Category Archives: travel

Crested Auklets

One of the most charismatic, yet underappreciated birds on the planet has got to be the Crested Auklet (Aethia cristatella). Crested auklets are ridiculously goofy-looking birds during their summer breeding season.

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Most species of seabirds are pretty unassuming in appearance, with a standard palette of blacks, greys, white, and browns, and the sexes are frequently similar. -Part of the reason for this contrast with much showier avian groups like parrots and songbirds is because of the parental investment that seabirds engage in. Most species are long-lived and only raise one or two chicks a year. In Crested Auklets, both parents engage in parental care, often sharing incubation and feeding duties – although at least one study showed that CRAU males tended to brood and defend chicks more often, while females tended to forage and bring food back for the chicks more often. This serial monogamy means that there is no pay-off for the male bird to copulate with as many females as possible, as they all already have a mate, a brood, and it takes a lot of work to care for and raise the single chick.

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Buldir Island – Remote Field Camp Preparation

So, I will start from the beginning, going a little bit in depth in terms of the gear that I brought with me.

I love gear lists because not only do I find other peoples’ lists interesting, considering their own thought processes during prep, but incredibly useful in terms of considering what I might like/need to bring.

After applying, being interviewed, and finding out I was chosen to go on the expedition, I had a month and a half to get everything ready and in order.  I put a lot of thought into packing. It was really important to bring the right stuff because out there, there would be no supplementing gear if I needed more. I would only have what I brought with me, for two whole months in harsh conditions, and so I knew I would be better off (over) prepared.

Never having been to the Aleutians, and living in southern California, it was difficult to envision the precise gear I would need. I knew, however, that the short summer season climate there is consistently rainy, windy, cold, humid, and overcast, with temperatures ranging down into at least the 30s at night. I knew I would have to bring plenty of warm and waterproof clothes. Luckily, I still had a lot of my gear from Antarctica in good shape – in addition to all my camping/outdoors gear. Still, there were certain things I would need to get.

Another small thing to consider was the fact that there would be only hand-washing, and that due to the precipitation levels, I would need to be able to put that off as much as possible. Luckily, I have plenty of wool layers – a property of wool is that it does not harbor the bacteria that make for bad body odor smells – a truly wonderful property that was very much appreciated on Buldir.

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GEAR LIST…

  1. Ski Jacket – outermost layer that was primarily used while observing birds from the blind, to keep warm while sitting motionless for hours.
  2. Rain Jackets x 3
    1. Patagonia Triolet – this was a new purchase, and I justified an expensive GoreTex jacket knowing that it would serve me well far beyond Buldir. These are breathable, waterproof jackets you buy for life.
    2. Old TNF rain jacket – used for field work, I got this jacket irreparably filthy while wearing it daily for field work. It got covered in guano, paint, and mud, but performed great!
    3. Marmot Precip rain jacket – back up in case the others didn’t perform or were destroyed or ripped irreparably. I didn’t actually ever need to use it, but it was wise to bring along just in case.

      soaked outer layers on the hike to Spike Camp

      soaked outer layers on the hike to Spike Camp

  3. Ski Pants x 2
    1. Marmot GoreTex pants – I found these for a great deal and thought they would come in handy on the island. They were too nice to wear during field work, but they were a good pair to have for other activities. Durable, waterproof, breathable.
    2. Roxy ski pants – never used them and really didn’t need to bring them.
  4. Waterproof Pants Shell
    1. Patagonia Rain Shadow pants – these were awesome. I ended up using these on a daily basis and they were really great. Only a few rips after days spent rubbing up and scooting down and climbing over rough granite boulders on the talus (thanks, RipStop!).
    2. Sierra Designs Microlight pants – a super thin, lightweight packable waterproof layer. I would never wear these while working (they would rip on the granite in a heartbeat), but they were useful around camp on wet days.

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Nepal: Kathmandu

Kathmandu is a chaotic city – a metropolis by number (with a population of 975,000 within city limits, and 2.5 million in the surrounding area) it is absolutely bustling, seeming like it grew out organically from the center. With densely crowded streets mostly lacking pedestrian sidewalks, navigating the streets and alleys in the Thamel district is initially harrowing.

The average tourist is initially completely overwhelmed by the sights and sounds on the street – mostly because you are right there in the middle of it, and has likely never experienced such sensory overload. Just trying to walk to the nearest restaurant or shop will entail squeezing by street vendors and their wares, veering around other pedestrians and tourists, and having to quickly get out of the way of honking cars, motorbikes, and tuk-tuks. You scramble over trash piles and potholes in the street as there are no sidewalks. Wave after wave of food, animal, sewage, and mysterious smells wash over you. There is a constant, grating onslaught of honking as cars and motorbikes veer around pedestrians in the narrow streets. You come to realize that the honking is not meant in the aggressive American language of “Get out of the way!” but more of a kind of constant “I’m here…Here I am…Coming by!” which means no offense but actually is a safety precaution, given the complete lack of strict traffic laws. And in all the time that we spent in and around Kathmandu, we saw only one accident (where someone had, inebriated, driven off a bridge and into a drainage ditch). Granted, there are less busy, more peaceful areas of the city, most of which tourists never venture out to see.

A landmark for this area - a large, dust-covered tree

A landmark for this area – a large, dust-covered tree

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Birds of 2013

Starting this list over halfway into the year is not ideal, but I’ve been keeping a running tally of new year birds written on scraps of paper and random noteboooks here and there. So this list will be updated as I find all the little lists and compile them here! I am sure to be missing a few species here and there, unfortunately, but that’s the impetus for making sure I get it right come 2014.

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2012 Bird List

Starting off 2012 with a few days in Poland (not any real birding there, though) and a great trip to Lake Mattamuskeet.

January:
–Poland–
European Magpie
Jackdaw
Rook
European Raven
Great Tit
Honey Buzzard
Eurasian Jay
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