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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Summer of 2002, Trip I
Bill Burnham — in Arctic Program - Greenland    Share
The Arctic is probably the world's most ecologically sensitive and vulnerable ecosystem. Since it functions as a global barometer, slight shifts in global temperature could have major impacts. A warming trend of the Arctic Ocean and change of atmospheric pressure patterns are already reported. Also, alarmingly high contaminant levels are being found in the most northern Inuit people, whales, polar bears, and seals, believed to result from global atmospheric distillation and fractionation (chemicals transported from the tropics through the atmosphere) and pollution entering the Arctic Ocean from north slope rivers of Russia.

The Peregrine Fund’s actions in the Arctic focus on Greenland. Broadly stated, our goal there is conservation and scientific understanding of Gyrfalcon and Peregrine Falcon populations and their environment. Greenland is a mostly pristine Arctic area and of high conservation value. We are the principal group studying falcons in Greenland and have a long history of work there through our relationship with William Mattox.

Authorization for work in Greenland is provided by The Commission for Scientific Research in Greenland, Greenland Home Rule Government, and by the United States Air Force. We cooperate with Thule Air Base, the U.S. Department of the Interior/Bureau of Land Management, Conservation Research Foundation, VECO, National Science Foundation, New York Air National Guard, 109th TAF, Boise State University, Bent Brodersen/Kangerlussuaq International Science Support (KISS), and Danish scientists Knud Falk and Kaj Kampp, among others.

The project is managed by Kurt Burnham under the general direction of Bill Burnham with special assistance from Bill Mattox. Jack Stephens, who has lived in Thule for more than 30 years, is our Thule Coordinator.

Thirty years ago this month I began this same journey. My first trip to Greenland. The reasons for going were to determine if Peregrine Falcons still nested there, and if so, how many. The 1970s were a time when there was great concern for the Peregrine and many believed it would be completely lost from North America. The species was already gone from the eastern United States and populations had greatly declined in the West and the Arctic. A couple of band recoveries had shown Greenland Peregrines migrated through the United States, probably wintering in Central and South America. I knew not what to expect when I arrived in this Arctic world of ice and tundra on that June day in 1972. (For more information see A Fascination with Falcons: A Biologist’s Adventures from Greenland to the Tropics, available from our online store').

Sign at Kangerlussuaq.
Sign at Kangerlussuaq.
9 June - Up early for a three-hour wait before boarding the aircraft, then a six-hour flight to Kangerlussuaq (formerly Søndre Strømfjord Air Base) which is located just above the Arctic Circle on Greenland’s west coast. Unlike most other currently inhabited areas of Greenland, there were no people at Kangerlussuaq prior to the 1940s when the United States built a runway and air base there during the Second World War. The base (code name "Bluie West Eight") was an important refueling stop for planes flown between the United States and Europe. The head of this long fjord previously provided no unique benefit for Inuit residents of Greenland so they did not live there. The runway and community were constructed on the elevated delta where two silted glacial rivers join and enter the fjord.

Our team during the first part of the season, beyond Kurt and myself, are Pete and Jacques Jenny, Regan Haswell, and Calen Offield. For the latter four, it is their first time to Greenland and all are anxious to get there and to begin the work. There is much to do. Fortunately, its being light 24 hours a day increases our ability to get things done.

The flight takes about six hours and there is a two-hour time change from our point of departure. We arrive at Kangerlussuaq about 4:30 pm local time. Our friends are there to greet us—Bent Brodersen, the manager of the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support (KISS) and Robin and Ed of VECO, the National Science Foundation’s logistics contractor. For Kurt and me it feels a little like arriving home. While in Kangerlussuaq we have sleeping rooms in the KISS building. They have cooking, labs, and other facilities that are also available to scientists.


10 June - While Kurt gets our old Volkswagen van insured and licensed and takes care of other matters, I take the group to check the closest Peregrine Falcon eyrie and for a "break-in" walk. Not too far, but far enough to test everyone’s boots and physical conditioning. Along with seeing our first pair of Peregrines, we also see many songbirds and pass several muskox during the outing. Seeing your first muskox is always a thrill as it means you are indisputably in the Arctic. The muskox were completely lost from the Kangerlussuaq area, then reintroduced (27 animals) in the 1960s. Today there are over 3,000 animals there and they harvest about 20% of the population each year. There are no "natural" predators for muskox and a large amount of suitable habitat, and the population is doing well.

he uneven ground makes walking <br />very difficult.
he uneven ground makes walking
very difficult.
We arrive back at KISS late in the day with all but a couple of us sporting blisters on our feet. Despite how much you may try to prepare yourself and adequately break-in your boots prior to coming to Greenland, it is difficult to duplicate walking across the uneven tundra, and particularly on hills. It would have been much more problematic if people were carrying heavy packs. Taking it easy at first and getting used to this type of walking can help prevent lasting problems and suffering. The years and experience that go along with my graying hair have some value!

