Pitch Black

IMG_1242As though the dark is not scary enough, let’s add in the mix of an unfamiliar location, thousands of animals and a truck full of inexperienced surveyors.

Portland (last year’s EFTA intern), asked Deisy and me to join Angelica and him on an amphibian survey Thursday night. We agreed and headed off to the wetlands at 8:00pm. The wetlands are a vast area that contains over 200 ponds. Deisy and I know how to navigate around 10 of those. Thank goodness Portland knows the territory better than the rest of us in the truck because he was able to get us to each survey point.

Here is how everything went down:

We started at 8:00 with Portland, Angelica, Deisy, me, Stefan, and Seth packed like sardines in the government truck. The survey was to consist of frogs and identifying the different species in which the survey point contained. The struggle to this was the fact that one: it was dark and two: we were not able to actually see the frogs to identify their appearance. On the 45 minute drive out to the wetlands we listened to a CD that contained the different calls of frogs around the world. Deisy shuffled through the play list to the frogs that we know for a fact would be at the wetlands (thanks to past surveys). After we got familiar with the sounds it was time to start surveying. At each point we had to stand outside the truck silently and listen for approximately 5 minutes. When the 5 minutes was over we would discuss the different species of frogs that we heard. Although the survey did not call for it, we often tried to estimate how many of the species were at each location. I thought at first the process was going to be easy, BOY WAS I WRONG! It was so hard to ignore the loud frogs in order to hear the frogs producing a much deeper and lower sound. It became a process of training my ears how to distinguish the difference and how to separate the sounds from one another.
I am happy to say that by the end of the survey I was able to distinguish the difference and with confidence tell them what frog species I had identified. The bonding time with the other interns was beyond great. We shared countless laughs, sang numerous songs, and left with a few battle wounds from Deisy hitting us as the truck bounced down the roads. I am looking forward to next week’s survey and the stories to share. Sadly our shorebird surveys have come to a stopping point because of the lack of birds however, we are staying busy with other fun adventures tasks. Until next time…

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!

Field Camp With The Forest Service

I am currently packing for my first trip out in the field with the U.S. Forest Service. I am beyond excited if all goes as planned, and the weather allows us to travel via HELICOPTER! YES, I said helicopter! I will be working with the USFS’s fish crew on an island where we will be fixing an existing fish pass. The project will require us to camp for approximately 6-8 days. Not only will this be my first helicopter experience, but also my first time camping on an island!

It has been raining quite a bit this week which is great for the plants and fish (it’s been a fairly dry spring- we experienced a small wildfire and have a fire ban forest wide), but not the best weather to travel in. For now, all I can do is pack and be prepared for our not so certain departure (June 2, 2014). I am hoping everything goes well and we have a successful safe trip! I am packing my camera so I also look forward to posting about my first field camp experience once I return! Happy June everyone! 🙂

12 Days Of Shorebird Surveys

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It has been an unforgettable experience conducting surveys everyday since May 1st. The first day I  surveyed I only saw a handful of shorebirds, but by the 5th day I saw shorebirds by the thousands! It was stunning.

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Estimating large flocks was not easy, especially when the flocks moved from one side to the other when I was halfway into estimating the flocks. I had to be really cautious not to recount flocks, and often I had to start estimating my flocks all over again when I was halfway into my estimation. Although it was frustrating when they moved so much, the sound, the shape, the colors they made when they flew in unison was hypnotizing. Often the large flocks were composed of Western Sandpipers and Dunlin, when they flew together the sound of their wings resonated as they constantly changed their angle. When they changed their angle in flight, there are flashes of white from their bellies and suddenly it is dark brown with orange from their backs or when their perpendicular to the horizon for a slight instant they disappear. (Check out this video of the flocks! https://www.facebook.com/CopperRiverDeltaShorebirdFestival#!/photo.php?v=637458752997669&set=vb.292878567455691&type=2&theater)

Not only was it amazing to see so many shorebirds, but this weekend was our Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival (May8-11th), and I saw many of shorebirders as well! During the festival I hosted a children’s activity Friday night, and helped Susan with her kid’s activity the following day. I had a lot of fun during the festival and these events. For my Friday night activity, I created data sheets and a field guide to some of the common shorebirds in our area so that kids could learn about shorebird surveys. During the activity I had shorebird cut outs posted throughout the room where they had to search and identify each shorebird they found. The children that participated had lots of fun, and soon enough some of the kids were identifying birds without referring to their shorebird guides! They shouted WHIMBREL, DUNLIN, DOWTICHER, and WESTERN SANDPIPER with excitement when they spotted them. Using the data sheets I created each child tallied their sightings, recording the species and abundance of each shorebird.

The following day Susan made a presentation describing what makes a shorebird a shorebird. The children who participated were are 1-8 years old, and were very energetic. Susan described how shorebirds vary in size, color, and shape, but they all live near the shore. After the presentation the kids made their shorebird masks, one child named Robert (in the orange T-shirt) even made a giant red worm to go with his mask! We had a blast!

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Spring in Alaska

I have never lived in a place that allowed me to experience seasons like I am in Alaska. My environment is constantly changing. I witnessed winter, and now it really feels like spring is here! The grass and flowers are beginning to emerge; everything is slowly becoming green as the white snow melts in Cordova. The change in season makes it official; THE SHOREBIRDS WILL BE ARRIVING SOON!

I’m looking forward to the shorebird festival and all the amazing activities and surveys that coincide with the arrival of my shorebird friends. This week I networked with an artist from Argentina who was kind enough to create an illustration for the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival. Aleteos is her trademark, she is also involved in Argentina’s shorebird festival and their international illustration contest. Here in Cordova, I am working on finding a place to display 25 of the illustrations that were displayed in Argentina’s festival. Collaborating with Rocio and Festival de Bahía San Antonio in Argentina makes this year’s illustration contest theme really relevant – this year’s theme was: “Inspiring Flights. Connecting Skies.” It’s amazing the way shorebirds inspire us by their resilience, traveling far distances throughout the various flyways, and the way they connects people around the world.

Soon after the shorebird festival, the field seasons will begin here in the Cordova Ranger District. In the wildlife department of the Forest Service we are continuing to prepare for the field season. We are taking inventory of our gear- knowing what we have and what needs to be repaired or replaced is essential for our safety and success out in the field. We have a lot of big projects lined up, and I am excited to write about them as the dates get closer. Till then, stay tuned for lots of pictures and my wildlife adventures!

Out on the boat with co-workers. We saw humpback whales, herring, bald eagles, steller's sea lions, porpoises, black oystercatchers, harlequin ducks and MORE!

Out on the boat with some of my co-workers (I’m in the bright teal jacket). We saw humpback whales, herring, bald eagles, steller’s sea lions, porpoises, black oystercatchers, harlequin ducks and MORE!