Thursday, August 14, 2014

Season of hell (2014)

The Steller’s Sea Eagle surveys in 2014
The Steller’s Sea Eagle work in 2014 consisted of our routine surveys in end of July and August (Irina Utekhina and Eugene Potapov), and E. Potapov solo in the Kava-Chelomdja portion of the reserve.
            The surveys were carried out using traditional motor boat. In addition to the existing technique we continued to perfect the usage of the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) first deployed in 2012. This year I used new 2axis gimbal with its own accelerometer, which has made the apparatus more steady and made it possible to fly in turbulent winds. In the winter I perfected flying skills and now I can fly the quad in difficult conditions. No incidents in the past 2 seasons. But again, this is a nice addition to the field toolbox, not a replacement for ordinary surveys.
            The season of 2014 is the season of torrential rain. Ever since my arrival to Magadan the rain started and went on and on without making any stops long enough to do the surveys. The storms were not that bad, but the visibility was useless: low clouds, fog and drizzle. The latter was  bad enough to use binoculars. The rain manifested in the 3 day episode when the town received half of the average annual dose of rain and was virtually flooded, roads were washed away and the Magadan dwellers were catching pink salmon on sidewalks in front of the post office. As a result the road to Balagannoe was closed for 2 weeks, which made our logistics rather difficult. The road to Ola, on the other hand was repaired within 4 days, and we managed to set off to the Odyan bay first. The Motykley area was no-go because of the weather, with ornithological crew led by A.Andreev locked at the island. They reported severe flood there (inner basin was flowing to the sea across the cabins), and made one attempt to get to the Balagannoe, but had to turn back. Eventually they made it to the Balagannoe, but with the help of the local fishermen, who towed Andreev’v boat from the Onatsevicha cape, thus averting near disaster.
            The entire sea coastline was saturated with water. This caused massive earthslides, turning the sea into muddy pond with tree trunks scattered all over the place, making the sea travel very similar to the travel in Chelodmjda during spring floods. You have to be super alert all the time slaloming across the waves avoiding driftwood.
Despite of the rainy season, and the necessity to schedule the trips by the satellite shots, we managed to survey all areas we usually cover.  We have completed our regular surveys along the Kava and Chelomdja, along the coasts of the Magadan vicinity (Staritskogo Peninsula), Odyan (from the Taran cape  to Ola) and the Motykley Bay. The only drawback was that we had to re-schedule all trips, and we were about a week late.
            Pictures below show views of the Magadan during the flood. Pretty amazing for the town, surrounded by the mountains. I did not think it was possible, since the rivers had enough capacity to discharge the water (I thought).

July-August trips.
            The order of trips was reverse to the last year surveys. We started from the Odyan bay crossing to the Ploskiy rangers station in heavy rain, then, after the road to Balagannoe became passable, to the Motykley bay, then the Staritskiy Peninsula, then the Kava-Chelomdja portion of the Reserve. As in the last two years, the weather window gaps were the main constrains for this season. I have never seen such amount of precipitation before. The local meteo guys, and local officials, reported the season unprecedented for the entire period of observation (since 1930).

Odyan Bay trip.
We set off from the Ola on 29 July on a new speedboat which was acquired by the Magadan State Nature Reserve in 2012 (in early September the guys managed to sink this boat, too bad, as it was really great help). We had our boat and fuel transported by the ranger. In one and a half hours we get to the Ploskiy range’s station. Irina had a team of hidrobiologists there, who were surveying the coastline (the same project as last year, but different people). This year the ranger had a dog who kept the bears at bay, but yet there were several animals in view all the time. In the same day we went to the Taran  cape on our boat. There were no nests with chicks at this stretch of the coast, but there were 4 territorial pairs. The coast and the sea-bird colonies looked very empty bird-wise, compared to the last year.  However we saw 15 bears (we did not count the same individuals twice). In the following day we set off to the Odyan bay, and managed to cover it within one tide cycle (with the high tide at the Melkovodnaya Bay).

            There were 5 pairs with chicks and a total of 12 territorial pairs on the stretch from the Odyan bay to Ola. No chicks at the Umara island.

