Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August, 5. The Ola nest.

August, 5. The Ola nest.

After barely managing to get our equipment in order (to dry boat, service the outboard, etc), and a short time for sleep, I went to the Ola lagoon to pick up the car we left there and to pay a visit to a new Steller's Sea Eagle nest at the bank of the Ola river. To the date (apart of unsupported rumours) we did not know about any nests at the Ola river. Intensive agriculture and too many people were to be blamed. However this time it was a sure thing. The nest was found by our colleague, Dr. Igor Dorogoi. However he was not able to see the inside the nest.

I was accompanied by Laria Zelenskaya, also a fellow ornithologist at the Institute of the Biological Problems of the North, Russian Academy of Sciences.

We arrived to a spot amidst the agricultural fields and saw a nest if full glory. It was located at the forested edge of the field not far away from the river bank. I deployed a drone to see the landscape and surrounding area. After all this is the first nest on the Ola river for many years, and it is in the full view of the Ola town. The drone mission returned a visual of 2 healthy chicks and no adults in sight.

August 4. The Odyan Bay and the Staritskogo Peninsula

August 4. The Odyan Bay and the Staritskogo Peninsula

We had a short sleep at the Ploskiy Ranger's Station we set off to the Odyan Bay early in the morning. In order to get high tide at the east-most part of the bay it has to be at the time of the high tide. Otherwise shallow bays wont be surveyed properly. By 6 am we were already in view of the Umara island. Unfortunately there were no eagles on the island, but the northern tip of the island greeted us with a group of the Steller's Sea lion. That was a surprise, as we have never seen the Sea Lions there. Especially the group.

The southern coast of the Odyan bay did not have any active nests, so we buzzed through this portion of the coastline with a considerable speed. However at the North-Eastern corner of the Odyan Bay while we stopped in order to look at an eagle nest, we had to slow down for some time. The reason was the orcas. A small pod of orcas were methodically diving around the boat.

Combination of calm waters and presence of these whales was rather unique. From 1994 we have never had such an opportunities.  Naturally we snapped view photos and I took the video.

The magnificent whales disappeared into the southern part of the bay, but we had to continue with the surveys and as now, yet, we have not seen any chicks in the eagle territories. We had to pass another 2 territories before we saw the first productive nest. Two chicks (although difficult to see from the water, as both started to hide), first productive nest for a day.

We continued to carry on, pass 2 shallow bays in critically correct high tide point and came out to the Naydenay bay, the place surveyed on July, 24. So far, the route return 2 occupied nests with chicks.
We plugged on towards the Ola river estuary. This portion of the coast returned 8 productive nest including two with 2 chicks. There was one new nest built in the area, but not yet productive.

By the middle of the day we were close to the entrance of the Ola lagoon, and guess, what, it was low tide. Since both the weather and fuel allowed, we took the decesion to check the Staritskogo peninsula in the same day.

The famous nest of the eagles at the Power Station's resort was not occupied. But the Startskogo Peninsula returned four occupied nests including one new nest which was occupied and had 2 chicks (sic!).  We suspect that this was the pair from the Power Station resort. A mere guess on our behalf. So, the three Startiskogo peninsula nests had 2 chicks and 1 had only one chick. A really great result across years. The nest at the Nedorasumenya Island had also 2 chicks, suggesting some good conditions for the eagles this year. However both pairs on the mainland behind the Nedorasumenya island were not occupied.

We went into the Nagaeva bay and while entering the bay we saw a ship coming out of the sea port.

Bourbon Explorer 516. An Oil Rig supply ship. From Marcelle, France. In Magadan. This suggests that the Big Oil is going to be a factor in the Steller's Sea Eagle Ecology very soon.

At the evening with the coming tide we were in Magadan at the mercy of our friends who had to pick us up with little warning.

The global result of this day was: Odyan portion of the coastline had low breeding output, but the Staritskogo peninsula part had a great breeding rate. No clues why. The track length was 237 km, not a bad for a day.

August, 3. Around the Koni Peninsula, Return

August, 3. Around the Koni Peninsula, Return.

The  return trip was uneventful. We did cross occasional fog strip along the coast, but  still hoped to survey the un-surveyed portion of the coast which was covered by fog in the morning. On the way we happen to see a group of young Steller's Sea Lions waiting for a high tide. That was an indication that the Steller's Sea Lions are showing more and more interest to the protected coasts. 


