Again with the Alaska!


It was June 6 and once again I found myself on the tundra of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. These two rivers form one of the largest wetlands in the world and support an incredibly dense and diverse waterbird population. This was my third visit to one of my favorite places, the Tutakoke River Black Brant colony. When I arrived in Chevak, my jumping off point, these nice people gave me a lift from the airport into town.

On the banks of the Niglikfak, the Manokinak River crew’s gear was under heavy supervision.

Due to the high tide we were able to take a shortcut, shaving a lot of time off our long boat ride.

At this point most waterfowl were on nests and shorebirds were getting started. I was hoping to get more photo opportunities with nesting birds and later in the month, their young. The work at the camp is all about Black Brant and they’re fascinating little geese. Unlike most geese, they nest in colonies, are strictly coastal and make the longest nonstop migration of any goose: 1,800 miles from Izembek Lagoon in Alaska to Baja California in Mexico.

   
Above, Andrew gets beat up by a male brant and two others have a territorial dispute.

Some other interesting birds found in good numbers on the Y-K Delta:

 Spectacled Eiders  

 Emperor Geese  
The Emperors in the first photo have been heavily stained by the iron-rich soil of the delta.  The birds in flight are most likely non-breeders and have recently arrived from the Aleutians.

A Pacific Loon cuts across the clouds.

This place is half water and waders are required hiking gear.  Yuppy fly fishing waders aren’t really made for miles of tundra hiking and soon the world’s favorite repair material comes into play…..


Alan Leach models the latest in Tutakoke Wear.

I’m a shorebird geek and you’ll have to put up with it.

REDNECKS……..

It’s a lot of fun to watch Red-necked Phalaropes.  They’re hyperactive and in their reversed sexual roles, (all three species exhibit this) are fascinating birds.  Below a group of females battle for the much smaller and drabber male (at far right in the left photo).

  
Some of these battles were happening way too close to focus on and sometimes birds were at my feet or nearly hitting me in the head!

Below, a female wins a male and surprisingly, he’s on top.

Once she lays the 4 eggs in their nest, he will handle all of the incubation and rearing the young.  She will soon depart and flock up with other females.  These birds spend the winter far out to sea in warmer climates.  Their toes are lobed for swimming and they swim in tight circles, spinning up invertebrates into this vortex, stabbing away with their fine bills.


A youngster take its first swim.

OK, I’ll give the shorebird stuff a rest for a few seconds.

The legendary George Walters (He’s got an IMDB profile!….. Dirty Jobs  ) comes into the Tutakoke to drop off a couple people for nest plot surveys in areas to the south of camp.

The mastermind behind the volumes of data gathered on Black Brant, Jim Sedinger slings a cholesterol laden pile of goodness for the crew.

A female Long-tailed Duck stretches her wings.

The skull collection at camp is getting pretty good; hare, fox, seal, walrus, walrus. A beautiful Pedicularis graces the tundra. At right, an angry male Cackler protects his mate on the nest, just before he hit me in the face!  Far right, a female Common Eider on her nest.

      

Alan and Brandie heading back for dinner at midnight.

A Tundra Swan at its massive nest.

A Parasitic Jaeger comes in for a look as I near its nest.

Jaegers are one of the top predators on the tundra. They feed on small birds, eggs and rodents. They spend the rest of the year far offshore and pirate food from other seabirds. Their flight skills are incredible and they don’t hesitate in attacking birds as large as Glaucous Gulls.  Below, a Parasitic Jaeger and a Mew Gull square off.

Dunlin are one of the most common birds around camp.  Their nests are everywhere but difficult to find.
   

A Bar-tailed Godwit incubates its four eggs.

If these chicks avoid getting eaten by foxes, gulls or jaegers, they can look forward to a September nonstop flight to New Zealand. Bar-tailed Godwits are THE long distance migration champions.  Check this out!   National Geographic – longest flight

By June 19 waterfowl were hatching everywhere!

Above, Black Brant goslings.  Below left, A White-fronted Goose and goslings.  On the right a Cackler and goslings including two leucistic birds. One guy is having a hard time getting out of that egg!

      

One of my goals was getting better photos of Emperor Goose goslings.

Glaucous Gulls love goslings!

A Spectacled Eider with her brood.

Two species of loons nest in this area, Pacific and Red-throated.

 
A female Red Phalarope and a male Common Eider.

 
An Arctic Tern and Western Sandpiper.


12:28 AM on June 17

Part 2: Fishing on Cook Inlet

~ by David Stimac on July 21, 2011.

4 Responses to “Again with the Alaska!”

  1. Nice shots David!
    I should go to visit this place one day 😉

  2. Cool, didn’t think my pic would end up online.
    Nice people who gave you a ride from airport to town, Jim driving, Rhonda passenger, Landon up front, and Terry Ray in the trailer.

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