East Bay Island, 2013, blind work

East Bay Island is different from most other bird colonies I have worked at. Seabird colonies in the Arctic are on cliffs, and so the blinds we work in are situated along the edge of the colony and you just walk up the blind and take you place inside; the birds barely notice. But eider colonies are different. For the most part eider colonies are flat, and because they are atuned to terrestrial predators coming across the island, as soon as they see something on the horizon the eider ducks flush from the nests and take to the wing.

To facilitate nest monitoring blinds have been built around the colony, but you access them via tunnel that you crawl along. This sounds simple but it is a bit of a process to get it all set up.

The first job is to out the tunnel paths. In years of heavy snow, or even moderate snow like 2013, this means several hours of heavy digging by the early crew. In the picture below the crew has started at the blind, and is digging the path where the tunnel will go, out towards the edge of the island. Beyond the few rocks that are melting out of the snow is the rough sea ice that is still frozen and locked up.

Digging out

Once the tunnel paths to the tunnels are dug out, the paths melt out quickly and canvas tunnels are constructed from the edges of the island, where few eiders nest, all the way up the blinds. Basically, after the eiders settle in the crew is limited to the edges of the island, and only access the center of the island via the blinds and tunnels. The tunnels entrances are along the beaches, and the tunnels lead to the blinds which all look over the center of the island. The island is a bit like a saucer, with the tunnel entrances around the rim, all leading towards blinds that overlook a large pond that sits in the central crater. In order to make the tunnel crawl easier we leave knee pads and gloves at the entrances of all the tunnels.

Tunnel entrance

Once you are all suited up, you basically get down on your hands and knees and head up the tunnel. The tunnels are made of 2x2s and tent canvas so it can be quite dark, even on sunny days.

tunnel

At the other end of the tunnel you pop out at the blind. The canvas walls go right up to the blind so essentially even the birds nesting right around the blind are not startled as you enter.

Ridge blind

Next you have to open the outside door that you can see in the above photo. The blind is actually two storeys, so the outside door opens to a small space where above your head you open a hatch that leads up to the second level. The picture below is taken from just inside the outside door, looking up through the hatch.

Hatch door

Once you are inside with the outside door shut, you have to then climb up through the hatch and shut the hatch door behind you. This is easier said than done as the space is quite small. The picture below is taken from the second story, looking back down the hatch that leads out.

Hatch door

Once the hatch is shut, a folding chair is set up over the hatch, which is where we do our observations from. It is a pretty comfortable space with a shelf for all your books and materials. And you can see that there are windows in each wall that help us few the colony and scan for bears.

Inside the blind

Once you are settled in you have a great view of Main Pond, the largest pond on the island. From here we can check nests, read bands, and generally keep an eye on things.

Blind view
So, although the blinds are quite a bit of time to set up, and crawling along the tunnels can seem like a challenge at the end of a long day, they are essential to the work that we do on the island. They allow us to get great access to the birds, and exist on the island with little disturbance.  And where else can you have crawling races where you know there is little chance of someone standing up and cheating!!

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