Cape Dorset, 2011

As I prepared to return to Cape Dorset, Nunavut for my second field season I have been reviewing what I did last year in order to prepare for this one. 2011 was my first year working in Dorset, and I was lucky enough to go with Sam, a lab mate of mine from Ottawa who is a few years ahead of me at Carleton, and who has a great deal of experience working with marine birds from Alaska to Kazakhstan.

So here is a recap on 2011’s field season.  Cape Dorset is a community on the southern shores of Baffin Island, on Hudson Strait. They are known worldwide for their carvings and prints, but as a biologist I went to Dorset  because it is also a major route for marine birds flying back into the Arctic through Hudson Strait after hanging out in the North Atlantic for the winter.

View Cape Dorset, Nunavut in a larger map

Since Sam had worked in the community before, and I was new, he took the lead in our meetings and organizing things. We start off in each community meeting with the local Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO) when we can. This is the group that helps us figure out where we can best get samples, find birds, collect data, where the safe routes are, and help us find experienced and capable guides and hunters to go out on the land with.

After we explain the goals of the project the HTO then puts out a call to the community looking for hunters that will help us with our sampling, and hopefully within a few days we are heading out on to the land to hunt eider ducks. And I have to say, as far as commutes go, traveling to work on a snow mobile each day is pretty great.

Once we are out on the land, and the hunters have found a good place where the ducks are coming in (which is sometimes no small feat), we set up a small ice blind that we travel back and forth to from town each day.

And with any luck each day we get some eiders flying close enough to hunt. At the end of each day the birds are taken back to town, dissected, the meat distributed and more than 24 samples and metrics from the birds are taken by several groups that are studying marine bird disease, contaminants, parasites, diet, and physiology. As you can see we get both common eiders (green on the back of the necks) and King eiders (gray heads with orange bulbous bills).  We take samples from both, but our main focus is the common eider. Our hunt in 2011 was a success, and here is hoping that 2012 goes just as well.

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