Going to the Arctic had always been a dream. This was amazing to me to be asked to go. There’s no way to find out what’s up there, what it looks like in many places without going there. It’s largely unexplored, you feel like you’re, you’re seeing things for the first time. We packed up a knapsack with a little bit of food, but mostly the recorders, the parabola. We had a shotgun with us. Armed with those items and our binoculars, we started walking. You have all these birds that come there from all over the world. These small tiny birds fly, some birds 6-8,000 miles to breed. But all these things happen in these brief little windows. So to be there when these things are happening is really special to get to experience that. We were in Resolute and one night we heard an unfamiliar call. Usually, I know what most of the sounds are up there, so as soon as I heard that’s got to be an Ivory Gull. And we ran over the sea ice and we went out and sure enough we spotted a couple of Ivory Gulls flying around, and there was a carcass on the ice left over from some native hunters and four Ivory Gulls came in and fed on the carcass and we spent probably four hours in the middle of the night out there with the gulls on the ice. The Ivory Gull pretty much just lives year-round in the Arctic. It breeds in high arctic islands; they rarely come much farther south than the Arctic. Resolute Bay is it about seventy four degrees north of the equator– well above the Arctic Circle. The only way to get there is to fly. It’s a small town. You could say it’s in the middle of nowhere. No trees, I talked to people who had never seen trees. Its truly, truly Arctic. We’re in Resolute, Nunavut Canada. Yesterday we were in Ottawa and also in New York where it was eighty-five degrees and humid. It’s probably about 25 degrees; the wind chill much below that. The wind’s been blowing about 30 to 40 miles an hour. So we’ve left summer and now we’re getting used to the the arctic conditions and winter and we’re heading over to Bathurst Island. So, we’re finally on our plane! We’ve got all our gear here, all our food for two and a half weeks anyway. I can hardly believe we’re doing it! We have been, over the course of the last few years, identifying areas in the collection that we wanted to improve. And one area that we wanted to work on was the High Arctic; mainly because it’s an area that could be threatened very rapidly by global warming. There’s a host of bird species that live in the High Arctic that go there to breed. One of them in particular – the Sanderling is a very familiar bird to most people — it’s the little white shorebird you see running back and forth chasing waves on sandy beaches throughout the world. All the Sanderlings every year go up to the High Arctic to breed on these barren Islands. The camp that we’re at, I think it’s roughly maybe 250 miles from the magnetic North Pole which is still a distance from the actual North Pole but gives you some idea of how how far North it is. This location was really a remote place. We relied on some written accounts from the 1960s about the birdlife, the chronology of events, and when birds may show up to breed and so we sort a put together a puzzle of when we thought the exact right time of year would be to be there, but that was always, you know something that you’re anxious about– are we gonna be there exactly the right time? Our first feeling was okay this is big. There’s a lot of space. It’s an immense landscape. I’ve never felt more isolated anywhere in my life than I felt up there. n That first day when we’re walking around we, gosh, I just remembered it’s just a big land and there’s so much snow and you don’t know if that’s snow you can walk across or if you’ll just sink through it. We’d head for the snow and it was pretty much solid. And we got up to the top of the hill and I remember it being quite gravelly, very little vegetation but all of a sudden there were birds there. There were three or four Sanderlings Gerrit started recording and I was standing a good maybe twenty feet away from Gerrit, which turned out to be really good because I can watch where birds were flying around and one came right toward him and I could say, “Incoming.” And he got on this bird and just got such a good recording of it. After the initial day we found the Sanderling and we were really excited and we thought OK, this is going to be great, we’re gonna get no fear you know no more anxiety about if and when we’re going to get the Sanderling recording. Day after day went by after that and we could not locate a male Sanderling doing the breeding display in-flight which is the recording we wanted but, we spent days following around pairs of birds that were obviously courting, but no males were displaying anywhere. So all this anxiety built up day after day. But then, finally I think we were maybe day 10– and this was a wetter area we’re going through and we didn’t really expect to find Sanderlings there, but indeed there was a male and he was up… Here comes this male floating by the tent and giving this little display flight and I just busted out of the tent and went and recorded in the rain. And there’s rain pinging on the dish, but it was something at least. So we’d finally gotten like a recording of this vocalization that we have no recordings of. So we hung out there the rest the day and we finally got a few little breaks in the weather that day and we got some really great recordings of this bird doing its displays. And it was incredibly lucky that we found this one bird because, I think we did not hear another individual male display until maybe our last day at Bathurst. Another stunning part in the trip was finding the Snowy Owl nest. Over the course about a week we moved a blind into place. I planted the stereo pair of microphones and ran the cable back and, I don’t think they’ve told Garrett this yet, but I had seventy feet of cable and the blind was exactly seventy feet. We placed an MS pair of microphones about a foot from a female and four chicks. There were three unhatched eggs. I was sort of leaning back to the blind and through the video screen all of a sudden I see these glaring yellow eyes and this white white head. This absolutely beautiful male owl came in and it was like this stunning moment, such a beautiful bird. I could see just barely the top of one of the chick’s heads. At that point I pressed the record button ‘cuz there was all sorts of sound coming out of the nest– the chicks were [cheep cheep] and you know the females doing [call]. She started feeding the youngsters and was just plain very, very moving watching this whole scene. You have to watch out, because you get this sort of cozy family looking thing, you know, oh and aren’t they so sweet? You have to remember that in years when lemmings are few and far between it’s not warm and fuzzy like you want it to be. But, it was fun to watch. [Long-tailed Jaeger call] [Rock Ptarmingan call] [Snow Goose call] [White-rumped Sandpiper call] [Baird’s Sandpiper call] [Purple Sandpiper call] Overall I felt like the trip was a big success. We didn’t run into any unexpected weather or hazards and we came back with all the recordings in the species that we went after. Had we not gotten the Sanderling, I would probably not feel good about trip but, once we had the Sanderling in the bag it felt like okay, now it’s really worth it that we came up here to be able to share this with the world.

End of transcript

Snowy Owls, Ivory Gulls, and Sanderlings were the targets on a Cornell Lab expedition to collect sound recordings in the Canadian High Arctic. Join Lab staff Gerrit Vyn and Martha Fischer as they trek across barren Bathurst Island recording birds.