Friday, November 28, 2008

Antarctica

Thanks to the wonders of free wireless internet at the Denver airport I am able to start posting on this year's journey south. I started out the day way too early (0400) with a 0600 flight to Denver.
I really enjoy this flight as the path covers a significant landscape in my life. We fly beside the Pryor Mountains where I spent quite a few summer days doing bat surveys with my friend Paul Hendricks in abandoned mines and caves. Then there are the Bighorn Mountains where my friend Tim Thomas lives nearby and where I spent a few summer days with my friend Beau Patterson (whom I haven't seen in way too long). Then there is the Laramie Range to the left where I met my wife Laura at a barbecue held at an old one-room schoolhouse. Next comes Shirley Basin, site of one of the first Black-footed Ferret reintroductions, where I conducted my Master's research on reintroduction techniques and spent many nights tracking and spotlighting ferrets with a host of friends. The Snowy Range and the little town of Centennial where I bartended at Pat Self's old restaurant and bar to help get through school. Laramie, off again to the left, where my sister Chris and her family now lives and where I spent a few years grinding through graduate school with a host of great people. Then over the hill to the front range and DIA. This morning it was fogged in pretty good and we were about a half an hour late getting in. Thankfully I had changed my flights so that I had more than an hour in between flights. Soon I will be on my way to Miami and then an overnight flight to Buenos Aires.
Not sure when I will be able to post again but hopefully soon. While you wait you can get a different view of Antarctica from Noah Stryker's blog. Noah is working on the other side of Antarctica on some Adelie Penguin colonies at a remote field station near McMurdo Station. Thanks to Bill Schmoker at Brdpics for the link.

Orcas getting lunch.

I found a video of the scene I mentioned in my earlier Orca post. I did have my details a bit mixed up - apparently the Orcas placed the seal on the ice alive and then washed it off again later and then had dinner. The video can be found here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rut

Last weekend I was able to get out a bit with my friends Tom and Tonya, bear biologists from Western Montana. I have known Tom since we were undergraduates together at the University of Montana a few years ago. Tom is one of the founding members of a group of friends who have stayed in touch over the years and we try to get together when we can, usually in the fall for some hunting. Tonya is a welcome addition to the group and having both of them visit is one of the highlights of my year. Below is Tom scanning for deer.



We spent the better part of the day watching deer. They are well into the fall rut and being able to watch some good deer behavior was a treat.





We found these two buck (above) but couldn't see a doe around. We knew she was there and even had her location pretty well pinned down based on the behavior of the two bucks. It was fun to watch the sideways glances and "cowboy" walk of the larger buck as he pushed the smaller buck away from the spot we figured the doe to be. The lowered ears were also a good sign of deer aggression. The smaller buck just kept nonchalantly walking around trying to look innocent, but all of us knew what he was up to.









This White-tailed buck was following a group of does around Fort Peck when I came home from work the other night. I wish the light had been a bit better but..
Notice the funny tine on his left antler. From the side it looked like it was coming out the middle of his forehead.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mystery Pelagic Bird

I found this photo link recently on Surfbirds. Here is the story behind the photos from Doug Aguillard in San Diego.

On the Pelagic trip yesterday as we approached Middle Island, a small passerine came flying towards the boats and most people onboard were thinking Lapland Longspur. As it circled the boat, I managed some iffy shots at it. The bird started flying to Middle Island which was only a hundred meters away when a Peregrine Falcon came out of no where and nail the passerine. The votes for what is was has been:Lapland Longspur, House Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and Chipping Sparrow.


