Friday, June 26, 2009


Well I made it to Nome, Alaska about a week ago now and have had a brilliant first week here. The godwits have been tricky to find but strategic searching, along with networking with other birders and some good luck has enabled us to catch three pairs of godwits on the nest. To our knowledge, this is the first time pairs of godwits have been caught on the breeding grounds.

The weather is warmer than anticipated, so the mosquitos are out in force on still days, never before have I been happy for the wind.

The wildlife as we travel around is stunning - musk ox are seen daily, bears, squirrels, Artic hares, moose and caribou have all benn seen. It's great.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 20)

The Pandemic has begun

Last night, just four days before I am due to travel 36 hours sardine-like in an aeroplane and associated congested airports, the World Health Organisation announce the world is officially experiencing a flu pandemic. Does this really make any difference? Honestly, I don't know, it will depend on how others react and what officials decide to do about it. No recommended changes to international travel are recommended at this stage, so I am feeling comfortable about it all. That said, I have taken advice and armed myself with Tamiflu and facial masks for my travel. My only concern really, is getting some small cold or sniffle and being quarantined as a "suspected case" because I exhibit "flu-like symptoms". Here's hoping all goes smoothly and come mid-next week I find myself comfortably enjoying the view from my cabin in Nome - better still, from my wanderings across the Alaskan tundra!

One of my highlights of this week was getting back into the classroom again, admittedly with students much younger than I am used to. I was able to visit a bunch of great kids at Aokautere School who are studying Antarctica. I was able to take down some of the museum resources from the Ecology Department, such as a King Penguin and Polar Bear skull & leg. I was able to link in their studies with some of my work on Godwit migration, comparing some the geology and fauna of the Arctic with Antarctica. It was great fun.

Next time I write will hopefully be next week from Alaska!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 19)

A close shave

Over this week the four of us heading to Alaska depart with various separate schedules. The first to leave was Jesse on Saturday, reason being, he was to visit Fairbanks to look at museum specimens of godwits - take photos and do some spectrometry work. However, in the 5 months here at Massey we had no success in getting the spectrometer to work as we required. First attempts back in February centered around trying to get the light source (a Xenon PX-2) to fire up while connected to the spectrometer. We then found out from the sales rep. that we were missing the breakout box, a critical part that assisted communication between the two pieces. That then got ordered. Arriving April or so, we tried again. Still no luck - we then had to go through each part to work out where the problem lay. We finally identified the actual spectrometer had faults and so needed repairing. Now early May we faithfully shipped it off to the States with URGENT written all over it, hoping repairs could be completed prior to our departure, early June. Well, Wednesday last week the part arrived, 3 days before Jesse headed off and needed to take it with him. We carefully put all equipment together, having already tested each part knowing individually they worked, we then pressed the critical ON button and... silence. It still didn't go! Grrrrrrr!! Thursday morning, as a final desperate check, we were up at the Chem lab at Massey (they had a functioning unit we could troubleshoot with), we then piece by piece replaced their parts with ours, the hope was to create our own fully functioing unit. Eventually we found that one cable was the cause of the problem - the thing was, for the whole system to work the cable actually needed to be inserted upsidedown! So, now with just over one day to go before departure, we needed to perfect the actual use of the gear. Talk about cutting it fine!

Here's the setup I'm talking about...

Innocuous looking stuff, caused us enough grief though. Anyway, positive outcome in the end.

So, Saturday was a great day because I got to pick up my Sibley Field Guide to North American Birds. I've always travelled with a field guide for each country and have a great stash of them in my book shelf. This one though will be very special as the birds we see in Alaska are going to be just amazing. I will of course, gleefully scribble each sighting in my book as a wonderful record of my time up there. I love being a bird geek!