21 June, 1999
MONDAY, JUNE 21st 1999
CONTENTS: answering questions/the never-ending search for eiders.../arctic fox/interesting meal plans/GUEST SPEAKER: Bob Ritchie (environmental consultant)
PICTURES: dead eiders/Phillip Martin on Tundra/Tundra findings/Bob Ritchie
Hi all! I didn't write a journal entry yesterday, because I crashed at 8:30pm! Mostly I have been writing journals from 10pm until 2am, since the connections take a long time here, and it takes a long time to download the pictures. It must have all caught up with me yesterday!
First of all, I have some questions to answer:
1. (From Sue) - what is the diets of people like while you are walking on the tundra? High calorie?
--------Yes! Chocolate is in high demand at the ARF (Arctic Research Facility). We have chocolate kisses, snickers bars, m and m's , chocolates I brought from Hawaii, chocolate covered kudos, and little miniture candy bars. Everyone makes sure to eat breakfast, and pack a decent sized lunch, usually with peanut butter and whole wheat bread, and then makes sure chocolate is within easy reach in parka pockets and backpacks for when that quick energy burst is needed. People come in from the cold and it doesn't take long before they are scavenging in the cupboards. Other than that, it is pretty much normal sized meals. I have been thinking I should be losing weight from all that walking, but the chocolate consumption must be making up for it!
2. (From Ron) How big do Steller's Eiders get, and how many offspring do they usually have?
-------Both male and female eiders get about 45 cm in length, which is quite small for a duck. Males weigh a little over 800 grams, and females are closer to 700 grams. Clutch size, according to Phillip Martin of U.S.F.W. (United States Fisheries and Wildlife) is usually 5-6 eggs, although sometimes it is 7 eggs. I hadn't put a picture up yet, since I couldn't get a close enough picture. Unfortunately, we just found a pair that had been shot and left in the snow, so I finally got a close up. Check it out below!
3. (From Zhu) Have you seen a bowhead whale or a snowy owl? -------I have not seen a bowhead whale, except chopped up into little peices at the naluqatak. They migrate past Barrow in the spring, and spend their summers in the Chuckchi and Beaufort seas, and in the winter, they will migrate throught the Bering Strait again, to spend their winter in the Bering Sea. I have seen plenty of Bowhead skulls though, they are everywhere in Barrow, in town and all along the beach. I have seen lots and lots of snowy owls, they are nesting on mounds all over the place. They are BIG owls, and the male is pure white, and the female is white with brown flecks on it. Now that the snow is melting, they REALLY stand out against the brown tundra. I haven't gotten a good picture of one, but I have a good picture of their nest! 4. (From Todd) What do you think about while you are out walking on the tundra all day? It must be boring.
--------Even though the days can get kind of long out there sometimes, it isn't boring. There are lots of things to look at, like bones of caribou and even whales (?!)(See pictures below)There are also lemming nests, bird nests, and little flowering plants. The tundra is getting greener every day. When I first came, it was really covered with snow yet, but now green shoots are starting to sprout up. But.... the mind does tend to wander. Grace (from University of Alaska, Fairbanks) said she is thinking of keeping a notebook "Deep Thoughts of the Tundra", and I could publish a companion version "Songs of the Tundra", since strange songs keep popping up in my head. Mostly disco tunes, for some reason. There also interesting experiences like one of my survey team members had(I promised not to name names); she decided to use grass as toliet paper while out in the middle of nowhere, and had the pleasure of feeling grass in her underwear the rest of the day. Little things like that just move the day right along...:-D
Today, we once again went out and spent 6 hours or more looking for eiders. It was very foggy, and the beginning hour of our survey was just trying to find our way around, since we are now exploring more remote land, away from the roads. It was beautiful, but Jeb and I (Jeb is from U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife) did not even see one Steller's Eider. Kara Weller (also from U.S.F.W.) and I didn't see any today, either! On both days, though, I did get to see foxes.
Foxes are really neat to see in the wild, because they are as curious of you as you are of them! Both days I saw them, they saw me and immediately jogged to a position where they were downwind of me, and then came closer. They don't want anything to be able to smell them, but if they are downwind they can get a better smell of you! Arctic fox are white or bluish gray in the winter, but in the summer thye are gray-brown on their face, tail, back and legs, and yellowish on their sides and belly. And they are very small! Most of the foxes in this area I am told carry rabies, so when they are coming closer for a better look, it made me momentarily worried! But even though they may carry rabies, the ones that I saw don't show any symptoms of it in their behavior. They were still very timid. In the winter, they will mostly eat carrion, which is dead animals. They have an advantage that in the winter, it is not likely to go rotten up here! They will follow polar bears for seal meat, or wolves for caribou. During the summer, they will eat lots of things, like insects, fish, berries, and unfortunately, eggs (even those of the Steller's Eider)! But they mostly eat lemmings, and when the lemming population is high, the fox population is high also. When lemming population crashes, so does the fox population.
