Wacky Weather

Welcome to Manomet’s 2016 Arctic Field Season from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska!

As we begin our 16th year of arctic field work, the months of discussion, planning and fundraising, followed by the month of long days working on logistics in the warehouse and then the intense pace of helicopters, field work, and remote camps feels familiar to us—and no doubt to readers of this blog.

What strikes us most right off this year is the weather—stunningly warm and sunny thus far.

Ice breakup on the Kuskokwim River in Bethel happened almost four weeks ago—a month earlier than usual. It was also greener in St. Mary’s when we arrived on May 13 this year than when we left on May 27 last year.

1.1 Yukon River 2016

(credit: S. Brown)

The Yukon River flows ice-free through a greening landscape 14 May this year, while the second photo shows the river ice when surveys started on 15 May last year.

The Yukon River flows ice-free through a greening landscape May 14 this year, while the second photo (credit: R. Gill) shows the river ice when surveys started on May 15 last year.

 

Weather in much of Alaska has been warmer than it has been in Boston so far! Normally in May, this part of the Yukon Delta is wet and raw with daily highs in the 40s and nights in the low 30s or upper 20s, so none of us were prepared for 68 degrees with full sun, nor drenching sweat under our flight suits and waders.

We’ve had glorious views, including the back side of Kuzilvak Mountain, 45 miles due west from St. Mary’s—obscured by rain and fog all but one day last year. Our camp has already been set up by Stephen and our two crew members, Lindall Kidd & Andy Bankert, who will conduct intensive surveys for nesting shorebirds around camp for the next month.

1.3 Kuzilvak Aerial View

(credit: S. Brown)

1.4 Bankert and Kidd

Kuzilvak Mountain (aerial view) provides a stunning backdrop to our camp where Andy Bankert and Lindall Kidd (suited up and excited for their helicopter ride to camp) will survey intensive plots from May 15 to June 15  (credit M. McGarvey).

 

Our camp is nestled between a lovely tundra pond and the shore of Boot Lake, 6 miles NW of Kuzilvak Mountain. (credit: S. Brown)

Our camp is nestled between a lovely tundra pond and the shore of Boot Lake, 6 miles NW of Kuzilvak Mountain (credit: S. Brown) .

 

Alder and willow are leafing out, cotton grass has begun blooming, and some spring flowers have already gone by.

 

1.6 Wolly Lousewort

Wooly Lousewort in full bloom several weeks early (credit: M. McGarvey).

 

With spring arriving three to four weeks early we have been wondering whether the birds will have initiated their nests early, too. Our surveys are timed to catch the period when the birds are mating—and therefore they are vigorously displaying and vocalizing to establish their territories—which enables us to see and count them more easily during the rapid surveys.

Fortunately, the birds are still displaying. On his first night walking around Bethel, Brad Winn took these beautiful photos of a Pacific Golden Plover, a Whimbrel, and an American Tree Sparrow.

 

1.7 PGPL

Pacific Golden Plover (credit: B. Winn)

1.8 WHIM Winn

Whimbrel (credit: B. Winn)

1.9 ATSP Winn

American Tree Sparrow (credit: B. Winn)

 

In a few days we’ll introduce you to our field crew this year—the largest to date with three helicopter crews and two intensive camps—altogether a total of 23 field crew working out of two villages and two remote camps, and more than a dozen others helping behind the scenes on the study design, protocol, and logistics. We’ll send regular updates on the wildlife and conditions in this vast wilderness, so stay tuned!

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