rainstorm with wind so hard that it is rocking the vehicle. Terrible weather to migrate but a good time to catch up on the field notes. Upon arriving here yesterday, I entered into yet another time zone. I am so far east now that when I ordered pancakes for breakfast, I got crepes.

No signals from Linda for two days now. So it is a time to wait until she makes her move. Hopefully, I will be close.

I last wrote from Thompson. While waiting there, I encountered some wonderful people who extended their hospitality to me. I have always found this to be typical among people living in the areas away from cities.

I was able to locate a school, Westwood Elementary, and gave them a 20 minute talk on Linda and what we are trying to accomplish. Thanks are due to Susan Thomas, the principal, Karla Turton, and especially Pauline McDonald-Smith, the librarian. She and her husband, Harold and their 6-year-old daughter, Abbey, later invited me to dinner at their home. Greatly appreciated as you can imagine.

(Harold, Pauline and Abbey McDonald-Smith of Thompson, Manitoba)

That night, since Linda was not moving, I caught the all-night train to Churchill. This is the only way to get there except by air. I wanted to try and see what was happening up there that would explain why Linda was staying around so long. The train left 2 hours late (8:30 PM) and arrived 4 hours late (1:30 PM). The tracks are getting pretty old and so the train travels at about 5-20 mph the entire way. Very slow. However, what it lacks in speed, it more than makes up for in discomfort. The train lurches and rolls, starts and stops along the entire way. I found it almost impossible to sleep.

(.... the Train trip to Churchill)

At first light, it was apparent that we had moved well towards the limits of the Boreal treeline. The spruce and Tamarack were widely dispersed and quite short in stature. The area was filled with water in streams, ponds, rivers and lakes. The remaining ground was covered in lichens, grasses and low brush.

It started to snow but you could still make out the odd red-tail, Willow Ptarmigan (now half-white) and the ever-present Ravens.

When we arrived in Churchill, it was still snowing, a strong north wind was blowing and I had my first look at Hudson Bay. There were large waves rolling into the rocky beaches with heavy whitecaps over the sea. It was green and white and immense.

Turns out Churchill is a seaport and the railroad is used to ship Canadian wheat from Saskatchewan and Manitoba to Europe. In this way, it is less expensive than taking it out through the St. Lawrence waterway.

Oddly enough, this feature impacted my trip in an unexpected way. The Prime Minister of Canada and the Premier of Mantoba were due in town the next day to make an announcement concerning upgrading the railway and the port.

I was told that they had the first import of goods come into Churchill this last summer. As things are warming now, you can expect to see things changing in this port city. It should not be long before the arctic waters are open enough to ship around Alaska and the NWT in summer. This would save a trip through the Panama or Suez Canals.

I called up Diane Howell, the assistant director of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, a non-profit organization located outside of town. They are a remarkable group of individuals that provide housing and extensive logistical support for visiting scientists from all over the world and of all types. She was kind enough to pick me up in town despite the flurry of activities taking place before the visit by the Prime Minister.

Everything here in Churchill is influenced by their location along the Hudson Bay Polar Bear migration route. The bears start moving about now. For example, they have an "open door" policy in town where people do not lock their doors in case someone has to duck in momentarily to avoid a bear walking through the streets at night.

You will see the provincial wildlife bear patrol trucks driving through the streets looking for bears. There are signs everywhere warning you to not walk down by the beaches. I am told you especially want to avoid the rocky areas because bears will sleep there and you can encounter them unexpectedly.

Windows at the Centre are barred with 5/8" rebar screens. You are given a bear safety lecture and reminded to make sure you only use the one door and to make certain that you close it behind you lest a bear walk inside the facility. What a nightmare that would be. Open a door on the way to the kitchen and have a Polar Bear standing on the other side. So people tend to follow these rules to the letter.

(Bear bars at the Centre)

In the afternoon, I was able to meet the director of the center, Michael Goodyear, and had a nice conversation about NPO's. He is doing a really excellent job up here for a much needed organization. Check them out on the web at http://www.churchillscience.ca/.

I made arrangements to stay the night, had dinner, and listened to a lecture on the latest findings about global warming before falling off to sleep immediately.

The next morning, I laid low to avoid all of the commotion which actually turned out to be quite easy going. The entourage arrived (4-5 cars), The Prime Minister came in and they did an announcement and then went for a helicopter tour to see the bears a few miles down the coast. Very civilized. Very efficient and I have to admit, kind of fun. Talked with a woman Secret Service agent who was polite and professional (and armed of course). The Prime Minister walked right by just like an ordinary person. It was great.

Later, I went into town and gave another talk to the local grade school, the Duke of Marlborough School. It is brand new and makes up part of a huge community Center complex right on the shore of the bay. It is their first year there and the buildings are beautifully done and well arranged. The principal, Darren Kinden, graciously arranged for the program. His assistant, Cindy Wasylkoski, also helped out. Thanks to them all. Good group of kids too. This is our third and northernmost among the "String of Pearls".

(The new Community Center in Churchill (Duke of Marlborough School)

Unforunatley, I do not have a picture of the kids. We are living in a different world now and we have to have permission from the parents of each child before we can add their picture to the web. Could not get this in time so a picture of their school will have to do.

Went out and walked a bit through Churchill to get a bit of a feel for the place, had lunch and flew back to Thompson that night.

07 October 2007

Amazing interaction ....

Vivian Gross forwarded the images and text below in an email ....As I viewed it I felt compelled to share it ....

