9 June, 2002
Day 3 at Camp Olak, found at a latitude of 70026.073 degrees and a longitude of 153008.713 degrees. Temperature was much cooler with a low of around 34 degrees and a high of only 45 degrees. Cooler temperatures mixed with a light breeze and drizzle throughout the day gave the area a new look and feel, but still a very enjoyable day of exploring our field area.
Today we broke into three groups, I went South and Southwest with my primary investigator, Robert Suydam. Yumiko and Rebecca headed
North, and Qaiyaan stayed around a ridge near camp to observe a few King Eiders we had seen yesterday. We had a great time exploring!
The ponds, marshes and lakes all had different sizes, shapes, depths and life. We spent more time today up on ridges and less time "mucking" through the swampy ground, so the 8 miles covered today
were a little easier walking (although my feet and legs aren't completely agreeing with that). To summarize the day, I will mention a few personal accomplishments, a few entertaining events, and a little science learned, as well.
I was quite proud of myself to be able to identify at least 6 of my newly learned birds as they flew by; these included the King Eider (male and female), Pintail duck, Tundra Swan, White-fronted goose, Pacific Loon and Black bellied plover! I also remembered many of the others learned yesterday, as well the red and red necked phalarope, pectoral and semi-palmated plover, willow and rock ptarmigan and the golden plover. I believe I am becoming a proficient beginning ornithologist specializing in birds of the Arctic! I am also
learning some important keys for surviving Arctic field work rule learned today. Always bring a second pair of dry mittens on damp days!!!
We did have a couple of laughs while exploring today, too. The best one was when a willow ptarmigan flushed right from under Robert's foot, I was about 2 feet away . . . we both jumped then really
laughed at ourselves for being so shocked! Other entertainment was provided by an arctic fox that watched as we tried to find a white-fronted goose nest (most likely wanting the eggs for lunch) and a white-fronted goose's work at keeping a gull away from its nest.
We also found 3 caribou sheds, one was really nice, so I carried it back to camp for the last 2 miles (I will have quite a collection of "cool" stuff by the end of the summer). We also found a golden eagle feather and a bunch of bloody ptarmigan feathers remaining from a fox/gull feast. By the way, we were able to determine it was a ptarmigan that was killed by the feathers; ptarmigan feathers are branched at the base (one bigger and one small down feather attached) which provide better insulation for arctic living.
Now onto the science learned today. We found 4 pairs of swans, 3 with eggs in their nests. After finding the nests, we numbered the eggs with a pencil, measured length and width of the eggs. We will return tomorrow to measure egg mass, insert hobo temps to monitor incubation temperatures and brooding patterns of the swans and then record the latitude and longitude of the nests in the GPS instrument. Throughout the summer, many other observations will also be made. As we did this, I learned much about field methods, not just how to measure, but how to do it in possibly the least invasive manner. First, the goal is to spend as little time at the nest as possible so the parents can return more quickly. When we are finished with measurements, we cover up the eggs so they are not obvious to possible predators before the parents are secure enough to return. Also, to help reduce our possible contribution to predator success,
we walk up to the nests in the water as much as possible (trying to leave less scent for the fox to follow), and if a fox or gulls or jaegars are nearby, we actually avoid the nest altogether.
All throughout the day, I was thinking how fun it was to do science; just basic science. It is amazing how science in school sometimes gives the wrong impression about what is already known. There are so many basic questions that have never been answered, yet. While we walked around, we observed and recorded everything from caribou
sheds, to the presence of arctic foxes, to found nests of last year, to this year's nests of any bird found, and more. Every observation we make will contribute to the body of knowledge about the arctic tundra of the north slope. I kept thinking about Charles Darwin and how I've always envied the job he had as a naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle. As a naturalist, his job was just to sail around and see what he could see and record everything for others to learn from. I think I am actually doing work similar to that of Charles Darwin, unique, interesting and beneficial!
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