 Now and then we see these animals in water.

 When we were approaching the Bligan Cape, the place which was skipped in the morning due to fog, we saw the fog was forming up again. We sped up, thanks to the favorable wave direction and, hooray! we managed to get the portion thoroughly checked. Some of the nest location were difficult to view, due to fast forming fog, but still we managed.

 This was the last sea-stack we were so desperate to check.

The Taran Cape was, surprisingly , fog free, and as soon as we came to the waters inside the Tauy Bay, the sea was very calm. 

In the view of the Taran Cape lighthouse we decided to catch some fish and observe, if there are any whales of dolphins in the area. 


 Our Skipper, Sergei had a fishing line and some hooks.  Instead of fishing I attached my trusted GoPro camera and cast it overboard. 

The camera did get exciting photos of bottom life. 

But whales and dolphins did not show up. With some caught fish we took course directly to the Ploskiy Ranger's station and managed to get back right before the sunset.

The time-lapse shows at least two wind systems one above each other, typical for this area.

It was been a very long, but useful day. We have checked the southern coast of the Koni Peninsula, the portion of the coast which we did not survey regularly.   The regular surveys are conducted in the 'inner' portion of the Koni portion of the reserve, up to the Taran Cape. This year this portion had 2 productive Steller's Sea Eagle nest (2 and 1 chick) and one new pair with a new nest. There were also 2 territorial pairs without breeding. There was a notable decrease of the bear sightings on this coast: 4 in total which contrast to 10 on average in the previous years.

The outer portion of the Koni Peninsula had 18 known territories, 13 of which were occupied and 4 nests had chicks including 2 nests with 2 chicks. In total we covered 100 km of the coastline thus making 200 km surveys in the most treacherous coastline where there are not place to hide from the storm. Not a bad day indeed.


August, 3. Around the Koni Peninsula, continued

August, 3. Around the Koni Peninsula, continued

While the fog was lifting up, we found ourselves at the Alevina Cape, the only inhabited place on this portion of the coast. The tip of the cape extends in to the sea for quite a distance, and at low tide these waters became rather treacherous because of the rocks near the water surface. So Sergey, our skipper and the ranger of this part of the reserve kept at a distance from the shore.

Having passed under a narrow curtain of fog we continued to traverse along the coast towards the Burgauly and Antara rivers. Now and then we did see food patches indicated by congregations of Tufted and Horned Puffins, and Slaty-Backed Gulls.
The eagle pair at the Burgauly River was present. The nest was on the tree, however we are not certain about the contents of the nest. One eagle was greeting us from the gravel beech, whereas another eagle remained on the tree near the nest.  This is the only tree-nesting pair at this part of the Koni Peninsula.

There were some bears on the slopes feeding in rich grass. But our interest was concentrated on the eagle nests.

The Antara river hosted the south-eastern ranger's station. However it is not quite a ranger's station, as it has never been inhabited for a long time. This place is near and dear to Irina's hearth, as a place of a herioic survival episode when she with fellow nature reserve's researchers managed to loose their 7 m zodiac boat in a surge tide and storm. That happened at the end of 1990s, but the extremes of this episode are fresh as ever.

The Antara log cabin was set up in order to facilitate winter paroling of the area. The place is inhabited by a dense bear population.  Interestingly enough, the area is, in fact, an old village of the coastal native people. It was mentioned by the the 1700s anthropologists Lindenau. The areal shot has the circles of the ancient homes of these people clearly visible.

Meanwhile we continued to check the coastal nests towards the Eastern corner of the protected territory: the Kleshnya Cape (Claw Cape). The last nest with two chicks was covered with curtains of fog, but still clearly visible.

Short  team break, and we started our return journey.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August, 3. Around the Koni Peninsula, ("Fog thickens")

August, 3. Around the Koni Peninsula, Continued ("Fog thickens")

The fog was thickening, and we were crawling along the shore using the GPS. Now and then the summits were barely visible, but the shoreline was completely covered with the 'milk' of the fog.  We decided to skip this portion of the coast in hope that we might check it on the way back, provided that the fog disappeared. While going at a very slow speed, all of the sudden we heard loud call of the eagle. Scanning the skies away from the shore we did spot 2 eagles doing something at a distance. There was no thick fog in this direction, and the eagles were in good visibility. Naturally the gyroscopic binocular was applied, all optics was out and to our big surprise we started to realize that the eagles are fighting for some prey.

