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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Summer of 2002, Trip IV
Bill Burnham — in Arctic Program - Greenland    Share22 - 23 September 2002

My fourth trip to Greenland this field season is unplanned. Kurt is short handed and much remains to be done, so I agreed to go and so did Cal. Cal Sandfort and I are both headed today for McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. Cal and Bill Heinrich, who went to Greenland last week, are long-time employees of The Peregrine Fund. Cal raised more than 2,000 Peregrine Falcons for release to the wild and with the completion of the Peregrine restoration effort assumed responsibility for the propagation of the Aplomado Falcon and the Harpy Eagle. Bill Heinrich directed the Peregrine releases throughout most of the western United States (less California and Nevada) and now coordinates our efforts with the California Condor and oversees the releases of Aplomado Falcons. We could have had no better biologists agree to help with the work in Greenland.

Arriving at the Boise, Idaho airport just after 6:30 am, I am reminded by my tiredness that it was a short night and very busy time since I arrived home from the last trip. During the couple of weeks I have been in Boise we completed construction of the new Gerald D. and Kathryn S. Herrick Collections Building, had a Board of Directors meeting, and much more. The Board meetings ended only last night. The meetings were three days with the first two of those a review of our programs and projects by the Board Program Committee that is chaired by renowned British scientist Ian Newton. Staff were there from around the world to make presentations. It was a very worthwhile review and benefitted staff and Board and enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization.

Cal and I arrive at McGuire Air Force Base near dark, after an hour-long cab ride from the Philadelphia airport. The cab driver delivers us at the air terminal and we discover we cannot check in our bags before the 1:15 am "show time" for the flight. Also, we cannot wait in the terminal because it closes at midnight and will not reopen until show time. The cab driver patiently waits while we figure out what to do, then he helps reload the bags and takes us to the base NCO Club. Among other things, the Club has a bar which serves food and stays open until after midnight. Good deal. Stacking our bags near the entrance, Cal and I spend four hours eating, drinking, and waiting. The bar begins to get busy and noisy about 9:00 pm and then airmen and women drift away in happy groups as the hour gets late. Sunday night football is on most of the dozen or so televisions. At midnight we call another cab, which must come from off base, to transport us back to the closed air terminal. We stack our bags by its front doors and nap on the wooden benches, worrying we may sleep past the "show time."

We do wake and check in. Three of us catch a ride on the KC-10 (civilian airlines call them a DC-10) to Thule Air Base ("Force" is dropped from the name of international bases). About 4:00 am a bus takes us to the aircraft. Most, if not all, of the KC-10s parked about have refueling booms on the back of the aircraft and are used as air-to-air refueling tankers as well as for transporting freight. This flight is for freight. The aircraft has a dozen or so seats behind the cockpit for crew and any passengers. There is a double aircraft crew as the plane will fly back today. There is only one empty seat. The remainder of the plane is crammed with pallets. We are wheels-up about 5:00 am.

About half an hour out from Thule the loadmaster says the weather is bad there and the pilot is not sure we can land but will give it a try. Wind gusts there are near 90 miles an hour and the direction is not directly down the runway; a partial crosswind. Could be exciting! At least it is light outside and not presently snowing.

The aircraft has very few windows, none of which we can see out of, but there is no doubt when we are a few thousand feet above ground. The big plane bounces and is shoved around by the wind. Another tug on the seatbelt! White knuckle time for the pilots (and passengers). We are coming in "hot" with jets roaring as pilots and plane battle the elements. The pilots will fly this one all the way onto the ground, not just let it glide from the sky the last dozens of feet as the plane nears stall speed.

Touch down! No problem. Another roar from the jets as the thrust is reversed to allow us to stop. Although I cannot see out, I know the Air Force blue Ford truck with its large "Follow Me" sign just pulled in front of the plane. A few more minutes to taxi to the terminal/base operations building. Stepping out it is cold and windy, but not that bad. The storm obviously took a break and gave us a chance to land. Inside, no Kurt or others to meet us? Must have thought the flight had been diverted. Nothing is far at Thule and Kurt arrives moments after I call. Feels good. A little like coming home.

