First day in Cordova, AK

As I flew farther away from Los Angeles and closer to the frigid temperatures of the north, I struggled to get my thoughts under control.  I was definitely excited about this internship, but there was a creeping sense of apprehension at the realization that I was flying to Alaska.  ALASKA.  At the next moment though, I’d be gripped by disbelief.  It was a long flight, to say the least.

It wasn’t until I caught a sight of the mountain ranges on the short 30 minute flight from Anchorage to Cordova that I felt a sudden burst of joy.  From my window, there were snow-capped mountain peaks as far as I could see and enormous glaciers snaking their way from the mountains.  Pristine blue waters around the mountains mirrored the skies.  I was falling in love and I hadn’t even landed yet.

View from the plane

 

At the Cordova Airport, I was warmly greeted by Melissa Gabrielson, a wildlife biologist at the Cordova Ranger Station. “You came at a great time!” Melissa explained, “It’s been a dry winter and it’s also been raining a lot these past couple of weeks, but we just recently got this snowfall.”

After we got my bags, we got into one of the Forest Service vehicles and drove toward the town of Cordova.  Throughout the journey, Melissa excitedly pointed out several landmarks that wouldn’t usually be visible on most days.

“When people arrive, it’s usually rainy and cloudy,” Melissa dropped the car visor down as we drove into the sun, “but now you can see Queen’s Chair, the Heney mountain range.”  As we drove through the two mountain ranges and around a bend, a huge icy lake greeted us.  “That’s Eyak lake and there’s Mt. Eyak.  There are lots of hiking trails around here.  We actually just passed one.” I tried my best to absorb all the information, but I kept looking from one side to the next so much that I felt like a windshield wiper.  It’s a wonder I didn’t get dizzy.

We dropped off my bags at the new bunkhouse and then got right back in the vehicle so that I could get a tour of the Cordova Ranger Station and the town.  At one point, I asked if there were any places or fields where one could go for a run.  Melissa immediately took me along Orca Road, which winds its way right alongside the bay.  We saw sea otters frolicking and riding some very choppy waves.

“Bald eagle!” Quickly, I turned in my seat to look out the window. “No, bald eagles! Were those really bald eagles?”

“Yeah!” Melissa confirmed.  I had never seen a bald eagle before, so I just couldn’t believe I saw a group of them soaring the skies.

Once back at the ranger station, Melissa showed me where I could take a shortcut to the pier.  We both departed with “See you tomorrow!” and I walked down a hill to reach the edge of the bay.  The wind whipped my scarf around so that I had to pull it down multiple times, but the despite the wind chill, I reached the water and looked out at the setting sun.  I just couldn’t believe this would be my home for the next couple of months.

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It began to darken so I hurried back to the bunkhouse.  Snow crunched underneath my boots and I paused to watch two eagles soar almost effortlessly to the top of the trees in the forest.

I thought, “Okay, I believe I’m in Alaska.”

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Part 2: Studying The Invasive European Black Slug in Eshamy Bay

I packed my bag and left Cordova for the first time since my arrival 4 months ago and headed to Whittier, Alaska.
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Once I arrived in Whittier I had to take an underground tunnel to meet up with Alaska Geographic.

IMG_7220IMG_1731We then hauled all of our gear to meet a small charter boat that would take us to Eshamy bay, about an hour and half away from Whittier.
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Alaska Geographic and I parted ways once we arrived to Eshamy. They camped near our study site while I camped with the Forest Service working in that area on conducting other projects. We found an islet to call home for 3 days.

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Early in the morning I was shuttled to my work site where I met up with Alaska Geographic’s youth group (10 teenagers), team leaders (2) and photographer (1). The first day I introduced myself, the slugs, and the project to the group. I went over key characteristics of the European black slugs and why it is important to collect the data we were collecting. I had everyone participate in a demonstration to teach everyone the sampling techniques we would be using, then I split the group into two. The majority of the participants data collection was something new, so I had to make sure I explained what transects were as well as the difference between shrubs and herbaceous plants when we collected habitat data.

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We used transects to collect data to find out where slugs were present using a 20 meter drag line and sampled 1 meter on either side of the drag line. We saw a significant decrease in slug presence once we were in an open meadow, indicating that slugs might prefer closed canopy habitat. We also observed the majority of the slugs on or near skunk cabbage.

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After completing transects we collected slugs to manually remove them from the area in attempt to manage their establishment and spread in west Prince William Sound and Wilderness Study Areas.

The second day we continued collecting data followed by removing more slugs. We removed more than 200 European black slugs from our study area!

Our observation of slug presence on skunk cabbage made me aware of their potential negative impact on Alaska’s wilderness areas. Although this is just my thought based on my observation-  Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is an herbaceous plant I observed to be first to flower late in the winter, emerging from the snow, which is consumed by bears as they wake up from hibernation as well as deer. This made me wonder- Can invasive European black slugs predation on skunk cabbage affect mammals like Sitka black-tailed deer and bears? I really don’t know the answer, but I definitely know that more research needs to be done on the impacts of non-native European black slugs in wilderness areas in Alaska.

Overall, it was amazing to lead a group of young individuals into the field. I really enjoyed the experience and I definitely would do it again!

 

 

Dusky Canada Goose- Nest Island Monitoring

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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.2014-06-18 12.59.522014-06-18 13.53.34

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!

