Monday, July 9, 2007

Canada - Victoria Island, Nunavut, Wednesday, July 4, 2007

We spent the last day in the field re-surveying Mt. Pelly for red knots. With the coordinates of the three nests found in 1999-2003, we used GPS to cover much of the area we had surveyed at the start of the trip but without success. We went back to Mt. Pelly that evening to listen for knots, but still no luck. We stayed to watch the sun, still far from the horizon even though it was nearly 11:00 pm, but eventually a strong cold wind drove us back to camp.

Gwen pointing out a red knot nest cup on Mt. Pelly occupied by a breeding pair in 2001, (see silver coin in the bottom of the nest cup)

After a day breaking down camp and packing, we moved back to Cambridge Bay in preparation for our long flight home. Breaking camp after eight days is a bit like moving house, but using ATVs instead of a van. It took two trips with four ATV’s to move everything back to town.

Our trips to the Augustus Hills, Lady Pelly and Little Pelly had taken us through Cambridge Bay three times. This allowed us to have much more interaction with the towns folk than on our previous expeditions to Southampton Island and King William Island. There, we were in complete isolation the whole time. This time we were fortunate to experience life in a predominately Inuit town and get to know some of the people. Peter Laube, his wife Helen Koaha and their lovely children, six in all, rented us the ATV's and graciously provided logistical support. It was unexpected and greatly appreciated. Peter and Helen typify the independent and entrepreneurial spirit of the people in this remote arctic settlement, running both a rental business and a construction company.

Helen, Peter and their children.

Cassidy, Georgia, Kalene, Brandy, Jonhenry, Dyson, Madelaine

Cambridge Bay (population around 2,000) is growing slowly, both from the natural increase in the resident population and also from increased mining activity in the surrounding area. Most of the town’s income appears to come from natural resources (guides and logistics for hunting, fishing, birding, etc), from mineral resources (diamonds, gold and other precious minerals), and from commerce -- supplying the needs of the people and the government (community, Provincial and National Governments). The extraordinary isolation (it is a three-hour flight to Yellowknife, NWT, the nearest large town), the extreme climate (-30 to -50°C in winter is not uncommon) and the otherworldly effect of daylight all through the night in summer makes Cambridge Bay a truly unique place and afforded a wonderful experience that touched us all. The people of Cambridge Bay deserve to feel proud of what they still call their “hamlet”.

As mentioned earlier we also had the good fortune to meet Rob Harmer, one the Nunavut Conservation Officers for the region. Although the entire team felt gratitude to Rob for his assistance and direction on all matters regulatory, Mandy and I felt a special connection with a fellow provincial (= state) conservation professional. Rob’s job is not unlike that of our own Conservation Officers in NJ and works for an organization similar to NJ Fish and Wildlife. But, of course, Rob deals with polar and grizzly bears, -50°C temperatures, as well as the best (and worst) hunters, birders, photographers and researchers from the rest of the world. He displayed a keen knowledge and understanding of the wildlife, the land and its people. He represented his agency well and with professionalism.

Much of our time in the field was spent in places of spiritual significance to the Inuit, and this helped us to gain some access to their culture. They say that the three hills, Mt. Pelly, Lady Pelly and Baby Pelly, arose from the dying bodies of three gods that could go no farther in harsh conditions. Although our team covers the gamut of religious background and commitment, we all felt an organic connection to the land and honored the sanctity of the areas we searched. There is no need to attend church when on Mt Pelly, Lady Pelly or Baby Pelly, you are in church. It made the loss of red knots all the more poignant.

Our entire team is grateful for the hard work of Dr. Humphrey Sitters, who edited this blog and Phillipa Sitters for putting it up on the internet while we were gone. The same goes for Steve Gates, who help us get ready for the trip and with Satellite phone communications. They are long-term members of the team who for personal reasons could not make the trip. They were missed.

As said above, we are also thankful to Peter Laube and Helen Koaha and their family who own and run Kalvik Enterprises, Inc., in Cambridge Bay. If anyone is interested in equipment & ATV rentals, contact Kalvik Enterprises (867) 963-2922. Also thanks again to Rob Harmer and Shawn Sather, both conservation officers that can be contacted through Nunavut Department of the Environment in Cambridge Bay.

Funding for this trip came from New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust in the Office of Natural Lands Management, both in the Department of Environmental Protection. Funds also came from The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ which also provide logistical support for the trip. The Delaware Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resource and Environment Control provided funding. We are especially thankful to people of these groups Dave Chanda, Dave Jenkins, Bob Cartica, Michael Catania, Margaret O’Gorman, Karen Bennett.

The 2007 Victoria Island Crew (L to R, top to bottom): Bruce Luebke, Michael Male, Gerry Binsfeld, Mark Peck, Georgia Peck, Larry Niles, Mandy Dey, Gwen Binsfeld.


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