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Posts Tagged ‘auklets’

Saturday 24 June 2017, week 6: Buldir Island

I take such joy in naming crevices that I’ve decided to revisit this topic from last year. Once again I’ve chosen to follow the creative route, this time choosing themes for each of my work areas.

Like I said last year, finding new nests is one of my favorite activities. Up until this point in the season – because eggs are hatching and finding nests is unnecessary – my rounds usually took longer than Kevin or McKenzie’s because I just couldn’t help but poke my nose everywhere. With the lack of predators on Buldir, crevice nest sites are a whole lot easier to find than on say, St. George, where foxes are always on the prowl for an egg. Birds don’t need hard-to-access nests here. In much the same way that Conservation Canines are so dedicated to finding scat and then getting to play fetch, I’m fully addicted to the satisfaction of finding a quality nest site and then getting to name it.

Main Talus is the home of crested, least, and whiskered auklets, as well as horned and tufted puffins. For my work on this active boulder field I chose to name crevices after my hobbies and various outdoor activities.
– RUN, BIKE, READ, COOK, WRITE, HIKE, CAMP, SKI, SAIL, SLEEP, BAKE, TRAVEL, DREAM, CLIMB, MUSH, PHOTO, HUNT, DRIVE, EAT, THINK, WANDER – KAYAK, CAVE, SWIM, SURF, SKATE, RAFT, CANOE, FISH, TRAP, YOGA

Since I actually ran out of ideas for that theme, I had to turn to my sports teams for the last few.
– SPARTANS (Michigan State, of course), TIGERS (Detroit baseball), REDWINGS, (Detroit hockey), ABLACKS (short for NZ rugby All Blacks), NANOOKS (U of Alaska Fairbanks), LIONS (Detroit football)

I forgot to give former employer Trailbreaker Kennel a crevice last year, so today a whiskered auklet became TBK.

Northwest Ridge has a lot less activity than Main Talus, but it hosts whiskered and parakeet auklets, plus some horned and tufted puffins. I’ve also found a few ancient murrelet nests, but they’re a species we don’t monitor. This steep, grassy slope now has new sites named for…
– Countries from which I’ve hosted exchange students: GER (Germany), POL (Poland), BEL (Belgium) – Countries that adopted Teri MEX (Mexico) or me NZEA (New Zealand) for awhile – Other countries I’ve been to in Europe: FRA (France), SWI (Switzerland)

Bottle Hill is on the Spike Camp side of the island, and we head over there every 4-5 days for the horned puffins and parakeet auklets. My best naming scheme of the year can be found here, for this is the land of Lord of the Rings (hobbits) and Star Wars. – SHIRE, FRODO, SAM, MERRY, PIPPIN, BILBO, ROSIE
– LUKE, LEIA, HAN, VADER, CHEWIE (JEDI and SITH or REBEL and EMPIRE will be joining this crew)

Earlier this week I was pretty proud to find that SAM was one of the season’s first parakeet auklet parents. These days we’re having an eruption of eggs hatching on Main Talus. It’s a busy time with lots of cute new life around here!

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Saturday 27 May 2017, week 2: Buldir Island

If there’s one thing I learned from last summer, it’s that I love riding the Tiglax so far west that it becomes east. Unlike everyone else on board, I hope for headwinds and troughs to slow down our progress and rock the boat.

Because my love of boat time is common knowledge, I surprised everyone – the ship’s crew, Kevin and McKenzie, a few biologists from the office, and myself – by electing to sleep in the cabin on shore for our first night on Buldir. The Tiglax had a spare day at Buldir built into the schedule, and since the weather had cooperated for a successful offload on Thursday, Friday would be spent re-roofing the bunk cabin, settling in to camp, and trying to catch some red-legged kittiwakes we’d deployed geolocators on last year. (Geolocators record where the birds have traveled.)

After a delicious dinner of steak, beets and squash, mashed potatoes, and salad – plus amazing boka negra for dessert – Andy drove Kevin, McKenzie, and me to shore for the night. We worked at unpacking our personal gear and a few more boxes before toasting our return with some Hop Slice Summer Ale and calling it a night.

Of course it didn’t look at all like night because (a) we’re in Alaska, and (b) we were still on Alaskan time. Buldir is so far west that Alaskan time is completely illogical in terms of daylight, so we normally run camp on Aleutian time. The confusing part is that the Tiglax will remain on Alaskan time for the summer, meaning the island and ship are in different time zones! (We did change our time only after the ship left to save ourselves from confusion.)