11 June - We hoped to check Gyrfalcon sites by helicopter today but bad weather prevented it. We instead drive and walk to another Peregrine eyrie. This one is near the Greenland Icecap. The icecap occupies about 85% of Greenland’s landmass, rises to about 11,000 feet in elevation, and is over two miles thick. A few miles away, the falcon cliff overlooks a silt-contaminated river which flows from the icecap. The nesting cliff has also had a pair of Gyrfalcons there as recently as last season. Unfortunately, the Gyrfalcons failed to produce young last year, likely as a result of the Peregrines which shared the cliff. The female Gyrfalcon was found injured, probably a concussion, and disappeared a couple of days later. The young then died despite the male’s best efforts.

Peregrine Falcon in flight.
Peregrine Falcon in flight.
Observing, then approaching the cliff, we find the Peregrines but there are no signs of Gyrfalcons. The ledge the Peregrines seem to be nesting on is near the overhung ledge formerly used by the Gyrfalcons. Nothing more to be learned here, we travel to another former Peregrine eyrie to determine if it is also occupied this year. The Peregrines are now incubating eggs which will hatch in early July, while any Gyrfalcons we locate should have young already hatched.

Arriving at the second site we see three adult Peregrines flying near the cliff. One of the two males is aggressively pursuing and driving the other one way, making repeated dives with what appears to be lethal intent. As we watch for an hour and walk to the cliff, it appears that although Peregrines are defending the site they do not have eggs. Either they did not lay or already have lost their eggs.

White color phase Gyrfalcons are much <br />easier to see from helicopters than dark color phase falcons.
White color phase Gyrfalcons are much
easier to see from helicopters than dark color phase falcons.
12 June - The weather has improved and we are using the helicopter for the first time this season. It is an AS 350 and our pilot is Bent Reiss, a Norwegian. The helicopter is a good machine for this work because of its dependability, maneuverability, and power. The pilot is an old hand at looking for falcons and worked with us in 2001. Bent’s ability and desire to help are very important to our success. Helicopter use is very expensive in Greenland and a good pilot can save a great deal of time and money. Bent also has excellent eyes and knows what we are looking for.

Kurt lays out a flight path for the morning to the north of Kangerlussuaq to check most of the Gyrfalcon nest sites we know were active in 2001 and otherwise used consistently over the recent past years. The nest sites are widely scattered, and unlike Peregrine eyries, are at a low density. As we check each site, the helicopter hovers near the nest cliffs and we can look for any adult falcons present and young in potential eyries. If you are bothered by air sickness or height, it is best to pass on these surveys. Kurt sits next the pilot and provides directions using GPS locations (longitudes and latitudes) and tells him where on the cliffs we wish to search as we approach each cliff site. Some nesting locations are well-marked by whitewash (fecal material) while others can be more difficult to detect. Gyrfalcons will regularly use former raven nests so they must also be examined. As falcons do not build nests and young Gyrfalcons can be rather hard on raven nests, a raven nest can usually only be used once, or at the most twice, before being destroyed beyond value for nesting.

The first flight we check 13 former Gyrfalcon nesting sites and discover Gyrfalcons at six, but we only see the adult female Gyrfalcon at one and cannot discover any young or eggs. There are a number of cliffs and potential alternate nest sites in the area and it is possible we missed them. Weighing potential results against helicopter cost is always difficult. We take our best shot at locating the eyrie and move on.

Gyrfalcon Eyrie
Gyrfalcon Eyrie
Kurt and team visit 17 former sites on the second and last flight for the day, and two are occupied by Gyrfalcons. They work the area south of Kangerlussuaq and the fjord. One of the two Gyrfalcon sites only has two eggs and the female is not incubating which suggests she may have already given up and they have failed. A couple of days from now when we return, the eggs and falcons are gone. A second site where we had also seen eggs will have failed and the Gyrfalcon also will be absent.

