Last week and part of this week I was working on nest island monitoring for the Dusky, a sub-species of the Canada Goose. The Dusky Canada Goose primarily breeds on the Copper River Delta in south central Alaska, the species was negatively affected by the 1964 earthquake that drastically changed the topography of the Delta through uplifting and caused the dramatic population decline. By installing artificial nest islands the Dusky’s can use them for building their nest, giving them extra protection from predators that hunt on the land, like bears.
During monitoring we camped for 6 days on the Copper River Delta, and worked long days to insure we monitored all 373 nest islands. We were given maps of the ponds where the islands were located, and we were dropped off via airboat or jet boat where we then traveled by kayak. My first day I struggled with navigating through the numerous sloughs and ponds, but luckily we worked in teams, and my partner on my first day was very familiar with the area. I learned helpful tips on how to navigate such as how on the map you can see dense or thin tree lines and how it is easier to plan our routes to travel through less trees since we had to pull our kayaks to reach our ponds. I also learned how we had to be very cautious about the shapes of the ponds and sloughs to prevent us from getting lost and wondering aimlessly searching for an island that is not there. It was like a scavenger hunt for the nest islands!
We used radios to check-in with each other, letting each other know our locations as well as our progress along our routes.
Once we found our assigned nest islands we had to check on the condition of the island. Whether it was in good condition or in need of maintenance. Each nest has to have anchors, shrub cover, and sod to be suitable for the geese to use. We also made sure to note if there were signs of Duskys using the island either by the presence of feces or nest. Most of the nest we encounters showed positive signs of nesting success, and we even encountered other species using the islands for their nests as well! On two different sites, we were being dive bombed by mew gulls and Arctic terns! It was pretty amusing, and scary at the same time. (The nest below shows two Arctic tern eggs found on one of the islands!)
It was really satisfying when we finished monitoring, and now the wildlife crew is uploading all of the data we collected and will be going out on Monday for nest island maintenance. We will be replacing broken anchors and/or landscaping island to ensure the geese have enough cover to hide their nests from predators.
It was an amazing experience!
I even got to see a shorebird while searching for nest islands (Red-necked phalarope)!