There is a theory that the Steller's Eider population is mixed up in this cycle as well. Maybe when lemming population is high, foxes will eat lemmings instead of eggs, so the eiders feel safe to nest. There are years when Steller's Eiders don't nest here at all - they just come and hang out for a little while, and then leave. Also, maybe more aggressive birds like snowy owls and pomarine jaegers are more likely to nest when lemming populations are high, and perhaps when they defend their nest (like the jaegers did against Grace in June 19th's journal!) they are also protecting the eider's nests, just by chance. These are all questions that the researchers here are trying to figure out, but it takes years of collecting data in order to draw any conclusions.
Anyway, after we got back from trudging on the tundra, we had a wonderful meal of salmon on the grill, and barbecued Beluga Whale! I only had a nibble of the beluga, just to say that I tried it. It tasted pretty much like any kind of barbecued meat - not fishy tasting in the least. I had to try it, because I know there aren't many chances to eat whales and other endangered species - only the subsistance hunters are usually exempt from killing these animals! Many people don't find bowhead whale too tasty unless you were raised on it. That's lucky, since it would be pretty bad if everyone who tried it liked it!
I am excited to have Mr. Steve Petty's Earth Science Class from Wai'anae High School finally connected! I'm really looking forward to your questions, and hopefully being able to video conference before I leave here! Take Care, Michele Hauschulz (Teacher Experiencing the Arctic)
GUEST SPEAKER: BOB RITCHIE
Bob Ritchie, Wildlife Biologist
Age: 50 yrs
Education: Bachelors in Wildlife Biology from University of California, Davis and Masters in Natural Resource Management, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Family: Wife (Bobbie) and three children (ages 17-28)
Hi, Kids. IĎm Bob Ritchie. I own and manage a consulting and research group called ABR, Inc. Environmental Research and Services. It used to be called Alaska Biological Research, but since our start in 1976 weíve expanded our work to include the lower 48 states and studies worldwide. We now have an office in Portland, Oregon. So what does a consultant do? How is that different from a scientist working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Department of Fish and Game? Who pays for our research?
Iíll try to explain by describing a typical summer of work. First, our clients can be anyone. In Alaska, we work for the oil companies, the Fish and Wildlife Service, native organizations, and other private and public groups. Each has a similar need: how many animals are in an area, or how will our development influence a wildlife species, or do we need to revegetate an area after an oil spill. We help with understanding the impacts of these groups and their plans on wildlife, fisheries, habitats, air, water, etc.
As for me, Iím a wildlife biologist specializing in bird studies. More specifically, I have worked with raptors (eagles, falcons, and hawks) and waterfowl (swans, eiders). Currently, Iím helping describe the distribution and abundance of Stellerís Eiders around Barrow, where your teacher, Michele, is working. Difference is, that she is putting in long hours slogging along on the tundra and Iím putting long hours sitting in the back seat of a plane counting from the air. The pilot flies about 125 feet above the ground and at speeds about 90 miles per hour. Every time we see an eider we get a position using a GPS (Global Positioning System) on board, as well as describing the numbers, habitat and behavior. In the end, weíll have a good idea of where they congregate.
Seems as if Iíve been flying surveys for wildlife for the past 20 years. It requires a solid stomach, good eyes, and a good sense of humor. That way you can entertain the pilot in between surveys! This summer I also will be trying to count Peregrine falcons from a helicopter, survey for breeding swans from an airplane, and Ďherdingí brant with a helicopter. For peregrines, I am trying to determine if they produce young as well in areas without military jet overflights as they do in areas with overflights. In the last case, weíll wait until brant, a sea goose, are flightless (early August) and round them up with a helicopter. We move them into a net pen and capture each one for banding. Each is marked with a unique numbered and color coded band on their leg, so that when they migrate along the Pacific Coast to Mexico, biologists can note where and when they have passed.
But Environmental research isnít just about birds in my office. I have 25 scientists working with me and they have been involved in cleaning up oil spills, replanting vegetation on areas that have been mined, mapping endangered plants and animals, and monitoring fisheries populations. I hope that Iíve given you a good idea of what consultants do! Good luck.
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