Wednesday, November 18, 2009

across the universe : Salty frogs in the US of A

Friday, August 31, 2007

the end of the endless day

the need to update this blog is correlated with the need to finish the story.

We eventually left Ny-Alesund and flew back to the world, the other one, not the real one. The one with days and nights, lights in the dark, trees not an inch high, people and cars, and the flatness of the Dutch horizon.

This way back from the North ends this year of travels too. Even though it has been too short I met great people, and hope to meet them again, somewhere, sometime.

From 47degrees South to 79N, my head is full of memories. But it still too empty...

see you and skål for det siktet


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Last news

Friday July 20th
Ny Ålesund
T°C: 8°C
T°C plus windchill: 4°C
Cloudy, light wind

Bas is sleeping, Olga went for a tea, Sofie is checking the tundra and Maarten has been to Longyearbyen to pick up his son. The snowbuntings have been fed. Is now time to update this blog.

The Dutch station is still full of guest, for our greatest pleasure. Last monday, Olga arrived to study parasites of snowbuntings. Before she landed, we localised the nests of this small passerines. Of the size of a robin, they winter in Europe, from Danemark to the North of France. Long trip for such a small bird. After having been ringed, four chicks stayed in a soft cage: we feed them every two hours and colletc their droppings for analyse.

We modified our normal rythm to be able to make a 24h feeding: instead of waking up at noon and going to bed around 4am, I wake up at 6am and go to bed earlier. As the rythm of the geese team is not very "sociable", this is good to see people we don't usually meet.

The clouds ran over Kongsvegen glacier, and dwelt in the fjord. Hopefully, like last week, a nice weather will chase away the fog stuck against the mountains and make whales and belugas swim back to the fjord.

Tuesday July 31st

since the 20th, the weather has been to good to spend time in front of a computer. So we dovetailed the catches: the kayaks slide until the geese and gently push them back to the shore where the nets wait for them. The sea is usually quiet; sometimes the waves make you go up and down and give the catch more difficult. However, by dint of perseverance and quick sterrages, we generally manage to push the birds to the trap.

Then, we take them one by one and weigh, measure, ring, sex them and sample 2ml of blood before releasing them to the sea. Their hearts beat wildly even though we try to be as gentle and fast as possible.

On Saturday, the fog came to us and kept us out the world during the whole catch. Out of the world in a village out of the world. Even if planes land and take off twice a week, boats bring theirs tourists and the internet makes it so we are aware of what the government does, the feeling to be somewhere else, in a place aside, is strong. People pass by, Sofie and Olga already left after a short stay but great and wonderful moments, and the sun doesn't stop turning, lower and lower. People say that what happen in Ny-Alesund stays in Ny-Alesund, so everyone tries to bring a small bit back, hidden in ones memory.

When the fog lifted up, the boat we heard anchoring appeared, huge near the jety, nucleus of a strange atome, which electrons were a cloud of boats bringing passengers to the quay. 2000 tourists arrived to multiply by 20 the village's population.

And meanwhile, impassive, forgotten remainings of an old race rust quietly...

see you

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday 2007/06/29

Ny Ålesund 21:38
T°C: 6°C/42.8 F
T°C plus wind effect: -3°C/ 26.6 F
Relative humidity : 80%

The house is empty : Maarten is supplying our geese's counters at the tip of the fjord, Bas is preparing his lab, Ricardo must be somewhere spying at tourists and Stefan somewhere enjoying his last days at London2. No goose at the end of the path this evening, the 7pm-freezing rain compeled them to sit on the tundra. The computer is free.

So we are in Ny-Ålesund for almost two weeks. Life follows geese's rythm on the tundra and sun's run above the heads. Strange feeling to arrive here so fast, in the arctic polar circle, on a ground where you needed several days in a boat to step on, in a village where numerous polar expeditions started from and sometimes didn't come back to.