We see Peregrines at several locations during the day and we would no doubt have discovered more if we had been willing to spend the time at the cliffs. The Peregrines, like the Gyrfalcons, frequently will not flush from their eggs even when the helicopter is very near, so you must spot the falcon on her nest ledge which can be a challenge, and particularly on a large cliff with many ledges. The Peregrine nesting density is very high.

To allow others to go and to keep the weight down in the helicopter, Calen and I did not go on the second flight. Instead, we hiked to check another "local" Peregrine eyrie for occupancy. We pass a dead muskox along the way. The Peregrine pair is present and the female appears to be incubating. As we near the cliff she leaves the eggs briefly to defend, but discovering we are not a threat, she quickly loses interest and returns to her eggs.

"Utopia" Gyrfalcon Eyrie
"Utopia" Gyrfalcon Eyrie
13 June - We are again using the helicopter. Today we will search an area from which we are receiving a signal by satellite from a falcon fitted with a transmitter in 2000 and again in 2001. It is a 30-minute helicopter flight. After another 10 to 15 minutes of flying without finding her we land to speak with the residents of a nearby Greenlandic fishing camp. Fortunately, Bent speaks Danish and so do the Greenlanders. They report having heard a falcon, but several miles from here. Back into the air and toward the area the Greenlanders say they heard the falcon. Passing a very large gull nesting cliff, Pete or Kurt spot a white adult male Gyrfalcon perched at the crest. Bent does not like getting close to the cliff with over 1,000 gulls flying near the face. He worries about taking one in the windshield or rotators. The Gyrfalcon is definitely not carrying a transmitter, then it disappears before we can get organized enough to try to capture him. Checking a few more cliffs and discovering Peregrines at both, we give up and fly back toward Kangerlussuaq, checking a few more Gyrfalcon nest sites along the way.

Our second nest site we visit is named "Utopia." It is in a high green side valley above a large lake. The site’s name is deserved. It is indeed a beautiful area. Looking out of the eyrie is a silver-colored female Gyrfalcon sitting on eggs or small young and she will not raise up for us to see. We check seven more nest sites on our return and find Peregrines at two and ravens with young still in their nests at another couple.

After the three flights we have eight active Gyrfalcon nests we will monitor and work with in the Kangerlussuaq area this season. We had hoped for more.

Kurt gathers the crew and we explain we are about a week to 10 days early to begin capture of adults for fitting with transmitters and even for banding the oldest Gyrfalcon young. Pete, Regan, Jacques, and Calen decide to take the old inflatable boat, that we brought from Thule a couple of years ago, down the fjord to look for White-tailed Eagle nests and possibly to do a little fishing. As they pack, Kurt and I get the boat, inflate the tubes, and otherwise ready it to go. After they buy fishing licenses we all go to the port and get the boat in the water with Bent Brodersen’s help. They are finally underway in the early evening after we have to remove and lubricate a corroded throttle cable. Since dark will not arrive for several months, time of day is unimportant.

Kurt and Bill Burnham fit a transmitter <br />on a Peregrine Falcon.
Kurt and Bill Burnham fit a transmitter
on a Peregrine Falcon.
14 June - Kurt and I spend the day working on equipment and generally catching up. This is the first "down day" in months and it is nice to take a breath and have time to catch-up.

15 June - We leave early to begin revisiting nearby Peregrine eyries with the hope of beginning the capture of three females on which we will place solar-powered satellite-monitored transmitters (PTTs). We miss capturing the female Peregrine at the first site but are luckier at the second. Kurt very carefully fits the transmitter on the falcon while I hold her. The hood covers her head and eyes, helping to keep her calm. After the procedure is complete and we release her, she flies effortlessly into the wind and back onto the cliff where she preens and adjusts her feathers, seeming not to even notice the transmitter. It is a good start.

