Friday, 22 June 2007

Happy Solstice!

If you hop over seven hedges and put seven flowers under your pillow on the Solstice, then you will have prophetic dreams... or so say the swedes. Well, there are not exactly seven species of wild flowers out on the tundra right now.

The Inupiat people don't celebrate the Solstice per se, but it is coincident with the main Nalukataq, the Whaling festival here the captains and crew of successful spring whaling expeditions distribute whale blubber (muktuq) and fermented whale meat to the community (now if you're wondering how they can they hunt whales, there are quotas for subsistence communities, and these people do have about 50% of their food subsistence). Plus, there are some neat festivities, like a... rope toss thingie, like a trampoline, apparently traditionally used to through whale watchers up into the air to sight blows for hunting.

Anyway, feeling a bit down as I was just blown off on a date with a cute shore bird researcher. Oh well, short time anyway.

Sweat dreams!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Chick banding

About to have a needle is his jugglar

More pictures from Barrow Alaska, banding and sampling shorebirds for the fish and wildlife service

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Tundra swim

I saw a bearded seal! On the ice by the whale carcasses!

The photo is of a king eider.

And in case whoever you are who's actually reading this is getting bored of lists of arctic fauna, something exciting happened to me today: I feel in an arctic river, well actually a melt water vernal stream, but by golly I was upto my navel, waders filled with zero degree water. So, that was inevitable I guess. Dammit, the tundra is ever changing, melting in dangerous random patches that consume unwarry tundra monkeys. Jimbo had his radio off so I had to tough it out in the windy chill, sopping wet for another 4 hours. Yeah, I'm a tough mutha, I know.

Oh, and I successfully found my first nest today too! Two dunlin nests. Whew, I was afraid I had some sort of birder's impediment, but it looks like I can outwit these groundnesting birds after all.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

to the spit for polar bears

what do we do on our day off? Why, the same thing we do on our working days: walk the tundra, looking for birds! And for treasure burried under the snow, like Caribou racks. Tonight we'll drive out to the spit, Point Barrow, which divides the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea, to look for polar bears.

And, here's a bird list:
Dunlins, Bairds Sandpiper, Semi-Palminated Sandpiper, White-Rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Rednecked Phalarope, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, American Golden Plover, Semi-Palminated Plover.

Ducks, Geese, Eiders and Seaducks:
Northern Pintail, Snow Goose, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Brant, Tundra Swan, Stellar Eider, Spectacled Eider, Common Eider, Long-Tailed Duck (Old Squaw), Pacific Loon.

Gulls, Terns, Jaegers:
Glaucous Gull, Herring Gull (vagrant), Pomarine Jaeger, Long-Tailed Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Arctic Tern.

Lapland Longspurs, Snow Bunting, Redpoll sp., Varied Thrush, Robin, Wilson's Warbler, Olive-Sided Flycatcher, American Tree Sparrow, White-Crown Sparrow.

Snowy Owl, Shorteared Owl

Saturday, 9 June 2007

out-witting thousands of years of evolution

So, tundra birds can't hide up in trees, or on cliff faces, nope, they're stuck with having their defenseless eggs and chicks on the exposed flat tundra, prey to Arctic Fox, Jaegers and humans. So, the adults have developed clever behaviours to distract, confuse and entice potential predators (and benevolent nest-searching scientists too) away from their nests: broken-wing acting; scurrying along trenches and popping on another ridge as if to say, "oh, look, we're over here!"; noisy fly-bys. It works, dammit. I'm having a hell of a time finding nests.

Once we find them, we monitoring them until they hatch, then band the bastards, getting site fidelity and population density estimates.

The Tundra is one of the few ecosystems that theorectically cannot "move" with climate change, squeezed out by the boreal forest and the eroding ocean coastline. Shorebirds, who migrate from literally around the world, are one of its victims.

Not much more to say: we bird, then we bird, bird, sleep, eat, bird, then talk about birding. You might think its boring, but somehow I have no time for anything else!

Barrow Alaska

Snowy Owl

2 months surveying and banding shorebirds on the North Slope of Alaska

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

No Polar Bears yet

On the flight to Barrow, over the frozen moonscape of lakes, I would get different stories related to the Polar Bears: “you'll be on the Tundra? You need a gun!” to “they're afraid of the Eskimos” (which is apparently not a derogatory word in the Alaska). But on my third night here, our cast and crew of birders are out a hours with scopes and binoculars, staring out into the jagged mountains of cracked sea ice, hoping for a bear or a bearded seal... and I mean literally all hours of the day. The sun never sets, of course, at 71 degrees, and with the crazy birder enthusiasm of some of these people is always itching at them. But it is a birders paradise here, full of birds you'd rarely see inland, now breading in the Tundra, like Arctic Terns, Red and Red-Necked Phalaropes, Pomaine Jaegers (which are really cool, well all birds in the breading mode are generally doing something cool), Gyrfalcons, Ruddy Turnstones,etc.

Its really fun though, driving around on ATVs, armed to the teeth with winter and birder gear, looking for nests of birds. The people are great too. I'm out of my league in terms of bird skills, but I'm learning, so I get the most of it.

Its cold. The arctic wind doesn't stop, always 15 – 30 nauts. And if it stops, the sky will darken will flies.

We're all dudes. And there are no bars in Barrow. Its a “dry” town: prohibition is a reality, by municipal bylaw. Guess I'll get really into birds.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Stuck in Anchorage

A flight cancellation has me stuck in anchorage for the night.
Anyway, an odd thing happens when you fly north from Seattle this time a year at midnight: a couple hours into the flight you notice a blue and red glowing blob on the black horizon, North-west. You think, could it be northern lights? But then it grows and entually envelopes you: its the sun, rising in the north, at midnight.

stuck in anchorage

Ahh! Flight cancelled. Check out the photos with the sunrise at midnight from the airplane