Scott’s Adventures in Sweden
In October 2010, Pete Bloom and two of his experienced raptor banders, Scott Thomas and Jeff Kidd, traveled to Sweden to band Golden Eagles in a remote, heavily forested area. The purpose of the project, which was funded by the wind farm industry, was to monitor the movement of eagles around and near the wind turbine sites. A Swedish biologist, Jonas Gastafson, and a team of eagle watchers and scientists were also there working on the project. The data collected will be analyzed by the University of Sweden.
While Scott was there, he sent back many photos and reports to his wife Cheryl to document his experiences. I hope you will enjoy reading about Scott’s experiences as much as I did — from the warmth & comfort of my home in Southern California.
10/11/10: Typical Day
The Sweden team has already picked the location and we have been there once to pre-set the trap and blind, and re-bait. Bait is a carcass, usually sawed in half and opened up – a rough deer, fox, black grouse, or moose parts.
Most days are highly routine:
We get up at 0445h and have a quick breakfast (instant oatmeal and OJ for me, crackers and fish for Pete), pack our lunch (sandwiches and a thermos of hot water for Cup of Noodles and cocoa later), and get dressed for cold weather – out the door by 0515h
Most sites take 30-45 minutes to drive to- we go in teams of 2
Arrive at the site, hopefully before sun up and head straight for the trap for a quick check then into the blind. I bring extra clothes, reading materials, binoculars, phones and 2 way radios. It’s usually between 2-8 degrees Celsius (in the 30s F). Get settled and comfy, open one small window and wait.
We may be in the blind all day, until dark near 1830h (6:30pm), but usually we have been quitting by 0200 -0300. No moving around, you have to be quiet and can’t get out of the blind.
If we are lucky a local pair of Jays will spend the day eating at our bait or a couple of ravens to keep us occupied. Ravens are actually critical because they are needed to attract the eagles. If we are really lucky we get an eagle. We can only trap the adults so if it’s a juvenile eagle we just have to quietly watch it. Twice now we have caught adults, but that’s 10 days in the blind for 2 successful trapping.
We leave and usually come straight back to our cabin. Cook dinner, organize the trapping gear for the next day, go over maps and plans for the next sites, walk to the hotel and get internet access, clean up, and go to bed by 2100-2200h.
In between we do a quick bit of birding, I take a 1.5 mile walk most evenings, and go to the store. And hopefully on good nights talk to Cheryl on Skype.
We haven’t seen a moose yet, but we expect to. There is a bear at one of the sites, so we are deciding whether to trap there. Lots of interesting farm houses and nice scenery on the way to the sites, but we don’t have much time to visit. The food is not too great, so we cook dinner in the cabin. Haven’t seen Tiger’s wife yet – still looking. Reindeer come in soon – they are herded from the north by native people for sale. Moose and reindeer are a staple of the diet, especially in the northern part of Sweden. I have had them both, moose is so-so, reindeer is better, but neither beats a good rib eye.
Most of these photos were taken by Scott which explains why he is not in many of them. These pictures are only a fraction of the ones he sent out to us.
10/14/10: A Morning Update
I thought I would let everyone know that I heard from Scott. He said that it snowed 8 inches today and it is very cold. Today he only had a juvenile eagle at his trap. But they did catch an adult yesterday and here is her picture. not very dignified but they were aging her. —Cheryl
10/14/10: These are the birds we move to next Tuesday – in the back country (in Karingberget), as if this were modern living. —Scott
Good Morning everyone, thought I would send out a little update. The expedition is up to 5 birds captured. The last one caught was a feisty bird. She reached out and grabbed Scott’s hand and sent him to the hospital. A few stitches later and a hug from a friendly nurse sent him back out into the field. Let’s just think about this….these birds weigh about 15-20 pounds and it’s like holding a small child (that squirms and tries to bite and fly away). —Cheryl
I don’t have internet access today at the hotel – it’s closed on weekends, hard to understand? So I will do this from time to time when I have a little free time.