The prey appears to be an immature cormorant. Possibly it was taken from the cormorant colony hidden in the fog. The eagles were struggling at about 100 m above the sea level, and one eagle forced another to drop the prey. Off it went into the water. But both eagles made couple of steep circles and one stooped on the water surface to pick it up, being chased by another. Vocalizing by the both eagles was highly audible from the boat, which, with the engine off, was rocking on the waves. 
 The first Steller's Sea Eagle managed to pick up the prey from the surface and started to ascend into the air aiming to the foggy shore. The other one was behind after loosing some time fighting the headwind. 
The fist eagle managed to pass the boat from the side, but the windshield obstructed my lens. However the second eagle, evidently giving up, passed right above me, and disappeared in the coastal fog. Fresh bloodstain was visible on its tail.

The birds went off to to the foggy shore. Their flight directions suggested that they were not members of one pair. 
The excitement let us had a tea break, and surprise surprise, the fog started to lift up and we went off to continue the survey towards the eastern border of protected territory.

Monday, August 29, 2016

August, 3. Around the Koni Peninsula

August, 3. Around the Koni Peninsula

The weather window we had, according to the forecast, was roughly 2 and a half days. We opted to go around the Koni Peninsula. We rarely visit this part of the peninsula because it is exposed to the Sea of Okhotsk proper and is subject to violent storms. Even in calm weather the swell prevents landing, and, in addition, the coastline lacks any bays or inlets where you can hide. Even beaches are absent along the majority of the coastline.

The plan was to use the reserve's boat, and combine the patrol trip with the eagle surveys. Equipped with a 90hp outboard, it is fast enough to get out of the exposed shore relatively quickly.

The stretch between the Ploskiy Cape, where the ranger's station was, and the Taran Cape with the lighthouse had 2 nests with chicks (two and one chicks) and one new occupied territory. The surprise was the low numbers of bears. We saw only 4, whereas the usual number would be 10-12.

Here is the bear which tolerated us.

The view of the Koni Penninsula from the South is stunning. Curtains of fog and combination of bright sun and dark underclouds made for an absolutely spectacular view.

The Taran Cape with its lighthouse greeted us with a nice view.

Immediately behind the Taran Cape we saw first possible poachers. Unfortunately they did not have their fishing lines in the water, so we advised them to keep 2 km away from the shoreline. They obeyed.

We saw at least three other boats, but they were well within the legal limits in terms of the distance from the shoreline.

Meanwhile we were heading towards a wall of fog....

Will we manage to continue the survey....???

Monday, August 22, 2016

August, 2. Trip to the Koni Penninsula

August, 2. Trip to the Koni Penninsula

Early on a foggy morning we came to the Ola lagoon and started to board the Reserve's speedboat destined for the Ploskiy Ranger's station. The station (and the boat) is positioned to protect the Koni Peninsula portion of the Magadan State Nature Reserve and its coastline. The latter is very attractive to the growing body of the Magadan boat owners because this is the place where you can catch a lot of good sized halibut. We loaded our inflatable with all supplies and equipment, and, slightly overloaded, went off with the coming tide.

In an hour and a half we arrived to the Ploskiy ranger's station and managed to unload the boat right at the station, having arrived precisely at high tide.

The station now boasts a new summer kitchen built earlier this summer and a newly laid foundation for a scientific lab. Step in right direction, Reserve!

This photo was taken through the window of the new kitchen.

There was only a small amount of pink salmon in the river so the bears were not as numerous as in the past year(s).

Nevertheless the creek estuary was packed with seals and gulls, as per usual.

We stayed for the rest of the day at the Ploskiy range's station, as we helped deliver a big barrel of fresh water. It was dropped from a friend's fishing vessel some distance from the coast, and we towed it to the station. Hard manual labour.

By the end of the day we prepared for the trip along the coasts of the Koni in the reserve's boat.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

August 1st, Magadan

August 1st, Magadan

The entire day was spent in Magadan. I had to prepare our inflatable boat for the sea trips. Last year it was washed with fresh water, so the salt won't interfere with glue. This time I had to apply some patches. A minor work.

