Searching for Nests and Plovers in Love
We just finished the first installment of our dusky Canada Goose work. Dusky geese are a subspecies of Canada Goose that only breed here in the Delta. In 1964, a major earthquake changed the nesting habitat of the duskys in such a way that made their nests more susceptible to predation and threatened their population numbers. Nest searches are one component of monitoring the species and determining the current state of their population. For nest searches, 50 300 by 300 square foot plots were randomly generated. The team lines up starting at one corner of the plot, and we sweep across the entire plot while carefully looking for nests until we have covered every area possible within the plot. Nests can be out in the open or well hidden in patches of brush or alder. Our goal is to document how many active or depredated nests there are in our plots, as well as the size and age of the clutch, the type of materials used to make the nest, and the vegetation surrounding it. We had two crews tackling nest searches, camp crew and road crew. I was unable to stay at dusky camp this time because of my migratory shorebird surveys, but I was able to hop on board with the road crew. The road crew went out daily to plots that were accessible from the main highway or via a short hike. Some of these plots were gnarly with thick alder, muddy sloughs, and spongy muskeg, while other plots were a lovely walk over open fields. We sometimes needed to lug out a poke boat (a one man kayak sort of thing) to cross some of the deeper sloughs. You know you have a good crew when even through the terrible terrain and incessant rain you still have fun. For me, enjoying getting through a tough survey has to do with the morale and attitude of the crew. Once I got over the initial shock of exerting myself more than I probably ever have before, I had so much fun. The struggles on the job don’t feel as bad when you’re laughing.
Here are a couple of images of a dusky goose nest and a Wilson’s Snipe nest that I found during the surveys. The snipe nest was so tiny and cute! My favorite part of finding a dusky nest was getting to touch the soft down that the birds so carefully place around their eggs, and feeling the warmth emanating from eggs that were just recently being incubated by their mother.
As is usually the case, a beautiful day calls for an amazing hike. I hiked up Heney Ridge trail with a group of my bunkhouse mates this past weekend, and it has been my favorite hike so far. The sun was so warm that I was in a tank top almost the entire time, even when trudging through snowy patches. At the top of the mountain ridge there was a beautiful little pond of water that I had to dip my feet in. It was the perfect temperature! I stood knee-deep in the pond and looked out over the entire Copper River Delta. On our way back down via walking and butt sliding down snowy hills, we spotted some shorebirds! Just the day before, I was assisting some researchers from the Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC) with mist-netting shorebirds to collect data for their avian influenza research and was talking with Mary Anne Bishop, a research ecologist at the PWSSC, about the Semipalmated Plovers that were running around the mudflats chasing each other trying to find mates. Mary Anne mentioned that they nest somewhere in the surrounding mountains and that she would like to find out exactly where in the hopes of starting up a research project, so I got pretty excited when I saw them all the way up on Heney Ridge running around and calling. Of course this may or may not be a sure-fire nesting site for them but, at any rate, it could be a clue!