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> July 16, Wind and fog
Leslie_Pierce
post Jul 18 2005, 08:37 AM
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July 16, 2005

Today was much windier. The temperature was cooler than the last few days, also. Around noon it was about 52F and by our lunch break at 5:00 pm it was down to 48F. So, we dressed warmer but had no problems with bugs at all!

As we were about to put the kayak in the water, the plane with the ABR biologists took off and flew over our heads. They wing-waved goodbye and we were left on the Ikpikpuk by ourselves. Their tents had been nice reference points for keeping a straight line when walking transects. There is not much relief out here, so any large stationary object stands out and can be seen for quite a distance. Brian tries to find a small rise, or log, or tent (!) to help navigate as he walks. We finished the two transects on the Big Island and they were similar in habitat to those we had done yesterday.

For each sample site, we take down the GPS coordinates, the elevation, the number of goose feces, and the habitat type.
Attached Image

As we sat by a log eating our lunch on Big Island, one lone caribou walked along the shore of the island past us and then began grazing. It looked a little lost, maybe because it had gotten left behind yesterday when the caribou were on the move. Or, maybe it was lost in the fog. A large fog bank was moving in from the bay in our direction. By the time our lunch was finished, most of the Big Island was covered, and ABR Island was getting difficult to see as well. So, our plans changed. Instead of going to ABR Island to sample we would head back to camp and get some work done there. With all of the fog it would be difficult to sight in a line for walking transects. The other concern was the wind. It had increased since we had left our island, and now there were small white caps on the channel. But, we were able to get the kayak back with no problems. We didnít even get wet!

Brian needed to collect pin feathers from snow goose nests for another part of the overall North Slope Boroughís snow goose project, a genetics study. So, we set out around the campsite to find about 20 nests from which we collected about 20 feathers from each. Pin feathers are small breast feathers that the female pulls out incidentally as she is pulling out down to line her nest. We pick through the nest material which is mostly down and grass looking for the one to two inch white feathers.

Pin feathers can be used for genetic studies because the rachis (or quill of the feather) contains blood. DNA (or deoxyribonucleic acid) from the nuclei of the white blood cells can then be extracted and certain genes, parts of genes, or other regions can be sequenced. These sequences can be used to answer different questions about the snow goose populations. Sequences from individuals of a population can be compared to measure the genetic variability of the population, the more variability the better. Variability provides more chances of survival in a variety of environmental situations. In changing environmental conditions, this genetic variability is very important to the survival of the population or the entire species.

Sequences from different populations can also be compared to see how distinct the populations are from each other. Populations that do not intermingle (or have migration of individuals between them) should have distinctly different gene pools, depending on how long they have been separated. The more intermingling in populations the more similar their gene pools. So, analysis of snow geese genetics can tell the biologists a lot about how closely related the different breeding colonies of the western arctic population are to each other, and in turn, to the eastern or Canadian population. Information obtained from the banding of snow geese and the return of bands by goose hunters will also help with the overall understanding of the movement of birds between the different populations and the relationship between them.

Collecting pin feathers from a snow goose nest
Attached Image

As I walk back to the campsite I see several tiny sandpiper chicks scurrying away as fast as their tiny little legs will carry them. They are not much more than puffs of brown feathers and if they hadnít been moving I wouldnít have seen them at all. The parents are nearby keeping an eye on them and on me.

It was quite a relief to crawl into the tent at the end of the day. A relief from the constant wind! You donít realize how much you are being exposed all day long - to your face, and eyes and ears. Itís heaven getting out of it for a little while. Of course, the assault to the ears may even be worse as the tent flaps and whips continuously all night long. If I pull the sleeping bag over my head it muffles the noise enough to lull me to sleep. Itís the end of another wonderful day on the Ikpikpuk delta. Iím truly grateful to be able to experience it.
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