HAGRG members Fabrice Genevois and Mark Maftei met up for some late season scouting in some of the most inaccessible areas in the Canadian High Arctic last month aboard the Kapitan Khlebnikov on an exploratory cruise run by Quark Expeditions. After a spectacular summer, winter came in like a lion in 2016, and by September 1st, many areas were covered in snow and sheltered waters were beginning to freeze. Travelling through the High Arctic this late in the season is a rare treat enjoyed by few. Highlights of the voyage included what we presume is a newly discovered colony of black-legged kittiwakes at Cape Dudley Digges in western Greenland, and observations of large flocks of ivory gulls in Norwegian Bay, the latter adding support to the notion that this region supports significant as-of-yet undiscovered colonies of this extremely poorly known species. Brief aerial surveys certainly confirmed large areas of suitable habitat amongst the spectacular nunataks rising out of the Steacie Icefield on Axel Heiberg Island.
2016 saw the HAGRG return to Nasaruvaalik Island to continue ongoing monitoring of ground-nesting seabirds. The focus of our visit this summer was to trap arctic terns for a mark-recapture study in order to determine the annual survival and lifespan of terns breeding in the High Arctic. We know that arctic terns can live to be over 40 years old, but several years of data are needed to refine anecdotal records into a robust and meaningful baseline.
We also took advantage of our time on the island to continue tagging both adult and chick Sabine's gulls. HAGRG member Shanti Davis has collected hundreds of hours of behavioural observations which have revealed a complex and fascinating relationship between related birds. This project was initiated in 2007 by Kelly and Josh Boadway, and to date hundreds of individuals have been banded with unique colour-coded band combinations. Currently, well over 90% of the breeding adults on the island are banded, and in the last few years birds banded as chicks only a few days old in 2011 and 2012 are returning to breed for the first time!
Basic mark-recapture and mark-resight studies like these are a low-tech way of collecting a lot of important information on the biology and ecology of nesting populations. It's a lot of work trapping the birds the first time around, even more work trying to see them afterwards, but in the end, the reward is a unique insight into the relationships between individuals within a colony. Plus, it's a lot of fun :)
The High Arctic Gull Research Group is all about encouraging collaborations that bring together the best people to apply cutting-edge technology in order to study Arctic species. By this logic, Autumn-Lynn Harrison is kind of like the HAGRG represented in human form (as opposed to our more typical state as an amorphous cloud-like thing that smells vaguely of eiders). While most seabird people eventually come around to studying fish, Autumn-Lynn did the opposite - cutting her teeth tracking the denizens of the deep before stepping up into the rarified world birds. She holds a Ph.D. from University of California, Santa Cruz with a focus on the ecology and conservation of migratory marine predators of the North Pacific, and is now a Research Scientist with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and Program Manager of the Migratory Connectivity Project. Over the last few years, Autumn-Lynn has led a ton of projects focused on tracking a variety of species all across North America - most recently Glaucous Gulls from Barrow, AK.
Autumn-Lynn is an expert on bird tracking technology, and also making movement data universally accessible in order to raise awareness about the conservation concerns affecting many (if not most) migratory species.
It is with extreme pleasure and pride that we welcome our most recent member to the High Arctic Gull Research Group. Iain Stenhouse is a world expert on Arctic birds, an old-school field biologist of the highest calibre, and an all-round awesome guy. He is currently the Senior Science Director at the Biodiversity Research Institute, and he has some serious High Arctic Gull tundra cred having pretty much laid down the foundation for Sabine's gull research in Canada (and later Greenland). Iain and collaborators have also put out some of the hottest tracking papers (here and here) of the last decade, and his expertise is a welcome addition to our team. It should also be mentioned that if there was ever a worthy contender for second place after the undisputed champion of Arctic facial hair, Iain is solid competition. Welcome aboard Iain!
A new paper from the HAGRG led by Isabeau Pratte takes a look at a multi-year dataset to tease out the relationship between the nesting habits of Arctic terns and common eiders on Nasaruvaalik Island. The two most abundant species on the island (and among ground-nesting seabirds in the High Arctic) have totally different life histories and reproductive strategies, and yet they nest side by side in what may be a long-misunderstood relationship. Do eiders rely on terns for protection? Do terns even protect eiders? We'll save you the stats headache and get to the good stuff right here. This most recent paper coming out of Nasaruvaalik Island highlights the importance of long-term data collection - monitoring may not be as exciting as other high-tech fun and games, but it ultimately provides the kind of hard data that lets scientists learn about the more subtle patterns in nature. Nice work IP!
