Arrival on the Yukon

We have reached our base in the tiny native village of St. Mary’s, Alaska, and successfully completed our first two days of surveys!

Getting to this point was a long process with many bumps in the road. This year’s field preparations kicked into high gear on April 13, when Metta flew to Anchorage and Bethel to help work out the logistics for the field season. Together with Kristine Sowl and Brian McCaffrey at the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, and Rick Lanctot, Jim Johnson, and Sarah Saalfeld at USFWS in Anchorage, we weighed the pros and cons of many different scenarios for where to base the crews, field camps, helicopters, and boats for the surveys of this vast wilderness.

Ten days later as Metta headed back east, River Gates, who worked with us on the Arctic Shorebird Demographics Network, gallantly jumped in to help with the planning, inventory, and shipping of gear from Anchorage.

 

Finding all the gear stored in the warehouse and figuring out whether it is still serviceable, is a huge job. We were lucky to have River Gates, a veteran of many arctic expeditions with USFWS, help out with our preparations.

Finding all the gear stored in the warehouse and figuring out whether it is still serviceable is a huge job. We were lucky to have River Gates, a veteran of many arctic expeditions with USFWS, help out with our preparations.

 

Joined by Metta again the first week of May, they spent long hours in the USFWS warehouse and ran countless errands to find all the things we need to work in the wilderness, along with the gear we need to communicate with you through this blog!

It’s hard to describe the all-out frenzied pace of preparing for field work in remote camps and each year we struggle to put into words what it is actually like. Every day we chip away at long lists that include required aviation, bear safety, and flight following trainings; firearms training and qualifying; updating budgets; revising maps and protocols; checking calculations for distances and fuel for the helicopters; checking the condition of gear in the warehouse and purchasing what is needed; creating and filing safety and emergency plans; putting together medical kits; and planning and purchasing meals. The inventory list of items in the Anchorage warehouse for a field camp fills 200 lines and 7 columns of an Excel spreadsheet.

Each year we are required to pass a firearms safety course, which we did in Anchorage under Rick Lanctot’s expert guidance. In this photo, Metta takes aim at a bear target downrange, while the “running bear,” another target on wheels meant to mimic a charging bear, arrived at the firing station.

Each year we are required to pass a firearms safety course, which we did in Anchorage, under Rick Lanctot’s expert guidance. In this photo, Metta takes aim at a bear target downrange, while the “running bear,” another target on wheels meant to mimic a charging bear, arrived at the firing station.

 

After all those preparations, departure came upon us fast, and on the plane flying north we wondered what we had forgotten in all the craziness. But so far our arrival on the Delta has gone smoothly, and nothing seems to be missing except for one box of snacks that disappeared in transit. We have two crews gearing up to survey in tandem, one in the north and one in the south of the Refuge.

The southern crew (Rick Lanctot, Diane Granfors, Susan Savage, and Jim Lyons) met Kristine Sowl in Bethel. Our northern crew (Stephen Brown, Brad Winn, Bob Gill, and Metta McGarvey) landed on a muddy airstrip several miles from St. Mary’s, where we met our pilot, Stan Hermens. A veteran of many previous shorebird projects during his long career as an Alaska helicopter pilot, Stan raised his family in St. Mary’s and currently winters on his ranch in Oregon, where his wife Tan raises horses. Stan and Bob were old friends from Bob’s ground-breaking work tracking Bristle-Thighed Curlews in the Andreafsky wilderness.

 

We ship our gear north with an air cargo service, and everything has to be put on pallets and shrink wrapped for the trip.

We ship our gear north with an air cargo service, and everything has to be put on pallets and shrink wrapped for the trip.

 

We transported all our gear to town and spent the afternoon hastily organizing a large binder of maps and data sheets and reviewing field protocols.  We are staying for a few days in Stan’s Andreafsky Lodge, a lovely home for our preparations and the first few days of surveys before we move out to a remote camp.  After a hasty meal, we headed to bed for too few hours of sleep, but we are excited to be finally heading out to the field in the morning!

4 thoughts on “Arrival on the Yukon

  1. I am a new volunteer back here in Massachusetts and am delving into the many layers of Manomet. While I have heard snippets of updates here and there I had no context until now. Amazing journey and I hope the bumps were gentle ones. Exciting and longs days ahead I am sure.

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