COOPER ISLAND, ALASKA — Celebrating a solitary Independence Day on Cooper Island with a few hundred black guillemots. While many guillemots are still laying eggs, yesterday I saw the first successful fledge of the year — a barely flying snow bunting that was still being fed by a parent. Snow bunting nests can produce up to seven chicks and feeding and tracking that many flying (or at least fluttering) young is a major job for the parents.
Snow bunting nest
The big news from this past weekend was the movement of the shorefast ice (ice that is frozen to the beach and nearshore shallows during the winter) as high winds pulled it offshore. There were mile-wide expanses of open water between the beach and the horizon, modifying the unbroken expanse of white ice that has surrounded the island since I arrived. The big question now (for the guillemots, the polar bears and the scientists who make a living predicting and monitoring pack ice retreat) is how far over the horizon the ice will go. If it retreats as far north as 70 miles from Cooper Island and goes north of the continental shelf, as it has in recent years, polar bears should arrive on the island in late July or early August.
Early season fieldwork has been more intense this year with the need to monitor nest adoptions while documenting egg laying and site ownership. Will be writing posts about both in the near future.