13 July, 2002
Started the day with a phone call to Robert Suydam (primary investigator or researcher from Barrow) and got some good news or bad news, depending on the perspective. Because of the hurry all the birds were in this year - early incubation and hatching - we will be finished here earlier than planned. The word is that I'll probably be helicoptered back to Barrow towards the end of this coming week! Life may not be in frenzy here on the North Slope, but I now am.
To begin with, why will we be done early? The research I am involved in is studying the breeding biology of King Eiders, Tundra Swans and White-fronted geese. Within this study, we began by observing which areas of our study region the birds preferred. From there, we began searching those areas looking for nests. When we found the nests, we measured the length, width and mass of each egg. We also recorded the latitude and longitude, and in some of the nests, we inserted tiny computer pieces called Hobo Temps that would record incubation temperatures and variations. With that information, Rebecca and Robert will be able to calculate average nest size and incubation practices. In addition, we continued to re-visit nests to see if any had been depredated by predators, such as gulls or foxes. If a nest was depredated, we did a preliminary (practice) habitat evaluation of the nest site and collected down for future genetic studies.
At this point, almost every nest that avoided predation has hatched. We are currently trying to trap a couple of the last hens to attach a radio transmitter, then follow her and her chicks as they move northward before fall migration. There has not been much success with this, yet - one transmitter attached, and only 2 other possible birds to trap. After all eggs are hatched (which will be in the next couple of days), the only thing we have left to do is a final habitat evaluation for each nest site. This won't take many days, so it looks like work is wrapping up. That thought is really difficult to comprehend at this time.
After hearing that this morning, I was even more anxious to get the day started. As I walked out toward Twin Lakes, I realized that this could be the last time I am actually in that specific area. I am excited about returning to civilization and getting prepared for the upcoming school year, but I am not sure I am ready to end this experience. There is so much left to learn - to see, to smell, to feel, to question. Much of this job is rewarding, but much of it also leaves you wanting just a little more. For example, I've only been fortunate enough to see one of the tundra swan nests filled with the baby cygnets. I've only seen the goslings swimming down the creek one time. I only saw my first baby ptarmigan this morning. I still haven't seen any king eider ducklings. It is like I've spent the whole summer watching over these precious birds, but am not allowed to enjoy the final product of new life. I can tell as I look around or sit and listen, that it is time to move on. The landscape is quieting down, the skies hold fewer birds, and the flowers are beginning to seed out. Life is preparing for the next stage - I guess that is the hint for me to prepare, as well. As I spend my next week, I hope to be able to take advantage of all the new lessons the wildlife provides- enjoy it to its fullest, but leave with no regrets of things undone or unlearned. I will attempt to cherish everything - the sunlight, the loon calls, and maybe even the tenacity of the mosquitoes. I hope you will stay with for the making of the final memories.
PS Took an evening walk down to a close lake to attempt trapping a hen. Instead, the eggs were already hatched so I got to end my day holding King Eider Ducklings!
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