Ed holds a male Peregrine while Bianca<br />looks on and Kurt prepares for its release.
Ed holds a male Peregrine while Bianca
looks on and Kurt prepares for its release.
16 June - Today we hope to "deploy" the second PTT. The PTT folks seem to like us using that term. After a walk of a couple of hours we reach the eyrie. Ed and Bianca are with us. Bianca is a Canadian Ph.D. student working on diatoms who has a little spare time and offered to help. Ed is with VECO, and although he spends a great deal of time in Greenland, seldom has he had time to get into the field. We do manage to catch a Peregrine, but this time a male. Although the transmitter only weighs about 18 grams we decide to stick with putting them only on the larger females. The male weighs about 580 grams while a female would have been over 900 grams. On the return trip to the truck we discover several Lapland Longspur nests when the female flushes almost at our feet. Their eggs should hatch soon. The Peregrine eggs will not hatch until after the longspurs do and other songbird young have just begun to fly. Peregrines will need to feed these young songbirds to hungry, rapidly growing falcon eyasses.

Lapland Longspur nest with eggs and  newly-hatched young.
Lapland Longspur nest with eggs and newly-hatched young.
17 June- Today we are a failure. We did not catch a Peregrine or discover a pair at another "local" Peregrine eyrie we checked. Although we did not see the falcons at this former eyrie I feel certain they are there. The male was probably off hunting while the female was incubating on a high ledge and could care less about degenerate humans far below. Hopefully tomorrow will be a more productive day.

18 June - Yesterday our team members returned from their trip. Although they did not find the sea eagle nest they saw an eagle, but only a sub-adult. They did manage to catch a few Arctic char on their way back so dinner last night was excellent!

Peregrine eyrie and young at <br />Garnet Mountain (1972).
Peregrine eyrie and young at
Garnet Mountain (1972).
Today we go to the Garnet Mountain Peregrine eyrie. This is the location where Jim Harris and Dave Clement made their observations in 1972 and about which Jim later wrote his book. Not surprisingly, the location is known as Garnet Mountain because there are garnets in the rock there. They are not very good quality garnets and are generally small and fractured.

The walk takes a couple of hours. There is a small herd of muskox and two lone bulls along the way. None are particularly wild. The dense hair from the muskox is considered by most people to be the very softest wool. Muskox lose it in bunches and sometimes sheets, and today it is scattered along the muskox and caribou trails. Clothing woven from the wool is very expensive. Pete is collecting but it is unlikely he will find enough for even an ear warmer, let along something larger.

Calen moments before releasing an <br />adult male Peregrine.
Calen moments before releasing an
adult male Peregrine.
The Peregrines are nesting within about 50 feet of where they were in 1972 although there is no doubt they are different birds. Neither the female nor male is particularly defensive and I climb above them before they fly. We only discover their nesting location. Bad luck, we again catch the male instead of the female. His appearance, however, is striking with perfect feathers and almost orange-colored waxy skin on his cere, around his eyes, and on his legs and feet. He has no doubt struck terror in the hearts of many a small bird as he comes to collect them to take back to his young. We band him and collect a few drops of blood for research on Peregrine DNA. We are trying to determine how different (if at all) the Peregrines are between Kangerlussuaq and Thule. The Peregrines in Thule seem to be larger.

Splitting up on the way back, Kurt and Jacques take the most direct route while the others of us go on to check several more cliffs more-or-less also on the way back. We discover no falcons but locate a raven nest with large young on one cliff. We arrive at our pre-arranged rendezvous only minutes before Kurt and Jacques. They bring cold sodas!

19 June - Piling in the boat, we motor out to one of the active Gyrfalcon sites near the fjord. It has the oldest young. Less boat motor problems, the trip should take about an hour, but dirt in a needle value floods the motor so it takes longer. The walk up to the eyrie from the fjord is about an hour. The eyrie has been used a very long time and the whitewash has built up very deep in the three locations on the cliff where the falcons nest. At least three young falcons were seen in the eyrie from the helicopter. Today we will probably not band the young and instead hope to capture an adult falcon to deploy a PTT.

The falcons are smarter than we and neither adult is captured. Discouraged after trying for several hours, we walk down to the boat and head back to the port on one motor. The only thing that succeeded well today was the mosquitos. I probably have several hundred of their proboscis broken off in me as I smashed them while they sucked my blood. Those that got away with their blood meal will now reproduce, ensuring future generations will exist to feed on other Arctic visitors, be they humans or birds.

20 June - Up at 0430 to ensure we are ready for our 0815 helicopter flight. The airport does not open until 0815 and closes at 1645. Even though the helicopter requires none of the airport services to fly, it must operate within those hours or pay a very high fee to keep the airport open. Should that happen the "it" will be us paying. So even though there is unlimited daylight and we have a ready and enthusiastic pilot, our work is dictated by the airport.

