Tuesday, September 18, 2012

First week (June 4 - June 10)

 Mark checking the guns before we headed out for the day.

For the first week or so that we were there, the days mostly ran together. The amount of snow and ice present was more than usual, which was causing the start of the nesting season to be delayed slightly – leaving us with not too much work at the start. The average day would get us in only in mid-afternoon, giving us the afternoons to do what we wanted.

Male Rock Ptarmigan, not so camouflaged without the snow

Female Rock Ptarmigan - amazingly well camouflaged, and strikingly different from the winter plumage.

One of the first few days Alfredo and I struck out for the Arctic Ocean, a 3 mile one-way trip, and totally worth it. A very cool walk, it went by an old abandoned graveyard that was a remnant from a settlement here back in the mid 20th century. Once we reached the ocean and the beaches there, we did the token walking out onto the pack ice, looked around for a bit, and then headed back. Even in early June the ice was still all the way up to the coast, and is usually like that through most of the summer. This is one of the locations in the world where global warming and climate change is most noticeable – since the timing of the melting of ice has significantly changed, and the amount that melts annually has greatly increased as well.

The Arctic Ocean! Nothing between me and the North Pole except ice and water.

The old graveyard, complete with caribou skull

This early part of the season was interesting bird-wise, since many of the birds had not yet staked out their territories, since much of it was all still under snow. As a result, the small muddy/wet grassy areas that were open served as a great attractant for everything, and were a great spot to resight birds banded in previous years.

It was also great for photography, with such stars as these Stilt Sandpipers

At this time of the season we also had many Pomarine Jaegers flying past, the most range-restricted breeder of the three jaeger species. Pomarines cruise along the coast in small groups in early summer, looking for an abundance of lemmings in an area, where once found, they will nest. Due to this nomadic lifestyle, their year-to-year nesting areas are unpredictable and wide ranging. We had no birds nesting near us, but in this early period we had upwards of 60 (!) Pomarine Jaegers in a day, all cruising along the coast heading east, looking for some lemmings.

Here is one of the Pomarine Jaegers cruising eastward - searching for food and family

The most widespread jaeger, the Parasitic Jaeger, was seen daily in numbers of at least 5+.

During this period many of the birds were starting to nest, and we found our first shorebird nests, along with some Sabine’s and Glaucous Gull nests and quite a few Lapland Longspur nests.

Sabine's Gull long-calling near a nest.

Lapland Longspur nest - a very commonly stumbled upon nest in the field

Glaucous Gull liberating a Cackling Goose egg from the nest

From here I am going to skip to 11 June, when I started keeping a nightly journal in camp, a much more accurate and detail-oriented read of the day-to-day events!

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