Monday, June 21, 2010

BASC, Birds, and Bears

Jill, Dave, Elliot, and I were the Science Saturday speakers this week at BASC. They didn't know what kind of turnout to expect because the weather was beautiful (blue sky, above freezing) and that would keep people away. Had about 15 people there but not the crowd we expected. We were told it would mostly be parents from town, but I suppose they were out enjoying the day with their kids. Instead our crowd was some scientists, the North Slope Borough school superintendent, Barrow's only judge, a teacher, and a handful of others. Really it was the people we wanted to be talking too - those who might want to collaborate with us on some science education projects. One of the scientists, Denver Holt, is the world's expert on Snowy Owls. I mentioned during the presentation that one of my classes studied the effect of the presence of a Great Horned Owl on the behavior of birds at our feeders. Denver was really interested in the fact that 6th graders were doing experiments like this. He's going to send me his paper on a similar experiment he did with the idea that maybe my students could model his work. A great contact to have!

In the evening (if there is such a thing here) we took a tour out to Point Barrow - the most northern point in North America. The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas converge here. It is in this area where the Inupiaq from Barrow leave the whale carcasses so polar bears will come here and not into town. We went looking for polar bears but found only prints and fur. We did see spotted seals on the ice (and scientists on the ice studying ice melt).

Nathaniel, the van driver, is an Inupiaq who's family has a long history here. He is the co-captain of his whaling boat. They took a whale last year and are still eating from it. They eat it about 3x per week. It is frozen raw and eaten that way. They hunt Bowhead but sometimes mistakenly catch a Right Whale which look very similar. The difference is that crustaceans grow on the skin of Right Whales but not Bowheads - you don't want to eat skin with parasites. Nathaniel says a hunt lasts about 2 - 3 weeks. Hunters sleep in tents they pitch on the sea ice.

Whale Carcass

Scott, Dave, and Nathaniel

Dipping Fingers in (and standing on) the Arctic Ocean at Point Barrow

Polar Bear Fur and Prints

Elliot's Seal Rib

Michael by the Beaufort Sea

Around midnight Dave, Jill, Scott, and I went out birding again on a tip from some Norwegian birders staying at NARL. The rare Ruff was spotted in the tundra - an important "life bird", along with Spectacled Eiders. Scott spotted the Ruff - a male putting on full display which is quite a show! We also saw Spectacled and King Eiders and another Snowy Owl. Back to NARL around 1 AM and it still looked like midday. A little boy - no more than 6 - was pushing his bike down the gravel road by the sea as we drove home.

Birding at Midnight

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