Stuart Brown describes Norbert Rosing's
striking images of a wild polar bear
playing with sled dogs in the wilds
of Canada's Hudson Bay.

The photographer was sure that he was going
to see the end of his huskies when the polar bear
materialized out of the blue, as it were:

Obviously it was a well-fed Bear...

The Polar Bear returned every night that week to play with the dogs..

05 October 2007

Linda Under the Clouds

We haven't received any signals from Linda for a couple of days. This has been a recurrent problem ever since she started south and we are hoping that it reflects the influence of the weather and not a deficiency in the transmitter.

I can report that it snowed a fair amount over the last couple of days when I took the train from Thompson to Churchill on Hudson Bay. Heavy overcast moved in with a strong north wind carrying the snow.

(Snow near treeline, en route to Churchill)

Linda had just passed through there a couple of days earlier and then flew east down the coast into Wapusk National Park. This name means "Great White Bear" and the entire area has been set aside as a Polar Bear preserve. It contains one of the highest concentrations of maternal denning areas known for Polar Bears and is reachable only by air or by canoe.

I was interested in learning why Linda was moving south so slowly and most especially what she might be feeding on in this area as winter approaches. At Churchill, I discovered that there are many large flocks of Snow Buntings (300+) congregating among the sea grasses near the shoreline of Hudson Bay. These are fairly small prey for a female peregrine but they are abundant and very conspicuous.

(Hudson Bay shoreline showing Snow Bunting habitat. Note ship offshore)

In addition, I was somewhat surprised to find good numbers of ducks in the area (58 degrees north latitude), especially Mallards, Pintail and Green-winged Teal. The multitude of small ponds one finds in the sub-arctic tundra, were just beginning to freeze over when I was there. Local hunters told me the ducks will all be gone very soon as a result.

Since we have not received any signals lately, I will be driving towards Winnipeg tomorrow morning in case she has been traveling south.

It is amazing to me to learn that Ontario (the next province east) has almost no roads in the northern and central parts of the province. My route will be limited to a narrow band near the southern border with the US. I'll try to link up with Linda there as she crosses the US border.

She has been migrating for 15 days now (11 for me) and has still not departed Canada. Pretty surprising.

Sparrow King Out To Sea!

After an extended time remaining in a very small area of southern Baffin Island (and raising some deep concern among the team about his welfare), Sparrow King dazzled us all today by suddenly flying SW straight across Hudson Strait. He flew 189 km (117 miles) over the ocean and reached Akpatok Island, a known seabird colony. This is a pretty good jump for the first leg of his migration south and is a great example of why tiercel (male) peregrines just impress us all so much.
Thanks again to Mike McGrady and Keith Bildstein for the two male transmitters.

03 October 2007

How Are We Going To Do This?

Some of you have expressed curiosity about the communication logistics of the project. So I'd like to explain how we have set up the system to not only receive the GPS satellite signals but also to communicate from Canada to Chile.

This true wonderment is due to the technical skills of Mark Prostor and Don McCall. Thanks are due to them both for all of their work. And there has been a great deal of that.

So, here is how it all works. The Argos satellite flies over and receives the GPS signals generated by the backpack transmitter (where our bird is at the time). These signals are stored in the satellite and downloaded later to another land computer. Then they are displayed on the Argos website for subscribers. We get a latitude and longitude for the transmitter and an indication of the quality of the signal. However, we never know quite when these will come in during the day.

Don, who apparently never needs to sleep, is usually the first to check the signals. If Linda is moving, he will call me on my cell phone, sometimes at 0400. If he can't reach me by phone, he will e-mail the location of the bird to me. Mark backs up the process. As I drive along the route, I am always looking for a WIFI hotspot to connect to on my laptop. So far, I have mostly found them in hotel lobbies and at some restaurants along major highways. They are starting to overlook me now in the lobby of the Country Inn here in Thompson.

Afterwards, both Mark and Don will put the new locations on the FRG website so you can all follow along.

Later, when we get to more remote locations where there is no WIFI, I can pick up signal coordinates on our satellite telephone. Mark will be joining me to install it next week. It was late because of manufacturing delays. This system will also provide locations for our truck, Lula Belle, three times a day. You'll all be able to see when I am at a beach somewhere (which is sounding better and better right now).

So that, in general, is how it works.

And we hope that you are all enjoying the migration.

01 October 2007

Thompson, Manitoba and Paint Lake

Yesterday, I drove from Flin Flon to near Thompson. Camped at Paint Lake about 20 minutes west of Thompson.
Saw lots of Red-tailed Hawks hunting along the highway, probably 15 or more, widely spaced but still here. They have not migrated out yet. These are the late fall migrants caught at hawk banding stations like Duluth, MN.
Lots of Beaver dams and lodges in the roadside ponds and ditches. No Moose as the hunting season is on right now. The most common birds are Ravens and Red-tails although I also saw a few Bald Eagles, Gray Jays, Spruce Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Mallards, Canada Geese and American Robins! Actually heard a House Sparrow here in Thompson a minute ago.
Put in 237 miles today, and a total of 2,035 for the trip so far.
Finally got up the courage to convert liters of gasoline into gallons this morning and discovered that I paid $4.50 per gallon yesterday, the highest I've ever experienced. With the exchange rate at parity, a dollar Canadian to a dollar US, gas is costly in the north.
(Beaver lodge on pond near Thompson, Manitoba)