Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Adventure into the Great White North Begins

*Note: Text and photos in Churchill and Chile posts are by Shawn Billerman

On May 27th 2009, I started my summer job. What was my summer job? I was a field assistant for a graduate student from Cornell University studying Hudsonian Godwits in Churchill, Manitoba. I was with a crew of 3 other students, all friends from Cornell. Our primary tasks were to find godwit nests, catch and band godwits, try to recover light sensing data loggers that the crew put out last field season (which are used to figure out the godwits’ movements over the course of the previous year), catch and band godwit chicks, collect insects in daily and weekly transects to get an idea of what is available to chicks to eat, and, finally, complete habitat surveys to get a better idea of the micro-habitat requirements for nest sites, as well as the preferred chick foraging habitat.

But, I’m getting way ahead of myself. I left New York early the morning of the 27th, flew to Minneapolis, then to Winnipeg, and finally I was on a small prop plane on my way to Churchill. I was very excited. The plane could seat roughly 25 people, and I was only one of 8-10 people on the plane. I had an entire two seats to myself. As we fly north from Winnipeg, it started to cloud over. Darn. I was looking forward to seeing the area as I was landing, to get a feel for it. Oh well. After about a 2 hour flight, we start to descend into the Churchill area. Still cloudy… Finally, with only about 2 or 3 minutes of flight time left, we drop below the clouds… and I was stunned by the view. Now, I had some idea of what to expect from what the others told me last year… there was still snow on the ground, but there were open patches, the smaller ponds were all free of ice, and full of birds, such as Pacific Loons, there were shorebirds starting to set up territories, ptarmigans were calling, the works. What I saw was not what I was expecting… the land was covered in snow and ice… and it was still snowing. We land, and I step off the plane and onto the tarmac, and the snow is swirling around me, and I rush to the building to collect my luggage. Lee Ann, the science coordinator for the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, the place I would be living for the next 2 months, was there to pick me up. After introductions, and a short wait, we were off. The study center was a short 15 km drive away, but the roads made that a difficult trip. The roads were coated with snow and ice, with tall, 3 m tall snow banks on either side of the road. I got my first view of Hudson Bay on the drive in… a sheet of ice and snow.
We got to the center, I get a brief tour, I eat a quick dinner, and I am off to hang out, meet new people, and get better acquainted with my new home.

The view I had from the plane coming into the Churchill Airport. The line going down through the boreal is the rail line that connects Churchill to Winnipeg

The road to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre was sometimes very hard to see during the first week, with all the snow that fell. But, rest assured, there is a road there

One of my first views of Hudson Bay. In this particular year, my view of the bay would not change until July, when it finally began to thaw

The Churchill Northern Studies Centre! My home for 2 months

Welcome to the Town of Churchill: Polar Bear Capital of the World, Bird Watchers Paradise, Beluga Whale Capital of the World, and Nature's Lighthouse.

Shortly afterward, I get to my room, dig out some clothes, and go to bed early.

View from my room on the first night. Cold... so cold


  1. Hi, awesome blog! I was wondering how you make the photo with the title of your blog change everytime the page refreshes? Also what are the demensions the photo should be for that box? Thanks!

  2. Alex,

    Sorry for the late reply. I made the rotating blog banner by inserting some custom HTML code into my blog's template. You can find such codes by googling "rotating blog banner" or similar. Basically, the code picks a random number, and depending on the number, links one of my pictures stored in a photo-hosting website and displays that image as the blog banner. The dimensions of the banner will depend upon your blog's template. Mine are a 2.5:1 ratio, roughly 640:256 pixels.