Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Bird Pics

Well I was pretty bored today, so I went and birded the lake north of our camp which seems to be a staging area for shorebirds. It is the only place I constantly see large flocks of shorebirds. The numbers of Stilt Sandpipers have increased with 6 juvenile and 1 adult present today. Long-billed Dowitchers continue as well, in lesser numbers than previous days. Only juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers remain, adults have been gone for qutie a while. Still a lot of Red-necked Phalaropes and a few Black-bellied Plovers, and very few Pectoral Sandpipers.

The Jaegers are doing well. I finally shot a decent picture of one of the full grown juveniles.
The 2 juvenile birds were flying around today, practicing aerial agility. They are getting pretty good!

I also spent some time playing with Arctic Terns. I can not seem to get a good shot of these guys. I'm guessing it the contrast between them and their environment. Whatever it is, I still can not get that "great" shot.
I splurged a little last night and ordered a new pair of binocular. My current bins (Swift Audubon HHS 8.5x44) are getting really trashed, with scratches so extensive on the lenses that it is affecting sharpness, brightness, contrast and overall image quality. There are even some "cloudy" areas that won't focus, and this just won't do. After EXTENSIVE deliberation between Nikon Monarch, Leupold Mojave, Bushnell Legened Ultra HD and a few others, I decided on a brand I had never heard of before... Zen-Ray. I have done extensive research into this company, and read as many possible user reports as I possibly could, and it seems they are legit. They are coming out with a new Zen-Ray Zen ED3, and with a ship date of August 1st, and my return home a few days after that, it was like a sign. Many user reviews of people who obviously know way more about binoculars than I claim they rival the alpha (Swarovski, Zeiss, ect) binocular lineup. They say the alphas are slightly better, but not to warrant an extra $1500. Anyway, time will tell, and I'll fill you in when I get them. Obviously, I'm both excited and nervous. With specs such as ED glass, field of view 426/1000, dielectic prisim coating, phase correction, water and fog proof, it has me drooling.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Learning to Fly

I took a walk around the tundra briefly today and was surprised at how fast these birds grow up. I ran into quite a few juvenile birds that can now run, fly, feed themselves and call to their parents. The first was the Long-tailed Jaeger juveniles that I've posted pics of in the past. They now fly and call, and don't let us approach nearly as close as we used to. I hope we get another nicer day (45 degrees, cloudy and windy today!), I'd like to get some better pictures of them.
Can't pick this guy up anymore.
I then ran into a disgruntled adult Red-necked Phalarope. I quickly saw this....thing swimming and awkwardly walking away from me.
I'm not sure if this is cute or disturbing.
It seems Ptarmigan all group together after the breeding season and during brood rearing. I saw an abundance of Rock Ptarmigan, and only a couple Willow. There were also hoards of young running around, now probably too big for the Jaegers to eat. These Ptarmigan have an average clutch size of 10-11 eggs, quite a handful to keep track of!
Young Ptarmigan of some kind.
I also happened across a very bright shorebird that had me excited for a moment. I had yet to see a full juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, and this one was exceptionally red overall. However, it is way too early to be claiming a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.
Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper. Not enough going on with the eye ring, eye stripe or crown for a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.
We are running out of things to do at camp. After tomorrow, we may be completely done with everything, leaving at least a week of free time. Not sure what we will do with all that time, maybe I'll put some serious effort into my new website design. I recently revisited my forgotten website ( Why didn't anyone tell me it looks horrible?! Seriously, I'm appalled.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wrapping Up

After a serious bout of food poisoning, I'm back at it. We almost have all the data entered and proofed, and that should be wrapped up in a few days. Inventory has begun, along with all those other minor end of field season details that need to be hammered out.

A few days ago a huge herd of caribou came right through our camp. We estimated the herd at 2000, but there may have been more.
Busting a move to the other side of the lake

You can see our "bear" fence in this picture. This is literally right outside our tents and weather-port.
Later in the day, after the herd passed through, we had a bit of a scare. A loud crashing sound of something going through the bear fence (which wasn't turned on at the time) had Brad and I thinking we had a bear. Turns out a mother caribou and her young didn't see the yellow rope and went crashing right through it, breaking some of the white fence stakes as well.It was an easy fix, just glad it wasn't a bear.