Pete and Jacques wait for the helicopter.
Pete and Jacques wait for the helicopter.
We arrive at the hangar where the helicopter is kept almost an hour early to ensure there are no problems as we need the entire day. 8:00 am and the pilot has not arrived so Kurt calls him. Greenland Air did not tell him he was flying today! Thirty minutes later Bent arrives, munching on his breakfast while apologizing for the problem. He now explains he must do a scheduled check of the helicopter before taking it out of the hangar when he can fuel, so it will be another hour's wait. Even in the best of circumstances, scheduling the helicopter is difficult because others are also using it and scheduling occurs in Greenland’s capital city of Nuuk at Greenland Air’s charter office headquarters, not where the helicopter is maintained. This is very frustrating.

Bianca and Regan band young Gyrfalcons.
Bianca and Regan band young Gyrfalcons.
We are operating in two teams today. The idea is the helicopter will leapfrog teams between sites to maximize our time and production. Kurt’s team finally leaves about 0930. Pete, Jacques, and I leave second, about a half-hour later.

We go to the site where they saw the two eggs a few days ago. The eggs and Gyrfalcons are no longer there. Nothing can be accomplished. Bent flies us to "Laguna," the Gyrfalcon site we were at yesterday. If an adult Gyrfalcon is present when we arrive we will try to capture it, otherwise we will band the young. The latter is true. No luck on the adult. Bent lands the chopper on top of the hill/cliff.

Kurt at falcon nest ledge.
Kurt at falcon nest ledge.
Jacques is down the slope below the cliff while Pete and I are up top. Jacques' job is to ensure the rope, Pete, and I are in the correct location to access the eyries. Beyond banding the young, I want to collect whitewash for carbon dating from an alternate nest site on the cliff. The fecal build-up is nearly a meter thick there. I was first into this site in 1974 and have wanted to return to collect material for carbon dating ever since. I do not remember how I maneuvered into the eyrie those many years ago as there is a large overhang of rock above the nest ledge. I rappel first to the side as maybe I can traverse along a crack, but no. Possibly if I had (but I do not) enough "protection" (nuts, chalks, and/or cams) to safely manage the crack I could make it, but I do not remember doing that years ago. Back to the top with my jumar ascenders. Second rappel. I go straight off the overhang. The eyrie is close enough under the overhang it is hard to pendulum in, but by going down several feet further I manage to swing enough to grab the rock and pull myself in—no sweat. No doubt just like I did it about 30 years ago! Unlike 30 years ago (before they had been invented), I slip a cam into a crack in the rock as a safety.

Young Gyrfalcons in nest site in 1975<br />where whitewash samples were collected<br />for carbon dating in 2002.
Young Gyrfalcons in nest site in 1975
where whitewash samples were collected
for carbon dating in 2002.
The area under the overhang is large and a small party could be held there. There are several locations the falcons have obviously nested on the build-up of whitewash. There is even a small cave within the whitewash where they have nested. I use a claw hammer to excavate three locations and collect material without damaging the site so as to prevent its future use by Gyrfalcons. Back to the top to move my rope to enter this year's eyrie. Getting back on the rope causes me to swing into space and spin while I jumar up to the edge of the overhung rock. Reaching a booted foot up about even with my shoulder and pushing out lets me move my jumar past the rock edge atop the overhang so I can continue up.

First out of concern for the young Gyrfalcons below, then me and having a rock follow me down, possibly smacking me on the head or cutting the rope, I rappel so as to avoid any rockfall on the way to the eyrie or later. I am to the side of the overhang above the eyrie and a sideways swing is necessary to get a hand of rock to pull myself into the eyrie. This site is much smaller than the other, but I fit myself into the front of the eyrie without crowding the young and still having room to work. My backpack laid on the ledge blocks the young falcons' only access to the edge of the ledge although they are young enough their potential jumping is not a worry. They are more afraid of height than I am. A cam into a crack in the cliff helps hold me in place and satisfies the safety factor. These mechanical things are great!

