2.23.2009

2.21.2009

foxes of St. George

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The arctic fox are pretty funny little creatures. Following are images taken of them during the recent trip.

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Tricky little fellas. While two are getting into it over a piece of meat a villager had discarded from his freezer, another moves in. This back and forth went on for over an hour among 12 different foxes during a storm with 50 mph gusts.

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Somehow, my camera broke in the wind...good thing it's insured.

2.19.2009

killer whales attacking sea lions

Well, I'm leaving the island today. Somehow, whenever I visit St. George, we always seem to cram the excitement in up to the last minute. Today was no different. We left town early to hike a few miles out along Tolstoi Point--hiking the beach that wraps the point to see if we could find any walrus carcass' or walrus tusks that may have washed up after the recent proximity of the Bering Sea ice (apparently, the dead walrus get pushed out in front of the ice and occasionally float up on Kitzasilof Beach).

So there we were.

A small pod of killer whales has been patrolling the island shores since I've been here. We'd already seen them twice--once from the cottage, and once on a beach hike towards High Bluffs. That second time, they'd spooked the sea lions awfully close to shore.

Today, Ryan and I scrambled halfway down the hill above K-Beach to get a better view of 8 large male sea lions that had hauled out and were enjoying the relative calm. Not long after we'd taken our seats, a show began. I noticed a fin slicing the water to the west of the beach--a few killer whales approached. The huge male lions in front of us were safe but, as we watched, we could see that a group of female sea lions

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were quite alarmed as they porpoised through the water towards us (in a path that would soon meet the whales). One of the female whales peeled off

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from another female who had a calf (beyond them a large male killer whale slowly plied the water--I thought he might be there to receive any sea lions trying to escape?). The female whale that had left the group was headed directly for the group of agitated female lions. All of a sudden, all the action went underwater. Ryan and I couldn't believe our eyes as 50 feet off shore and some hundreds of yards from where we sat the surface of the water was greatly disturbed as the whale attacked the lions. It reminded me of the shape that water takes in a slow-moving river when one startles a school of salmon. For a still photograph it's nothing too interesting...but here it is below:

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Unfortunately for us (as you can see) all of the action happened beneath the surface. The whale was unsuccessful (due to the lions moving quickly enough into the shallows). So the whale surfaced again, moved deeper, and continued on her way while the frightened sea lions hugged the shore (in a few feet of water) and eventually headed east (if you can believe it)--the direction the four whales had gone.

Seeing this firsthand was once-in-a-lifetime, I expect.

I'm hopping the flight back to Anchorage in under an hour (after a busy 10 days on the island) and may update the blog with another St. George post in the next day or two.

2.15.2009

herding (okay spooking) reindeer on St. George Island

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photo by Ryan Kingsbery

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Notice how keenly aware they are of our presence (Ryan on stomach at left).

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So much for our $11 Tyvek paint suits from Home Depot. Guess we'll just go back to the village and paint some boards instead.

2.13.2009

aerials flying to St. George

A couple days ago I departed Anchorage for the village of St. George on a tiny island in the Pribilofs--300 miles off the west coast of Alaska. My friend Ryan is still out here (you may have seen my St. George blog posts from last September) working various jobs and staying at the NOAA house. I'm out here for 10 days and have brought all my work with me--computer, external hard drives, etc. It's business (almost) as usual.

Except that I can now peer over the top of my computer out to the Bering Sea and watch as gale-force wind gusts push waves into the old landing below the village. As they crash, the spray quickly floats east. This tiny, remote island is one of my favorite places in Alaska. The isolation--even from its sister island St. Paul to the north--is part of the allure.

Following are images taken during one of the most beautiful commercial flights I've ever taken out of Anchorage. As you can see, the clarity was spectacular. We flew right over Redoubt volcano (third photo down)...she's sure taking her time!

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My beloved city.

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Thar she blows!! --(no, not literally).

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We landed in Dillingham, a sockeye salmon fishing hub. I've never even flown over it on a visible day, so it was a treat just to descend into this southwestern town at the mouth of the famed Nushagak River (host to one of the largest runs of sockeye in the world). I'll be back...

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The view from my "work" window on that pleasant day that I arrived in St. George.

Apparently, the Bering Sea ice is hanging out just about 15 or so miles beyond that horizon line.