The ptarmigans have arrived

The season has started and the team has arrived in Longyearbyen. This year we are girls only: "the mother ptarmigan" Eva Fuglei and her field assistants Silje-Kristin Jensen, Kine Hokholt Bjelland and Hanna Kauko. We're also celebrating the 15th anniversary of ptarmigan counting this year!

Hanna Kauko, Kine Hokholt Bjelland, Eva Fuglei and Silje-Kristin Jensen

The 2014 team: Hanna, Kine, the ptarmigan, Eva and Silje-Kristin. We are the ones writing this blog!

Person in the field in Svalbard looking through binoculars

Kine is registering ptarmigan males. Photo: Eva Fuglei / Norwegian Polar Institute

Svalbard rock ptarmigan, male

Svalbard rock ptarmigan (male). Note the thick black line streching from the root of the beak to behind the eye, and the fleshy red comb above the eye, the distinguishing features of the males. Photo: Silje-Kristin Jensen / Norwegian Polar Institute

Svalbar reindeer in Arctic landscape

Spot the ptarmigan counter! (The grazing animals are Svalbard reindeer.) Photo: Silje-Kristin Jensen / Norwegian Polar Institute

The first three days consisted of safety training, with both theory and practical work. We've had first aid and avalanche training courtesy of Longyearbyen Red Cross, in addition to rifle shooting and scooter mechanics with the Norwegian Polar Institute.

This year we are based in Longyearbyen, but we are also using a cabin in Endalen. The counting can only be conducted when the weather is good, meaning we need to have a good visibility and little wind.

We are only counting the male ptarmigan and we can listen for them and observe them in the field. The males are very territorial and they mark their territory by making a "burp-like" sound. They are also very alert, making them stand up looking masculine.

The male ptarmigan has a thick, black stripe from the beak to the backside of the eye, black tail feathers and a red comb above the eye. The female ptarmigan are more careful in their behaviour and are usually found on the ground feeding. They have a smaller black stripe from the beak to the eye.

So far we have had two days out in the field with sun and little to no wind, with temperatures down to -21°C. It is still early, but from our observations and from rumours it seems to be a good ptarmigan year. We look forward to continue with the count and hoping for good weather days.