Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nest Searching Pays Off!

The birds are starting to nest. Our first nest of the season was a Lapland Longspur I found as I saw an adult carrying feathers to line the nest. Today was the first shorebird nest being built by the male Red-necked Phalarope. It was in the early stages, but I witnessed a pair copulating and the male went right to work. I couldn't resist taking a few pictures as I was nest searching.

I scheduled a photoshoot with this Bar-tailed Godwit. There are now at least 2 pairs in our area.
I had some nice light on this male Lapland Longspur. I'm not sure why he looks so sad. Maybe it is all the water flooding the tundra.
I'll be sure to post pictures of our invertebrate traps and some of the nests soon. I know I've said it before, but things are really getting busy! It will get crazy soon, so I'll enjoy my sleep while I can. Later!

Friday, May 27, 2011


Now that we have camp mostly setup, I thought I'd show you where I'm living for the next 2+ months. Here is my place of residence, a nice bomb shelter tent.
And here we have our weatherport, where all the planning, cooking and preparing happens.
Inside the weatherport is a bit of a cluster, with lots of shelves and totes full of sciency things.
We set up another weatherport to accommodate all our field gear and organizing needs. Here it is next to the "sauna/shower" that is currently hosting a pair of Snow Buntings.
 Our conex holds all other field gear that has been around for ages, along with our food, and other misc things like boat motors and old sleeping pads.
There you have it, the Colville River Delta field camp of 2011. I enjoy hearing from the blog followers so tell me what you like/want to see more of and I'll be sure to consider it. Adios for now.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Just More Bird Pics

We are hastily approaching nesting season here on the North Slope. Semipalmated Sandpipers have been observed bumping and grinding while other species are busy courting. Haven't found any nests yet, but I'm guessing they will be popping up soon. The river finally broke up so hopefully a nice flock of ducks and loons pass by soon.

I was able to snap some more pics of the common camp birds. This Ruddy Turnstone has frequented the pond outside our weatherport and appears to have a mate.
This Rock Ptarmigan is still very white. With the snow rapidly melting he won't be able to hide much longer.
This Long-tailed Jaeger provided a great opportunity to fire a few more clicks.
Shorebirds don't like these guys, but I do.
It has been very busy around here, and will only get busier. I will be sure to take some pictures soon of how camp looks and where I'm living. Hard to believe it has only been a little over a week that I've been here and still have over 2 months to go!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Another Beautiful Tunda Day

The weather is amazing again today, and the birds are really liking it as well. New arrivals today include Arctic Tern, Long-tailed Jaeger, Sabine's Gull and Semipalmated Plover. The Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-bellied Plover and two White-crowned Sparrows are also still around.

Brad Wilkinson and Dave Ward arrived today. Dave (my boss) will be working mostly with the geese while Brad is here to help with shorebirds. Here they are arriving via helicopter.
The first Long-tailed Jaeger was very cooperative.
Whilst I was photographing the Jaeger, this Sabine's Gull wanted in on the action. It hastily joined the Jaeger for the only open water on the tundra, right in front of our weatherport!
Shorebirds are pairing up and singing like crazy. If all goes well, the first shorebird nest could be a week or so away! Stay tuned.

Monday, May 23, 2011

More Migration in the North

New birds continue to make appearances back on their arctic breeding grounds. Between yesterday and today we have tallied many species arriving and singing, ready to breed. Long-tailed Duck, Common and King Eider, Stilt Sandpiper, a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits, Snowy Owls, Dark-eyed Junco (a little north of its breeding range), Black-bellied Plover (a little out of range as well), Pacific Loon and Red-necked Phalarope have all made themselves known.

The Bar-tailed Godwits are especially nice to see. They appear to be a pair and have taken a liking to our camp area. It was really foggy today when I took this picture but I should get more chances for better pics when it gets sunny again.
Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-bellied Plover
Common Eiders passing by noticing there is no open water!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

They're Back!

Today (5/21/11) was an amazing day on the North Slope, dare I say my favorite day this far north ever! Yesterday there was not much bird activity and the weather was dark and cloudy and eventually very windy. The wind turned to the south late yesterday night, blowing out the clouds and blowing in tons of birds and beautiful weather!

