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?