I failed to blog my last month on Tern, partly because I became overwhelmed sorting through my thousands of photos (and I couldn’t possibly do a blog entry without pictures!) and partly because I wanted to spend my last moments in paradise actually IN paradise and not in the windowless cave of the computer room. I have also failed to blog during my first month on St. Paul Island – I was hoping to do a retro-blog-post on some snorkeling in the French Frigate Shoals before I started talking about what it’s like here. But since I still haven’t sorted out those photos I’ll just have to move on for a while.
St. Paul is quite a bit different from Tern. It’s in the middle of the ice-cold Bering Sea, it’s 14 miles length-wise instead of half a mile, its got cliffs and peaks and caves, it’s got different birds, and it’s got LOTS of people! There is a population of about 300+ Aleuts here and we are living in a small town on the southern end of the island near the one little store and a decrepit ballfield. On the 4th of July we rode in the parade which involved driving the FWS truck through every dirt road in town and waving to people who were waiting to have pencils (red, white, and blue) and mouthwash and toothbrushes tossed at them. Why not candy? Maybe when the dentist came last month he made some donations for the parade. The best part of the “June-July” celebrations (as they call it) are the festivities in the field. All you can eat free halibut, crab, and hotdogs and all kinds of homemade side dishes full of the tasty imperfections that leave children with lasting memories of mom’s cooking. Kids haphazardly racing on retired bouncy buoys and messy games of egg-toss and the heaving-stumbling-jolted laughter of tug-of-war matches. Stern concentration in the faces of overly competitive men practicing for the 2 by 4 race shouting, “left! right! left! right!” Crowds of haggling towns-folk gathered around the greased wooden pole watching as contestant after contestant desperately throws his body at 4 inch deep Crisco and defeatedly slips back down to the earth. All in all it’s a bizarre little town, but with friendly people that wave as we pass by and bring us fresh reindeer and fish. No one has brought us fresh fur seal meat yet, but I think I’m okay with that. Though I do wish someone would bring us a red-legged kittiwake to try, since I hear they’re supposed to taste pretty good.
The work here is very different from Tern. We don’t live in the middle of the colony and have to commute to the cliffs on our ATVs and then hike a little ways down to the beaches and sometimes about 8 miles round trip if we go to places further off the road. Usually we hang out at the base of cliffs and pluck birds from their nests to collect diet and blood samples, then slap on some bands so that they can be monitored for years to come. They usually return to the nest pretty quickly to sit back down on their chick so we don’t feel too badly about poking and proding them for 15 minutes. Yesterday we tried to set up a snare to get back a geolocator on a black-legged kittiwake whose nest had failed (we usually catch them with a noose pole, but if the bird isn’t sitting on a chick that method is almost impossible without flushing the bird). To set the snare you have to balance a ladder precariously on some wobbly uneven rocks and climb up about 20 feet. In effort to preserve the life of his assistant (me), John volunteered himself up the ladder. A nice gesture, though I think I was more nervous being responsible for the stability of the ladder at the base while some rather large surf was splashing at my feet! Next time we’ll be sure to check the tides and swells before heading out! I don’t want to swim in the Bering Sea. At least not on a foggy day.