Kurt says Bill Heinrich and Martin Gilbert are on Saunders Island trapping falcons and Jack Stephens is working in the weather station, which is at the other end of this building. Next breath Kurt proceeds into a list of things we need to get done today so we can "get back into the field." Great to be needed! In the early afternoon I hear the roar of the KC-10's jets as it hurtles down the runway escaping for home before the storm re-awakens. And awaken it does.

24 - 25 September

The storm will not give up and continues for two more days. Kurt’s "to do list" is long and includes patching the larger boat’s dingy so it will hold air (three holes), building a bow net for the falcon trapping station they built at Thule, installing additional phone and computer lines in the barracks, and much more. The second day, with the new bow net Kurt tries to catch falcons while Cal and I drive the roads looking for any falcons we might spot. No luck for any of us but Cal now has the lay of the land in and around Thule. We do see hare and fox. Tame ones.

26 September

Motoring out of the small boat harbor in the morning twilight, 6:15 am, we are headed to Saunders Island with food and water for Bill Heinrich and Martin. They check in each evening with Kurt by satellite phone and have relayed they are running short on food and could use a couple of jugs of water although they are melting ice that washes up on the beach from nearby icebergs. The pack ice melted long ago so all ice that remains is ancient glacier ice that may be thousands of years old. Kurt has loaded the supplies into two coolers and taped them shut to keep out water. We plan to "float" all into shore.

Kurt Burnham with immature Gyrfalcons
Kurt Burnham with immature Gyrfalcons

Saunders Island has been found to be a gathering spot for falcons this time of year and a great location for a trapping station. It seems the falcons (and ravens) are/were attracted to the island because of the kittiwake and fulmar colonies. After the Dovekies depart, the predators shift to catching kittiwakes and fulmars which are still present and nesting and by the thousands. Kittiwakes also are now gone from the cliffs, as are most, if not all, of the fulmars, but both are present in the area on the water. Before Cal’s and my arrival, Kurt, Martin, Jack Stephens, and Jack Cafferty caught several Gyrfalcons there and saw many others. Two of the falcons they caught we had banded as nestlings at an eyrie about 20 miles to the southeast.

Jack Stephens (left) and Jack Cafferty holding Gyrfalcons.
Jack Stephens (left) and Jack Cafferty holding Gyrfalcons.
We wish we still had the help of both Jacks but Jack Stephens’ vacation is finished and Jack Cafferty, a biologist and The Peregrine Fund’s Program Executive, has returned to our office in Boise. This was Jack Cafferty’s third trip to Thule working on the project. When we were shorthanded late in the field season, he also agreed to come north and help out.

About 7:00 am we arrive at the small hunters’ cabin on Saunders, now home for Bill and Martin. According to the GPS satellite fixes it is 17 miles from Thule and 2,652 miles from Boise, Idaho. The cabin is on the same part of the island where former famed Danish/Greenlandic explorer Knud Rasmussen had a cabin about one hundred years ago. The rock walls are still obvious from Rasmussen’s hut.

Remains of Knud Rasmussen's cabin.
Remains of Knud Rasmussen's cabin.

Just now as it becomes light enough to start trapping for falcons, Bill and Martin are still in the cabin. Kurt explains our intentions to them over the radio. He will drive the boat as near to shore as possible and I will throw a rope from the bow to them, the other end of which is tied to the coolers and water jugs. Cal will then feed out the line and drop the containers overboard as Kurt motors back, out into safer water. The sea is rough and waves are crashing ashore so we cannot land the boat and would get soaked taking the dingy through the surf onto the shore.

Even with a piece of wood 2" x 4" tied to the rope my throw is still a little short. "Getting old, Bill," Kurt chides me. Martin runs into the surf and snags it anyway. The rest of the delivery works as planned. Interesting sight, the coolers and jugs floating along in the ocean. With everything safe on the beach, over the radio Kurt kiddingly tells Bill and Martin this should hold them until the ocean freezes and they can walk back to Thule. "So long."