So, it’s very nice here, but always cold. These are definitely arctic people. I am starting to acclimate and don’t need quite as much clothing, but it’s still in the high 30sF. We’ll see what happens when it gets into the 20s. The people are pretty nice, but a little stand-offish on the streets. They probably can tell we are outsiders.
Everyone with money drives Volvo’s, BMWs, Audis, or SAABs. We are in little cars called SKODAs. They are made by Audi/VW here in Sweden, pretty nice little station wagons. We pull a neat little utility trailer that is popular – very light and made for the little cars, it would be perfect for banding.
The woods are pretty special. Mostly 3 trees, Scotch Pine, White Birch, and Norwegian Spruce. The ground is covered with moss and small plants including that heather we have a couple of on the side. It’s very lush and made for gnomes and fairies.. . . .
I had a juvenile eagle at my trap today. It was very hard not to pull the trigger, but they only want adults. He was so close I could see his eyes.
At night I am walking about 1.5 miles along the river. They have bike and walking trails everywhere – very clean and healthy society. The deposit on bottles is equivalent to about $1, so no one throws anything out, very little trash.
As I said the food is not so great, even in nice restaurants. And they are minimalists, so you don’t get the service we are used to – very nice, but no choices, only a few brands of beer, nothing on tap.
Tim, Birger and our first guide Jonas (Uniss) have been great.
If you decide to visit you will like the scenery and the birding is wonderful. As I said their restaurant food is pretty bland. It would be similar to our trip to Minnesota, not exactly sun bathing weather, but I think memorable. And the old barns are plentiful and interesting in the countryside.
10/21/10: 12 photos taken in Asele (northern Sweden)
Poem for an Imaginary River – by Sigurdar Gudmundsson
A meeting on the water between roughly chiseled rocks and a pair of bronze reindeer antlers. Standing over three meters high, its arms branching and twisting like flames in a fire. this sculpture is a comment in the ongoing dialogue between man and nature. It is a contribution to the surrounding landscape where man’s presence had hitherto been felt vy the felling of forests, rhw regulated river, the highway and the high-voltage powerlines that cut across the hillsides.
10/21/10: A couple of pictures to share. The man with Scott is a journalist with a Swedish TV crew. In the next couple of weeks they will be on Swedish TV. Pretty cool. —Cheryl
10/21/10: A mid-term update from Scott
So first of all it’s getting colder – not to jump ahead too much, but today it was -13º C (9º F) when we were setting up at a new site.
To back up a bit, snow has been giving us trouble (challenges) for about a week. The nets freeze when it goes up and down above and below 0º C (freezing 32º F).So we have been experimenting, but on Tuesday we caught a break and it bounced up to a whooping 5º C (41º F). So we set up in 2 new sites.
Wednesday I spent from 0630 till 1730 in the blind without a jacket on and the day paid off. At about 1710, when I was ready to give up I heard an eagle pass over my blind headed for the trap. It sounded like a small plane went over head – incredible displacement of air. I grabbed my binoculars clumsily and looked at an adult eagle standing on my bait – right in place for the net. I turned on the controller, took a deep breath and hit the trigger switch – the net flew over her flawlessly.
This was the first bird I have taken out of a net by myself – near the top of my list for exciting things. We had to keep the bird overnight, which was eventful, but I’ll talk about that some other time. The next morning we had a film crew from a Swedish Nature Show with us – so we will be on TV sooner or later, probably after we have left.
Back to today, it was brutally cold and I am not sure how much colder we can take – as it is, we are cutting our days short – it does warm up to about -5º C during midday so we will start a bit later than sunrise for a few days to see how it goes.
As I think I said, life here is very homogenous. All the houses are mostly red, with a few fire truck yellow, and even less tan or pale green – that’s it, no other colors, and no different designs. The people are the same way, they are considered liberal politically, but they are set in their ways and day to day quite conservative – it’s kind of like a 50’s TV show.
