Monday, June 27, 2011

Twilight Photography

Maybe not quite twilight, but I went out last evening while the sun was lower on the horizon in an attempt to get a few nice bird photos. I haven't had much time for serious photography lately, so at 10:30pm, I hit the tundra. We found a Bar-tailed Godwit nest a while back. The male has a HUGE range over the plot, and follows us around and yells at us everywhere we go. He is very tame and runs around us like a chicken. I had hopes of getting him last night, but he was incubating and the female took over guard duty.

She may have provided me with my best picture of the season... so far.
I also decided to see what the Long-tailed Jaegers were doing. Pretty much the same thing they always do. I still couldn't get a great shot.
There is a Black-bellied Plover nest in the same area. Both male and female were not pleased to see me. Here is the male, quite a looker!
Since I've only been posting pics lately, I think I'll let you in on whats going on in the Colville, work related. Semipalmated Sandpipers are hatching and being predated at a pretty even rate. It is a tough life when Jaegers, Glaucous Gulls, Arctic and Red Fox, and even Ruddy Turnstones want to eat your eggs. Dunlin are on the cusp of hatching, with eggs "starred" and "pipped", they are ready to go. Phalaropes are just starting to nest, so we will have them to deal with after all the other birds are busy brooding and young-rearing. We saw a group of approx. 18 Semipalmated Sandpipers, presumably failed breeders, feeding and looking like they want to migrate. Can't blame them.

The weather has been sunny and warm, and this morning was a huge mosquito hatch. With no wind in the morning, there were periods where I struggled to breathe the clouds of bugs were so bad. Luckily the brisk NE wind picked up and the clouds dissipated. Lets hope the wind sticks around for the rest of the season.

Butterflies remain lousy with only Booth's Sulphur and Polaris Fritillary being seen. I'm now confident on both of the ID's after doing some internet research.

And, if you are still reading this, you'll be pleased to hear I finally showered and did laundry after 39 days in the field. And by doing laundry, I mean rubbing socks and underwear and a few shirts and pants on a washboard. Apparently I suck at using washboards because my socks still smell like.... well, socks.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Arctic Butterflies

It was a somewhat nice day on the tundra, with sun interspersed with clouds and wind. This resulted in bugs, and butterflies. I saw a Booth's Sulphur again today, this one looked like a more typical Booth's.
Booth's Sulphur hiding from wind.
While doing shorebird nest checks, I also saw a Fritillary bouncing around. Of course, almost all Fritillarys look the same from above, and this one wouldn't fold up his or her wings.

The only logical thing I could think to do was to take my jacket off, sneak up on the critter once it landed, and pounce over it with camera in hand and hope to catch the underside of the bug. Worked like a charm.
As for the identity of this Fritillary, I'm gonna call this a Polaris Fritillary due to the "white dashes cutting through dark marginal area" and the "postmedian row of round black spots set off by paler areas". Kaufman says they fly only in even numbered years in most areas, but in odd numbered years in a few places. Last time I checked, 2011 is an odd numbered year, so I'll assume I am in one of those few places where Polaris Fritillary likes to fly in odd years. I'd be willing to hear out some other opinions though.

Well, we just got a new shipment of food, and even got some pie smuggled in, so I'm going to load up on sugar, bacon and freeze dried eggs. Later.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flowers and Bugs

The flowers are really starting to pop on the tundra. So are the mosquitoes and flies. I know a few readers of this blog (if you are still reading) are flower enthusiasts, so here are a few tundra flowers for your viewing enjoyment. If you know anything about any of these flowers, I'd love to hear about em.
Lousewart of some kind
Lavender-colored Flower
Light Purpleish Flowers
Annnnnnd the White Flower
Mosquitoes really hatched today. They weren't vicious yet, but I saw some planning their attack and sharpening their proboscis. We are outnumbered....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A New Twist

Today I stumbled over a butterfly trying to hide from the wicked 20-25mph east winds. I've determined the identity of this Sulphur to be a Booth's Sulphur. It doesn't fit perfectly in the Kaufman Guide, but it isn't anything else, and I'm not about to claim a new species. I'm pretty pumped about the possibility of seeing some new butterflies, especially since I only saw a few Frigga Fritillary in Barrow. There are some cool possibilities.
Booth's Sulphur- Picked a bad day to hatch
We are finding a lot of new nests lately. It seems Ruddy Turnstones have just started nesting, along with Red and Red-necked Phalaropes. A couple members of the goose crew who have been helping us out are leaving for a couple weeks, so we are stuck doing everything. We are already over our heads in work, and not all of our birds are going to get banded. Good thing this is pilot year, they will know they need more people next year.

For the amount of people we have, and the amount of work possible, we are doing really well. The boss is happy, therefore I am happy.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Night Photo Session

Went on a midnight photo rage last night since we had some good light. Had a few target birds. Although I didn't get THE picture of a Red Phalarope, this one turned out half-way decent.
This Long-tailed Jaeger didn't like me walking even semi-close to his mate incubating their egg. It allowed for some good action shots.
This next photo is pretty heavily edited, more so than I usually do.
The almost perfect picture.
And finally, my favorite of the night, Mr. Red-necked Phalarope. Soon his job will be incubating eggs while his female runs off and jumps the bones of multiple other male Phalaropes.
It looks better in full resolution.
I seem to be having a hard time getting exposure correct on a lot of my pictures lately. Not sure what seems to be the issue. Maybe I just fail when it comes to photography. My strategy is take a couple hundred pictures with different settings and hope a couple turn out.

We have banded 19 birds so far. Semipalmated Sandpipers way outnumber the Dunlin and Pectoral Sandpipers. Phalaropes are just starting to nest, so hopefully in the next week we will have them to deal with as well.

