Sunday, May 31, 2015

Red-legged Kittiwake: Day 185

This is a red-legged kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris), brevi meaning short, and rostris meaning nose, or in this case a bill. Aside from the bright red legs, a shorter bill is one way to tell these birds apart from a more ubiquitous species the black-legged kittiwake. Breeding only on a few select islands in the Bering Sea, roughly 80% of the world's population of red-legged kittiwakes nest here on the Pribilof's, mostly on St. George just south of St. Paul. Currently they are working on building precarious nest platforms constructed of mud and grass, perched atop slight rock ledges on the sides of steep vertical cliff faces.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/6.3 @ 1/320 sec.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Not So Fantastic Mr. Fox: Day 184

Today, while scouting for glass floats along a stretch of sandy beach on the north side of the island, I came across a rather unusual arctic fox. Unlike other Alaska Islands plagued with introduced foxes, animals naturally made their way out to the Pribilof's on winter pack ice. Arctic foxes are everywhere on St. Paul. Generally a fox will run away when approached, but this one just laid there and growled at me. In fact, I hadn't noticed I was standing nearly on top of it until it started growling. It appeared slightly dazed and too weak to move. Old age? Sick? Rabies? Either way I left it alone and continued on my way. No glass floats this time.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM +1.4x, ISO-400 f/5.6 @ 1/500 sec.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Horned Puffin: Day 183

Less obscure than say, a storm-petrel, the one seabird most people have probably heard of, either through popular culture or natural history films, is the puffin. The clowns of the sea. Their brightly colored toucan-like bills and ornate head gear demand attention. As with the rest of the alcids, puffins are restricted to the northern hemisphere, where three species occur and breed in crevices on offshore islands throughout the high latitudes. The Atlantic Ocean contains a single species, appropriately named the Atlantic puffin, and on the Pacific side we have two species, the tufted and horned puffins. With nearly identical ranges, tufted puffins venture slightly further south, with colonies as far down as the Farallon Islands off central California. Horned puffins remain north of Vancouver Island in Canada, although occasional sightings do occur further south. Both Pacific species are a common sight during the summer months on St. Paul. By-the-way, it's been in the high 30's and low 40's this past week, with wind gusts from the frigid Bering Sea at times up to 40 I use the term 'summer' rather loosely.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-200 f/5.6 @ 1/2000 sec.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hello and Goodbye: Day 182

Out of sheer coincidence, Casey and I found ourselves together on the same remote Bering Sea island, but only for a night. He and the rest of his crew flew in from Anchorage on Tuesday, and due to high seas and a strong southeast wind, were forced to stay for a night at staff quarters (the large white building on the upper left). I was able to at least give him a quick tour of the southwest portion of the island, and show him some of the cliffs that will soon be full of nesting seabirds. With a brief weather window yesterday, they managed to transport all gear and personnel to the Russian vessel Professor Multanovskiy, which was stationed beyond international waters 12 miles in the lee of St. Paul. Soon they will be passing the Bering Strait, looking for walrus at the edge of the ice somewhere in the Chukchi Sea.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-400 f/5.6 @ 1/800 sec.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Thick-billed Murre: Day 181

Continuing with the tour of birds on St. Paul, next is the thick-billed murre. They form mixed breeding colonies alongside common murres, a familiar seabird off California. At first glance the two species might seem identical, but look closer and you'll see that thick-billed murres have a white stripe extending from the gape on the upper mandible, and the white breast feathers form an inverted "V" on the throat. They are also slightly beefier than common murres, with a heavier head and bill. Thick-billed murres are a circumpolar breeder, with colonies throughout the arctic and sub-arctic waters of Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Greenland. Ecologically murres fulfill the same niche in the northern hemisphere as penguins in the south, however murres have retained their ability to fly - but just barely.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/6.3 @ 1/320 sec.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Northern Fulmar: Day 180

Whenever I see a northern fulmar, I'm reminded of winters in Monterey. Walking down uneven wooden planks, coffee in hand, I take the boat through the jaws just as the sun's orange light begins filtering through dark cumulus clouds to the east, the harbor air damp with the smell of wet gull poop. With a small load of maybe 20 passengers, we head out into a crisp breezy sea, the morning light creating golden spray off the crests of big winter swells. The forecast calls for rain, but with weather holds for at least the morning. Passing Cannery Row and the lighthouse at Point Pinos, we spot our first group of gray whales, lumbering along just outside the kelp canopy, stragglers on the long migration north. And in the distance beyond the whale blows, pitching back and forth in a steady wind, are northern fulmars; their vibrant white plumage contrasting sharply with a dramatic winter sky. For me, fulmars mean winter, but in the summer, St. Paul Island is one of many breeding destinations for these open ocean birds.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-250 f/6.3 @ 1/320 sec.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Least Auklet: Day 179

