24 June, 2002
The race of life and the hide-and seek game are back on! No snow today - hooray, some sun, some wind, and lots of ground to cover and tussocks, marshes and lakes to search! My main goal today was to head SW to Niksik Lake (Inupiak = hook) to retrieve a Hobo Temp recorder I had place in a swan's nest 12 days ago, then head N to place it in a different nest - distance as the raven flies, approximately 8.5 miles. If I found a king eider nest, that would be in my spare time and just fortunate.
So, I made it to Niksik Lake, found the Tundra Swan nest to be doing good, yet - 4 eggs, nice and warm, both parents swimming and talking from nearby. The Hobo Temp had been tossed out of the nest, but it was unharmed (actually, when the data was downloaded, they had been patient enough to keep it in the nest for 4 days!). I re-weighed the eggs (they are getting lighter as the developing chick utilizes the egg's resources), packed back up and headed north. After about 2.5 hours, I arrived at the nest Tundra Swan nest - it was also still in good shape. It is warming 3 eggs and both parents were on guard nearby. I re-weighed those eggs and then placed the Hobo temp deep into the grass-lined nest, hoping the parents could ignore its presence.
As I waded around the marsh associated with the second swan nest, I stumbled across two more King Eider nests! One had 5 eggs, the other had four. Both nests were lined with down "eider down" and hidden within the sedge grasses of the islands. As I measured these nests, the mothers stayed near - splashing and talking from the water's edge. I hurried as much as possible, as there were 2 glaucus gulls and one parasitic jaegar flying and fighting in the air above. Both of these species are known to be predators of the eggs, so I didn't want to lead them to lunch! I covered up the eggs really well before I left, and noticed that both hens returned to sit on their nests soon after I left.
With the success I, as well as the group, have had the last couple days, we've all been in pretty good moods. I realized a new perspective developing within me in regards to field biology and biological knowledge. First, in the past, I would read information or watch a TV program about an animal or plant, and think the content was interesting. Yesterday, after I walked 2.5 hours to search the islands of E. Twin Lake, found a new nest, and was crouching in the sleet and wind, I felt a new appreciation for the knowledge I was able to read or enjoy as a show. The amount of work and dedication field biologists do today and have done in the past now seems incredible! The patience, determination, curiosity, focus and concentration research required to gain the knowledge we all benefit from is now a little more of a reality to me.
The second part of my "revelation" yesterday and today came when I realized the amount of satisfaction I am feeling for the work I've done. Although just a minute amount of contribution to the scientific world, I am contributing. I have a sense of value to both the project and to the group, and a sense of responsibility in contributing the most that I can. I believe there really is a benefit to finding the next nest, to observing the other nests that may be in the area, to noting the types of plants used in the nest and found around the nest, to making accurate measurements - even when your hands are numb, you're shivering, your back is aching and your legs are throbbing!
I've also come to appreciate the challenge that comes with finding a nest. As I am wading through a shallow lake with my hip waders pulled as high as possible, I take one step - so slowly as to not create a wave. I then place that foot slowly into the bottom mud to be sure the bottom is felt before the water flows over the top seam it is touching. I then shift my weight, ever so gently, to begin taking a second step without moving the water too much. I advance just 6 inches with a step, but eventually, after 15 minutes or so, I have managed to reach the next island, which stands just above the water and is large enough to take 3 steps before it is crossed. I spend time looking for the best direction to go next - which direction will be the most shallow, which island is the best possible site for a nest, which island will provide me with access to the next best island???? I can't believe how much concentration crossing a pond can require, how much patience I am able to ha! ve in search of a nest, and even more, how much excitement I feel when I see this beautiful bird barely distinguishable from its surroundings and know that I have managed to achieve something!
As you can tell, I am not bored with the science, the tundra, the birds or the life up here above the Arctic Circle!
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