Sunday, 29 July 2007

Chicks to Juveniles and gone

The shorebirds fly from South America, China, and other exotic places, then quickly rebuild fat reserves, court mates and find suitable breeding territories, mate, lay eggs, incubate for about 20 days, brood their young, fledge their young, and then both independent young and parents restock fat supplies to head south, all in less than two months. So, its the end of July, and all the nests have hatched. The chicks have grown to juveniles, and can now fly. The plots are empty of the familiar displays and sounds of pissed-off birds, and even the staging areas are rapidly dwindling in numbers. Out over the ocean, we can see flocks of grey juvenile phalaropes head west, and out of the Arctic.

And so too are the shorebird biologists migrating. Our maximum crew of 11 has dwindled to only 3, and we leave in a couple days. Not much to do, just pack up the station, and wait for the flights.

I'm incredibly sensitive to life now: to its sounds, behaviour, plumage, the threats and boons of weather. Its a wholesome experience, being a biologist, being with life at its most honest and simple. I'll miss the birds and chicks.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Polar bear swim

We haven't yet a confirmation about the temperature of the water, but there is still some sea ice out on the Barrow spit. For a precious Corona in a “dry” town (i.e., no booze on sale), Nathan managed to swim in the Arctic ocean for 11 and half minutes. This canuck whimped out at about 4 minutes. Damn cold! Nonetheless, it was great to finally discard our fleece and rain pants for some shorts and play some chilly beach football and frisby. Our next project is erect a tarp sauna, for our future polar bear swims.

The brief warmth is terrible though (high of 22 degrees): mosquitos, sweating while hiking, then freezing when sticking a needle in a baby chicks' jugular... the arctic is a harsh mistress.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Chick banding has begun!

For the last couple of weeks, work has consisted of ninja-style nest finding, 8 hours daily on the cold tundra. Now, the shorebird eggs are hatching, so we’re on a race to band the birds, measuring them, sampling blood, etc. Its unbelievably cool! Same plots, same flat wet scenary, but now we’re handling cute little chicks, puff balls with giant legs, sneaking around the tussocks from swooping jaegers and gulls. We do it round the clock, returning to nests in the evenings, checking the hatching progress to nab ‘em before they run to far from the nests.

Otherwise, life goes on pleasantly among the crew. We’re a good group, no major dramas, quarrels (minus one broken heart). Lets you forget all about the fall, and whatever the heck I’ll do.

 Today is also Canada Day. Among the Americans, I’m instead looking forward instead to the 4th of July and their wacky North Slope festivities: races, nailing competitions, beauty pagents, and perhaps our first polar bear swim! The ice broke up, but it’s the cold wind that’ll burn the most. If there were trees in the tundra, we might make a beach bonfire.

 And now for an interesting shorebird fact: shorebirds spend 70% of their life migrating! 15% of there time they are on the breeding grounds, finding their mate, building a suitable nest and finding a territory, incubating eggs, and protecting the hatchlings for a couple weeks until they themselves can make the 5000 km journey to the wintering grounds, wherever in the world that might be