Young Gyrfalcons at an eyrie.
Young Gyrfalcons at an eyrie.
The four young are 23-25 days old. Three are female and the youngest a male. Rather than acting defensive they beg for food—not good. Obviously the adults are having a rough time finding enough food for their young. The young male’s chances of survival are poor with three big hungry sisters. I quickly band all four and collect a few drops of blood from each while wishing I had something to feed them. They are way too hungry. All the prey remains in the eyrie are from ptarmigan except for the wing butt from a Lapland Longspur. Except for the passerine there are no remains which look particularly fresh. Time to leave. Maybe the adults are on their way back with chow. Cam out, swing back to my rope center line, and then on down the face. Pete pulls up the rope from the top. I walk back to meet he and Jacques and we head away from the eyrie and wait for the helicopter. There is not time to go to another site and still get back to the airport before it closes.

21 June - Today is Greenland Day (and the solstice). Today is a national holiday beginning three days of celebration recognizing when Greenland received Homerule from Denmark. The sky is overcast, and there is light rain and wind. This is not a good day to disturb falcons with eggs or young or for the dance planned outside for humans later in the day. To begin the celebration there are speeches and a free breakfast. Bent Brodersen translates the speech which has been given in Greenlandic to Danish for those who cannot speak the former. No English is spoken here and I do not speak enough Greenlandic or Danish languages to matter so we pass. Other functions follow but I take our group to an area where fossilized fish are found which, upon arrival, we discover has been picked over by tourists. It is listed on the things to do in Kangerlussuaq for visitors. Later the dance is moved inside the old Air Force gymnasium onto the basketball court. The party begins late and we join the celebration after dinner. The Greenlandic band plays a variety of music from polkas to more current, and almost everyone dances. Our team joins in and age or speaking the same language matter not at all. The event is reminiscent of a high school dance. The 75 to 100 people in attendance have a thoroughly good time. Smiles everywhere. I duck out early and the party continues through the sunlit night into the morning.

22 June - The weather is improving but still bad. Not so bad, however, as to discourage the all day football (soccer) tournament. Each seven-member team must have a minimum of two women. The field is lined with vehicles with horns blaring and people cheering from makeshift bleachers. Some of us spend the day repairing the boat and catching up, while others recover from the party in preparation for the second evening when another band is scheduled to take its turn.

An Arctic bath!
An Arctic bath!
23 June - The airport is closed on Sunday so no aircraft can fly. We all go to a nearby cliff to practice ascending and maneuvering over knots when two or more ropes are tied together. We put two ropes over the cliff so more than one person can practice simultaneously. It is not often you have an opportunity to learn each other's techniques and practice. The day was well spent.

24 June - No helicopter is available so we spend the day checking known Peregrine eyries. There are several local sites still to be visited as part of our Peregrine monitoring effort.

Gull Dispute
Gull Dispute
25 June - Three of us take the boat to Muskox Bay to try to attach a PTT to the Peregrine nesting there. Pete, Regan, Calen, and Jacques had spotted the pair on the way home from their trip to search for eagles. Motoring into the bay, we see an adult female Gyrfalcon is being attacked by the Peregrines. One and then the other stoops, trying to knock her from the sky or drive her from the area. The Gyrfalcon looks like the female from the Laguna eyrie which is only a few miles away. She is probably in the bay hoping to catch an Iceland Gull to take back and feed her young but the Peregrine will have no part in that. They drive her onto a ledge on the cliff where she cowers until they let up. She then straightens her feathers and drops over the edge and flies quickly away. Gyrfalcons used to nest on these cliffs and I banded two young there in the 1970s.

It is a warm day and the female Peregrine is in no hurry to return to her eggs after the Gyrfalcon leaves. It does not take long to capture her and fit the PTT. She is in very good shape and has large brood patches on each side of her breast from incubating her eggs. The process goes quickly and she and we are on our way.

26 June - We have the helicopter today and tomorrow and must make the most of it. This time everyone, including the pilot, knows the schedule. We are again using two teams. Pete, Jacques, and I leave first. Our luck changes at the first Gyrfalcon site we visit. We catch the adult female within a half hour and fit her with a PTT while Bent takes his helicopter back to pick up and locate the second team.

The female we caught is more white than silver in plumage. She is in good condition other than being much thinner than we would like to find her. Food is obviously in short supply. The helicopter returns just as we finish with her. When released, she, like the Peregrines we caught and attached PTTs to, seems to pay little attention to the transmitter and flies back onto the cliff as if nothing much had happened.

