This past week was the wrap-up of my shorebird surveys, as the majority of the birds have already passed the Copper River Delta on their way to their breeding grounds. Their numbers were huge around the peak of migration and within only a few days, there were only a handful of birds coming through the area. It was a cool experience to see how quickly the migration took place and how their numbers changed as the month went by. I thank all the volunteers that came out to do the surveys, as there were some top notch eyeballs helping spot birds I would have never seen on my own. It was a bittersweet moment to finally be done with them; I was eager for the start of the field season and to move onto new projects, but I was also going to miss being out at Hartney Bay and seeing the awesome views from the mudflats. Fortunately for me, as soon as my surveys were ending I was able to go on a week-long trip up the Prince William Sound to conduct some more surveys, but this time on murrelets!

Spotting this bird in the thumbnail is actually easier than spotting it out in the open sea. Identifying it is another story!
(hint: It is NOT a Marbled Murrelet)

I accompanied three other people from the Forest Service to do research on the presence of Kittlitz’s Murrelet around Columbia bay in Prince William Sound. It was refreshing to do some work other than shorebirds, even though they look somewhat similar. The Kittlitz’s Murrelet (KIMU) is a small seabird that lives in the coastal areas of Alaska and is a rare sight to see. They closely resemble the Marbled Murrelet (MAMU) and share a similar range, making identifying these birds a challenge. They both look the same from a distance and it is only until they are up close that the differences show. KIMU have a shorter bill and lighter coloration than the MAMU, but that doesn’t really help when you’re trying to ID them from a couple hundred yards away and on a moving boat. Two sure ways of distinguishing the species was to listen for their vocalizations or to see their tail feathers when they flushed. The KIMU’s outer tail feathers are white but they are only visible for ~2 seconds after they start flying. While we were able to find some of Murrelets in the sound, we had a hard time positively ID’ing the KIMU’s. While this trip was tedious and tiring, I am glad I was able to participate. Being out there in the center of Prince William Sound and having nature all around was a great experience. There was all kinds of wildlife in the area and being so secluded from other people made it that much of a better experience. The views were amazing there and I got to take not only good pictures, but great memories. Definitely another highlight of my time here!

These are actually Marbled Murrelets. You can tell because they are not as cool as the Kittlitz’s Murrelet.

Back on dry land, the troops have finally all arrived! It is that time of the year where the Cordova Forest Service has all hands on deck for the start of the season. The Bunkhouses are full of interns, temps, and seasonals that are ready to get out in the field and there are plenty more people scattered around town. For many of them, this is their first time here and luckily they have people who can show them around town. Some people are making their second, third, or even sixth season back here and have plenty of stories to share as well. We’ve all been going through the orientation schedule and everyone is busy getting caught up about the forest and the programs we’ll be working on. I’ve gotten to talk with most people here at the bunkhouse. Everyone seems super chill and gets along well, even the trail heads and the fish crew. They both arrived earlier than everyone else and trails the biggest crew, so it’s good to finally see the wildlife people here. I’m excited about working with them and hopefully we’ll all be able to get some good experience out of this season.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
– Confucius

Categories: 2017 Interns

1 Comment

Jasmine Buries · June 5, 2017 at 1:18 pm

Psh marbled murrelets are the coolest! When I saw your feature picture I was like omg he’s seen MAMUs! This is really awesome Alex, great pictures btw! I haven’t learned about the KIMU but I’m gonna read about them now.

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