Shanti Davis, Mark Maftei, Mark Mallory, Isabeau Pratte, Birgit Braune, Carina Gjerdrum, and Sarah Wong will be heading to Cape Town, South Africa to present exciting research on marine birds. The World Seabird Conference is held every four years, and it's.....kind of a big deal. The theme this year is "Seabirds: Global Ocean Sentinels", and much of the work we have been involved with over the last few years highlights exactly this idea; that seabirds are valuable and informative indicators of ocean health.
Talks and posters will feature a variety of exciting new research on a whole mess of awesome birds.....but perhaps none more appropriate than Shanti's tracking study of Sabine's gulls which demonstrates that some of these birds migrate from their breeding grounds in the Canadian High Arctic all the way to South Africa for the winter. 36 hours on a plane hardly sounds fun, but if a 200 gram bird can do it, so can we :)
We are extremely proud and excited to announce that the HAGRG will be joining forces with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to undertake a new project tracking Glaucous Gulls. While Glaucous Gulls are typically fairly common in the north, we actually know very little about them, including where exactly they go. In order to answer some basic questions about the migratory movements of this species, Autumn-Lynn Harrison of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center is deploying sophisticated solar-powered satellite transmitters on birds in Barrow, Alaska this winter. Knowing how much we love gulls, Barrow, and collaboration, she invited us along. We are super thrilled to head back up to a magical part of the world and meet some new people and some new gulls. Stay tuned for updates on this exciting adventure!
The French don't really have a word for 'hard-core' - they simply refer to Monsieur Genevois by name.
Fabrice has been studying seabirds for his entire life, and few other biologists have the breadth of in-the-field experience that he has accumulated over his life. As an academic he studied petrels on Kerguelen Island, as a photographer he has amassed one of the most enviable collections of seabirds anywhere, as an adventurer he has circumnavigated the world many times over and logged more trips to the Arctic and Antarctic than he can even remember, as a Frenchman he makes the finest cabin mate on the seven seas with a seemingly unending supply of cured sausages and artisanal cheeses.
Having spent (literally) the majority of the last several decades at sea in his quest to study seabirds in their own element, Fabrice is uniquely qualified to write about their world and their ways. His latest book (his third), Oiseaux marins - entre ciel et mers, co-authored with the equally distinguished Christophe Barbraud, has just been released by the venerable French scientific publishing house Éditions Quæ. Combining the most recent academic research with a poetic style that is hard to match, this volume jammed with thousands of stunning images is a must-read. Fabrice and Christophe have delivered the goods - a beautiful, relevant, entertaining and informative book that manages to appeal to both the serious scientist as well as the casual armchair birder. Magnifique!
Mark Maftei of the HAGRG recently joined Bob McDonald for a chat about Ross's Gulls on CBC's acclaimed weekly science show, Quirks & Quarks. Discussing the where, when, why and how of the HAGRG's recent study tracking Ross's gulls from the Canadian High Arctic, Mark highlights the need for future research, and also unfortunately discredits himself for all time by actually referring to "SEAGULLS". Unbelievable....We still love you, Mark, but come ON!
Tune in Saturday at noon (June 20th), or stream direct any time, any place by following the link below!
New research leads to Ross's gulls being downgraded from 'ridiculously mysterious' to 'virtually unknown'
'This rare mysterious inhabitant of the unknown north, which is only occasionally seen, and of which no one knows whence it cometh or whither it goeth, which belongs exclusively to the world to which the imagination aspires, is what, from the first moment I saw these tracts, I had always hoped to discover as my eyes roamed over the lonely plains of ice.'
From the diary of Fridthof Nansen, August 3d, 1894
However much it pains us to prove one of the coolest explorers ever wrong, after three years of effort on Nasaruvaalik Island, we can conclusively say that we now know exactly whither these elusive little guys goeth...at least a few of them anyway! Check out a fresh and fabulous paper from the HAGRG detailing a tracking study which finally lays to rest one the last great ornithological mysteries - the wintering grounds of the Ross's gull. It wasn't easy, but it sure was fun!
