Floral Blooms and Birds of Prey

It’s been over a month now that I’ve been living in Fairbanks, Alaska, and I’ve been lucky enough to watch the rapid transition from snowy mornings to sunny ones. Variability in Alaskan weather, and short term variability at that, is noteworthy. Not long ago I was cycling to work with nothing but my eyes exposed and walking outside to see this on my bike one afternoon…

…now this morning I walked outside with shorts and a t-shirt on after a week of forest inventory and another of a raptor surveys. In my last post I mentioned the infamous abrupt change from winter to summer that occurs in Alaska (one I had only been told about by then); in this one I’ll tell you a little more about what that looks like, as well as some of the incredible things I’ve seen and been a part of so far.

Though I showed up in April, it felt as though winter wouldn’t end. Teasing days of warmth gave way to rain or snow for weeks at a time. The transition was subtle yet sudden. As the snow melted, golden grasses of yesteryear showed themselves – their jobs done and their previous summers work about to show itself off. After all, these grasses had spent 2018 creating seed now primed and ready for germination. They weren’t alone in their endeavors either. Following the transition from gold to green, dandelions showed up by lining the roadsides with their infamous yellow flower heads.

The bloom of dandelions only slightly preceded that of willows, birch trees, aspen, and cottonwoods which burst to life from their dormant winter. Green foliage appeared as buds and within a week unfurled into light absorbing leaves ready to transform sun and water into sugars for both themselves and for other wildlife. The city of Fairbanks followed suit. Restaurants that had been closed all winter opened, and I started seeing people standing outside enjoying ice cream in the sun where I had biked through the snow only a few weeks ago. I could see and feel the parallel between the awakening of the natural world and the manmade one.

With the average nightly temperature now above freezing, I was ready to explore more of the Fairbanks area with some overnight camping. Granite Tors became the first stop. Carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, these granite formations sit about an 8 mile hike off the highway to Chena Hot Springs and are well worth a visit. Some of the flowers I saw on the hike (from top left, clockwise) were Arctic Anemone (Anemone drummondii), Milky Draba (Draba lactea), Northern Kittentails (Synthyris borealis), Lowbush Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea; who’s delicious berries I’ll be eating in a couple of months!), and Arctic Lupine (Lupinus arcticus).

I even got lucky enough to avoid a bit of the commonplace afternoon rains on this trip by staying in the cabin on trail…

Leaving Granite Tors, I was excited to discover more arctic plants, but just as much to help out on a Peregrine Falcon survey on the Fortymile River. This trip marked the beginning of the field season for me, and was one incredible way to kick things off. Located six hours outside of Fairbanks toward the Canada border, Fortymile country embodies interior Alaska. There’s a mixture of majestic rolling hills and mountains, the occasional burned through tree stand, wandering families of moose, and constant reminders of remote wilderness. These things combine to bring both a smile to your face and a respectful uneasiness that often dictate if a person stays in Alaska or not.

After setting up the raft and camping riverside the first night, we set off on a sunny morning just outside of Chicken. Craig (a BLM biologist and my supervisor) had taken the truck up to our end point and caught a ride back to the put in. He, Teri (a BLM recreation specialist), and I floated about 30 miles in total, stopping across from potential Peregrine Falcon habitat to sit with our binoculars and scan cliff faces for signs of perches, nests, or the birds themselves. We rafted for a total of four days and spotted around 20 Peregrines, several Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and plenty of Marmots. While paddling on our third day, I only just managed to avoid colliding with a moose and her calf; we spotted them after coming around a bend on the left bank. As I began paddling to the right to avoid disturbing them, they decided they’d cross the river so back to the left we went! From ten yards away, we sat and watched the mother moose and her calf swim to the right bank and continue their lunch, only a little perturbed by our presence. I don’t have the photo of this but here’s one from the trip…

The morning after I returned from the river trip, I drove out 3 hours from Fairbanks in the same direction as the Fortymile River to Tanacross for the first stage of a forest inventory project. A small airport with only a couple of buildings sits east of the native town with a population of 136. The forest surrounding the airport was the focus of our inventory, where BLM and Tribal Corporation land was torn through by winds raging up to 114 mph in 2012. The project involved measuring live and dead tree heights and their dbh (diameter at breast height), counting downed woody debris along transects, estimating forest canopy cover, and compiling a vegetation list with each species’ total coverage.

I learned how to distinguish white and black spruce on this trip, which I’ve been puzzling over for a few weeks now! The easiest method is to look at their cones (pictured below) – white spruce has long slender cones and black spruce cones are about as wide as they are long. In the absence of cones however, new branch growth can give a clue. White spruce have pubescence along the new growth whereas black spruce do not. It’s not always easy to spot but it works!

We stayed in Tok for this project where we had to stop by Mukluk Land after a long day in the field. This little amusement park/Alaskana museum has been around since 1986 and is run by an elderly lady anyone would be happy to call grandma. She even runs the local newspaper, and if you break 300 in skeeball you get your name in it. I managed to hit 310 after a try or two (or thirteen!), and am waiting for my copy of the June edition with my name and score! Another highlight was the smoked salmon mac and cheese we made for lunch and ate next to the airstrip…

On the 17th of June, I will leave for the Arctic Circle for a month to continue a forest inventory that began last year. I won’t be online until I’m back in town mid-July so my next post won’t be for a while. Good luck to all my fellow CLM-ers in the meantime, it’s been great reading through all of your blogs and hearing about your adventures.


Time flies

I’ve been working at the BLM office in Roseburg Oregon for about a month now and I have loved every day! I came all the way from Florida, not knowing anyone but everyone in the office has been super friendly and done a great job making me feel welcomed. While there’s not much to the town, the beautiful landscape, being surrounded by mountains, lush woods, and the Umpqua River running through it makes up for it.

So far everyday has been a new experience, going out to survey the endangered lupine, surveying for noxious/invasive weeds, and treating it, I’ve even had the opportunity to go out with wildlife to survey bald eagles. My favorite experience so far though has to be the workshop at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It was great meeting the amazing individuals who run the CLM internship, truly some of the nicest people I have met. It was also great meeting the other interns stationed in other offices around the country, some of the best people I’ve met and while we all come from different walks we had a great time! During this week I got advice on career and grad school, learned new skills and refined skills already known. Thank you Joanne, Chris, and Krissa for making it all possible!