Friday, October 26, 2012

Alaskan wrap-up

Shot of camp again - the photos in this post consist of some of my favorites of the season

All in all, if you hadn’t gathered from all my posts leading up until now, it was an amazing summer. A unique experience, living in the middle of the wilderness with 5-7 other people worked out quite well since our crew was all good-humored, hard-working, and fun to be around. The potential for social disaster in small field crews is a definite reality, luckily one that was mainly avoided in this case.
The nature up there was out of this world, both at the Canning and then in our post-trip to the Kenai Peninsula. We only had 70 or so species of bird at the field site on the North Slope, but some of them that I talked about above, such as Spectacled Eider or Buff-breasted Sandpiper, are truly special.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers displaying

Of course, not all in the world is birds, as I need to be reminded sometimes, and the mammals exemplified this fact well. We ended up with 21 species of mammals throughout the whole trip, including roughly 30,000 caribou, all members of the Porcupine Herd, a well-known herd of animals that totals around 150,000 individuals whose seasonal migration takes them right past the area of our camp. The large carnivore show was also very impressive, like the American Serengeti as I said before, with eight Grizzly (Brown) Bears, 6 Gray Wolves, and daily Arctic Foxes. The mammals did not stop down in the Kenai area, illustrated with Black Bear and Orca, Mountain Goat and Humpback Whale, Sea Otter and Moose.

Pacific Loon

Apart from the flesh-and-blood life up there, the landscapes and other biota were awesome too, with massive expanses of spongy tundra extending as far as you can see up on the North Slope, to down in the Kenai where large evergreen forests dominate, where you silently walk under the boughs of the conifers on a bed of needles, a world apart from the other side of the state. One of the things that struck me was how primal and wild most of the state still was, even in some areas off of main roads – something that we never really encounter down in the lower 48 states.

American Golden-Plover

I know I have been trying to describe what it was like up there, but there is no real way to convey the experiences exactly as they were. There were the times when you’re slogging through knee-deep water with a 30lb pack, 7 layers on, toting a shotgun, and then the fog rolls in and you can’t see 20 feet away, no knowledge of where you are, where anything else is, and it doesn’t really matter. An hour later the sun could be out, the wind could die, and you could be stripping down to just a thermal layer over your tshirt, and throw on sunglasses, suddenly able to see dozens of miles at the frosted mountains standing vigil over the flatness. You might be walking along and get the feeling you’re being watched, only to turn around and see an Arctic Fox or a Caribou not too far behind you, just watching you.

Sabine's Gull

One of the many unique experiences that came with the trip up there was that of being cut off from the world. I’ve traveled extensively in Latin America, but even there you go to an internet café every few days at the most. Here you get your 10 minutes of satellite phone a week, and that is it. No knowledge of news, politics, sports, gossip, anything. And it was wonderful.
Our final tally for our 5 week season up there was 288 nests found, of which roughly 80% failed due to predation by Arctic Foxes, with another 3-5% unknown whether they were predated or if they hatched. This is a slightly above average for nests found, but extremely above average for predation. At other sites along the North Slope they had normal success years, so it appears to have been an isolated occurrence, and one that will surely even out over time, since it is just part of the rhythm of nature.

Red-necked Phalarope

It was an incredible experience overall, one that I am honored to have been a part of, and definitely something I’m considering returning to next year. Thanks all for reading, and perhaps I’ll find some more topics to write about from the New England area before I travel again – time shall tell.
For more photos than have been shown here, see the below links:
Canning River:
Kenai Peninsula:

1 comment:

Larry said...

I can see why you would want to head back up there again.