.....and logistics, and data management, and Sabine's gull capturing, and lots of other things too. A huge and hearty CONGRATULATIONS to Shanti Davis on her recently completed MSc. thesis! Migration Ecology of Sabine's Gulls (Xema sabini) From the Canadian High Arctic is bound to become a classic and definitive reference.
Shanti's work represents one of the most comprehensive studies of Sabine's gulls to date. The second coolest gull in the Arctic, a species which deserves, nay demands, our attention has finally received its due thanks to Shanti's tireless efforts. Working out of Nasaruvaalik Island over several years, Shanti has painstakingly learned the ways of the Sabine's gull -their breeding biology, their migration routes, their awesome behavioural adaptations, and much more. Building on work begun by Mark Mallory and Kelly Boadway, Shanti took things to the next level and undertook a massive mark-recapture study that trapped over hundred birds, successfully tagged and tracked several dozen, and resulted in a detailed and fascinating glimpse into the ecology of this incredible trans-equatorial migrant. Stay tuned for more earth-shattering tracking papers than you can shake a stick at.....Well done SED!
Yes yes, we are the High Arctic Gull Research Group, but there is more to life than just gulls! In fact, few things in life are better than witnessing the remarkable spectacle of shorebird migration, and there are few places in the world to better do that than in beautiful Tofino, BC.
HAGRG members Mark Maftei and Shanti Davis are proud to be working with the Raincoast Education Society organizing this year's event (the 18th Annual!), which will feature three days of enlightening talks and presentations by the likes of John Reynolds, John Neville, and more, as well as exciting opportunities to go birding both in the WHSRN recognized Tofino Mudflats and even to the edge of the continental shelf on an epic pelagic adventure. Come on out and join us if you can - we'd love to see you! The festival runs May 1-3; prime-time for shorebirds.
Details and information, registration and accommodation packages can all be accessed through the Raincoast page here: http://raincoasteducation.org/events/tofino-shorebird-festival
HAGRG member Mark Maftei has joined Environment Canada!
Working as a Wildlife Research Technician out of the Delta, BC office, Mark will be involved in both ongoing and new research projects examining the distribution and biology of seabirds along the British Columbia coast. Although he remains committed to his Arctic research interests, the opportunity to work extensively in a part of the world he already calls home is bound to be an exciting change of pace.
Nora Spencer, Grant Gilchrist and Mark Mallory have recently released a really cool paper in PLOS ONE detailing a multi-year tracking study examining the movements of ivory gulls in the Canadian High Arctic. Without giving away the plot, the birds rely heavily on one of the most unpredictable and poorly understood habitats on earth - the every changing, always shifting ice-edge. Implications for the continued survival of this Endangered species in Canada are discussed as well, but at the end of the day, this is a stunning piece of work on one of the hardest birds in the world to study.
Check this link for more!
HAGRG member Isabeau Pratte recently presented a fabulous poster at the ArcticNet Arctic Change meeting in Ottawa. Unconfirmed early reports that 'minds were blown' seem highly credible. Congrats Isabeau!
Although he will always remain 'Man of the West' to some, Dr. Mark Mallory, a founding member of the High Arctic Gull Research Group, was recently awarded entrance into the Royal Society of Canada. We are not sure if this title comes with a castle, a license to kill, or any such tangible or practical benefits, but what is beyond a doubt is that Mark's contributions to Arctic science over the first part of his career are recognized at the highest levels. His dedication to research as well as his unwavering support of a large team (cabal?) of students at Acadia is admired and appreciated by all who know him, and we are absolutely thrilled for his success. Please check out this awesome video of Mark modelling a variety of sporty outfits while he throws some major shout-outs to Hinterland Who's Who and Jacques Cousteau.
A huge congratulations to Dr. Mark Mallory, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada!
HAGRG member Isabeau Pratte is presenting a poster at the 2014 ArcticNet meeting detailing investigations into the nesting ecology of common eiders and Arctic terns on Nasaruvaalik Island. These two species are the most abundant on the island, and despite totally different breeding strategies and life histories, they have a surprising impact on each other during the nesting season.
Way to go Isabeau!
Well, it only took a few years of talking about it before we decided to make it happen, and here we are! Hopefully this website will be of use to fellow researchers and the general public alike. Can't wait to share our stories and adventures with everyone, and see how this site develops. Look for updates (both relevant and irrelevant) on the News page - and if you have any news yourself, let us know and we can share it as well. You can always get in touch with us either by leaving a comment below, or sending us an email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome, and hope to see you around!