White-fronted Geese are present on the<br />small lakes below the eyrie.
White-fronted Geese are present on the
small lakes below the eyrie.
At the second eyrie on our visit list we see neither adult. Both must be off hunting. Bent drops us and goes back to move Kurt and his team to another site. We get organized and wait for one of the adult falcons to return. The nest we are at is on a very large cliff. We hope to band the young but catching an adult is the first priority. We get set up and wait.

In the late afternoon while we wait for an adult to return, the helicopter passes at a distance and Kurt radios they are returning to the airfield and Bent will come back for us. They had banded young Gyrfalcons and put a PTT on a Peregrine—good job!

Just after Bent returns for us, the adult female Gyrfalcon arrives at her eyrie. She has a large prey item she carries into the eyrie and proceeds to feed her young for the next half hour. She must finish before we will have a chance to catch her, then if we are lucky and succeed it will take most of an hour to fit the PTT. No problem other than we must be back at the airport before it closes. Finally, we can wait no longer and must return. Very frustrating. Most probably another half hour and we would have caught her.

Jacques and Pete Jenny rappel the cliff<br />to collect addled eggs for analysis.
Jacques and Pete Jenny rappel the cliff
to collect addled eggs for analysis.

27 June - Kurt’s team takes the helicopter to be let off first. We are the second load. There is wind and the forecast predicts it will increase considerably later in the day. Our first stop is at the second eyrie, which failed during incubation. Kurt reports there are two addled eggs in the site. Pete and Jacques will rappel in to collect the eggs for analysis. My turn to guide them from below the cliff.

The wind is stiffening as they finish the climb and head back up the hill. The forecast seems likely to be correct. Bent and his helicopter are parked in the valley below the eyrie. While we are loading the helicopter to go pick up Pete and Jacques the wind probably doubles in speed and atop the cliff it is blowing harder. As the helicopter lands, they jump in without Bent shutting down and he informs us we may need to call it a day as the winds are exceeding a safe operating range.

Kurt collects prey remains from a Gyrfalcon nest site.
Kurt collects prey remains from a Gyrfalcon nest site.
Leaving the area we feel a hard downdraft on the rotating rotor blades confirm this. He drops us at the airport, then retrieves the other team. Neither team captured any falcons or banded young. Another rather frustrating day. Being dependant on a helicopter and controlled by the schedules and rules of an airport and others, combined with weather issues, adds challenges we do not need.

Arriving back at KISS, Robin tells us the flight on which we will all travel back to the States, except for Kurt and Regan, may leave a day early (tomorrow) so just in case it does, get ready and be around tomorrow morning when the decision will be made. So much for getting into the field tomorrow.

28 June - Our bags are mostly packed. I get up early to learn what will be decided about our departure. The word is we are back to the old schedule and will leave tomorrow. Our group divides and separates—half to play golf and the others to work on the boat and possibly check on the Peregrine carrying the PTT and nesting in Musk Ox Bay.

The golf course is 18 holes and all sand. The only grass is pieces of astroturf where you tee off for each hole. Beyond limitless sand there are many ponds to challenge the golfers. For a small fee (on the honor system), a bag, clubs, and balls are available at the "club house," two old trailers connected by a wooden porch. Calen is an accomplished golfer and odds-on favorite, although I am not sure anyone kept score. But they all did report they had a good time.

Bianca (right), Bent, Regan, Calen,<br />Jacques, Kurt, and Pete (standing)—the team.
Bianca (right), Bent, Regan, Calen,
Jacques, Kurt, and Pete (standing)—the team.
After a few adjustments on the boat the problem motor runs well and into the fjord we go. Arriving near the eyrie I crank the steering wheel and feel a pop. Steering cable broke! Time to become creative. We fashion a tiller of sorts to steer. Our boat definitely needs work before next year. Arriving at KISS, we find our friends have gathered for a farewell diner.

29 June - We are leaving Kurt and Regan with a lot of unfinished work. Far more than I had hoped. They will be busy! Hopefully the weather and other influencing factors will cooperate.

Our bags are loaded before 6:00 am and saying goodbye, we head for the airplane at 7:00. While waiting outside to board I hear Peregrines calling at the eyrie across the runway. A few mechanical problems are overcome and we are flying south by 10:15, arriving in the U.S. in mid-afternoon. Two more flights and I am home.

There is much to do in Boise, then back to Greenland for Trip 2 of this season. The next time it will be to Thule. The Gyrfalcon’s young should have hatched in North Greenland by then and the pack ice moved out of North Star Bay.

To be continued...

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