New arrivals today include Short-eared Owl (at least 5), Brant, Pomarine Jaeger, Western Sandpiper, White-crowned Sparrow, Common Redpoll, Rough-legged Hawk, a ton of Pectoral Sandpipers, lots of Semipalmated Sandpipers (as apposed to the one yesterday), a few Long-billed Dowitchers, American Golden Plovers and Savannah Sparrows. Higher numbers of many birds including Lapland Longspurs and hundreds, maybe thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese were seen as well.

This sunny, warm weather is great for breaking up the snow and ponds (which are still pretty frozen), but I hope it doesn't last long. Otherwise we will be up to our ears in Mosquito.
Willow Ptarmigan. These look just like the Rock Ptarmigan in the area. I ID'd this guy based on voice. 
Pomarine Jaeger cruisin' by. 1 of 5 seen today.
Tundra Swans on the tundra.

This Arctic Ground Squirrel either just got done smoking a bowl or was squinting from the sun. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Snow Birding

Finally got camp mostly setup. Here is a picture from yesterday when the weatherport was almost setup.
It is a crap-load of work getting everything situated for camp and field work, but we are almost there. Went out to see if any new arrivals came along with the nice weather, and I found a banded Ruddy Turnstone. Seeing as birds haven't been banded at this camp for 10+ years, it must be from a different site, maybe it was banded during migration. Either way, here are some pics.
Lower left is Yellow, lower right Metal. But wait...
There appears to be a grayish band on the upper right tarsus. No gray band is ever used. It shows up in a few of my pictures, so it does appear to be there. I hope this bird sticks around and nests so I can catch it! I'll let you know more when I find out who banded it!
One Semipalmated Sandpiper was also with the Turnstones, the first one for the camp this year. Ptarmigan are really common, and Willow is supposed to be the most common. However, I can't help but think most of the ones I am seeing are Rock. I'll post more pictures of the molting ones later, but here is an all white one!
Haven't looked into this one, but Rock seems to be most common. This might be Willow, but call was deep and not nasaly.
Of course, Snow Buntings are around, and seem to have taken a liking to our connex.
And today is the first day I've seen Lapland Longspurs around. Here is mediocre picture of a snazzy one.
Still a ton of field gear to unpack, sort and protocol to go over, and we need to start snow surveys ASAP. The days are going to be uber busy.

Laptop is dying and recharge only happens once in a few days, so next post might be a few days. Check back often!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Welcome to the Tundra!

We made it to our camp site on the Colville River Delta! We took a helicopter, which was legendary since it was my first ride. I'm just posing here, I got to sit up front. I'd say we rocked it pretty hard.
I'm exhausted from setting up the weatherport, shoveling snow and setting up field tents. I'll post pics of the process later My phone internet blows, so look for updates everyone once in a while.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

North Slope This and That

I've been in Alpine, Alaska for the last 2 days. Yesterday it took two trips on a tiny plane to make it to Alpine from Prudhoe Bay. The first time we attempted the trip the town of Alpine was fogged in making for a dangerous attempt to land. The second trip was better.

Alpine is actually a pretty cool place for being an oil drilling site. The food is cafeteria style except for the fact that it tastes awesome, is open almost 24/7 and is free, and there is lots of pie! Safety is a huge deal here, you can get your ear chewed off for not using a hand rail while going down 3 stairs, and you can't go outside without being escorted to your destination (essentially killing all birding opportunity).

I've identified two species of birds in Alpine; Greater White-fronted Goose and... wait for it... Snow Bunting. The ground is still completely frozen and covered in snow.
View from my window
We were supposed to fly to our field camp today, but our helicopter has been grounded outside of town 5 miles to the south due to icing conditions. It finally arrived this evening, so we will be flying out tomorrow afternoon, weather permitting. Instead, we did some helicopter and sling loading training, then some Polar Bear training, and ate lots of food.

Not sure if my 3G coverage will last once at camp. If not, I'll see you all in 2 1/2 months! David OUT

Saturday, May 14, 2011

'Round Town

I took the costal bike trail around town today from Westchester Lagoon to Kincade Park. From the house I am staying at, it is about a 26 mile round trip. I expected at least one year bird... nope.

