Thursday, December 27, 2012

Picture A Day: Challenge Accepted

Check out Amanda's new blog!

Picture A Day: Challenge Accepted: I would like to give an introduction explaining the objective of this blog. Anyone who knows me knows there has to be a reason why I would g...

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Boreal Owl babies are getting big!

We first check Boreal Owl boxes on May 26th.  Since then we've gone back every other day.  Since the boxes are located out the Elliot Highway, north of Fairbanks, AK, the farthest occupied owl box is about 89 miles away from town.  Here is a family photo of the chick is box EL 29. They will be fledging within the next 2 weeks.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

First full week of monitoring Boreal Owls 2012

Well, we have our first full week of monitoring Boreal Owl boxes on the Elliott under our belt.  Our undergraduate from the Mount, Jen, has arrived, and has begun taking buccal swabs from all of the chicks.
Of the 11 occupied boxes on the Elliott, we have an average of about 5 chicks per nest.  We started out with a total of 50 chicks, but 3 have perished.  One chick was born with a deformed bill, and we didn't think it would survive, and it didn't.  The other two chicks are just gone from their box.  We're not sure if the box was predated or what.  So, we currently have 47 chicks and 2 eggs that still need to hatch.  Here is a family photo from box EL 15.
The older chicks are now in the wet, projectile poop stage, which makes handling them an adventure every day.  In order to check all of the boxes every other day, we are travelling about 182 miles round trip and it is taking us about 10 hours each day.  So, we teach our classes in the morning, get on the road by 1:30pm and are back home by around 11pm.  Exhausting, but exciting as hell!  You can tell it's a good day, when your student falls asleep on the way home - even on an incredibly bumpy dirt road!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Video of Property on Pheasant Farm Road

Here is a quick video of the property we are interested in outside Fairbanks, Alaska.
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First Week In Fairbanks 2012

Since we flew to Fairbanks instead of driving up this Summer, we don't have a vehicle of our own to use to get around town. We've been fortunate this year to use our good friend, Michelle's, 1990 Suburban to tool around town.

It's a great truck, and Dave feels right at home behind the wheel.  In fact, I haven't driven yet!  This has been a very hectic week for us.  Not only did we begin our Boreal Owl study for the season, and start teaching our summer classes at UAF, but we also headed out to look at some land.  Yep, we've decided to retire in Alaska...at least during the milder months!  LOL!  I haven't quite convinced Dave to spend an entire year up here, but I'm working on him.  I've got about 15 years to convince him!  We'd found a listing for a few acres out Chena Hot Springs Road, about 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks and decided to head out there to check out the property.  The lot we are interested in is off Pheasant Farm Road.
Once you turn south onto Pheasant Farm Road, the dirt road winds down through the boreal forest to the farm land we're interested in. As we turned down the driveway heading south, the land is on the right.
At the end of the driveway, you hit Baseline Road.  We turned around and looked back north up the driveway from where we had just come and snapped the photo below.  The land we are interested is now on the left side of the driveway.
As you scan to the left, you can see the entire area we are interested in. There is a cluster of trees about 200 feet long and then ag fields to the west.
The buildings in the distance belong to our neighbors to the north.  The drive way is just visible along the right side above.  The next photo was taken just left of the trees above - looking at the NW corner of the property.
This last photo is of the SW corner of the property - about 6 acres of woods along Baseline road. The dirt path along the left edge of the photo below is Baseline road.  Really, it's a road.
Can't you just imagine a little log cabin nestled in those woods?  All together the property is about 40 acres with about 30 acres of tillable land.  We're going to be farmers.  Funny, Dave is the same age his dad was when he bought his farm.  Weird..... :-) In the winter, the northern lights are visible all across the sky here. It's paradise.  I think we'll put in an offer.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Boreal Owl Study - Day 1 (Part 2) 2012

We left Fairbanks at 1:15pm heading up the Elliott Highway to check occupied Boreal Owl nest boxes.

The highway is paved until you reach the turn off for the Haul Road (Dalton Highway) leading up to Deadhorse, so it's pretty smooth sailing. But, once you reach the intersection of the Dalton,

the Elliott becomes a dirt road.
We decided to drive all the way to the farthest nestbox and then work our way back toward civilization.  So, 89 miles later, we pulled over to the side of the road at the spot marked on the ADFG GPS unit for box #EL37.  There are no shoulders on the road here, as the highway has been built up about 20 feet to keep it from crumbling into the permafrost.  I hopped out of the truck, grabbed our gear bag, strapped on my bear spray and started reading the GPS unit.

100 feet to box.. I started walking West.  118 feet to box...oops, I'm walking the wrong direction.  I turned around, now walking East...100 feet to box, 97 feet to box, now I'm down off the road and standing in the mossy, mushy undergrowth of the boreal forest.  Dave picks up the ladder and follows.
The forest will fool you.  From the road you think you can just walk right in, but once you get down on the ground, you feel like you are walking on spongy cottonballs that are going to give way into some big wet sinkhole!  Plus, the vegetation is really thick, so you must constantly circle around shrubby bushes and small trees and other, unidentifiable organic matter.  Ewwwww... and Coooool all at the same time!

