Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Arctic Pelagic

Sabine's Gull

Last Saturday a local Inupiaq invited us on a pelagic trip to look for whales and birds. After boarding his boat, we were soon 4.5 miles out into the Chuckchi Sea and surrounded by Gray Whales, Bearded Seals and seabirds. Lewis has a lot of experience with whales being one of the local whaling captains so he was able to get us fantastic views of Gray Whales.

Here’s how close we got to view these majestic mammals. Words can’t explain how incredible it was to have them surface just feet away. We could feel the rumble as every whale took a deep breath before submerging back into the water to feed on the ocean floor.

These whales skim the top layer of sediment on the ocean floor returning to the surface straining the sediment through their baleen. This allows them to swallow only the bottom-dwelling invertebrates. As we watched them surfaced, we were able to see a lot of the sediment they brought up from the ocean floor.

After tearing ourselves away from the whales, we cruised along some of the sea ice in search of pelagic birds.

As we passed an iceberg we came across this group of Red Phalaropes. It took me a split second to remember that Red Phalaropes are actually pelagic birds. For the past two months I was studying their nesting habits on the tundra.

Here are the three most common Laridae off Barrow apart from Glaucous Gull. From left to right – Arctic Tern, Sabine’s Gull and Black-legged Kittiwake.

Arctic Terns are rather abundant in well…the Arctic. Here’s an oddly shaped iceberg with a couple dozen roosting on top.

I really want to get out on another pelagic but with only four full days remaining in Barrow, it’s unlikely. Perhaps next week, we will take a trip off Homer or Seward, Alaska.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July update 7/16

Baird's Sandpiper

Things are slowing down here on the tundra and only a few nests remain on our study plots. Even though a lot of chicks hatched, the majority of the clutches were predated – probably around 60%. This is partially due to it being a lemming crash year. Predators such as jaegers and foxes feed on lemmings and when numbers are low, shorebird eggs are next on their menu. During the past month and a half, I personally saw only one Brown Lemming. Last year a few hundred a day wasn’t out of the question. Here are a few chick photos..

Semipalmated Sandpiper chick (the white dot on its bill is an egg tooth which helps them break through their shells)

Red-necked Phalarope chick

Red-necked Phalarope chick point-of-view

Dunlin chicks

Two days ago we experienced record high temperatures reaching somewhere in the low 70’s. I would have never guessed that 70 degrees would feel too hot but we were feeling it. Every year the Barrow shorebird group partakes in a ‘mandatory’ polar bear dive in the Arctic Ocean. With water temps barely above freezing, it’s actually not that cold…you just instantly go numb!

The height of the moment when we were asking what did we get ourselves into?

The rest of the season will be spent monitoring the last remaining nests, data entry and gear cleanup/inventory. I leave Barrow on August 1st and will be back in Ohio on the 10th. The time between will be spent birding around the Denali/Seward/Homer area with a few friends that I’ve been working with in Barrow. Until next time, cheers!

Semipalmated Plover - banded in '08

Monday, July 6, 2009

Unofficial state bird of Alaska

Yesterday was a stunning day with warm temperatures and practically no wind. Unfortunately, that’s when all the mosquitoes decided to hatch out. Swarms of mosquitoes engulfed us as we attempted to nest search and band shorebirds. Here’s a short clip I took showing the hordes of them surrounding us as we banded an American Golden-Plover.

It’s hard to believe that just a few days ago there were practically no mosquitoes. Who wants to come and visit!?! As bad as it looks, the majority of them weren't biting.