The first days in Longyearbyen had been strange: arrived too fast on this island, I felt like walking on clouds, incapable of assimilating the shift of civilisation. From the era of schedules and punctuality to the one of sun and waiting. Bas asked me why I wanted to come here (or there): to arrive somewhere where one doesn't control everything and has to be humble in front of nature.
This Sunday, as a birthday present, my mind still foggy from mid-summer party, I've had a good right bustle: the polar bear had been seen at Storholmen, and island in the fjord. The polar bear, the biggest fear of Northern Norvegians with the fear that the sun doesn't appear again at spring. Guns grew on shoulders, one spoke about one, then two, on said that it was at two hours from the village, that the current would make it go faster, that there were arriving from North and South, soon East and West. The rumor is always faster than its object... The bear went away to more quiet shores; we don't leave our .308 bolt gun now though.

Gun and telescope, both buddies of the field working ornithologist

It's a strange feeling to feel weaker and smaller than an animal, and it's a pity that our relation with it is only defensive: however in 98% on the encounters, the bear only wants to know which kind of animal is on its way, and turns back as soon as it knows. The gun is a placebo, unfortunately sometimes necessary.

Svalbard poppy (Papaver dahlianum)

1 moist, 1 hole, 1 egg (Branta leucopsis)

Since the arrival of sun, life starts again, snow melts, flowers pop up, eggs hatch et biologists ring, observe, note and bustle about, hurried by births like squirrels by the return of cold. For the moment, we're just checking the nests, noting the rings of the parents and the number of their goslings, but those birds don't wait before jumping to the sea: from the first evening, the chicks stumble around their parents.

Meanwhile, glaciers grumble and bewail the arrival of spring. Their tears float in Kongsfjord waters, among the steelboats that scatter towards the islands and the ocean. I sit at the bow and watch for icebergs; one movement toward a direction and the boat follows my hand.

Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla)

See you

PS: you can now click on the pictures to have them at full size

PS2: if you want more pictures and video, go to Netherlands arctic station

Monday, June 18, 2007


There we are so...
After a long trip heading towards light and good weather, our plane landed this morning at 2, in Longyearbyen, "capital" and lay-over to Ny-Alesund. The sun was North, above the mountains that bord the flord. "Night" without wind, almost cool, healthy after the moisture of the Netherlands and Norway.

This morning the sun was above the wide valley that end the fjord, old bed of the glacier.

An ivory gull(Pagophila eburnea), on a sled.
Once the tourists evapored in their wooden houses, arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea)went back to their talks and snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) started back their work: only singing birds on the island, they jazz the streets up .

This afternoon, while the sun was moving from South to West, we entered in a twin-engined plane to Ny-Alesund. Unfortunately, the fog blocks the fjord and covers the airport. Landing is impossible. Too bad, we'll land tomorrow: it's not good for global warming, but nothing is better to enjoy this landscape of mountains and glaciers.

Waiting for the fog to clear away; the sun keeps turning.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Get out your measuring cups

and we'll play a new game...
As everyone knows (will know), the blood carries Red Blood Cells (RBC, or erythrocytes -from the grec erythro, red- or hematites -named from the heme containing an atome of iron III that gives its red color to the cell) and White Blood Cells (WBC, or leukocytes -from the grec leukos, that moves). The WBC are responsible for the immune response.
Once in Ny-Alesund, I'm supposed to be the expert for the analysis of barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) and common eiders'(Somateria mollissima) WBC... Big responsibility on my frail shoulders...Shit, I'll have to do pull-ups...

Fig. 1.1: A lymphocyte and two heterophiles, surrounded by typical RBC. Note the lymphocyte's pseudopodias.

Fig. 1.2: Two thrombocytes, one heterophile and one monocyte. Typical forms.

However, because there is always an however, Cecilia S. (the Swedish PhD who is teaching to me) and I are stuck by strange cells that do not look like anything known, and that nobody have ever described... Vive la science, that gives us the title of world expert in B. leucopsis et S. mollissima's leukocytes to her, and the second position to me. But, except the little glory its gives us, nobody can help us...

Departure to Ny-Alesund, Spitzberg Island, Svalbard archipelago, Norway Sunday, June 17th, 05:00pm.

see you


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Groningen, De Nerderlands

just some pics

the cottage where I live. It is in a kind of reserve where you can enter only walking or biking. No power and no shower, let's save water. The Piccardthof lake is close and oil-lamps are bright enough...

and the geese I study: la crème de la crème for blood samples.

Groningen's channels, more quiet than the bikeways.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Well arrived
everything fine, my bike works, catching geese rocks
see ya