By no means my least favorite auklet on St. Paul, is the least auklet. In fact they might be my favorite. No bigger than a song sparrow, they are the smallest species in the family Alcidae (puffins, auklets, guillemots, murres, murrelets, etc.). With breeding colonies as far north as the Bering Strait, these small seabirds range throughout the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, with a population somewhere around 20 million. They remain close to their respective breeding islands year-round, moving south in the winter only in extreme northern latitudes to escape advancing sea ice. Unlike murres and other wing-propelled pursuit divers, which can reach depths of over 100 meters, the small size and high buoyancy of least auklets restrict their dives to within 25 meters of the surface. Thus, they almost exclusively forage on slow moving swarms of copepods along tidal rips and thermal fronts.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-200 f/6.3 @ 1/800 sec.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Parakeet Auklet: Day 178

On the west coast of North America, from Baja to the Gulf of Alaska, two types of stocky burrow nesting seabirds called auklets occur, the Cassin's and rhinoceros auklet. Here in the Bering Sea, and throughout the Aleutian Island chain, a higher diversity of more decorated species of auklets can be found, and the most widely distributed of all Alaskan auklets is the parakeet auklet. What sets this species apart is their nearly circular orange bill, which due to its shape likely aids in the capture of gelatinous prey such as jellies. These chatty birds lay a single egg in crevices within the jumbled black volcanic rock cliff faces here on St. Paul, and are often standing around in pairs during the day. They breed throughout the summer months, and disperse far out to sea in the winter.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/5.6 @ 1/500 sec.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Island Reindeer: Day 177

You wouldn't expect to see these furry antlers all the way out in the Bering Sea, but here they are. In 1911, the US government brought over 25 reindeer to St. Paul Island, and by 1938 that initial herd exploded to 2,000 animals. No population can expand indefinitely, a carrying capacity is bound to be met, and a few years later reindeer numbers on St. Paul crashed from overgrazing and harsh winters. After several more re-introduction attempts, both St. George and St. Paul now have stable, if not growing, herds of reindeer that are hunted periodically mostly by visitors to the islands.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/9 @ 1/800 sec.

Friday, May 22, 2015

What is she Steve?: Day 176

That's a quote from the movie "Life Aquatic" if you're not familiar with it. While driving around the northwest side of the island yesterday, checking on which plots contain birds this year, we ran into some birders who reported seeing a strange looking large carcass just down the beach. We noticed a smell driving by on the ATV track, but somehow missed it. So we went back to have a look. Walking down to the pile of blubber I was initially puzzled by the strange smooth vertebrae and huge size. Unfortunately the head was missing or tucked underneath, but based on its pinniped-like arm bones and what appeared to be a sacrum, it had to be a walrus and not a whale. Wave action must have knocked off the vertebral processes that should be present on a marine mammal spine. That was one big walrus.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-320 f/16 @ 1/160 sec.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Welcome To St. Paul: Day 175

Greg and I departed Homer at 0730 yesterday, and with a three hour layover in Anchorage, left for St. Paul at 1145. After a brief and windy stopover in Dillingham half way through the flight for fuel, we finally touched down on St. Paul just before 1600. My initial impressions of the island were: it's big, it's stark, and I'm going to have a lot of fun getting to know the place. We took a drive down to the southwest corner to check out some of the seabird cliffs we'll be monitoring, and within minutes saw a horned puffin, red-legged kittiwakes, red-faced cormorants, a thick-billed murre, rosy finches, and snow buntings. Birds I will soon become very familiar with, but for now are pretty incredible to see for the first time. Today, cleaning and organizing gear, and some more exploring of the island.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-400 f/7.1 @ 1/250 sec.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Departure: Day 174

Today's the big day. I'm leaving the comforts of home once again and heading out into the unknown. I've heard the stories, seen the photos, and read the materials, and now I'm ready to experience the Pribilof Islands for myself. So long Homer.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-200 f/14 @ 1/160 sec.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Kenai Peninsula: Day 173

Landed in Anchorage yesterday afternoon and drove four hours down the Kenai Peninsula back to Homer. It was cool to see the Tanana Valley full of green trees and blue bogs on the flight from Fairbanks. I even spotted a pod of roughly 50 Belugas in the tidal flats on the approach to Anchorage. I leave for St. Paul Island early tomorrow morning, arriving some time in the late afternoon if the weather cooperates.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-125 f/10 @ 1/160 sec.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Floatn' The Chena: Day 172

Eighty degrees and a slight breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay, this is a Fairbanks I could get used to. Yesterday Casey, Reef, a group of friends, and myself "put in" at Paddler's Cove two canoes, a pack raft, and a cataraft and floated down the meandering Chena River. After stopping a the Boatel for beers and live music for a few hours, we continued down the Chena and finished the float at Pikes Landing. The sunshine was short lived, but worth it. Today, back to Homer and the dreary marine layer.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-400 f/10 @ 1/125 sec. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Thawed: Day 171

The lake Casey and I ice skated on when I first arrived in Fairbanks last November is now a place for Reef to swim and fetch sticks.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-200 f/4 @ 1/640 sec.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Night and Day: Day 170