Everyone walks, rides bikes and uses personal sleighs in the snow – I watched an elderly woman ride a sleigh to store today, coasting down the street like a kid on a skateboard.
We are a little out of place, but so is our guide – a very large version of Jeff Kidd. Yesterday, a German man came up and shook my hand – he said he had always wanted to meet Vikings. We told him he had only found Americans, but he said he was sure we had Viking ancestry. I should note that I have grown a beard, which might help me look a little wilder.
Miss everyone and the sunshine
10/27/10: Fixing up the trap
10/29/10: See the following links for news articles about our eagle project:
10/31/10: An update from the field: Snow, Sleet, Rain, and Ice
We continue to suffer from challenges with the weather. If it’s several degrees above 0 (freezing) or several below, we have things figured out. And it helps if it either snows or (there’s) no precipitation. But when it bounces back and forth above and below 0 and snows some days, then rains – we have issues.
We set up a site camouflaged in 4 inches of snow, at about -2º C- which requires digging a trench for the net, lining it, and covering the net with a light dusting of snow. Then it rained and melted our covering, so we covered the net with grass clippings and trapped for a day. The next night it snowed again, so at 600h -1º C, in the dark we removed the grass and recovered the trap with snow, Jeff went in the blind at 0645 h before sun up and by 0730 h 2º it was raining again and ruined our set-up by 1030h
Needless to say, this is a lot of work and when we do everything we can, but can’t stop the weather, it’s disappointing. The best part about the last 3 days was having 3 species of woodpeckers.
The Black, Gray-headed and Great Spotted Woodpeckers (were) all at my trap at the same time on Friday. The Black Woodpecker is very large, like a pileated, with a whole lot of character – a black Woody Woodpecker.
Today is Sunday, the 31st, Happy Halloween! We took the morning off to regroup and will hopefully set-up and trap this afternoon or first thing tomorrow morning
It’s day 33 and I’ve been cleaning and organizing equipment all day. This has been quite a labor intensive and equipment intensive project, not to mention full of dead stinky things. No matter how we tried we got moose, deer, and fox smell and blood on us all from handling the bait carcasses and everything that touches them such as the nets. So cleaning is taking a lot of time.
The last 4 days have been pretty good, after a long streak of challenges and no eagles captured for about ten days we caught 3 in 2 days. Jonas, our Swedish guide and assistant, caught one at a place called Botsmark (his first solo eagle capture). It turned out to be too young, but we put a transmitter on it anyways – it will be good data, although not exactly what the study wants.
The crew from the Swedish TV show “Mitt I Nature” showed up and filmed me processing the bird – we are going to be national stars – it’s a very popular program, kind of like the of Wild Kingdom in the US.Jeff caught the second bird at a place called Lokmyberg, which we hope is the mate to the female I caught there. This was the quickest capture yet. Although we had already tried there last week for 3 days, this time we re-set the trap on Thursday and caught the bird at 1300h on Friday morning. Then finally on Saturday, I caught a bird at Ramselle. It was already banded (or “ringed” ) as a nestling in 1999 at Lykselle 100 kilometers away. That is the same year as the re-capture that Jeff got in Kvällåliden. We had tried here at least 4 times and put a lot of days in, so this was a special bird. And it brought us to 8 adults, plus the one juvenile – we kind of promised at least 8 birds, so we were very happy.
We are going to write a paper on trapping eagles on their territories in the non-breeding season in very cold climate. We will be presenting the paper in Norway at the NINA Convention in May 2011. Although 8 eagles would not be very much for trapping at a migration station, getting target birds on their territories is rarely attempted and rarely successful. They tried here about 15 years ago and only caught 2 birds in a year in Norway.
Have had a great time and really love a lot about Sweden, but I am very anxious to get home and see my family. Jeff trapped today and Jonas will put in one more morning tomorrow while Jeff and I do the final cleaning and pack up for the last 2 days which we will spend in Umea, packing the shipping crates, dropping of rental cars and hopefully spending a little time shopping and going to see Sea Eagles.