2014-06-22 09.28.33By the following day I began to become more comfortable navigating through the ponds and sloughs.
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We used radios to check-in with each other, letting each other know our locations as well as our progress along our routes.

2014-06-21 13.04.53Once 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!)

2014-06-21 14.48.17It 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!

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I even got to see a shorebird while searching for nest islands (Red-necked phalarope)!

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IMG_7172IMG_7190Stay tuned for my next adventure out in the Delta for nest island maintenance!

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Working On An Island For 6 Days in Alaska

Wow, the past 6 days were unbelievable!  We were originally scheduled to leave Monday morning but the weather did not clear up in time for the helicopter to fly us out to our work site. Luckily the following day had clear blue skies in the forecast.

IMG_6880 We packed all of our equipment into large bulk lift bags that were carried by the helicopter to our work and camp site.

IMG_6893After the helicopter made several hauling our equipment we set up camp. We placed tarps above and below our tents to keep dry. Our camp site was located on a muskeg which meant the floor was always wet!
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Once our camp was set up we went straight to work. We hiked down to our canyon site, hiking down a muddy trail and crossing the river. Our first task was to fill sand bags to prevent water from entering the area we were working in. We all took turns shoveling gravel and carrying sand bags!
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Once we re-directed the water from our site we were ready to start maintenance on the fish pass. The fish pass allows salmon to swim up the stream from the ocean to the lake where they historically were unable to do so allowing them to spawn in a new area.
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We all worked really hard and took turns doing different jobs such as:

  • shoveling gravel out of pools
  • removing wood and rocks from the passage
  • drilling holes in rocks that needed to be broken down to extend the fish pass entrance
  • hammering rocks
  • carrying cement bags
  • mixing cement
  • dumping cement
  • cutting plywood
  • drilling plywood together to make new covers for the pools
  • drilling plywood to make forms for the cement to set in

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When all our work was complete we had some time to have fun too!

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I tried shooting an arrow from a recurved bow for the first time.. I definitely need more practice! I forgot to mention the BUGS! We all had to wear bug nets during our trip. We had mosquitos, black flies/white socks, and no-see-ums/midges all around us 24.7! The mosquitos were not as bad as the black flies and noseeums. Noseeumes were so tiny but they had quite a painful bite. Thankfully our clothes and head nets kept us safe most of them time!IMG_6995

After dinner we played with my shorebird cards with gold fish as tokens.

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We also went exploring! 

Austen a fish biology technician carried a shot gun just in case we encountered a grumpy bear, while Ben (SCA-wildlife technician) and I searched for birds.IMG_6952

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I really enjoyed exploring the forest, searching for birds, and plants! For my birthday my roommate gave me a wildflower field guide from the Alaska region which I take with me everywhere I go! IDing and learning different uses for plants is something I see myself continuing to do throughout my life. I’m also enthusiastically anticipating the berry season! There are so many wild strawberries, nagoonberries, and salmonberry flowers blooming that I’ve identified and should be ready for berry picking late June-early July! Of course, its always good to go with an experienced berry-picker just to be safe!

IMG_6959 IMG_6970The image above is an english sundew (Drosera anglica)! It grows in wet meadows and is a parasitic plant that feeds on those oh so abundant bugs. My first encounter with a wild parasitic plant (I was pretty excited about it)!

On the right is a shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum). They were everywhere around camp and in the meadows.

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On our last day at camp we packed up all of our gear and carried everything to Fish Lake where we were being picked up by a float plane!

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We loaded the plane with our gear and boarded the plane. I was pretty excited for my first float plane experience!IMG_7011

The view was amazing of the island we called home for 6 days!IMG_7025 IMG_7034 I was pretty excited to have a bird’s eye view flying back to Cordova! We flew over my old study sites where I surveys shorebirds. This is one of the three sites I surveyed called 3 Mile Bay!

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Over all my field camp experience was incredible. It was a lot of hard work, but there was a lot of great support from the crew I was working with. We all took care of each other. Whether it meant swatting mosquitoes and bugs away from each other or making sure we all took breaks. My next field experience will be in a week with the wildlife crew out on the Copper River Delta! We will be working on nest island maintenance for Dusky Canada geese!

Preparing For The Field Season

IMG_6668My final day of shorebird surveys was May 16th. What an amazing experience it was to witness the migration of such magnificent creatures. Being out in the field every day gave me the opportunity to see how the world around me is ever changing and beautiful. The shorebirds came and went like the tides. The grass became taller as the days became longer.

Now that I am finished with my shorebird surveys, I am transitioning into the wildlife field season with the Forest Service. This week we had orientation to prepare us for the field. We went over safety procedures for boat and plane travel, radio communications, bear & moose safety, and how to use paddle-boats.

My favorite was the paddle-boat training. We went out to Eyak lake and got to use poke boats and canoes. For the canoe training we got to put on dry-suits since the water was a bit cold. We practiced flipping the canoe in the water and flipping it back and getting on it again. It was a little scary once we flipped, my dry suit had air in it so I felt my whole body float and had little control of my body. I then released the air, and I was a lot more comfortable moving and swimming toward the canoe. Once the two people on the ends jumped on I was able to jump in the middle. The canoe had water in it so we struggled finding our balance at first, but after several attempts we slowly made our way back to shore. It was a blast, and I look forward to kayaking in the Copper River Delta for our nest island monitoring and dusky geese work next month.

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