Ready for Action!

1 Aerial of Camp MMAerial view of camp from the Cessna 185 as we prepare to land on a frozen lake. Photo credit: Metta McGarvey

Now that we are safely on the ground and have gotten camp set up, we can collect our photos and stories from the hectic adventure that is launching an arctic expedition. On May 31 we arrived in camp to two rare bright blue days, 38⁰ with a light south wind, and woke on 2 June to howling winds, fresh ice on the Staines Slough, a dusting of snow, and the camp water jugs frozen solid from temps in the low 20s. Welcome to winter, and Manomet’s 2017 arctic shorebird research field season!

2 Icy Tent SSFresh ice covers our sleeping tents in the morning. Photo credit: Shiloh Schulte

There’s a lot that leads up to this moment! It always takes long months of preparation to launch a field camp in the arctic. It begins with grant writing up to 2 years prior and the generosity of Manomet’s donors who contribute annually to our arctic research.

In December Stephen meets in Alaska with our partners to begin planning the field season, continuing with conference calls through the winter to revise the protocol, plan the hiring, and manage budgets. By March our crew is hired, and we begin ordering supplies and gear necessary for operating a remote field camp that runs mostly off solar.

This year I (Metta) arrived 30 April and was joined in Fairbanks by Alex Lamoreaux, a superb birder from Hershey, PA known to many in the ebird community. Together we invested nearly 8 weeks of work in the Fish and Wildlife warehouse identifying and testing gear, and purchasing necessary replacements and supplies to outfit the camp. We spent many hours updating a spreadsheet with more than 450 items, not including the grocery/kitchen/health list of more than 300 items, along with preparation of all of the data forms, maps, and GPS points!

Shiloh Schulte and Alan Kneidel, both veterans of arctic field research, joined us in Anchorage on 24 May for 2 days of training with our colleague Rick Lanctot. First, we practiced making the tiny harnesses for attaching GPS trackers to Semipalmated Sandpipers and Dunlin and attaching them to a toy stuffed eagle under the expert guidance of Lee Tibbitts.

3 Training MMRick Lanctot and Lee Tibbitts review the protocol for the GPS trackers with the shorebird crew. Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey

4 Eagle HarnessWe practiced making the tiny plastic loop harness that holds the tracker and attaching it to a toy stuffed eagle. Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey

As Shiloh mentioned in the previous post, these devices will help us answer questions about when shorebirds arrive at and leave the coast, how much they move around before migration, and the specific habitat types they are using. In turn, this will help us understand how changes caused by climate change and coastal development are affecting shorebirds on the Arctic Coast.

We completed bear safety training that afternoon, and firearms safety the next morning, and yes, there were tests afterwards and we all passed! Later at the shooting range we all qualified to carry shotguns in the field as protection if needed should we have a life-threatening bear encounter.

5 Firing RangeShiloh Schulte and Alex Lamoreaux qualifying on firearms under the supervision of Rick Lanctot. Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey

After two more hectic days of preparation and packing back in Fairbanks, the first 4 of our crew headed up to Galbraith Lake just north of the Brooks Range on 30 May in 2 huge pickup trucks with our gear, while 3 others stayed an extra night to be flown directly to camp from Fairbanks.

6 Bird Camp Crew AS2Ready to go! Bird Camp Crew 2017, Back L to R: Chris Latty, Will Wiese, Alex Lamoreaux, Alan Kneidel. Front: Jessica Herzog, Shiloh Schulte, Metta McGarvey, Elyssa Watford. Photo credit: Alfredo Soto

Those who drove in trucks had a lovely 10-hour drive up the Dalton Highway, including a stop crossing the Arctic Circle then on through the Brooks Range, the northernmost mountains in the world, and onto the tundra at last!

7 Arctic CircleL to R: Alfredo Soto (Wildlife Specialist for the Arctic Refuge) and his friend Joe came with us to drive the trucks back to Fairbanks; plus Jessica, Elyssa, Metta, and Shiloh at the Arctic Circle.

8 Atigun Pass SSShiloh captures a stunning panorama as we cross Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range. Photo Credit: Shiloh Schulte

After a night in a small Fish & Wildlife Service cabin on a gravel airstrip at Galbraith Lake about 10 miles north of the mountains, the pilots began ferrying passengers and gear to camp, a 75-minute flight over several other rivers and the vast expanse of the Arctic tundra.

9 Galbraith Planes MMThe Brooks Range to the south provides a stunning backdrop for the planes at Galbraith Lake. The small cabin is behind the plane on the right. Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey

10 Brooks Range River MMLooking south up one of many rivers that flow north from the Brooks Range into the Arctic Ocean. Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey

As we near our camp site about a mile from the ocean, the pilot’s GPS shows the expanse of the Canning River Delta on the Western boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The two Cessna 185s used by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service pilots to bring us to camp are equipped with tundra tires and skis that can be lowered by lever for landing on a frozen lake. It’s important to make the right choice!

11 GPS Bird Camp MMThe pilot’s GPS shows how large the Canning River Delta is, and the position of our camp on a slough on the Staines River within the Delta. Photo credit: Metta McGarvey

12 Skis or Wheels MMThe Cessna 185s are equipped with tundra tires and skis that can be lowered into position for landing on ice. Photo credit: Metta McGarvey

Finally we land! Now comes the hard part: all our gear has to be transported about ½ mile from the lake to camp using plastic sleds powered by… us! After many trips, much sweat, and some impressive bruises and sore muscles, we settle in for the long job of setting up camp.

In our next post we will introduce you to the crew, and give an overview of our first week in the field.

13 Ice Landing SSPassengers and gear deposited on the frozen lake are met by Alan Kneidel and Alex Lamoreaux after the plane lands with skis. Photo Credit: Shiloh Schulte

14 Jessica Sled SSThe hard part! Jessica Herzog pulls a sled load of gear across the tundra about ½ mile to camp from the lake where we land. Photo Credit: Shiloh Schulte

This project is a partnership between Manomet Inc., the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the U.S. Geological Survey, and BP Alaska Inc. Major funding was provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and by donors to Manomet.

2 thoughts on “Ready for Action!

  1. What a great beginning! Such pristine beauty, so worth preserving. May the birds and all of you fare well this season. Loving the photos and reports!

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