Expedition Diaries 2016

June 9. Day 3

June 9. Day 3

The experienced birds live long

What is striking I sleep here well. It is easy for me to fall asleep and to wake up. Probably, tossing favours it, though yesterday I had a feeling that I was about to roll on the bed, my head or feet against the wall. But I did not. We all like our mothers “toss” us when we are babies. Or probably I just miss my cat: we like to eat together during the night.

In the morning each module made a presentation about their future research. According to the rules, the students were delivering the presentation while the lecturers could just sit and nod with approval, and give their comments from time to time. Though some were so involved in their presentations that turned them into short lectures.

Work in the module of Irina Pokrovskaya, an ornithologist, seems to be a real adventure. She plans to band thick-billed guillemots with loggers in the Oranskie Islands. Loggers are small devices which keep track of the route covered by the bird during the year. So it is important not only to put loggers on the birds, but in a year, or later, take them off. To do that it is necessary to catch the very same bird among thousands of others. In 2013 in the Oranskie Islands (I will tell about them later, when we reach them) 40 guillemots were banded. Later only two of them were caught.

Thick-billed guillemots are black and white birds which feed in the sea. When they sit on ice floes or at sea cliffs, they greatly resemble penguins. Sometimes we can’t use the pictures of guillemots in our national park in order not to confuse people.

Scientists don’t know much about the routes of the Arctic birds and about the place of their wintering. New options for data acquisition should help fill these knowledge gaps. Old techniques such as ringing do not work well with guillemots, auks, dovekies and similar birds. In the end of 1940-s 55 thousands (!!!) of guillemots were ringed. Later only 18 rings were returned.

Today was a day “dedicated” to birds. Sofia Rozenfeld, an ornithologist, told about Arctic geese. Geese are phytivorous and this fact determines not only their lifestyle, but also their habitat.  For instance, a barnacle goose can “cut” the grass in such a way that no other bird will be able to feed there. In recent years barnacle geese are feeling well and their population is growing.  

It is believed that geese live for 10-12 years on average. To survive the first year of life is the most important task for them. 50 % of goslings survive. And only half of these goslings survive up to the breeding season. Then the older the goose is, the more chances it has to live a long life.

However, 12 years is not a maximum. It is known for sure about a duck which was 44 years old. It was minimum 44, as it had been ringed as an adult. And it died as it was killed by a hunter who found the ring of this long-living duck.

Waiting patiently for good weather

It was planned that we reach Kolguev today at about 4 pm judging by yesterday vessel velocity which was 10 knots. But we managed to reach it much earlier and to cast anchor at about 12:30 pm closer to the island westernmost tip. The wind is about 13 mps, some gusts of wind are up to 17 mps. The landing here is very time-consuming – it takes almost 1 hour to reach the land from the vessel. Current weather conditions are unfavourable for the landing, so we are patiently waiting for the weather to improve.

Natalia Ryazanova from Moscow State University of Foreign Affairs told the expedition participants about the structure of Roshydromet. It includes more than 5 thousand meteostations, 17 research institutes and even 3 paramilitary services which are involved, for example, in avalanche shooting or artificial fall-out initiation.

It’s a pity one can’t artificially stop the wind blowing.

My family has a story connected with Kolguev. Viktor Fridman, a then well-known Arkhangelsk journalist, took the head of the Nenets District with him to my parents’ wedding. He felt ill at ease that he didn’t have a present, but he said that he had his seal with him and he decided to present them Kolguev Island. So he wrote “to the Skalins on their wedding day for possession in perpetuity” and put a seal. My mother still has this “document” at home… At that time no one knew that there was oil at Kolguev.

Kolguev is located in the eastern part of the Barents Sea to the east from the Kanin Penninsula, about 80 km away from the mainland. The island is washed by the Barents Sea in the north, and by the Pomorskiy Strait and the Pechora Sea in the south and in the south-east correspondingly. There are several versions about the island name origin. According to one of them, the island was named by the Pomors in honour of the Pomor fisherman Ivan Kalgov who went missing in this area. According to another version, the island name is derived from an Old-Finnish word which can be translated as “triangle” or “triangular”. Well, maybe it is triangular, though the angles are too rounded, when we look at the map we see almost a circle.

Some facts about Kolguev

  • Total area is about 3500 km2
  • The highest point above the sea level is about 80 m
  • Novgorodian merchants knew about Kolguev in the X century

Sofia Rozenfeld said that Kolguev can be called “the geese island”. Here we can find a lot of bausonds and bean geese. A quarter of all geese in Western Europe nest here. There are no lemmings on the island, that is why arctic foxes do not live in Kolguev, and it creates favourable conditions for the geese.

An interesting fact is that right after goslings are born they eat insects for several days and only then they start eating grass. The expedition participants were shown today how scientists collect insects. Apart from scoop-nets, they use bottles, tents and yellow plastic plates. I hope there will be not many mosquitoes in Kolguev…

You’d better give your blood not to mosquitoes, but for medical research. The medical module continues its work on board. These expedition participants will stay in Varnek. There they will work with the local population. Nikita Yuriev, the alumnus of Medical-Biological Faculty of the Northern State Medical University, went to the expedition two days after he passed his last exam. He will get his diploma later, as he won’t be able to attend the official graduation ceremony. Although, he says, it was easy to choose. Of course he decided to take part in the expedition as, probably, there won’t be another chance to visit these places. It is not very convenient to take blood samples during tossing, but you feel that you are a part of something unusual: the vessel, the expedition, open sea…

And the lectures at “Professor Molchanov” are held in the open air. Nickolai Danilov had his history class right in the gallery deck.


June 9. Day 3
June 9. Day 3
June 9. Day 3
June 9. Day 3
June 9. Day 3
June 9. Day 3

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Updated 20.06.2016