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!


Toni said...

That first photo of mom looking out of the box is great, but why is it not a good box to check?

Also, was that photo of the Dalton sign current? It sure gets covered in stickers fast!

mrsbirder said...

We didn't check the chicks in any of the boxes after checking that box, because most were still eggs and we didn't want to disturb the mom. If threatened, she will abandon the nest.