Arctic Science: Bird counting and barnacle geese

Two black guillemots and one murre!
One tern and one puffin!
Four normal eiders, three female eiders and four king eiders!

A normal “conversation” during a bird counting tour around Kongsfjorden with the Dutch biologists last Thursday. With 4 biologists (Maarten, Christophe, Mo and Annabel) and 2 boat drivers (Bettina and me), we followed the coastline of Kongsfjorden and counted the birds on both sides of the boat while keeping a distance of 300m to the shore. This is being done now every week in July. With some statistical models, the biologists will be able to say something about the number of birds and the change of them among the weeks.

Counting the birds in the fjord is a good way to get a rough overview of their numbers and distribution, but the focus of the Dutch biologists is on barnacle geese (brandgans in Dutch). The group with Maarten Loonen as the PI comes already since plenty of years to Ny-Ålesund to study the barnacle geese in and around Kongsfjorden. Every year in summertime, “the Dutch” come back to Ny-Ålesund and stay here for about two months. They observe the geese, count them, ring them, they count the different nests, count the chicks, they collect feces and screen for hormones, and and and. All to get a good overview of the population and their characteristics. The long-term observations being done on the geese are extremely valuable, because the Arctic is warming up so rapidly. Maarten and his group are now not just known for studying geese, but for studying a population that is under direct influence of climate change. They don’t use models to predict what will happen with the goose population if the Earth’s climate warms up. They can observe the changes directly, because the Arctic is already on average around 3 degrees warmer than 25 years ago (it is on average warming with 1.3 degree Kelvin per decade, see here). They are in the frontline of climate change.

If you want to follow more about the research of “the Dutch”, then there is a way! Maarten is posting actively and dedicated on his website in both Dutch and English.

And to finish off: some pictures of birds 😊

Two black guillemots (Zwarte zeekoet, Cepphus grylle)
King eider (Koningseider, Somateria spectabilis)
Kittiwakes (Drieteenmeeuw, Rissa tridactyla)

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