Cabin on Saunders Island
Cabin on Saunders Island
We motor on around Saunders Island past the now quiet cliffs where hundreds of thousands of seabirds nested earlier in the year. The only birds we see in the area today are the fulmars. The wind and waves increasing, we leave the protection of the island and cross to Cape Parry. Cape Parry is rough even when the sea is smooth everywhere else, which is not the case today. This should be exciting!

Reaching the Cape, we spot two Gyrfalcons in sight on the cliffs. Time to inflate the repaired dingy. I will go to shore first with the falcon trapping gear. Kurt motors close in and over the side I go with Cal stabilizing the raft. I step in and kneel. Paddling and watching the waves, I work my way closer to shore. It looks much different now that I am low on the water and close in. The beach is made up of mostly basketball-sized and smaller boulders and it is shallow for dozens of feet so the waves break well out before they reach the shore. It appears there are a series of medium-sized waves, then two or three bigger ones. Like a California surfer setting his board, I set the small raft waiting for the right moment. Number three big wave past, I paddle hard to follow its crest to shore. I cannot keep up. This time there is a number four! Nearing shore the raft and I go inverted with the fourth wave’s arrival. The water is cold!

Getting organized after a wet landing.
Getting organized after a wet landing.
Safely ashore and the equipment stored well above the tide line, back to the edge of surf I go in preparation for returning to the boat to collect Cal or Kurt. Again playing truth or dare with the waves, on the second try the raft and I get past the wave break point, and kneeling in several inches of sea waters, I reach the boat. Obviously this is not going to work. Kurt says he will paddle in and retrieve the equipment I left, "no problem." Donning an environmental suit he is off for shore. His reading of the waves (guessing) is no better than mine. He is dumped even further from shore. Emerging from the surf and shaking water off like a dog, he collects the raft and paddle from the surf and rocks, then retrieves the equipment I left. With the surf boiling at his feet he "wave reads," bounds through the water, and jumps into the raft, surfing it over the first big wave. Bad luck, a sneaky second wave hiding just behind the first sucks the ocean back out to where he and his raft are in only inches of water while the wave grows and towers feet above his head. Interesting sight—the white raft and Kurt in his red suit with a black backpack on, all rolling over and over in the foamy surf, then disappearing, then bobbing to the surface before the wave departs, leaving both on the rocky beach. This time with great determination he does make it to the boat.

I have changed into dry clothes and am having a hot drink. Cal is operating the boat. Turns out Kurt’s environmental suit is not so watertight after all. He also changes clothes. We always carry extra clothes, coats, boots, etc., for just such a potential. Motoring away from Cape Parry we resolve that a good landing there is one in which you do not have to hold your breath. We further resolve we will never attempt a landing there again unless the ocean is absolutely flat.

Kurt paddling into beach.
Kurt paddling into beach.
The Cape can be reached from a protected bay by walking overland for a couple of hours. We now head for the bay and are able to reach the beach with the boat and do not even need to use the dingy to transport the equipment and us. Cal and I ashore, Kurt takes the boat back out and anchors, then paddles in with a stern line playing out from the boat to tie to the shore. The stern line is "sleep insurance." Should something happen to the boat anchor or line the boat will still not depart to unknown places without us. We also always carry a satellite phone with us as backup in an emergency.

Toting a 10 foot long by 4" x 4" pole, nets, blind, etc., to erect a trapping station, we walk toward Cape Parry. Cal carries the heavy pole over his shoulder. Less than a mile from the boat we locate a hill which overlooks a very large area. In the distance are the cliffs of the Cape. After set-up, I take the first turn trapping while Kurt and Cal begin to walk to Cape Parry. Within minutes a swish of air and an immature male Peregrine appears and is caught moments later. A quick radio call and the guys return to band the Peregrine while I continue trapping.