I am not sure what to think. My first impression was House Sparrow, but I haven't really sat down with a field guide to run through options.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lucky Penguin, Lucky People

A couple of days ago, both Steve Bodio and Beverly brought this video to my attention (a longer version can be found here). Beverly traced the video back to Brendan Pope's blog Antarctica Srsly, where according to Brendan this video was taken near Vernadsky Station, a Ukranian base in the Argentine Islands on the Antarctic Peninsula. A few more tidbits about this area - Vernadsky used to be the British Antarctic station Faraday. The ozone hole above Antarctica was first detected because of long-term atmospheric monitoring that occurred at Faraday and which continues today at Vernadsky. Also, Oceanites has conducted a few years of intensive monitoring on nearby Peterman Island, where the French explorer Charcot conducted some penguin census work over 100 years ago. More on that later. Also, you should check out Brendan's blog. Although he is no longer on station, it provides you with an interesting look at life at Palmer Station. Brendan had the same job that I did when I first went to Antarctica, and although the names and faces have changed, life on station still sounds very familiar.
OK, back to the video.

video

Although my first reaction was that this was a spectacular glimpse into Orca hunting behavior, that reaction was quickly followed by angst at the appalling lack of knowledge of animal behavior by the occupants of the zodiac. Here is an analogy - image you are in Africa and you observe a pride of lions hunting Impala. As the chase progresses, the Impala, in a desperate panic to live, jumps into the middle of your open top land rover with the lions right on it's tail. I doubt many people would be laughing and carrying on as the occupants of the zodiac were doing in this video.
Even sitting in my living room watching this video I wanted to get further away from that action.
I have had penguins jump in my zodiac before, but never for this reason. As soon as they realized where they were they vacated the zodiac as soon as they could. The penguin in this video obviously decided to choose the lesser of two evils and stay in the boat.
Although Orcas are not known to have attacked people in Antarctica, they are a very large, adept, predator of penguins and marine animals, many about the same size as a person. I wrote about the experience of my friend Stefan Lundgren with an orca a couple of years ago here. I also remember visiting with some of the Faraday staff about them watching an Orca bust through the bottom of a flat ice pan to knock a sleeping seal into the water. Then there was the video taken by Lindblad staff from a cruise just prior to mine a couple of years ago that shows a pod of Orcas speeding towards a flat ice pan with a seal sleeping on it and just as they reached the edge of the ice they dove under in tandem and generated a wave that washed over the ice and swept the seal into the water where it as killed.
So. I have a very healthy respect for these animals and I would be very puckered up if I was in a zodiac in a situation like that shown in the video. It only takes one curious and hungry individual to see what those funny looking penguins on that odd iceberg taste like and I really don't want to be that appetizer. I think these people are very lucky they weren't tasted too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Few Simple Rules

My sister forwarded me an email this morning. One of those forwarded messages with a few household tips I am sure you have all received at one point or another. This one was different though and it made me laugh. Since it is always good to get a good laugh in the morning I thought I would share the tips with you.

1. AVOID CUTTING YOURSELF WHEN SLICING VEGETABLES BY GETTING SOMEONE ELSE TO HOLD THE VEGETABLES WHILE YOU CHOP.
2. AVOID ARGUMENTS WITH THE FEMALES ABOUT LIFTING THE TOILET SEAT BY USING THE SINK.
3. FOR HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE SUFFERERS ~ SIMPLY CUT YOURSELF AND BLEED FOR A FEW MINUTES, THUS REDUCING THE PRESSURE ON YOUR VEINS. REMEMBER TO USE A TIMER.
4. A MOUSE TRAP PLACED ON TOP OF YOUR ALARM CLOCK WILL PREVENT YOU FROM ROLLING OVER AND GOING BACK TO SLEEP AFTER YOU HIT THE SNOOZE BUTTON.
5. IF YOU HAVE A BAD COUGH, TAKE A LARGE DOSE OF LAXATIVES. THEN YOU'LL BE AFRAID TO COUGH.
6. YOU ONLY NEED TWO TOOLS IN LIFE - WD-40 AND DUCT TAPE. IF IT DOESN'T MOVE AND SHOULD, USE THE WD-40. IF IT SHOULDN'T MOVE AND DOES, USE THE DUCT TAPE.
7. IF YOU CAN'T FIX IT WITH A HAMMER, YOU'VE GOT AN ELECTRICAL PROBLEM.

DAILY THOUGHT: SOME PEOPLE ARE LIKE SLINKIES - NOT REALLY GOOD FOR ANYTHING BUT THEY BRING A SMILE TO YOUR FACE WHEN PUSHED DOWN THE STAIRS.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Big Sky Sunset

I can't pass up taking sunset photos. These were taken tonight from my front porch.



