For the Birds: Greenland Field Journal #1

July 3, 2019

Good day everyone! I’m Jacob Wyco, a biology major and rising junior at Augustana College. This summer, I was given the opportunity to travel to Greenland with Dr. Kurt Burnham and Dr. Jennifer Burnham. They choose a new Augustana student each year, so this was very exciting. This is not a major specific experience, as students with other majors have gone as well. We’re studying numerous species of birds that call this place home. 

Our base of operations is at Thule Air Base, a US military base in northern Greenland. The unpacking was a long process, but everything is looking organized, allowing for a smooth field season. 

Life on base is pretty nice. The gym is equipped with free weights, basketball court, and even a bowling alley. The food is very good! I’m in love with the omelets and bratwurst. The grocery store is surprisingly stocked with a variety of items. 

I thought it’d be a bit more barebones, but I’m definitely not complaining. The base also has a few restaurants which I hope to check out eventually.

So far, we have caught our first peregrine falcon and some passerines. 

Holding a bird is extremely different to any animal I’ve held. They’re fragile yet very strong, not at all similar to an angry snapping turtle. All the field work has been awesome and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.

In order to catch the passerines, the little snow buntings and lapland longspurs, we set traps with seed that they wander into. The door shuts and we carefully retrieve them. Biometrics such as weight and wing length are recorded. Color and government band numbers are also taken to see who’s been caught before. 

The falcons are a little tougher. 

Dr. Kurt Burnham climbs down to the nest and carefully switches the real eggs with fake ones. Snares are set in the nest to capture the falcon once it returns. Biometrics, DNA, and a small blood sample are taken. The real eggs are safely returned to the nest and the bird is released. 

It’s beautiful here. I feel like I’m on an alien planet. Seeing the glaciers and the ice sheet is breathtaking, and the mountains make a perfect photo background. Outside of the birds, wildlife has been fairly abundant. We’ve seen musk ox, Arctic hares, and the adorable Arctic foxes. I would love to eventually see some bears from a very safe distance.

Next update will be next week and probably will be a bit longer. Stay tuned to hear more about the fieldwork upcoming.