Yesterday was easily a 12-hour day, but when it ends the way it did, you just don't mind. It was day 1 of our annual bird watching event, a partnership between us (NPS) and US Fish & Wildlife. We get a group together and head out to points around town that have been scoped out for birds. New ones are showing up every day now, and if you're watching and know what you're looking at, you can sometimes catch a rare sighting. I'm not a birder, but I'm enjoying learning. Fish & Wildlife brings up volunteers with Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, and they help everyone spot and ID the birds. We provide binoculars, bird books, spotting scopes, and the real draw around here...snacks! (It's amazing, people LOVE snacks as simple as popcorn.)
We had about 23 people total at 7:00 last night. That's a pretty good turnout here. After all, it was the first day and a week night. I had a good group in my vehicle -- some folks in town for training from the village of Noatak. They heard about the program, came, and had a great time. We saw a few shore birds, several kinds of ducks, and a jaeger. We heard ptarmigan and cranes but didn't see them. The real treat was near the end when we saw a short eared owl and a muskrat that crossed the road right under our vehicle. It tickled me to no end to see how excited local folks were about seeing a muskrat. I've heard from a couple of old timers who have said that when they were younger, the caribou didn't migrate near their villages, and they didn't hunt many of them. Instead, they would hunt and trap smaller game including lots of muskrat. Not so much any more. Most people eat caribou. So, the cameras were clicking away as that chubby little guy waddled by for us. Unfortunately, since I was driving and spotting, I didn't get a chance to get mine out. Add to that the ground squirrel and bumble bee I saw earlier in the day, and it was a pretty exciting day. You may not think much of those sightings, but the only living things many of us see all winter are ravens and dogs. Ground squirrels are true hibernators, so it's just one of those signs that mark the changing season, and they're very cute! The bumblebees are some of the first insects to come out as well. They have dense "fur" and the ability to produce heat through shivering, so they can tolerate colder weather when they first become active again. This picture is from a blog post last fall.
Here are a couple of pictures I took along the way at our stops. At one of the stops we dispense snacks and hot drinks because it's still a bit chilly here, and if there's wind it can be downright cold. Luckily, it was calm last night.