Cal with an immature <br />male Peregrine.
Cal with an immature
male Peregrine.
Back into the one-man tent, a "bivy" we are using as a blind, I continue while Cal and Kurt work with the Peregrine a couple of hundred yards away behind a large boulder. The tent has a low profile rising only a foot or so above the ground where my head is. Soon an immature female Gyrfalcon stoops by low, turns, and tries to land atop my tent, slipping off the unsteady perch. Now on a rock and probably wondering what happened, she looks about. I hold very still but Kurt looks over the edge of the rock and is eyeball to eyeball with the Gyr. I should have warned him on the radio but I was afraid to make any noise. The Gyrfalcon flies away and that ends the day. We return to the boat to reach Thule before dark. On our way home the sea provides no relief from our earlier adventures, running high even into the harbor. It takes almost three hours and is near dark before we reach the barracks. Jack Stephens is happy to see us. Home again.

27 September

There have been four National Science Foundation-funded botanists staying in our building with us for the past week who depart early this morning. We are pleased to help them but it is nice to have the place back to ourselves.

The ocean remains rough. We do not go out in the boat and Cal operates the trapping station at Thule throughout the day but sees nothing. Kurt and I work on "projects."

Saunders Island in the late <br />afternoon sunlight.
Saunders Island in the late
afternoon sunlight.

28 September

We’re out of the harbor early with big plans for the day. It is now "light" 12 hours out of 24. When it can be seen, the sun is only a few degrees above the horizon. It constantly seems like late afternoon or early evening, and even in the morning I find myself checking my watch to insure we will not soon lose daylight. The sky is overcast today. Wind is from the icecap and probably at about 20 mph. It feels like winter has arrived. As we motor northwest the waves grow in size and batter the boat. About 15 miles out the first big one sends 50 gallons of water over the windshield. Kurt and I are standing immediately behind the windshield and mostly protected from water. The rest of the icy water crashes down on Cal who is sitting on the rear seat, but fortunately with his back to the bow and hood turned-up on his windbreaker. Awash in water, he sucked air, probably wondering what happens next. With more and possibly worse to come, we turn tail and head for home. Enough fun and adventure on the ocean for one morning. We operate the trapping station and work on projects for the remainder of the day.

Bill Heinrich about to arrive at the boat.
Bill Heinrich about to arrive at the boat.
29 September

One way or the other we will retrieve Bill and Martin today from Saunders Island. Tomorrow, Bill and Cal will return there while Martin catches a flight south to the United States. Arriving at the snow-covered island, we find the waves and surf are too big to take the boat to shore. Dingy time. After inflating the dingy, I get the boat anchor out of the bow anchor locker and lower it and the chain, then feed out the rope as Kurt backs the boat toward shore. As close as possible, but with a safety margin should the anchor slip, I tie off the line. Next, tying a rope to both ends of the dingy I paddle toward shore while Kurt feeds out the rope, stopping and holding me just before the point where the waves break. Second throw (I do need more practice) the rope coil reaches Martin with him again wading into the surf. Kurt pulls me back as the rope coiled in the dingy feeds out toward shore. Back aboard, Martin pulls the dingy to shore and he and Bill twice fill it with their gear which we pull back. The third trip Martin arrives damp but happy. Bill comes last, bringing with him several inches of surf in the dingy. Hard to know how much is in the clothes he wears. The trip to Thule is less than an hour so neither man will be wet and cold for long. Hot showers await.

Tonight we take part in a surprise 60th birthday party for Jack Stephens. His friends at Thule planned it so we could hopefully be there. Half of his life Jack has lived in Thule and he is one of the most fit men you could find there at 20 or 30, let alone years older. Jack is very important to our work in Greenland. Fun party but we excuse ourselves early as tomorrow will be a challenging day.

Beach and hills upon arrival <br />at Saunders Island.
Beach and hills upon arrival
at Saunders Island.
30 September

The rocks on shore that seawater reach have a quarter-inch coating of ice. That will probably not change, nor will temperatures rise above freezing again until spring. We load the boat from above, off the pier instead of walking onto the bow across the icy rocks. Another gray day but the waves are small and the passage to the trapping site on Saunders is quick. No need to use the dingy; we are able to put Bill, Cal, and their food and gear off the bow. "Good bye and good luck!" Kurt and I motor around the island to the northwest. We head directly toward the trapping site we set up days earlier near Cape Parry. It is cold but otherwise the weather is good for this time of year.