I arrive back in Lansing on August 4th, and fly back to Anchorage on August 9th. On August 10th I take a Cold Water Survival class in Anchorage, then on the 14th I get on the Norseman II boat (a converted crabber) and hit the Arctic Ocean, mainly the Beaufort Sea area, for 3.5 weeks. Previous cruises saw a whole 7 species of which over 80% were Arctic Terns, Black-legged Kittiwakes and phalaropes. It could be a lonnnnng 3.5 weeks.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fritillary Fun

Brad and I are now on our own, Ty left camp yesterday and won't be back until the 3rd when I fly back to Michigan. We now have the pleasure of holding down the camp, doing data entry and chillin' until I leave.

Today was sunny, warm (~60 degrees!) and calm. Obviously I was excited for the butterflies, but not so much about the mosquitoes. I had no idea that a huuuuuuge herd of Caribou would be coming through today, at least 1500 strong spanning the horizon. Quite a sight to see!

We had quite a walk to our sites to collect vegetation, and with the amount of Caribou, there are bound to be bears around, so we were packing heat in the form of a shotgun. Luckily, it didn't need to be used. On the walk I used my pathetic excuse for a butterfly net to trap butterflies. About 50% of them escaped the contraption, but the other 50% were harassed with my camera. Quite a few Booth's, Hecla and Labrador Sulphurs were around, but I didn't bother with them. I caught quite a few Fritillaries, and was surprised to find one that I have yet to see this season... I think.

First I'll start with the Arctic Fritillary, one I have seen this field season.
Pretty typical Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea) underside.
Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea) upperside.
Now here is one I am having difficulty with. I identified it in the field as a Freija Fritillary, but it doesn't match perfectly in my guide, and for a few minutes I was going between Freija and a really fresh Arctic. It does look pretty good for Freija compared to other pictures online, though. They are "supposed" to be early season flyers... I guess this one didn't get the memo.
Freija Fritillary, I think, underside. It isn't just a really fresh Arctic, is it? Opinions welcome.
Obviously more dark above than the Arctic Fritillary earlier in the post, with bigger/darker spots.
The birds... are pretty much gone. A lot of juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers raging around the tundra and getting into trouble. We have only 2 active shorebird nests left, and one active Pacific Loon nest.

With this job wrapping up, you may be wondering what I'm doing after. I will be attending a friends wedding right as I get back to Michigan, then it looks like I'm coming back to Alaska. I will either be observing seabirds on a 3 week cruise through the Beaufort Sea on a converted crabbing vessel, or I will be "volunteering" as an observer on a ~9 day cruise starting in Adak and hitting the eastern Aleutians to pick up seabird crews that are finishing their field season. If I can get a "cold water immersion" class before the Beaufort trip, I will be observing on that. If I can't, I'm heading for Adak. Either way, its certain not to disappoint!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dingy Fritillary

Yesterday afternoon the sun came out for a couple hours, and although it was really windy, a few butterflies were flying around. I ended with 6 species, and was able to confirm that Hecla and Labrador Sulphur have both been flying with Booth's. I also snagged a new species for me, a Dingy Fritillary. The list below.

Booth's Sulphur
Labrador Sulphur
Hecla Sulphur
Frigga Fritillary
Polaris Fritillary
Dingy Fritillary
Dingy Fritillary Boloria improba - The Alaska subspecies resembles Frigga Fritillary below, but is about half the size and isn't as contrasty. Also, the top side is very dark compared to the other Fritillarys flying on the slope.
Very dark upperside.
Here is to hoping for more sunny days. I will be going to some different habitat on the next sunny day. It sure would be nice to find Banded Alpine or Disa Alpine...