Meanwhile the town of Magadan is getting close to a new era. The water treatment plant was about to start its operation. However the rumours were a bit premature. The scheduled opening which was planned for August, 3, has been postponed till September.

So, the city of Magadan continues to dump waste water into the Gertnera Bay. To be benefit of some plankton. Currently, the pipe which dumps untreated waste waters into the Gertnera Bay of the sea of Okhotsk makes a fountain visible from the space.

Friday, August 19, 2016

August, 1st. Retrurn to Magadan. Part B.

August, 1st. Retrurn to Magadan. Part B.

On the final lag of the route we witnessed an amazing sunset from the Arman Pass. The sun was shining above the mountain valleys filled with clouds.

What scenery.

The map of this portion of the trip, logged by our satellite tracker is below.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

August, 1st. Retrurn to Magadan. Part A.

August, 1st. Retrurn to Magadan. Part A.

The trip to Magadan was rather trivial. We stopped by the ferry at the Yana river, and had to wait there in a queue for quite a while.

There was a local milk vendor was selling some milk, home-made farmer's cheese and fresh-baked buns. Excellent taste. Her local nickname was the "Millionaire".

She lives in this cabin, one third of which is occupied by a processing shop, one third, as the cooling unit suggests, by a large freezer.

She has 4 cows that graze of the salt marshes, and hires a local guy who is not drunk.

Occasionally for milk delivery she uses this taxi. For simplicity the hood is missing, so are the number plates. An antenna, attached to nothing makes a strong impression. The doors are closed with ropes from outside. The windows are replaced by plastic. Safety first!.  Unfortunately the owner got a flat tire, and had to walk home by foot. Inner tubes for Russian-made cars are in short supply. Majority of the fleet in Magadan and district is Japanese (with tube-less tires, I have to say).

On the ferry we also saw a famous off-road vehicle GAZ-66, which was converted into a bus. What an ultimate off-road vehicle. Note a snorkel on the roof. It can go across all rivers in the region.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

August, 1st: The Tauy river and flying with the eagles

August, 1st: The Tauy river

On the following day we went downstream along the mighty Tauy River to the Talon settlement.

Only one pair along this stretch of the river had a productive nest, so we had to check it thouroughly.

That is the case, where the drone application was warranted. The nest was on top of the dominating poplar tree, about 500 from the river and no vantage point to observe the inside nest.

I took off the drone from the gravel shallow bank and flew towards the nest. Initially I overshot and had to go back to the nest with the camera pointing down. After locating the nest I set the drone in a good position to see the nest, and to my surprise I saw through the an adult bird prey to the nest. The bird put the fish (yes, it was headless coho salmon) on the nest, and took off. Then the second bird arrived, and sat on a branch next to the nest. I clearly head some vocalization of the eagle, and then I had to retreat as the battery indicator went low. The images taken by the camera were amazing.

At the lunch time we were at the Talon village, and after a customary visit to the local meteo station to get the flood data we set off to Magadan.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

July, 31. Downstream the Chelomdja river.

July, 31. Downstream on the Chelomdja river.

We set off early in the morning, making stops at every known nest. We have made several drone flights, and also got a nice video footage of the adults at a nest with one chick. We simply left the camera running at the river’s gravel bar, and went upstream for lunch.

In total the Chelomdja River had 4 productive nests with one chick each, and a total of 7 occupied territories.

At the end of the day we arrived to the Centralniy ranger’s station. It was Sunday, and the rangers were on high alert as there was a lot of cars with boats downstream on the border of the nature reserve, and they worried that poachers would enter the reserve for fish.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

July, 30. The Kheta ranger’s station

July, 30.  The Kheta ranger’s station

Due to drizzle and rain, we decided to stay on the ranger’s station. I managed to re-visit the nest closest to the station, and confirm that one chick was there.

The chick was just visible at the edge of the nest.

The rangers do not take any chances, and usually carry rifles as bear protection.

Another interesting observation was about the gulls. In the sea of Okhotsk and surrounding areas the Slaty-backed Gulls are the most common on the rivers and coasts, whereas on the Kheta we saw Vega Gull, another species. 

At the end of the day we fired up the sauna, and tested the world famous Kheta steam.