Nearing the bay we encounter large flocks of kittiwakes, probably numbering two to three thousand birds. There may also be 1,000 Glaucous Gulls and are several flocks of a few hundred eider ducks. Two smaller flocks of Oldsquaw fly by as we enter the mouth, and on the inside a bearded seal and a Red-throated Loon make an appearance. We are surprised by the number of birds remaining in the area. It is no wonder there are still falcons here.

Arriving, we are able to again off-load the boat directly onto shore. We will be spending the night. Kurt anchors the boat and paddles in while I set up the tent and camp. There is wind but not hard. The temperature is probably in the teens with a chill factor around zero. With a few hundred pounds of rock anchoring the tent and other potential wind-affected gear just incase the wind increases, we move out. Kurt will trap while I walk to Cape Parry.

Where a week ago there were flowing streams and open water ponds and lakes, today just ice and snow exist. A winter landscape for sure. I keep expecting to see a polar bear but do not.

Arriving at Cape Parry, I may be damp from perspiration but fortunately not seawater. A Gyrfalcon still sits on the cliff and five minutes later he is in my hands. It is the young male and the adults are perched high above watching the goings-on. He has a solar-powered PTT which Kurt wants to change to a battery-powered unit. Hooding the jerkin, I again slip on my backpack and begin the return walk. About an hour later, after reaching Kurt by radio, he tells me my male’s sister has been around him most of the day. He agrees to meet me part way as after changing the PTT, I intend to carry the young male back a few miles toward the eyrie before releasing him.

Immature Gyrfalcon with PTT.
Immature Gyrfalcon with PTT.
During the walk the male expresses his displeasure by taking several pieces of skin off my wrists. The hood is for a female and too large and does not prevent him seeing completely. Kurt has the correct size and to my relief the Gyr stops struggling and biting. Getting up to leave an hour later, the PTTs changed, I am cold and stiff from sitting quietly holding the bird while Kurt worked. A quarter of a mile back toward the Cape the muscles loosen and the body warmth returns. Now sweating, two or three miles later I slip the hood and release the Gyrfalcon. Calling his displeasure at me he climbs into the wind and winter sky, flying back to the eyrie. Removing my wind breaker and down sweater to cool off, I head for camp. The wind increases. I cool off quickly but it takes much longer for the moister to evaporate. On the return walrus are vocalizing on the offshore rocks. They are moving south along the Cape this time of year.

Kurt reaches camp before me. He has the satellite phone out as Bill and Cal will be checking-in any minute. I slip both coats back on but before I can sit down and reach for the cup of cocoa he is preparing, he hands me the phone and chases off into the dim light after a barely visible Gyrfalcon headed for some unknown location to spend the night. Phone rings. Bill says all is well and they have caught and put PTTs on both a Peregrine and Gyrfalcon today. I hang up, then call the Boise office should there be issues, but before I finish talking Kurt calls over the radio to come quick and help look for the falcon. I locate Kurt but not the Gyrfalcon and we return to camp in the dark. The wind off the water is icy cold. Time to put on long underwear!

For supper, cocoa and spaghetti with big chunks of sausage warms the belly and hits the spot, but not as much as the sleeping bag is going to. Doing the dishes can wait until morning. We head for the tent which is located a hundred yards away from the food out of respect for bears. After the tent door is zipped shut, the wind stops and the temperature feels almost balmy although it is probably in the single digits or below zero Fahrenheit. Listening to the waves battling the shore we find sleep comes quickly.

1 October

Boy it is hard to get up. Light out but there is no sun to warm the tent. After considerable discussion with ourselves and chiding each other, we drag our bodies out of the warm bags and join the new day. What adventures await?

Kurt outdoes himself with breakfast. Pancakes with peanut butter, syrup, and two eggs. He put the syrup in the boiling water pot (after the ice melts) to get it to flow. The eggs were also frozen solid and take a while to thaw, then to cook. This much food should get us through the day and home.