47 feet....23 feet... we should be able to see the box by now... but nothing.  "There it is,"  Dave says, and off he goes.  Where?  Dave, where is it?  I don't see it.  Wait up!  That guy has legs longer than I am tall, and I have to jog to keep up with him - and he's carrying a ladder!  LOL!  As I climb through an unusually thick clump of brush, I see the nestbox and mommy owl is watching us.
Great!  The box is occupied.  I walk up to the nestbox tree and quickly plug the GPS coordinates into our new GPS unit.  Since the original GPS unit we are using to locate the nestboxes belongs to ADFG, we had to get our own GPS units so we can use them every day to monitor the boxes.  Under the watchful eye of mommy owl, I quickly type in the coordinates.
Fortunately, Dave volunteers to climb the ladder up to the nestbox on this tree.  The roof of the nestbox is screwed shut, so you must take a powerdrill with you to get the screws loose enough to remove them.
Plus, as you can see, the ladder is wider than the tree, and the tree moves in the wind and with the weight of the ladder against it.  Check out Dave's face when he opens this box! LOL!
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Boreal Owl Study - Day 1 (Part 1), 2012

Today began our Boreal Owl study for 2012.  After picking up last-minute supplies - like bear spray - I know...don't deploy it in the truck again. We packed up our gear bags and headed out to the field.
First stop was the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) to pick up our field truck.  Since our study site is out in the mountains north or Fairbanks, the roads are too rough to use a regular vehicle.  We're not sure what the roads are like this year, so our research collaborator, ADFG, is providing us with their truck.
The truck is a 4-wheel drive, diesel, equipped with a battery buddy that will disconnect the battery after a few days of non-use.  
So, the first thing to do is activate the battery.
Then we were off - driving north out of Fairbanks. 

Last year, our study site was out the Steese Highway (Hwy 3) north of Fairbanks.  There were about 10 occupied Boreal Owl nest boxes between mile marker 1 and 80. To get to the Steese, you drive about 20 miles north of Fairbanks to the gold-mining town of Fox and turn right.  Unfortunately, there are only a couple of occupied boxes out the Steese this year, so we are shifting our study site to the boxes along the Elliott Highway (Hwy 2).

If you go straight in Fox, you will go onto the Elliott Highway.  Of the 47 boxes on the Elliott, about 13 are occupied, and when ADFG checked the boxes two weeks ago, each box had about 5 eggs in them.  The Elliott curves around a wide valley as it takes the traveler to the beautiful Manley Hot Springs.  
The photo above was taken as we began to circle the valley.  The highway goes to the right and down into the valley, then follows the far side of the valley as you move to the left in the distance.  When the non-game biologist with ADFG checked the boxes for occupancy, he plotted each nest box site in his GPS unit, which he left in the truck for us to use.  So, we were off on our quest to find the Boreal Owl nest boxes!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Alaska 2012 Day 2

After sleeping for over 8 hours, we left the house to run and get some groceries and odds and ends.  We were probably gone about an hour.  When we returned, and pulled into the driveway, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  Of course, it was my blind eye, so it was probably the wind blowing leaves on a tree.  But, wait, the movement was larger than just leaves, and it was coming toward me - at eye level.  Holy s**t it was a moose!  In the driveway!  Not only was it a moose, but it was a mama moose and her yearling.  Talk about being frozen in your seat!  They quickly moved off the driveway so we could pull in, and then abruptly stopped along the trees and started grazing.
In fact, they totally ignored us.  The young one (on the left) then bounded about 40 feet back toward us and into the yard, as if he was playing and then went right back over by mom and started eating again!
Only in Alaska!

After about a minute it was clear that we were not bothering them one bit, so we parked the truck, slowly opened our doors (I wanted to be able to jump back in the truck and shut the door just in case mom decided to charge) and unloaded our groceries and went in the house.  By the time we made it to the front door, the two moose had moved on through the woods and over to the neighbors yard.  Man, I love this place!


Monday, May 21, 2012

Alaska 2012 Day 1 Part 2

Today, Sunday, May 20, 2012 we arrived in Fairbanks, AK at 10:30pm (2:30am Monday Ohio time) with the sun shining brightly. Our fabulous boss, Michelle, picked us up at the airport in her 1989 Chevy Suburban - thank goodness, because we had one duffle bag that was big enough for both Michelle and me to fit inside.  We are staying at the University of Alaska guest house, The Schaible House for the first week we are here until our permanent summer housing is available.
The Schaible House is a lovely home that was donated to UAF by Dr Schaible.  He was a local physician who was very dedicated to helping students succeed at UAF, and as a result his residence has become the guest residence to international dignitaries and no-name birders from Ohio.  It is a large log home on about 5 acres, with birch, aspen, spruce and alder trees providing shade and beauty to the property.  During our first year at UAF I helped prep this house for the family of Neil Conan from NPR's :"All Things Considered", when he came to campus and gave a talk.  Now we're staying here.  How cool is that?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Flying Nun Road Trip



9am.  I arrived a little late at Sister Marty’s apartment this morning.  Daylight savings time  kicked in last night and we moved the clocks ahead an hour.  So, when the alarm went off at 6am – which was 5am – I didn’t want to get out of bed. An hour later, I realized that I had fallen back to sleep!  After putting the food from the fridge into the cooler, Dave packed all our goodies into the car and kissed me goodbye.  Marty and I were off on a road trip to Myrtle Beach, SC and the only thing on our agenda was to relax and bird – oh, and to spoil our daughter Amanda.


