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Chasing Wildlife on North Mountain

These past two days we’ve spent most of our time on North Mountain, which is a big mountain lining the Northern edge of base. There is a big valley in the middle of the mountain with a few large ponds/small lakes, that has a pretty lush tundra and is home to many birds.

Yesterday, after lunch Bridger and I drove through stopping constantly to see what sort of birds we could find on the lakes, and getting a new angle each time.  We found a single Canada Goose sitting on one lake, and usually when there’s one, its a male, and there is a female hidden somewhere off the lake sitting on a nest. I got lucky and was able to spot the female before Bridger.  But my eyes are certainly not as trained as Bridger’s, as he was able to spot a male fidgeting out in the tundra, with only his head visible. After getting different angles of all the lakes, we had found about two pairs of Canada Geese, and saw some more long-tailed ducks, it was an amazing view, and I’m sure we’ll be back many times so I’ll get some pictures in the future.

Then we headed up the other side of the valley to look for a peregrine nest on the far edge of the mountain.  We drove out to a place called “The Secret Spot,” which is a single cabin overlooking the Wolstenhome Ford.  We walked out to the ledge where they had found the peregrine nesting in years past, but there no longer was a peregrine there.  We walked along the ledge and covered at least a mile, but no peregrine could be found.  Looking out over the ledge we could see many common eiders and a few long-tailed ducks in a little bay down below, but we could also see large icebergs slowly moving in the water, and you could hear a loud rumble of icebergs turning in the water.  We also saw a few ravens flying along some lower cliffs which explains why the peregrines were not nesting there.  It wouldn’t have been a very safe place for a nest with so many ravens nearby.

Today on the 4th of July, we had plans to go out on the boat and check out some islands, but our plans were thwarted by high winds and rain in the forecast so we sat around in the morning.  It’s really hard when you’re gearing to go to and then you don’t have much to do, so I took a nap.  After lunch, though, Bridger Kurt and I headed back out to North Mountain!

We checked out the seed plots in the tank farm that we had placed two days ago along the way and I set up a few new ones.  We figured out a signal system to direct me while I’m placing the seeds by using one and two honk signals. It was quite fun!

While driving through the tank farm we ran into an arctic fox carrying a juvenile hare in it mouth.  It was a sly little fox and kept looking back at us as it ran from the Tank Farm, over a bridge and back to camp.

Heading up North Mountain we spotted an Arctic Hare, and barely noticed that it was nursing a leveret (juvenile hare). It was pretty cool to see! We then hopped out of the truck and cornered the little hare to catch it and measure its foot length and weight. Although our main research focus is birds, we capture the hares in order to better understand falcon diets.  They often find many hare bones leftover from falcon meals, and by capturing the hares and measuring the foot length and weight, they can determine if leg size is correlated with mass and use that to determine the mass of the hares eaten by peregrines studied.

After that fun encounter we colored the hares ear green and headed to the “potato farm” to check out a nest that was sighted by one of the other research teams. They don’t actually grow potatoes there, but have a bunch of equipment set up that make it look like a farm. We found the nest and there were 5 little chicks inside.  Although they were all bundled together, you could count them by there bright yellow beaks. They were too small to take blood and DNA samples, so we just took note of them and continued on to the lakes we had found the nesting geese the day before.  Dr. Kurt Burnham went out to the goose nest I had sighted, counted the eggs, and while out there saw a pair of sandpipers. Then Kurt and Burnham patiently waited until they were able to identify the location of their nest, despite the growing swarms of mosquitoes.  I headed out to the more inconspicuous goose nest, but didn’t collect my bearing before heading out, or bring my binoculars, so I got lost while I was out there and was unable to find the nesting female. Luckily the more experienced Bridger came out and helped show me the location.  It was pretty embarrassing, but the lakes are so big that when you move from one side to the next everything looks so different.  There are a few large rocks, but up close they seem so similar.   In the future, I hope to learn to plan better when finding the sneaky geese, and maybe in the future I’ll be a pro like Kurt and Bridger.

After the hard day at work, I went out to practice my driving skills.  Kurt and Bridger have been giving me a hard time, and the only way I know I’ll get better is if I practice a bit on my own.  So I drove out to the Tank Farm and practiced starting and stopping and reversing on flat ground and hills.  It was a nice break and I hope I impress them with my improving skills.

Well, the rest of the crew shows up tomorrow, and it looks like it might be a day out on the water, so I look forward to getting some sleep!


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