Friday, September 28, 2012

June 20 - caribou, day off

The view from the cook tent today, with some of the caribou down below camp

I unfortunately awoke around the normal time today, 8ish, despite it being my “day off”, four days since the last. The first thing I saw once getting over to the cook/data tents were the caribou – around 200 animals less than ½ mile away, grazing peacefully. A great start to the day, and in addition to the close ones there were hundreds still visible on the horizon.
I spent part of the morning watching them graze since I had no other duties today, and it was quite interesting to watch herd dynamics. The animals were spread out from the river below camp up the bluffside, with some grazing in the floodplain, some laying down in one of the few remaining snowdrifts at the base of the bluff, and the rest feeding on the tundra at the top of the bluff.
As time passed the herd eventually worked it’s way up to the top of the bluff, with some approaching camp, but as they neared they would hit an invisible fence: human scent. About 100 meters from camp they would invariable raise their head suddenly, visible sniff and snort, and then turn and trot away. Some of them were impressive stags, with classic reindeer racks that towered above the heads of the others. After a couple hours they moved on, leaving only small groups and distant masses on the horizon.

In this photo you can see how many of the animals laid down in the snow for a while, for a respite from the bugs and to cool down

The excitement of the morning being over, I decided to go wild and enter data for a few hours! In all honesty I didn’t mind data entry, which consisted of putting nest info in an excel spreadsheet while eating food and listening to music on portable speakers.
Part of my daily ritual is finding a Semipalmated Sandpiper nest – something I have succeeded in doing every day since I found my first one. So despite it being my day off, I headed out and looked for one, and in the course of finding it I also had a Red Phalarope nest and my second ever Golden Eagle! I was down in the swamp watching the phalarope nest, and when every single waterbird larger than a shorebird flushed I knew something big was around – and sure enough mere second later I saw a massive immature Golden Eagle coursing low over the tundra, cruising for a meal.

Red Phalarope female, near the male nest that I found today

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