Staritskogo Peninsula trip.
We made circumnavigation of the Staritskogo peninsula on 2 August, repeating the route of the 2012 and 2013 trips. We started from the Nagaevo bay and ending at the Gertnera bay (Figure 2). The Chirikova Cape had severe waves, but otherwise the trip was tolerable. On this part of the coast we have 4 occupied territories and 3 nests with chicks (1, 1, and 2 chicks). The nest at the resort had 2 chicks. All nests at the Staritskogo peninsula did not have chicks, only one nest seem to be occupied. Worse year for this part of the coast.

On August 3 I went to see the nest at the resort. Confirmed 2 chicks, and took a nice photo of a female arriving at the nest. This year the nearby peregrines gave her hard time, attacking the adults on every approach of the nest. Such distraction let me took the photos without a hide.

The Motykley Bay trip.
            We set off from the Balagannoe balagannoe village on 5 August. The sea was more or less calm, the visibility was good, so we surveyed the Amakhton bay. Behind the Onatsevicha cape we hit severe fog with rain, so we decided to go to the Talan island for the night. On the following morning we found ourselves in sunny weather with superb visibility, with the wall of fog behind the Shestakova Cape. The only inhabitant of the island at the time, Helen told us, that this was the fist sunny day for the entire season. As it turned out, it was the last one. In early morning we set off to the mainland, and after checking the coastline up the Shestakova Cape and back, we went into the Motykley Bay. We did manage to get to the Rotten Corner at the beginning high tide in the afternoon , and get to the Balagannoe in the evening, and even managed to get the last ferry at the Yana crossing at the same night. The trip returned no breeding eagles at the Talan island (for the first time in our observation period), 18 pairs with chicks (only 1 nest had 2 chicks), and 26 territorial pairs. Most nests were in the Rotten Corner part of the Motykley Bay and in the Amakhton Bay, most of the ‘no-chicks’ areas were along the coast across the Talan island.
 In total this stretch of the coast had 16 productive nests with 17 chicks. Only 1 nest had duplets. It total there were 22 occupied territories along the mainland, and two on the Talan Island.
The Kava-Chelomdja portion of the Magadan Nature Reserve.
The Kava-Chelomdja portion of the Reserve was surveyed by E. Potapov solo (Tauy stretch), and accompanied by the head of the Kava-Chelomdja portion Vadim Bidenko. He replaced the disappeared two autumns ago V. Regush. The river was in severe flood, which was equal to the floods of 2009. Turbid waters, lots of driftwood and flooded floodplaine were the conditions of this year. Nevertheless the eagles showed some breeding success.
We covered our usual study area (upstream to the upper chum spawning grounds at the Chelomdja (overnight at the Kheta ranger’s station), and expanded the survey 10 km upstream from the Ikremun ranger’s station on the Kava. As in the last two years, both rivers had NO pink salmon run. The bears were skinny and not numerous along the rivers, thanks to a good standing crop of the Siberian creepy pine on the mountain slopes. The coho salmon run was more or less successful, and the same was anticipated for the silver salmon run. As in the past 2 years, there was no commercial salmon tickets issued this year, so the fishing camps on the river were idle.
There were no eagle chicks produced in the 6 occupied nests at the Kava river, the result was very similar to the year 2013. However the residential pairs were present and were seen on the river. As a surprise we did see an eagle with presumably our ring (red), but we were not able to read the number. The bird evidently was not breeding.

Ringed bird. Unfortunately we were not able to read the number.
On the Chelomdja river the water, thanks to frequent rains was murky with lot of leaves, twigs and tree-trunks floating along the river. In total there were 6 chicks (in 5 nests) in 17 occupied territories on the Chelomdja River. One nest was at the confluence of the Kava and Chelomdja; the latter was traditionally listed as the Chelomdja nest. One nest/territory at the Chelomdja was new (just below the washed away Burgauli ranger’s station). One nest contained 2 chicks, a rarity for the Chelomdja.
On the Tauy River between the Talon village and the ranger’s station there were 3 productive nests (all with single chicks), with two closest to the Talon having the distance 1 km between them. The productive nests were the same as last year. There were 4 occupied territories at the Tauy river.
As in the last year, the deployment of the drone (foldable this time) was quite a success ( We have flown a mission with the TV crew from the Magadan. Apart of the near drowning the cameraman, the experience was a success.
Pictures of the season are here.

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