Friday, July 15, 2011


The first Red-throated Loon nest hatched either today or yesterday. They are nothing more than a bunch of fuzz.
Red-throated Loon just a day or two out of the egg.
The Long-tailed Jaeger that hatched two weeks ago is getting quite large, and quite ugly compared to the loons.
Careful, they bite!
Flight feathers growing in. In another couple weeks we may see him flying around!
Tomorrow and the next couple weeks involve data entry sprinkled with a bit of vegetation sorting. It is mindless work, but important. Weather has been cloudy and windy for what seems like forever (probably a week). I'm praying for a sunny, warm day so I can go see what is flying.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nearing the End

Due to the lack of posts lately, you probably have figured out that the shorebird breeding season is nearing its end. Truth is, nothing too exciting has happened lately. Yesterday we banded our last bird of the season, a Red Phalarope.
Red Phalarope Wing
Funny Phalarope Feet. Check out the lobes and webbing on these guys.
Today we finished the last predator surveys, sampled and closed down the invertebrate traps and conducted our final "snow" survey of the year. Our south plot has only one shorebird nest left, a Red-necked Phalarope. Our north plot has a few more nests, but should be done in the next few days.

Ty, one of the full time USGS people, leaves on Sunday, so it will just be Brad and I left to fend for ourselves for a couple weeks. We can keep busy with sorting grass (about as exciting as it sounds) and entering data. It will be a long couple weeks, but I can't wait to be back in Michigan!

I'm not sure what I'll be doing next, but have a few options and big things could happen. A few things are still up in the air, so we will see how they pan out over the next week or so.

Till next time, David out.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Alaska Butterflies

Now that it is early/mid July and the weather has warmed up, butterflies diversity has increased greatly. I built something resembling a butterfly net, but it is quite rough. However, it did allow me to catch a few Fritillaries today, both Arctic and Frigga. This makes 3 species of Fritillary for the camp area including Polaris. Also, there are some deep orange Sulphurs flying around, but I've yet to catch one. They have got to be Hecla Sulphur, but I'd like to catch one first before calling it. There was also a small blue butterfly, which I thought had tails and thought was a Western Tailed-blue, but they aren't "supposed" to be around here. I'll probably never see it again. Here is a recap of some of the butterflies from this season.
Polaris Fritillary- on my hand.
Arctic Fritillary
Frigga Fritillary
Booth's Sulphur
On a work related note, we finished banding Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlin, and will probably only band a couple Red and Red-necked Phalaropes. The plots are pretty boring now, most of the birds have hatched or been eaten and only a handful remain. This leaves us with sorting vegetation, collecting insects, and entering data. Luckily, I have enough movies, music and internet to keep us motivated... for now.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Red-throated Loon

We have been monitoring 2 Red-throated Loon nests, and one has a pretty cooperative bird. I was able to sneak up on one of the birds and managed a series of 150+ pictures of this gorgeous bird. Here is a quick edit of one of them.
Breeding Red-throated Loon in evening light. I'm quite happy with this one.

Still lots of shorebird chicks hatching and running around, trying to avoid Jaegers (I saw 20+ Long-tailed Jaegers on South Plot today). I also got attacked by a female Rock Ptarmigan that I almost stepped on whilst she was incubating her 10 eggs. She made a flight for my face, luckily I dodged the attempt.

Happy 4th of July! Drink a beer for me if you are celebrating today. I know I would be.

Friday, July 1, 2011

With every day flying by here on the Colville River Delta, every day feels more and more like fall. Apparently, seasons go straight from spring to fall, and forgo summer. Today started with a cool NW wind and high puffy gray overhead clouds, and I couldn't help but think I should be lakewatching on Superior. It felt even more like fall with the weather coupled with the big flocks of obviously-ready-to-migrate shorebirds. Pectoral Sandpipers, Red and Red-necked Phalaropes and Semipalmated Sandpipers are all grouping up in large flocks, feeding like crazy, and looking a little antsy. A few failed-nesting Dunlin are thrown in the mix as well.

The Long-tailed Jaegers seemed a bit more hostile than usual today. They were due for a nest check, and the eggs were replaced by Jaeger chicks.
Our ever present, and loud and obnoxious Bar-tailed Godwit pair had their first egg hatch today. The other 3 were quite close to hatching as well, and are probably out as I write this.
I also had the chance to get some male Godwit pictures last night when the sun came out for about a half hour. I haven't edited most of them yet, but here is one of my favorites!
Lots of other nests hatching like Brant, White-fronted and Snow Geese, Semipalmated Sandpipers and Dunlin, and Lapland Longspurs, among the others. I even saw Semipalmated Sandpiper chicks running around the tundra today. Things are happening fast, soon there will be little work to do. Then it is on to data entry!