The weather was perfect.  Mid 50’s, sunny and clear skies.  We had Dave’s special tuna salad sandwiches in the cooler, a fresh batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and the most important birding trip food of all, Hussman’s Cheese Curls! 

I drove as far as Lexington, KY, and then Marty took over.  I’m so spoiled on road trips, because I never have to drive.  I get to kick back, play on the internet and find interesting places to visit along our way, work on my latest knitting project, and blog! Meanwhile, we kept track of Red-tailed Hawks and which states the licence plates were from on the vehicles we passed along the way. 

We stopped for gas and a power converter at Radio Shack in London, KY and realized that the trees are already blooming out!  The further south we go, the further along spring is.  We ate ½ of our tunafish ginormous sandwiches and some cheese curls and were back on the road.


When we reach the Kentucky/Tennessee border, we hit a detour.  Apparently, a rock slide had pummelled the highway the day before, so we were directed down a Civil War Trail, Hwy 25W from Jellico thru Wynn, Habersham and to LaFollette, TN.  

My guess is that this was the route everyone took before the interstate was built.  The highway wound through a beautiful creek/river valley with striking rock formations on one side of the highway, and blue green water flowing through mild rapids in the river on the other side. 

Forsythia and weeping willow are blooming along the highway here. We arrived in LaFollette at 1:30pm  and saw this beautiful weeping cherry tree in center of town.

Knoxville at 2pm and then East on I 40 to Asheville.  We saw our first red bud blooming here.  Still 66F and sunny.  The drive from Knoxville to Ashville is my favorite part of the drive.  There is something magical, or should I say spiritual, since I am travelling with a Sister of Charity, about going through the Smokies. 

I love the rawness of nature here and the lack of human intervention/destruction.  We turned on Pandora and played a John Denver song as we crossed the mountains.  Perfect.


Once in South Carolina, we stopped at the visitors center and saw our first daffodils. 

It was an easy ride to Amanda’s house in Conway.  10 hrs, license plates from 22 states and 7 Red-tailed Hawks.  

Day 2 – Myrtle Beach, SC

We started our day off with blueberry coffee and bluebirds perching outside the window.

On the road by 9am.  Huntington Beach State Park was our first destination to see if we could find Seaside Sparrows, Alligators and Painted Buntings.  As we crossed the causeway  between the salt water marsh and the freshwater marsh, we ran across this curious fellow sitting on the guardrail.  

There were a ton of shorebirds along the edges of the marsh, and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, and Green-winged Teal.

We parked at the Gift Shop and walked the trail to the beach.  

What a beautiful day!  A nice, cool breeze coming in off the water, and a low cloud cover that lifted within in minutes.  

Life at the beach was abundant.  We saw Northern Gannets, more Pelicans, Grebes, Gulls and Loons.  It was way cool.  

I think we would have sat there all day, if we hadn’t gotten a little chilled.



We ate our lunch and then walked the trail behind the Castle Atalaya, the picturesque, Moorish-style winter home of Anna Hyatt and Archer Huntington, sculptor and philanthropist, respectively, who left the park and adjacent Brookgreen Gardens as their legacy.  

We saw at least a dozen alligators hanging out in the back pond and got good looks at Common Gallinule and Pied-billed Grebes in the scope.  

We’re a little early for the Buntings and the Sparrows, but we did get good looks at Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows.

After leaving the Park, we headed across the highway to Brookgreen Gardens, a garden museum that preserves the native flora and fauna and displays objects of art within that natural setting.  

What a breathtaking experience!  

Vibrant floral gardens surround figurative sculptures in a this tranquil preserve.  

We must have walked 1 mile as we meandered through the various themed gardnes. 

Even at 23 yrs, Amanda is stil the same little girl who would run down the the creek behind the house and grap frogs and snakes.  She spied  tadpoles in one of the pools, and immediately grabbed a couple to show the interested park patrons. 

It wasn’t long before she had here eye on a couple of anoles, and just like that, she had one in her hand and was showing a little lady her wirey friend.


I just love seeing all of the flowers here.  

By 3pm we had walked another mile and were getting a little tired.  We found a statue of St Francis of Assisi the patron saint of nature. We have a stature of St Francis in the courtyard at the Motherhouse too!

There is no way you can see everything in one day.  Fortunately, our entrance fee is good for a week, so we’re planning on coming back again tomorrow so we can go to the zoo and the labyrinth.