Since my flight to St. Paul has been delayed, and there's not much left to do around the office, I booked a last minute trip using frequent flyer points back home to Fairbanks for the weekend. Why not? I wanted to at least get a taste of summer in interior Alaska before I'm marooned on an island of perpetual fog. The birch trees have exploded with brilliant green foliage, and the warm sun is shinning long and bright. Here is a photo from our backyard, superimposed with a wedge of last winter for comparison.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-400 f/7.1 @ 1/100 sec.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bon Voyage: Day 169

The St. George crew boarded their flight for the Pribilofs early this morning, with a brief layover in Anchorage. Hopefully the Bering Sea will go easy on them and allow the plane to land with no delays.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-640 f/4 @ 1/1250 sec.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tiglax: Day 168

It's pronounced 'tech-la', and she'll be departing Homer on Sunday bound for the Aleutian Islands, taking with her the anxious field crews of Chowiet, Aiktak, and Buldir. Unlike most of the far west Aleutians, the Bering Sea islands of St. Paul and St. George both have functioning runways with regularly scheduled flights, so my fellow Pribilonians and I won't get the luxury of traveling aboard the famous Tiglax.  St. George folks fly out early tomorrow morning, and my flight to St. Paul has been pushed back to Wednesday. Click HERE to view the 2015 Alaska Maritime field crew.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM +1.4x, ISO-200 f/7.1 @ 1/800 sec.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Training Continues: Day 167

A walk along the beach after an exciting day of database training and a round-table discussion on sexual harassment. All very important, all very dull. I promise it will get more interesting soon.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/7.1 @ 1/3200 sec.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cobbles: Day 166

With some luck I might see surfable waves breaking along the cobblestone beaches of Homer before I leave for St. Paul Island in a week, but I won't be holding my breath.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/7.1 @ 1/1250 sec.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Meanwhile: Day 165

Since I'm not around to see it, Casey took this photo of the green-up around our house. Not my photo, but necessary for the story line.

iPhone 5, ISO-64 f/2.4 @ 1/120 sec. (not sure if I trust this metadata)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Reef Sized Moose: Day 164

Maybe it's just because I miss him already, but every large animal I encounter reminds me of Reef. Anyone else see it? I've had more moose sightings in Homer than anywhere else in Alaska so far. This animal was standing on the side of Sterling Highway this morning, grazing on all the new green growth.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/7.1 @ 1/1600 sec.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Augustine Volcano: Day 163

Yesterday was a close one. After a long day of running errands and a long evening of sampling the nightlife of Homer, I had little time to think about this blog. With only a minute to spare, I barely made the midnight cutoff for day 162. Sorry. I'll try not to let that happen again.

Dramatic clouds dominated the horizon today looking southwest across the entrance to Cook Inlet. Shield clouds were forming atop the 4,000 foot summit of Augustine Volcano, like a massive speed bump in a highway of condensation.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-200 f/6.3 @ 1/5000 sec.

Friday, May 8, 2015

I don't know: day 162

Long day followed by bars.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Homer: Day 161

A typical morning in Homer, looking across Kachemak Bay to the mountains of Kenai Peninsula.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-500 f/6.3 @ 1/250 sec.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Float Plane: Day 160

A float plane docked on Beluga Lake at the base of "the spit" in Homer.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/6.3 @ 1/250 sec.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sikuliaq: Day 159

If you search for the current tracking location of the R/V Sikuliaq, the new research vessel for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, you'll find it's position beached on land. The shiny new ship launched its maiden voyage a month ago, but apparently wasn't quite ready. Not sure of the details, and frankly with all of the training for St. Paul I haven't had time to photograph anything else of interest.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-200 f/6.3 @ 1/800 sec.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Full Moon: Day 158

Spending all day in a windowless room lit by harsh fluorescent lighting, filling out paperwork and taking mindless training courses. Not very conducive for picture taking. So here's a photo of the full moon from Seward.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-640 f/5.6 @ 1/1600 sec.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Shimmer: Day 157

A pair of trumpeter swans drift about Bear Lake, on a warm (for coastal Alaskan standards) sunny day in Seward. Last day in town before heading off to Homer.

Canon EOD 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-320 f/6.3 @ 1/3200 sec.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Beach Fire: Day 156

Visiting an old friend and making new ones in Seward before heading to the USFWS office in Homer to organize gear for St. Paul.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-200 f/14 @ 1/3 sec.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Back Into The Field: Day 155

I'm counting on this colorful pile of gear to be a sufficient amount of layers and essential items to keep me warm and occupied for the next four months, because I'm hit'n the road. Yes, this blog was supposed to be about life @ home, but as much as I'm enjoying home summer means field work, and I've got to make a living somehow. My destination this time is St. Paul Island, part of a group of windswept rocky slabs in the Bering Sea known as the Pribilof Islands. St. Paul is situated near the Bering shelf break, roughly 300 miles west of mainland Alaska and 300 miles north of the Aleutian Island chain. I'll be working as an Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge seasonal field technician for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, monitoring the various seabird species that return to St. Paul each summer to breed. I'm told the island has reliable internet, so in theory I'll keep things rolling with this daily photo blog, hopefully showcasing some of the amazing wildlife and rugged landscapes of the island and Bering Sea.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/20 @ 3.2 sec.