23 June, 1999
Wednesday, June 23rd
Contents: views of the tundra...
Guest Speaker: Angela Matz, wildlife toxicologist
Hi everyone! I have had a few requests for just everyday kind of pictures of what I see up here. Thank you so much for the input - I am glad to share this experience in anyway I can! :-D Below, I have put some of the pictures I have taken that haven't really fit in with things I have talked about so much. I am not sure why my captions are coming out all crazy, but please ignore all the = marks. Please also ignore all of the grammar mistakes and typos - I am shocked at all my mistakes when I go back and look at what I wrote a few days later. I will correct them, eventually. But I am more concerned with keeping you updated! Along the same lines, I think some of Steve Brooks input as yesterdays guest speaker was accidentally deleted when it was saved onto a disk. He is out of town until the end of the month, so I will try and catch him as he comes back and I leave!
Each day we are looking for more eiders. In a day or two, we will have covered all of the land that is most critical to survey - and some of the volunteers from the USFWS (United States Fisheries and Wildlife Service) will undoubtedly return home to their normal jobs and normal lives. :-C. The people that remain will begin nest searching, since the first eider nest of the season has been found! (Not the first made, I am sure, but the first we have seen!) In this phase of the study, there will be less walking transects (lines) across the tundra, and more searching in the areas that we have found to be "hot spots" for eiders. Nests will be marked and monitored. The eggs in the snowy owl nests around here are starting to hatch, so hopefully soon I can send you a good picture of baby snowy owls! Today, I saw the neatest thing. A tiny bird called a Lapland Larkspur had a nest I found out on the tundra, and inside the nest was a bird that must have JUST been born. Its head was still translucent (see-through), and it had just a couple of tiny little feathers sticking out here and there. It was about the size of the last joint on my pinky finger. I tried to take a picture, but did not have the digital camera with me, so I can not put it on the computer; it is on my regular camera. It is pretty easy to find nests on the tundra, since there are no trees. Birds give themselves away by doing what is called a "rodent run"; they hunch over and run away with their feathers fluffed out, trying to lure you away from the nest. Or they pretend to have a broken wing. These behaviors might work on a fox or other predator looking for a meal, but they are an indication to humans that there is a nest nearby! So when I flushed the larkspur (made it leave it's nest), it did a rodent run and I was able to find the nest, which was small!
Tonight, we went out for pizza, and 9 of us fit into the cab of the truck (there IS a back seat) since no one wanted to ride in the back, where it would be windy. We are all getting enough of being cold during the day! A cheeseburger at the place where we went was $9.50. I forgot to look at the pizza prices, but it was expensive. I don't think I mentioned how great everyone here is to work with. Everyone has been INCREDIBLY nice and accomidating. It will be hard to leave for that reason - it's hard to find so many great people, who remain great even when you have spent time with them in harsh conditions and close quarters!
Speaking of which - Angela Matz, the guest speaker for today, was kind enough to come over to the Wildlife Management office of the North Slope Borough, even though she was really sleepy and ready for bed.... Thank you to her! Michele Hauschulz (Teacher Experiencing the Arctic)
Guest speaker: Angela Matz
Hi everyone - I'm a wildlife toxicologist (someone who studies the effects of pollution on wildlife) working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I work out of Fairbanks, Alaska, and I'm up here in Barrow for the week working on the Steller's eider project. It's good to talk to you! I moved to Alaska in January (a cold time of year!)from Maine, where I was working on bald eagles. I also was doing work in Massachusetts and Delaware, looking at the effects of pesticides like DDT, industrial products like PCBs, and heavy metals on herons and other birds. All of these pollutants get into our environment, and then into the wildlife, in different ways - and not all pollution has a negative effect on wildlife. However, when it does, we want to understand it and try to stop it. I got into this field by reading the book "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson - it's a good book to read to understand how some of our actions can affect the world around us.
Up here in Barrow, we think the Steller's eiders may get lead poisoning. In ducks and other waterfowl, this usually happens from eating lead shot left in the bottom of ponds in areas where waterfowl are hunted - such as up here on the tundra. Ducks need grit in their gizzards to help digest their food, and lead shot looks a lot like grit, so they pick it up. However, it dissolves in the bird's digestive tract and poisons them, the same as if you were to eat leaded paint. So, we'll look at lead levels in live birds by taking a blood sample,and look at levels in dead birds by analyzing their tissues for lead. There are a number of other pollutants or contaminants that may affect these eiders, and we can look in their eggs for those. Eggs may not hatch if contaminant levels get too high, and if eggs don't hatch then populations can drop, and the Steller's eider populations are already low.
Today was my first day out on the tundra, and I had a great time. There are just a ton of birds out there - every time I turned around a brand new bird was popping up. We found the first nest of the season today - the Steller's eider female was so camoflouged that I almost walked right over her before I saw her! She stuck tight to her nest, though, and I saw her in time to back up and walk way around. I'll go back home to Fairbanks next week with that picture in my head, and hopefully some idea of how healthy the Steller's eiders are. Good to talk with you - Angela
If you have questions for Angela, be sure to e-mail me before Monday, when she heads back to Fairbanks! Michele
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