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24 July, 2002

July 24, 2002

OK - luckily I am sitting in my tent again tonight, rather than in a crowded dorm facility in Barrow??? Yep, still here . Maybe tomorrow. It is weird, we call into Robert at 9:00 am, he tells us probably no flight today, I go into doom and gloom, force myself to pack my backpack and set out. Within 15 minutes, I am thankful I have this additional opportunity. If I always end up thankful, why the let down from the phone news? If you can answer that, I will hire you as my 'shrink'!

I really did have a good day. As I mentioned yesterday, we are done with all the field work we will do out here, so we had the day to do whatever we wanted - I wanted to go to a bluff area, south down the Kealok, which I hadn't had the chance to get to, yet. So, on my day off, I spend a little more than 5 hours walking around the tundra 'just for fun'! (yeah, kinda weird) I really enjoyed the time, though. It was cloudy and cool again today, no mosquitoes, and a pretty strong SW wind. While walking, I was perfectly comfortable with the temperature and conditions.

As I walked around, I was fortunate enough to see around 150 caribou on the bluffs and ridges. This is the largest group I've seen down here in about a month, and they look somewhat different now, too. Rather than the lighter tan color and raggedy, molting appearance, they all have a deeper brown color of new hair from summer growth. In one group of about 50 caribou, there was one large, proud looking bull. I'm not sure if it was because he was the only one in the group or if it was because of the way he carried himself, but he seemed like a great leader. He walked with head held high, never a worried step or nervous movement, just a confident gait across the tundra. As I continued walking and got closer to the Kealok, I saw a group of 4 bulls, all with very impressive antlers. As I neared them, they crossed through the river, splashing the water up about them as their feet stepped through the current. At times, I could look almost any direction and see at least a small group of caribou feeding and lying on the ridges.

As I really had no parcticular schedule or job to do, I stopped more often to smell the heaths, to pick wildflowers, to hold caribou fur tangled in a willow and feel its warmth, to watch tundra swans with their cyngets swim into the emergent vegetation for protection, and to feel the cool, damp breeze sweep across my face and deep into my lungs. I wanted the day to last - the sights, and sounds; the sensations, smells and thoughts to be etched more deeply inside me, so I would never lose the feelings and memories made during the last 7 weeks.

As I have had the opportunity to do some reflecting, I asked if Rebecca and Yumiko would share some of their thoughts about the summer's work with me. I would now like to share their comments with you (with permission from them). As Rebecca was the group leader and head of the research, I'll share her thoughts first, and then follow with Yumiko's.

If you recall, Rebecca McGuire is an UAF wildlife biology grad student and this research is part of her thesis work necessary for completion of the program. As the summer began, it didn't take long before I realized the serious approach Rebecca takes to her responsibilities and the science she is interested in. Rebecca is very dedicated and motivated, as she seems to be always working toward perfection. Not that she expects perfection, but perfection seems to be her goal. As I asked her how she viewed the summer's research, what she thought were positives/negatives/'to do differently next time" aspects of the summer work, her straightforwardness and drive for perfection were apparent. She began by saying that "nothing really went better than expected". Although that sounds somewhat negative, it only demonstrates her positive outlook on work she sets out to accomplish. She was pleased with the fact that we found the 45 active nests, and even more excited to see that at least some of the nests were successful. Rebecca has had some experience in other field camps and has seen problems they have had, so she was also thankful for the little things such as lack of illness or injuries throughout the summer.

Although pleased with much, she clearly sees problems with the research as well. A frustration she dealt with (and I empathized with) was a computer failure. As her hopes were to input all daily data collected on a nightly basis, she is now faced with a few days of computer work when she returns to Barrow. Although the drudgery of inputting all data at one time is not anticipated, there is a larger problem she may face. As she looks back at all of our field books and data sheets for the last 4-6 weeks, memory of notes written in field books or mistakes written in data sheets will be more difficult to deal with. Hopefully, we'll be able to help her make sense of some of the confusion found. The other main problem she encountered this summer was the durability of her HOBO eggs. Past research had indicated that King Eiders were very picky about what is in their nests - usually tossing out anything unfamiliar. To avoid the HOBO temps removal, she had taken chicken eggs, removed the contents, inserted the sensor portion of the HOBO, and then glued the egg to a 4 inch bolt. When the HOBO was inserted into the nests, it appeared to be just another egg. Her original goal of 'tricking' the King Eider worked, as the HOBO eggs did remain in the nests. The problem came with depredation. When an eider nest was depredated, the culprit would not only destroy the real eggs, but it would also destroy the HOBO eggs. Because of this, she ran out of the decoys early in the summer and wasn't able to collect as much data as she hoped. One other disappointment of the summer's work revolved around our inability to successfully trap and then track successful hens and ducklings.

Again, Rebecca is very goal oriented and very confident of success. With the experiences of this summer's research, she is already looking ahead to next summer with ideas of improvement. First, she hopes to come with all the equipment she needs, rather than expect to get needed deliveries of materials throughout the summer. She also wants to use nest traps, rather than depend on tossing mist nets over a sitting hen. She plans on shortening the length of the HOBO cables, to make them less conspicuous and cumbersome, and plans to somehow dye the chicken eggs a somewhat darker color to decrease their visibility for would-be predators. In addition, she hopes to search even more of this area - maybe get across Cheyenne Creek or the Kealok River early in the summer to find more possible nesting sites. Rebecca looks at this summer as a success for the first year of research, but also as a learning experience to be used for improvement for next summer. There is no doubt in my mind that next summer will be even more successful!

Getting to really know Yumiko - how she thinks and feels - is a little more difficult than with others. She is quiet and seems to keep many thoughts to herself. By having the chance to work with her - to observe how she approaches challenges, solves problems, makes observations - I can conclude that she is one of the hardest workers I've known. Although outwardly quiet, I believe her mind is constantly active. She seems to notice everything and pauses to look closely at all new sights. She is also a very positive, strong, selfless person. When I asked her to reflect back on the summer, her personality showed through with some of her responses. Her personal goals of the summer, I believe, were also expressed. I believe she had some goals similar to mine - not only to do the science, but also have the opportunity to spend time in a unique environment and learn all that is possible.

As she thought about the positives of the summer, she verbalized 3 main accomplishments. First, this was the first time Yumiko has worked with King Eiders or has had the task of finding specific nests. With the new challenge, Yumiko quietly went about studying the area and the behavior of the birds. She was very pleased to feel she had figured out some King Eider tendencies and believed her nest searches became more effective and efficient as summer progressed. Secondly, Yumiko found it exciting to apply the knowledge she has gained through the college courses she has taken. She felt proud to be able to look at tundra flowers and area birds and to successfully identify them herself. Thus, she felt, she has been able to take her education one step further, as she learned through her own experiences. Finally, another positive aspect of the summer in Yumiko's eyes was the camp group, itself. She has worked with a few other field research groups, and believes that our small group of 4 females was a good group, one that was relaxing to be with. As is Yumiko's tendency, she found it difficult to see much negative about the summer's work. She finally suggested that the nest trapping wasn't very successful. Quickly after saying that, though, she followed by saying there were really no negative aspects. She believes there could be some improvements but also believes we now have ideas on how to make those improvements for an even more successful summer in 2003.

Both Rebecca and Yumiko have been great to work with. I've learned so much from both of them. Although I am the supposed teacher of the group, I've definitely been a student this summer.

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