I am off again to Cape Parry. Kurt will again operate the trapping station. My feet have a couple of blisters from yesterday’s rocks, ice, and hard uneven ground. I pull the boot laces tighter. The pack I carried was a poor one with no waist strap and with nearly 50 pounds of trapping gear it did not help my feet or back. Swapping packs with Kurt makes carrying the weight easier.

One and a half hours later I am here again at Cape Parry. Offshore as I walk there are three boats with Greenlanders who must be after the walrus I heard last night. Both immature falcons and the two adults are waiting. Today I hope to catch an adult but my every attempt is foiled by the young birds. Being alone limits my options. As I sit behind a rock considering my problem, suddenly a Snowy Owl appears. They do not normally occur in this part of Greenland as there are no small mammals, their normal prey. Falcons hate owls and both adult Gyrfalcons immediately attack. Screaming defensively, first one then the next strafe the owl, sending it head over tail feathers, bouncing it across the ground with snow flying. I am only 30 feet away. The young Gyrfalcons joins the fracas and the female boldly lands feet from the owl and runs over with the apparent intent to bind and possibly eat it. A foot from the owl, we both see it appears almost twice her size and she thinks better of it. I am relieved—stale mate—so I move and the owl quickly turns and flies low over the frozen rocky ground away from the falcons. Both adults are immediately after it again and drive it over a hill with repeated stoops and screams until the owl finally hides in a cluster of boulders, then slips away when the adults return to the cliffs.

Show over, I re-pack my bag when I hear, "Bill, do you read me? Over." Kurt says he has seen nothing and I report the events here and say I am heading back and will see him in one hour and 15 minutes. An hour later, Kurt in the distance is taking down the trapping station. We leave the pole stored in the rocks for future use as it is awkward to get on and off the boat. The remainder we carry to the shore. Breaking camp takes an hour and I skate around and over the icy rocks, packing everything to a loading point while Kurt paddles out and drives the boat in for me to toss to him or set the equipment on the bow. Once back in deeper water everything is stashed and secured. The wind is picking up. The trip home is likely to be lively.

A direct line is made for Saunders Island to check on Bill and Cal. Water from the waves passing over the bow freezes instantly on the windshield. It is more than the chill factor that is low! Crossing the strait between Parry and the west side of the island, we hear a low motor oil alarm sound. We had the same problem yesterday. There must be ice in the oil filter or some other partial restriction in the oil line or injector as the engine will run, just not at the upper range of RPMs.

Circling in front of the cabin while <br />trying to get Cal's and Bill's attention.
Circling in front of the cabin while
trying to get Cal's and Bill's attention.
After arriving at Saunders the trapping station is shut down for the day as the light is fading and temperatures are very low. Bill and Cal are in the cabin. The ocean on this side of the island is almost calm. Shouting and driving back and forth in front of the cabin, we cannot get Cal’s and Bill’s attention. Their lantern noise is covering our commotion. A shot in the direction of the cabin from the 12 gauge does brings them to the door. By radio we ask about taking them back to Thule now. They decline, saying they would need an hour or more to pack. They are happy and warm. Hopefully none of us will regret not taking advantage of this calm weather and opportunity. There is a lot of equipment to get from the island to the boat and now it may be possible to motor all the way to shore. Kurt asks them to call at 9:00 am tomorrow morning so we can schedule a pickup time. He does not mention our boat motor problem. As we cross the 12-mile stretch of open water from the island to Thule, the sea becomes almost a mirror and we pass two groups of about a dozen or more harp seals visible in the late evening light. We have to stop several times with the motor problem and finally continue on and into the harbor at low RPMs, arriving at dark. The problem seems to be worsening.

2 October

Waking and looking out my barrack’s window, I note the flags over headquarters are flapping but not stiff. Bill Heinrich calls from Saunders. The weather there is very bad. The worst they have seen. So bad they cannot trap falcons and are huddled in their sleeping bags in the cabin wishing they had left last night. Considering the boat motor problem, Kurt has already asked Greenland Air about the potential of their helicopter picking up Bill and Cal. Now with the high winds and big waves on the island there is no choice. To their surprise, Kurt tells Bill and Cal a helicopter will arrive about 4:00 pm so please be ready to go. Bill worries the wind may be too strong for the chopper to land and he and Cal conserve their fuel for the stove and lantern just in case. The Bell 212 is a formidable machine in the right hands, and the pilots who fly for Greenland Air in the High Arctic are very capable. This retrieval should not be a problem.

