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5 July, 2002

July 5, 2002

The sun came out! The sun came out! After more snow, sleet, wind, clouds, rain for a 4th of July, the weather finally had a change of heart and showed off its bright blue sky and sunlight. To make the most of the day, I walked out to Twin Lakes (way west of camp) to check on all the King Eiders I was lucky enough to find about 3 weeks ago.

The morning actually started out with more wind and rain/sleet, but by about 12:00, the sun began to occasionally peak through - allowing a little lunch break heated by the sun's warmth. After gulping down a Lipton Cup of Soup, pilot bread and a handful of GORP, it was time to begin island hopping to re-check eider nests, and possibly stumble across more. Unfortunately, no new, active nests were found - one that was already depredated was found, though, and down collected. I managed to get back to about 8 of the known eider nests, and only 2 of those had been depredated. This was a much better result than South Marsh a couple of days ago! Right now, when we re-check the nests, if they have been depredated, we do a habitat evaluation and collect the down. If it hasn't been depredated, we candle the eggs to get a rough idea on how long before hatching (if you don't remember, candling is a process of putting an egg in the end of a short piece of radiator tubing, hold the tube up to your eye, then look through the egg by the light penetrating). One of the egg's embryos was moving, but with the rest of the nests, it looked like there was about 7 days before hatching.

While island hopping, I also went back to 3 nests that we knew were previously depredated to do a habitat evaluation of. I also looked for some of last year's marked nests (found 3) and some of the white-fronted goose nests that we had found this year. At least one of the nests I located appeared to have a successful hatching, at least 2 had been depredated, and the rest were in areas I didn't get to. I don't know if looking for all these nests, doing habitat evaluations or candling the eggs sounds like much work to you, but I must remind you of two things. First, it is almost a 3-hour walk just to get out to this lake area. Once there, all of the nests are located on little islands. So, it is very time consuming to wade through water that is threatening to pour into your waders, pull feet out of mud that sucks you down with each step, and then guess which island to go to next to best get you to the next nest. Tiring, but rewarding at the same time!

There were 4 key events that really stick out in my mind. As the walk began this morning, I came across an arctic fox sitting near its den within the bluff of Loon Lake. Arctic foxes, in the other 3 seasons are a bright, beautiful white. Delicate and pure looking. Now, they have molted much of their white fur, and are now mottled with black. They no longer look so sleek nor pure, and with the number of nests found depredated lately, their beauty in my eyes is waning just a little. Even with that, though, I watched the fox for about 5 minutes as it loped around the area. They are so light on their feet and so delicate with movement, it is easy to forget all the destroyed eggs.

The next highlight involved a Sabien's gull. If you remember, these gulls (as with all gulls) are very protective of their nests, swooping down at threats and even making contact at times. Well, today, I saw one sitting on its nest, so I island hopped over there, to the gull's active annoyance, and took a look at its nest. Within the small, simple nest was 2 eggs. As I looked more closely, I noticed that one seemed to have a chip in it. This intrigued my curiosity, so I looked even more closely - the chick was breaking its way out of the egg! I didn't stay until it progressed much, as the mother was continually knocking my stocking cap off and thumping my head so that it could get back to sitting on the eggs and keeping the emerging chicks warm. With all the depredation, it was exciting to see new life begin.

The third highlight occurred as I was walking back to camp. I was stumbling along, enjoying a look at the blue sky, when I caught a little movement on the ground. I looked around, and there was this tiny, newly hatched semi-palmated sandpiper hopping around. It would run a little run, find a little spot and cower. As I moved more closely, it would run (and stumble) again, find a new patch of weeds and cower again. It was many shades of browns and white, with some very fuzzy edges on its feathers. Its instincts to hide and to stay motionless amazed me, as it didn't seem old enough to even know that it was a bird!

Finally, the last key event was the last 1:30 of the walk back to camp. As it warmed up to about the mid-50's, the mosquitoes that had remained under cover the last week in avoidance of cold weather, now came out. And boy did they come out! The wind was behind me, so in front of me (I make a good wind break), were gobs of the buzzing, blood-thirsty insects. There was a time on the walk back that I was almost at a run, trying to escape the swarms. I'm not sure why they bothered me so much this time, but as they landed on my lips, crawled around my neck, became tangled in my hair, and clouded my view of camp, I was just about ready to scream! I can't believe how it can go from 'winter' to 'buggy', with barely an hour of transition time. The pace of the arctic continues to amaze me!

Tomorrow, I am packing up some things and heading up to our single tent up north (Fox Den Camp). I will spend the next 3 days and nights there, searching for more nests and re-checking those that Rebecca and Yumiko have found. I am also hoping to take one of those days to walk about 4 more miles north and sit on the shore of Lake Teshekpuk. Teshekpuk is Inupiak for 'big lake'. It is about 20 miles across, still mainly frozen, and a contrast to lakes and ponds in this immediate area. As I won't pack my computer, generator and satellite phone up to this camp, I will not be able to journal until I return. So, check back in a few days - I'm expecting to see, hear, and feel many new things!

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