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1 July, 2002

July 1, 2002

Can you believe this is the first day of July??? This is week 4, day 4 of my TEA field experience - a summer in the arctic tundra, hoping to contribute to the knowledge base of king eiders and tundra swans. So, what do I say this morning when reminded it is the first of July? I say I want a sunny, hot July day! In response (and I am more than grateful for this subtle hint), Rebecca says, "Well, then you've come to the wrong place."

It didn't hit me right away, but as I headed out to look for nests in the midst of a July snow squall, I laughed at myself. What am I doing asking for a sunny, hot day - this is what I came up here for! From that moment on, I thoroughly enjoyed the first day of July within the arctic weather. So, what was the weather like? OK, it would snow a little, then the sun would peak out, then it would rain, then just clouds, then (as my Grandma K would say) it would "tapioca", which for some reason always meant rain/sleet/snow mixed, then the sun would shine, then it would rain again . And with all of this, there were always 2 constants: the wind and a change in the next 10 minutes! With the slight attitude adjustment, and a bit of weird thinking, I laughed every time mother nature would throw something else at me. I really did enjoy it.

To get a full appreciation for the 'warmth' of the July day, I got a little careless while 'island hopping' within a lake area and soaked my pants inside my waders! Yep, took one too many steps into water that was quite choppy with wind action, felt a new kind of coolness begin at the tops of my thighs, and then noticed how that sensation spread gradually down to my feet. I didn't actually get that much water inside the waders - just enough to give me a little warning of how deep or curious I should be. I laughed at this, too.

In some weird sort of way, it was one of my better days out here - and that is saying a lot! I went Northwest today - to an area I had only been through one other time. I searched around a couple of lakes, wandered into the marsh areas associated with them, then my legs just kept taking me further (or was it the collective forces of the tundra working on me again???). Either way, I ended up way further North than I thought I was - a close view of the Kealok River winding its way to Lake Teshekpuk was a good sign that I was not where I thought I was. After studying my maps (and remaining confused), I searched the southern horizon and saw the tiny tents in the distance . What, somebody moved them to a different place???? OK, I guess they just weren't where I thought they should be (or I wasn't where I thought I should be). It was about 3:00 at this time, so I figured I better start the hike back and end my aimless wanderings.

Now, what did I do as I wandered today? Well, first, no new king eider nest finds - we are still at 43 for a group total. As I mentioned, most life seems to be pausing briefly before the next big rush, so with our few days of slow bird activity, we are trying to accomplish a couple other jobs. One thing we are trying to do is a habitat analysis of areas king eiders have chosen to build their nests. We look at the size of the body of water associated with - it, whether it is temporary or permanent; we look at the piece of land chosen - whether it is mainland, a peninsula or an island; we look at the types of plants associated with the nests - both within 1 m, 5 m and 50 meters; we measure the size of the nest; and we measure distance to the next possible nest of any sort within 100 meters. That takes a little time, so we are mainly doing this with nests that have already been depredated and abandoned. If a nest has been depredated, we are collecting all the down remaining in the nest bowl. This down can then be used for a source of genetic material to analyze population genetics and diversity in the area.

We are also using last year's found nest site latitudes and longitudes to return to those. Some research indicates that birds will re-use a nest form year to year, so we are looking at that selection process with king eiders.

One other interesting thing we are doing when we return to nests that are still active is candling of the eggs. This is a simple task to be done, but a difficult one to interpret. What candling involves is taking an egg and placing it at the end of a dark tube (we are using a radiator hose that is about 4" long). You then hold the empty side up to your eye, pointing the egg-covered end to the sun (or sky since it is always cloudy). By doing this, light penetrates through the egg and to your eye - in other words, you can see inside the egg! As the chick develops, a few things happen that are slightly visible. For example, the air sac will get larger (so you see a larger very light area in the egg); vascularization begins at a specific date of incubation/development; the embryo (which appears as a dark mass that light cannot penetrate) becomes visible later; and finally, if the embryo is almost fully developed, you can actually see it move within the egg. Today, for the first day, I was able to understand a little more of what I was looking at. I had come across two white-fronted goose nests, measured their eggs as usual, then candled them. When I was looking through 2 of them, I actually saw the 'young chick' move!!!! It was soooooo cool! Actually, Yumiko and Rebecca saw two hatched goslings today - the race is about to start up again!

Well, let's see what a COOL day on the arctic tundra throws at me tomorrow. I am anticipating my first hatchling find!


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