Tucked in a fleece sleeping bag inside a warmer sleeping bag, wearing one plaid shirt and hugging another, I slowly drifted off to sleep. Without the sounds of water sloshing, the ship’s creaking, or the engine running, all seemed very quiet. But then the middle of the night arrived, bringing with it the talkative community of fork-tailed and Leach’s storm petrels. I’d missed their flute-like chorus and screechy cries, and their sounds woke me up before sending me back to sleep.

Come morning, I was rather dead to the world. Knowing McKenzie had set an alarm for 7:00 ship time, I figured it couldn’t be much later than that when I rolled over and saw a gray sky that still looked darker than morning. Then I looked at my watch and saw the time: 7:50. The others had been so quiet about leaving the bunk cabin that I’d had no clue they were up!

I quickly changed from comfy clothes into field clothes, and just a couple minutes later Kevin came in to let me know he’d just talked to the ship. The skiff would be ready to come pick me up to head to Kittiwake Lane for bird catching in about 20 minutes. Sleepily I poured hot water in my HydroFlask for tea and threw a granola bar, raingear, XtraTufs, water, and camera in a drybag.

John, the ship’s captain, called over the radio, “Is Sleeping Beauty awake yet?” Andy would be headed to shore in 5-8 minutes.

Still not fully awake, I squirmed my way into my waders and float coat, then walked down to the beach. As much fun as it is to try catching kittiwakes, I wasn’t excited about leaving camp set-up to the others. Returning to Buldir for the 2nd (Kevin and McKenzie’s 3rd) summer does make it feel like returning to a summer cottage, and helping open it up and settle in is part of the fun.

Andy swapped John for me on our steep cobble beach, and then we returned to the Tiglax to pick up the other biologists. From there we took a bumpy skiff ride into the wind toward Kittiwake Lane and East Cape. Fortunately Buldir had saved me a treat for being the crew member to help Heather and Nora with kittiwake catching.

As we approached the area offshore of Main Talus, home of thousands of crested, least, and whiskered auklets, the aurora of auklets* approached and surrounded us. The scent of tangerines, the smell of crested auklets, filled the air. Streams of small birds rapidly flapped their wings as they flew just above the water; boating amidst so much action almost made it feel like we were flying with them. Lines and clusters of auklets escorted us across the waters of the Bering Sea, the quality of the real life experience surpassing the most spectacular Planet Earth footage. The rising and falling, twisting and turning of the auklet clouds was mesmerizing.

Our escorted passage couldn’t have lasted more than 5 minutes, but it made up for a cold, sleepy day of unsuccessful kittiwake captures on the windy, cloudy side of the island.

*See last June’s entry in the “Aleutians – Buldir 2016” category

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Monday 6 June 2016, week 3:Buldir Island, 22:01

As I look to the northeast in the mornings, I see clouds of small birds rising and falling as one: a changing shape dancing in the sky’s foreground. Captivating, these shapes are; they’re swarms of activity flying just above the water’s surface and shifting as they rise up and change direction.

These auklets – crested, least, parakeet, and whiskered – go about their business as little communities, basing their nests in crevices on talus slopes and venturing out to the waters of the Bering Sea to feed on plankton. The 4 species congregate and socialize near their nesting sites during varying activity periods throughout the day, but – as seabirds – they also spend a fair amount of time on the water.

Regardless of whether the auklets are incubating eggs in crevices, socializing on the surface, in flight, or on the surface of the water, there’s no denying the cuteness of their entertaining antics. Various animals have a term designated to indicate a grouping of said animal. A few examples (thanks for these, Lisa) include:

– a puddling of mallards
– a skulk of foxes
– a bloat of hippos
– a murder of ravens (Maybe it’s crows? Sorry, I have no internet to check this one.)

Lately USFWS employees of Alaska Maritime NWR have been wondering what to call swarms of flying auklets. According to Lisa, our FWS radio command central and biological science tech in Adak, we need a word to capture the “seething, roiling, lofting and plummeting of an auklet swarm.”

Entries are currently being submitted for an appropriate name, but Buldir’s own crew lead McKenzie has already come up with the winner, in my opinion. As one who has lost hours of sleep watching the aurora dance across the sky, I can confirm that what I’m witnessing here on Buldir is indeed

an aurora of auklets.

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