Did manage to catch two yellowlegs in the act. They were doing it right out in the open for everyone to see.
King of the mountain!
Some of the geese here in Alaska are pretty small, somewhat Cackling looking. This one, however, fit the "bill" for full blown Cackling Goose.
And, although this Hudsonian Godwit was quite a distance out, I had to snap a pic for my "birds photographed' list. It is pretty much useless otherwise.
Great light, if only it was closer.

Can't wait to get to the slope, except for the cold, windy, snow conditions we will have for a while. Who needs summer anyway.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Heading North

Fellow blog followers, the time has almost come for me to migrate even further north. I'm talking about the tundra on the North Slope of Alaska. I will be stationed just east of an oil drilling town called Alpine. We leave at 7am on Monday from Anchorage. This should give you a little idea of where I'll be.

  It has been quite a busy week but I've done everything I could to prepare for the field season. Nest and banding books are made, data sheets printed out, plot maps laminated and the list goes on. Not much time for birding. I did get a couple random year birds today including American Dipper and Gray Jay. 

 This weekend I will hopefully be getting to the mountains to try to find a few more boreal species and enjoy the trees before I don't see them for a few months.

The only way I will be able to keep this blog going is if I have cell service on the slope. The possibility is good as long as Verizon has a deal with the group who provides coverage for the oil workers. I know it will be hard, but you'll just have to live with it if I don't.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Homer and the Barren Islands

Homer held the 2011 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival this past weekend in Alaska. I frantically scrambled to find a ride down and on Friday evening I jumped in a car with a stranger and we were Homer bound. We spent Friday night at his friends house in Kenai. Some birding was done along the flats and we saw Hudsonian Godwits, Pacific Golden Plovers, Cackling Geese. On the way down I also saw my lifer Northwestern Crow. It was not as epic as I had imagined.

We left at the butt-crack of dawn on Saturday and got to Homer around 6am. I signed up for the all-day boat trip out to the Barren Islands and we left at 7am. Surfbirds crowded the rocks on the way out of the harbor.
Glaucous-winged Gulls were common, and less hybridized than the ones along the west coast.
Seabirds nest in huge numbers at the Barren Islands. The cliff faces were filthy with Black-legged Kittiwakes.
There were also hundreds, probably thousands of Tufted Puffins. Of course, I couldn't get the awesome shot I was after, but these quick edits will do.
You couldn't throw a dead cat overboard without hitting a Common Murre. Here is a young one.
And, saving the best for last, the Red-faced Cormorant was pretty badass.
Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants
Back on the Homer Spit, a Bar-tailed Godwit was found. We also saw Eurasian Wigeon, thousands of Western Sandpipers, Whimbrel, among other things. I had heard Aleutian Terns were seen flying over earlier in the day, but I didn't see them. Bald Eagles littered the area.

Sacrificing sleep for birds, Sunday morning we hit the Spit bright and early. We basked in the awesomeness of Aleutian Terns.
Terrible shot of an Aleutian Tern.
Other birds seen throughout include Common, Yellow-billed, Red-throated and Pacific Loons, Common Eider, Marbled Murrelet, Marbled Godwit, Pigeon Guillemot, Thick-billed Murre, White-winged Crossbill, and all 3 Scoters. All in all, a great trip. Notable misses include Kittlitz's Murrelet and Fork-tailed Storm Petrel. I won't have time after my field job to do any Alaskan birding, so looks like I'll have to wait for a while before seeing those. I'll post soon with more pictures from the trip. I'm exhausted.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I arrived late last night in Anchorage, Alaska. I am currently staying with faculty until my flight leaves for the North Slope on May 16th. Until then I am taking a gun/bear safety training class and a wilderness first aid class. In between I will be getting field gear ready and helping prepare for the intense field season that awaits.

But enough of that. I birded Potters Marsh and Westchester Lagoon. Arctic Tern and Mew Gull were abundant.
Mew Gull- All over the place
Bad pic of an Arctic Tern. I'll have more chances to get it right.
Red-necked Grebes were around at Potters Marsh.
Also had 7 Hudsonian Godwits at Westchester Lagoon, a nice, overdue lifer. Barrow's and Common Goldeneye, Bonaparte's Gulls, Boreal Chickadee and Black-billed Magpie were a few other birds seen around.

Gun safety starts at 8:30am tomorrow. I guess it is time I learn how to shoot a gun.