Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rope Dragging & Nalukataq

Rope Dragging Crew: L to R - Stephen Yezerinac, Ethan Kistler,
Charlie Governali and Fabrice Chevreux.

We finished rope dragging yesterday, discovering a lot of new nests. It was exhausting but rewarding at the same time. I think we had about 50 new nests in those 4 days. Today we returned to our normal schedule of plot searching. Even after rope dragging, we are still finding new nests.

Last Sunday was our day off so a few of us went to the second Nalukataq (Whale Festival) of the year. The Inupiaq Eskimos celebrate their successful whale hunts and during these gatherings they pass out the whale meat, dance, sing, tell stories and have a blanket toss. The blanket is made of several Bearded Seal skins sewn together. Locals gather around and toss people up in the air similar to a trampoline. Here are a few pictures from the festival.

Distributing the whale

Nalukataq Blanket for the Blanket Toss

Hunting boat

Fraction of 850 Long-tailed Ducks

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Update 6/23

Not too much to report on the past few days. Today I saw my first Arctic Fox while driving out to my plot. Tomorrow we begin rope dragging. It’s as simple as it sounds – two people drag a 30 meter rope across the tundra and flush shorebirds off their nests. This will help us find species that typically don’t flush easily such as Long-billed Dowitchers.

Northern Pintail nest

Friday, June 19, 2009

Polar Bears

Point Barrow, Alaska

Nine miles northeast of Barrow lies Point Barrow, the most northernmost point of the United States. This is where the locals dump whale bones to prevent Polar Bears from coming into town. After word of eight bears, four of us ventured out there. Right away we had two Polar Bears out on the ice and after a while, they came ashore to feed on the four whale carcasses.

Tomorrow will be the first whale festival of the year. I'm hoping to see some of it after nest searching. The blanket toss sounds interesting...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Ruff Day

Yesterday was my day off from nest searching so I ventured around Barrow. Late morning I got news of two Ruffs being seen near the new landfill so a group of us drove out there. It wasn't long before we were standing there watching two Ruffs chase around female Pectorals.

Male with white ruff

Male with chestnut ruff

On our way back we scoped out a couple lakes adding Killdeer and American Wigeons to our trip list. Later, Charlie and I drove out to Nunavak Bay where we added a Yellow-billed Loon and Herring Gull. Vega Gulls can be found at Barrow but the Herring Gull was too far for varification. On our way back we stopped to snap a few photos of this nesting Rock Ptarmigan.

Female Rock Ptarmigan on nest

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Barrow Update - June 10th

Sorry for the lack of blog posts the past few days, I’ve been pretty busy now that nest searching started. I will do a separate post later on what exactly we are doing. I just thought I’d post a few pictures before you think a Polar Bear got me or something…

Red-necked Phalarope (male)

Red Phalarope (female)

Red Phalarope Eggs

Lapland Longspur Nest

Long-billed Dowitcher Distraction Display

Long-billed Dowitcher Nest

Dunlin Nest

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Birding in the night

It’s one in the morning here and Charlie and I just got back from birding the BASC area and a few cemeteries. It’s great having 24 hours of day light to bird whenever we feel like it. The BASC area once again proved to be productive producing a Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, White-rumped Sandpipers, two Varied Thrushes and more Hoary Redpolls. The cemeteries didn’t produce much but the one we visited yesterday had another Varied Thrush bringing our daily total to three! Our last good birds of the day were two Sanderlings that were copulating and scraping. According to the USFWS, Sanderlings are "very rare and irregular breeders on the North Slope, with most confirmed records limited to Barrow".

Well, it’s time to sleep as I'll be spending all day tomorrow nest searching..

Semipalmated Plover

Days 3-4, June 4-5, 2009

Hoary Redpoll

Yesterday began with Charlie Governali and I birding around the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium buildings. This area, located a couple miles east of town, is a great place for vagrants. Trip birds include: two Varied Thrushes, two American Robins, Green-winged Teal and a singing Blackpoll Warbler!

Blackpoll Warbler

In the afternoon, we all broke up to different study plots to search for banded shorebirds. Fabrice Chevreux and I went to the Freshwater Lake area and had a lot of great birds including ~15 Arctic Terns, Spectacled Eiders, Short-eared and Snowy Owls. Afterwards we drove several miles south on Cake Eater Road to plots 3, 5, 7 and 8 finding two Sabine’s Gulls and three Snow Geese among all the jaegers and Glaucous Gulls.

Before heading to bed, Charlie and I walked over to a cemetery along Ahkovak Road where we found our first Baird’s Sandpipers for the trip.

Most of today was spent going over protocols, nest searching, safety and culture issues. For about a half an hour, four of us did a short sea watch seeing a couple Bearded Seals and a Slaty-backed Gull.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Day 2 - June 3, 2009

I was wide awake by 2am this morning; it doesn’t help coming from Eastern Time zone. Before the others woke up, I took a short walk around town adding only Savannah Sparrow to my trip list.

The rest of the day was spent walking back and forth across the tundra collecting snow and lemming data. It was very tiring but it was great to go out onto the tundra.

Here’s what one of our survey plots looked like – still a lot of snow. You can go from walking on bare tundra to snow up to your waist and occasionally you’ll find yourself sliding as you walk across puddles with iced bottoms.

The most abundant shorebirds were Dunlin, Pectoral and Semipalmated Sandpipers but American Golden-Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Long-billed Dowitchers, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes were also present. At one point I watched five Red Phalaropes in full breeding plumage feed just a few yards away as I sat there wondering why I didn’t have my camera. I will try to get back there soon and take some photos.

Besides shorebirds, I also added Common Raven, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Tundra Swan, Brant, Northern Pintail, Long-tailed Duck and these Greater White-fronted Geese to my trip list.

It looks like we’re having orientation and protocols tomorrow so I’ll have some free time to bird around. Also, sorry if any of my blog posts are too dull...I've been running on very little sleep so it's hard to think what to write.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 1 - June 2, 2009

I arrived in Barrow, Alaska around 7:30pm (Alaska Time). After grabbing our luggage we were picked up on 4-wheelers and taken to the Polar Bear Theater where we will be staying the next couple months. On the short drive over, it was evident that Snow Buntings are one of the most abundant passerines. They are all over town in full breeding plumage and as I type, I hear one outside the kitchen window...now two just flew by. Other birds around town include Lapland Longspurs, Glaucous Gulls, Hoary Redpolls, Wilson’s Snipes and my first unusual bird – a Bank Swallow cruising along the Arctic Ocean. It was only a short walk so we didn’t see many shorebirds and other tundra nesting species.

This is the Polar Bear Theater, which isn’t a theater. I still haven’t figured out why it’s called that. It’s pretty rough looking but so are the majority of the other houses in Barrow.

The Arctic Ocean is still frozen over for the most part. Soon it will be open and birds will be migrating.

And last – looking down Stevenson’s Road near the Polar Bear Theater. This is what most of Barrow looks like.

Today we will be heading out onto the tundra to start collecting snow measurements. More to come!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Barrow, Alaska

I'm off to Barrow, Alaska tomorrow to begin my summer job with the USFWS. I will be investigating the reproductive ecology of shorebirds until the end of August. Internet access won't be a problem so keep checking back for photos and reports!

Barrow, Alaska (circled) - 320 miles north of Arctic Circle