Helicopter using cabin as wind screen.
Helicopter using cabin as wind screen.
Kurt and I spend the day cleaning up, putting up, and generally getting ready to leave Thule for the season. We will pull the boat from the water this afternoon after Cal and Bill arrive and Jack Stephens is off work. About 3:30 pm we head to the Greenland Air office. It seems the helicopter is to the north and they can stop by on their way to Thule, which will save us time and money. Kurt explains to the pilot over the radio where the camp is located. At 4:15 pm the helicopter lands with Cal, Bill, and their gear. The pilot had set down immediately next to the camp using it to help block the wind. They are happy guys to be back.

Emptying the truck at the barracks, and with Jack in his waterproof dry suit, he takes Kurt to the boat while Bill, Cal, and I get the trailer and go to Tug Boat Beach to prepare to remove the boat from the water. Tug Boat Beach is where the tug boat sits on its trailer except during the about two-month long "shipping season" at Thule. A D-8 Caterpillar dozer (and sometimes two) moves the trailered tug boat in and out of the water. Our old diesel Ford is only two-wheel drive but has the correct hitch for the boat trailer and with a little help functions as our D-8. It, with the trailer I will back into the surf. Just before the exhaust pipe begins to bubble is about the correct depth. Attached to its front frame are three long tow cables that are attached to the four-wheel drive Ford truck that waits on the hard gravel road extending from the beach. Soon Jack arrives and we can see Kurt motoring out of the harbor and coming our direction. Kurt later tells me where the boat ropes were near the water they were twice their normal diameter because of ice. With the truck hood up for safety should a cable come loose, I back the trailer and truck into water. Bill follows, backing the other truck with Cal’s hand signals to guide. Jack is in the water to hook the bow of the boat onto the trailer chain. Taking into account the wind and current, Kurt motors into the beach and onto the trailer. A final rev of the motors shoves the boat against the stop. The chain secure, Jack steps aside. Cal signals and, tow lines tight, both trucks and the trailered boat move forward. We stop to separate the trucks once on hard ground. Now to an indoor wash area to thoroughly clean the boat, trucks, and equipment, readying them for their long winter nap.

Dundas and Thule Air Base are welcome<br />sights from the helicopter.
Dundas and Thule Air Base are welcome
sights from the helicopter.

3 October

We are finished, even with packing our personal gear, before dinner time. In celebration we go to the Top of the World Club (NCO club) for dinner. They have a very nice dining room and once inside you could be anywhere in the world as there are no windows to see out or military decor.

4 October

We have our bags checked soon after 6:00 am, then head for breakfast, returning at 7:30. There are the usual group of military and non-military there to wish friends and co-workers well as they go on vacation or depart Thule forever. A military police member has finished his year-long tour of duty and is leaving so we can expect their trucks lined up outside with sirens blaring and lights flashing as he/we leave. Jack is our well-wishing friend and co-worker although others come up to Kurt whom he has gotten to know over his months at Thule. Although he will probably enjoy the peace and quiet, Jack was a little sad, I think.

Our departure marks the end of the field season at Thule but the work in Greenland is really not yet over. Regan and Erin are both still catching falcons just south of the Arctic Circle, about 800 miles from here. According to Rob Rose, The Peregrine Fund’s geographer and GIS expert who is collecting and interpreting the data from the satellites, most of the Gyrfalcons and even some Peregrines carrying our transmitters are still in Greenland. At this point, for many of us the falcons feel as if they are old friends and our hopes fly with them that they will live well and we will all be together again next season in Greenland.

Cal Sandfort and Bill Heinrich <br />at home in the cabin.
Cal Sandfort and Bill Heinrich
at home in the cabin.

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