Bird in flight over the Davis Strait as seen from a porthole. Photo Credit: Lisa Robbins

Birds of the Davis Strait/Arctic Circle by Holly Hogan, Guest Contributor

Holly Hogan: Seabird Observer for Canadian Widlife Service, Environment Canada

I grew up in St. John’s NewfoundIand, where I also did my MSc. Degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN).

Newfoundland is an island stuck well out into the flow of the Labrador Current. For this reason, the Island is famous for both it’s cold wet foggy terrible weather and it’s incredible diversity of marine life.  Located forty-five minutes from St. John’s is the second largest colony of Leach’s Storm-Petrels in the world, and the largest Atlantic Puffin Colony in North America (Witless Bay Islands Ecological Reserve). Add another hour and a half to the drive and you are on the doorstep of the largest Leach’s Storm-Petrel Colony in the world (Baccalieu Island Ecological Reserve) or the second largest Northern Gannet Colony in North America (Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve). As someone with an affinity for the natural world the attraction is obvious. I worked for the Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada for close to a decade, and then managed both the Witless Bay and Baccalieu Ecological Reserves for the provincial government, Department of Environment and Conservation. In recent years I have been conducting offshore seabird surveys for the Canadian Wildlife Service, under the Environment Canada Seabirds At Sea (ECSAS) program.

Northern Fulmar in the Davis Strait. Photo Credit: Lisa Robbins
Northern Fulmar in the Davis Strait. Photo Credit: Lisa Robbins
Gull in flight over the waters of the Davis Strait. Photo Credit: Lisa Robbins
Gull in flight over the waters of the Davis Strait. Photo Credit: Lisa Robbins

These surveys provide important data on pelagic seabird distribution throughout the year, including patterns of dispersal from breeding areas, migration routes and wintering areas. Over time, these data will show not only patterns of dispersal, but also trends in species abundance, diversity and distribution over time. Of particular interest on this cruise is the post-breeding dispersal of Dovekies, or Little Auks (Alle alle) from their breeding colonies to wintering areas. Several million Dovekies (approximately 80% of the world’s population) breed in northwestern Greenland. Many of these migrate to coastal waters of northeastern North America via the Davis Strait.   Dovekie chicks generally leave the colony with one parent (usually male). However, the amount of time spent with the family group is not well understood. During this cruise, I will be paying particular attention to Dovekie parent/chick associations whenever viewing conditions permit. Adults and chicks have different plumages at this stage, which allows the distinction to be made: the adults have a solid white cheek patch that rises well above the eye. The cheek patch of the chick is more buffy; appears less striking and does not rise as far above the eye. In the right light, the dark brown hue on the chick’s back can be seen. (see photo)   These data will add to the growing body of data on family group dispersal during migration, and will provide important insight to this question.

As would be expected, Dovekies and Northern Fulmars have been the most abundant species seen to date. Bird post

Bird in flight over the Davis Strait as seen from a porthole. Photo Credit: Lisa Robbins
Bird in flight over the Davis Strait as seen from a porthole. Photo Credit: Lisa Robbins
Gulls in the water of the Davis Strait. Photo Credit: Lisa Robbins
Gulls in the water of the Davis Strait. Photo Credit: Lisa Robbins

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