Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring 2012 at Meanook: A Nice Reminder

As we prepare for the field season, everyone is losing their mind.  Seriously losing our minds.  Well, maybe not everyone, but I certainly am.  Not enough time and too much to do.  New projects are a hand-full and people are stressed.  I am stressed.  As I listen to the birds chirp outside my Phoenixville PA window this morning, I am reminded of a pugnacious ruby crowned kinglet that sang his heart out above our heads in the trees at Meanook a few years ago (wichity-witchity-witchity-WHEEEE).  I fished this post out from my personal blog and thought I would share it here.  It reminds me that with all this logistical nightmarrishness leading up to the summer projects, the fieldwork is fun.

Originally Posted May 22, 2012

In the chill of the evening, the passerines are active with the sun still several hands high.  Tennessee Warblers dressed in yellowish green have invaded en masse and flit from tree to tree.  They are mistaking windows for pass-throughs much to the dismay of everyone here at Meanook.  One such warbler, recovering on a pine branch, finally flew off, but only after Kitten made leaps for it, pulling the bough low as if he was the one hanging on for dear life.  Yay, bird!  No doubt Kitten will find a snack elsewhere this evening but the warbler flies free.  White Throated Sparrows are chatting with the Chickadees and the rowdy Ruby Crowned Kinglets, the Blue Jays yell and swoop from low branch to low branch, and the Sapsuckers play percussive wood.  It is a symphony in the bush. 

Spring is arriving here with birds and blooms.  The cherries aren’t quite flowering yet, but they are knocking on that door.  It seems spring is a little early up here as it is also on the east coast.  Last year almost to the day, it snowed 5 inches.  Two days ago I was hot and sweaty looking at a collapsing permafrost mound. 

Our research puts us in what is called the discontinuous permafrost zone.  North of us, the earth is frozen year ‘round.  South of us, the soil thaws completely every summer.  Here, there are pockets of frozen mixed in with the thawed.  This zone is shifting northward and that thaw brings changes to the landscape and changes to the ecosystems.  Fire hastens this advancement, warming the earth as it scorches it with no chance of the peat recovering the cold of the next winter.  Last year was a doozy on the fire-front, and this year, seems like we are in for another.  Right now, 23 fires burn in Alberta with 345 fires since the burning season started this spring.  We drive through smoke on the way to our sites.  That acrid burn in the nose is not unfamiliar to us and puts me on edge.
Tomorrow we head north to the Mariana Lakes region of Alberta where we will spend the day in both bog and fen and hopefully not run into any bears or fire.  The travel allows for some fast truck window viewing, and since arriving, we’ve seen much:  a Bald Eagle, an Osprey, countless waterfowl and shore birds, Sandhill Cranes, Buteos, Falcons, Shrikes, Passerines of all shapes and sizes.  Our feathered friends are here and are welcoming us to Alberta and to spring.  The morning will bring the dawn of a new day and as we walk among the mosses, the birds will sing.

Note:  The above was written 2 days ago… the total fires is now up to 390 as of 10 AM yesterday…   much potential for ignition.   We have only experienced a bit of smoke and smoldering.  So far so good.

NOTE #2....   our sites all made it untinged through the 2012 fire season.  Let's hope for the same in 2013.  We will be hard at work in Alberta in less than a month.