16 hour+ work days are really doing a number on me. Only 47 more loooong work days until I return to Michigan. Not sure I really want to.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ruff and Stuff

By spending ~15 hours a day in or around the plots, something exciting was bound to happen. Today it did. This evening I was out doing a few nest checks and looking for nests, when I noticed this silly looking bastard roaming the tundra.
Ruff. Not the greatest picture.
We now have 2 jaeger nests on our plots, one Long-tailed and one Parasitic. The Parasitic pair are both dark morph birds (or a very dark intermediate?) and really cool to watch when they aren't terrorizing shorebirds. So far this is the best I can do.

We woke up to a fresh inch of snow yesterday, or was it two days ago? With a lack of sleep and 24 hour light, I've completely lost track of days. Here is the scene upon waking up.
This Semipalmated Sandpiper was busy defending a nest from a Ruddy Turnstone. I took the opportunity to sneak up and take a few pics.
 And, to prove I actually am doing some work, here is yours truly banding a Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Notice the ugly red beard growing in.
Tomorrow (June 15th) marks the 28th consecutive day that I have not bathed or taken a shower. Thats right, 4 straight weeks. Pretty gross, right?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Banding Begins

We started banding birds today. It took a while to get back into the swing of shorebird banding after 3 years off, but it was successful nonetheless. Here is the first bird we banded this season, a Semipalmated Sandpiper with some new bling.
This is the second bird we banded today. We dubbed this Semipalmated Sandpiper "Michael Jackson" for obvious reasons (E-HE!!)
After we released the bird, he proceeded to moonwalk back to his nest.
There are 6 more birds to band tomorrow including a Dunlin. It is sure to be eventful.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's Science!

First off, I'd like to say the mystery nest has been solved. The culprit is a pair of White-fronted Geese. However, they are the only geese, out of the 40+ nest we have found, that have covered their eggs with vegetation (that we know of). I have a theory that before the start of incubation, the geese cover their eggs with vegetation. Then, when incubation starts, they use the mat of vegetation as addition to the nest bowl. This would explain why we haven't found nests pre-incubation, except for this one.

Enough of that boring stuff, here are some of the exciting sciency things we are doing on the tundra, besides working with shorebirds and geese. First is our weather station. It is currently non-functional due to a faulty battery, but it sure looks like science!
This weather station will monitor wind speed/direction, temperature and precipitation when it actually works.
We also are trapping inverts on a 3 day schedule to monitor significant hatches of insects. This is what the trap looks like.
Invert trap. The idea is that inverts will hit the net when flying and fall into the trap solution. Believe it or not, it actually is very productive.
Like I mentioned earlier, we passed the 40 mark for Greater White-fronted Geese nests. Here is a pretty typical nest.
We also have an Arctic Fox in the area of our north plot, so I am losing hope for a lot of the birds up there. The densities of shorebirds are not what I expected, and it looks like reaching our goal of numbers of birds banded and blood samples may be unrealistic.

The weather is taking a turn for the better next week, hopefully the birds enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June Snow Showers

The first week of June ended with scattered snow showers and persistent winds. It also ended with the first Dunlin nest of the season. It looks like the winds might pick up to 30mph tomorrow and the next few days so this might get pretty crazy.

I found another nest a few days ago, but we aren't sure what it is. I found it with one egg and the nest bowl was slightly covered with vegetation. Now there are 3 eggs and there is a huge mat of vegetation over the nest; you would never even see it if you didn't know it was there. There is a Long-tailed Duck pair in the area, but the eggs look too big for them. Hopefully the next few days will reveal who the culprit is.
Mystery Nest. Who wants to take a guess?
The sun came out a few nights ago for a brief few minutes. I took the opportunity to photograph some camp shorebirds.
Ruddy Turnstone in evening light.
This Black-bellied Plover didn't turn out as nicely, it wouldn't let me approach as closely as the Turnstone.
Black-bellied Plover keeping just far enough away to piss me off.
I know I keep saying it, but I'll try to get pictures of the actual science in this camp soon. I hate changing lenses in the field, though. Till then, peace!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Taiwan Dunlin!

Brad Wilkinson, the other shorebird guy up here on the Colville, found a banded Dunlin today on our North Plot. Turns out to be a bird banded on the wintering grounds in Taiwan! After hearing about the bird, I obviously went out and saw/took pictures. Hopefully we will know more about this gent soon.

I took a crapload of pictures to make sure I got the combo on the flag. I'd say it went well.

Mr. Taiwan
We have been finding Greater White-fronted Geese nests like crazy lately, but shorebird nests are still few and far between. It seems that the birds are more active now after that wind storm we had, so I have high hopes for the future.

I'm also still looking for a fall job. Anyone?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Weather Days

It has been a few days since my last post. That is simply because everything has quit doing whatever it was doing because of the fierce N/NE winds the past few days and temps in the teens. All the open water on the tundra is frozen, and even most of the big ponds are frozen as well. Some birds seem to have abandoned nests that we found before the weather change. We had a daily average of ~65+ Semipalmated Sandpipers and 45+ Red-necked Phalaropes before the weather change. Today we had about 10 Semipalmated Sandpipers and maybe 10 phalaropes. Not sure where all the birds went, but they better come back or this project is going to take a turn for the worse. The weather is supposed to calm down a bit on Sunday.

I did, however, see my first Spectacled Eiders of the year yesterday in the form of a male/female pair. They flew inland for a minute and turned back around toward the sea with a disgusted look on their face. Fear not, Eiders, the ponds will open once again!

As for me, the weather has given me a chance to catch up on sleep, data entry, and adding a few more stakes to my tent that has taken a major beating from the wind. Good thing we have a semi-warm heater and an abundance of hot chocolate. I'll be sure to let you know when things get going again, but it may be a few days.