Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cool Weather Continues-Barn Swallows

The strong northeast to east winds continue with low clouds and low temperatures with frost some nights.  The three broods of Snow Buntings that are out of the nest boxes are having a hard time of it.  The adults are not having much luck finding insects to feed their young. They have been falling back on what is in the feeders I have out. The real young buntings don’t seem to do as well on just a seed diet as when they have plenty of insects to start out on, and a couple youngsters haven’t survived the cold conditions.

Two of the female Snow Buntings have started hauling fresh grass up into their nest boxes getting ready to lay eggs for a second brood.  Hopefully we will have warmer weather when this batch of eggs hatch and the parents will have a easier time feeding the little ones.

The two Lapland Longspur nests close to the house still haven’t fledged, but they are getting close.  There are at least 20 pair of longspurs coming and going from the feeders all day and must account for several hundred trips over that time period.  I’m sure they are working the feeder overtime too with the shortage of insects about.

It was a surprise to see the two Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) resting out of the wind the other evening.  We usually don’t get swallows around during a strong east wind, as most arrive on south to south-west winds.  With a south wind the temperature would be much warmer and there would be insects buzzing about for the swallows to eat, not so with this strong, cold east wind.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice

Officially spring has ended and summer has started, but the feel the past few days has been more fall-like than either.  We have been in a pattern of low stratus and fog, with visibilities down to 1/8 mile at times.  We ended the spring solstice (June 20st) with freezing temperatures (low of +29F) at night and snow showers heavy enough to leave a trace of fresh snow on the ground.  The day warmed up enough that that the snow showers during the day melted rapidly.

Today has been a little warmer but the east wind has a raw feel to it with all the moisture in the air and the temperature hovering around the freezing mark.  Even with the colder weather the flowers have continued to bloom and the first couple broods of Snow Buntings have fledged.  Some of the longspur nests have hatched but it will be a few more days before those young are  out and begging for food.SNBU_HY1_4462






Young Snow Bunting waiting for a hand out.SBU_HY2_4510

This youngster is taking a nap while waiting for one of the adults to return with a meal.  Notice the short tails on the recently fledged buntings.


The Red-throated Loons and the one pair of  Yellow-billed Loons are setting and we should see them starting to hatch in mid July.  Two Snowy Owls have moved in and are making their living by feeding on Brant in the large colonies in the local area.  



Two pictures of Woolly Lousewort, the first is in the woolly stage and the second shows it just starting to bloom.  It will continue to grow up as it flowers until it is about 6 inches tall.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Short Video King Eiders

A short video of several King Eiders displaying.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

First Flowers

With the long days of spring, the tundra is starting to green up and a few of the early flowers are starting to bloom. The Frigid Coltsfoot (Coltsfoot1_2347Petasites frigidus) was the first to show up in bloom around the house, and now there are several large patches around the runway in bloom. The blossom stems are several inches tall before the leaves start growing.

Only 3 inches tall and already the coltsfoot is showing off its lovely pink flowers.

Besides the coltsfoot, I saw Mastodon Flower (Senecio congestus), Stiff-stemmed Saxifrage (Saxifraga hieracifolia), and Rock Jasmine (Androsace chamaejasme) budding and should be in bloom shortly.Saxafrage1_2346

Stiff-stemmed saxifrage just starting to grow as the stems will be 10-14 inches tall when mature.


A pair of Long-tailed Ducks enjoying the sunny afternoon. Some of the hens are starting to set and we now have a couple of males resting by the house during part of the day, waiting for the female to show up.

The Semipalmated Plover is still defending his territory on a patch of gravel road, but I still haven’t seen a mate. Its still early so we might yet get a nesting pair this season.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Loons Displaying

The warm weather continues and even the big drifts around the house are shrinking fast.  The lake level is still high but it is draining and many of the small ponds have their polygon ridges out of the water now.

Today started out with light rain for a few hours then cleared and we reached a high of +56F, the warmest day we have had so far.  Also, it was the Home6june_4287first day with fair weather cumulus clouds, a sure sign of a warm day. Being close to the frozen Arctic Ocean, as the wind turned to the north, we were slowly enveloped by coastal fog.  The photo shows our home as you look back towards the South.

The loons are starting to get quite active and some were seen doing their courting display, running on top of the water side by side, much like photos one sees of grebes.  At least three pair of Red-throated YBLO_land1_4307Loons were in the river by the house or calling from the nearby ponds.  For the first time the male Yellow-billed Loon was heard giving his territorial yodel, as well as their more mournful cry.  Right is the Yellow-billed Loon just landing in the open water around the edge of our lake.

From my evening walks, it looks like it is going to be an excellent year for Semipalmated Sandpipers, as there is a very high density of them on the island this year.  Pectorals seem to be the next most common, then Red-necked Phalaropes, with a few Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Red Phalaropes about.   I did see one pair of Black-bellied Plovers this afternoon, so maybe we will have them nesting locally.


Left is one of the many pairs of Brant nesting around the local area.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Snow Going Fast

What a difference a few days of warmth makes. Three days of 24 hour sunshine has taken us from 70% snow cover to less than 10%. Now just a few big drifts around the buildings and ice on the big lake and some smaller ponds are all that is left with the look of winter.

Some of the grass is getting a touch of green at the base of the blades, while many of the willow buds are starting to bloom. This will provide the first pollen for our big Arctic Bees. The only flower starting to grow that I have noticed is one of our species of Sweet Coltsfoot, green shoots just breaking out above the ground.

More shorebirds have arrived and now the trilling of the Semipalmated Sandpiper on territory can be heard over most of the island. Besides the Semipals, one can hear the Booing call of Pectoral’s and Long-billed Dowitchers displaying. So far, plovers have been in short supply, as I have seen only 2 Golden Plovers, and 1 each of Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers.

Our pair of Yellow-billed Loons are in the big lake by the Lodge now and have been checking out nesting locations. The lake is still high from spring flooding, so I’m hoping they won’t select a spot that will have them stranded in a small pond. Several pair of Red-throated Loons are now on some of the small ponds around the larger lake. No Pacific Loons have been seen or heard yet.

Yesterday I was able to get a few pictures of a pair of King Eiders not far from home. While I was filming the eiders a Arctic Tern flew over to see what I was doing and I snapped its picture while it hovered over head.

KIEI6-2_1808 KIEI_F6-1_1838 ARTE2_1789

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Arctic Smoke Signals by James W. Helmericks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.