Sunday, November 16, 2008

Late Addition

Yesterday I glanced out the front window and glimpsed a small rusty red animal next to one of the Bison, just before they disappeared over the edge of the hill. At first glance I thought it was a new Bison calf, but November? Bison calves are born in June. It must have been a deer or something else.
The small herd spent the rest of the day holed up in a small wooded draw, out of sight and out of the wind so I wasn't able to check any closer.

This morning I was having my second cup of Sunday morning coffee, visiting with Laura and enjoying a nice, content, if a bit overcast morning, when I noticed the Bison were gathered on a hill out in the open and there was that small animal curled up in the dry grass next to the only cow left. I grabbed the binoculars and sure enough, there was a bison calf. Probably about 2 to 3 weeks old laying there with the group.



Bison are certainly tough animals and I hope this little guy makes it but he certainly is in for a much tougher first few months than most other Bison calves.

New Camera



Up until now, most of the photos you have seen on this blog have been taken with a Canon 10D and a 400 mm lens - both given to me by my Dad when he upgraded. This camera and lens have served me very well and I really couldn't beat the cost - Thanks a bunch Dad.
But I have been getting envious of the new digital cameras and it was finally time to make the plunge.
Friday I received my new camera - a Canon 50D. I really like it. I am still learning how to make it work for me but so far I like what I see. The photo of the White-breasted Nuthatch above was taken Saturday in my backyard.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Opus isn't gone



Despite many recent reports to the contrary, Berke Breathed's Opus is has not completely disappeared into Goodnight Moon. I recently found out that he is now a Dean at The Antarctic University! Check it out here (wait a bit when you get to the site for Opus to show up and then follow the links to the coursework).
This is the latest educational effort by Oceanites, the non-profit group I work for when I am in Antarctica. Ron Naveen, president and founder of Oceanites, has arranged for Opus to present a number of educational multimedia presentations to help people learn more about penguins, Antarctica, and global climate change. Currently, the only lesson available is Penguins 101, but the others are in the works. The presentation needs a fairly fast connection to work well, but it is a great introduction to penguins and teachers may find it a good resource to present to students if they are doing a penguin or Antarctic theme for lessons.



Another great addition to the Oceanites website is the ability for anyone interesting in supporting Oceanites to donate via the website (the lower right corner of the Oceanites homepage). Please consider a donation if you can.
A couple of articles about Oceanites can be found here from the Antarctic Sun and here from Mother Jones magazine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

South



I find myself marking the seasons by the movement of birds past me. Any of you who have been reading here for a while know that already. Waterfowl, then sparrows and warblers moving north in the spring. The same groups but in reverse order with sometimes different species heading south in the fall. The birds that mark winter for me are themselves southward migrants from even darker and colder landscapes north. Last weekend I found my first flock of winter rovers - a flock of about 200 Common Redpolls feeding on silver sage seeds. It was not the placid flock of mid-winter, contently feeding at the backyard feeder, but a wandering group of restless travelers, curious but easily flushed, undoubtedly heading for someplace else before claiming a patch of residence for the rest of the dark.

I also get restless to go south at this time of year, to chase the daylight and experience my other home landscape - the ocean, ice and rock, the stink and clamor of frantic penguins rushing to fulfill the promise of another brief austral summer, and the friends I get to see for a short time each year.

This year my migration was nearly cut off. A medical exam, required to make my trip, suggested some problems. After nearly a month of additional tests suggesting there may be abnormalities, a definitive test has finally come through and I just received clearance to make the trip again this year. I had pretty much resigned myself to the closure of this wonderful opportunity I have had to visit The Ice but after all was said and done I am able to continue my annual migration.


Now comes my own frantic rush to make sure I have all my gear, paperwork, and obligations lined up and ready to go. This year there will be no travels in Chile but an extended period on the Antarctic Peninsula with a couple of brief visits to Ushuaia Argentina (hopefully enough time to FINALLY find the Magellanic Woodpecker I have been looking for over the last 15 years of travels to the tip of South America).

So, one more series of Antarctic travel stories and photos coming up.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Still Alive



Just hiding out like the Brown Creeper I found in the backyard the other day. More to come soon.