I am currently in my last night of stay at the Toolik Field Station in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range, Alaska. I am here volunteering and filming for Katie Christie’s PhD project studying Ptarmigan for the next two weeks. Toolik Field Station, I must say, is much fancier than I expected for a remote northern outpost well above the Arctic Circle. Here researchers have the luxury (for a price of course) of being served three square meals per day by a full time cooking staff, access to hot showers (limit two per week), a bed to sleep in, and even a sauna! We have had the pleasure of staying here two nights, but will be leaving tomorrow to return to the simple life of camping for the next 10 days or so. I think I am actually looking forward to this detour back to the wilderness.

Male Willow Ptarmigan in breeding plumage. Photo by Neil Paprocki.

Ptarmigan surveys are progressing well, and we have been seeing quite a lot of Rock and Willow Ptarmigan. Both species are breaking off from their larger winter/spring flocks, and are pairing up. Most birds we have seen have been male/female pairs, or solo males. We have also witnessed the male Willow Ptarmigan courtship display, which looks rather like the male has a broken wing he is trying to flaunt to the female. Quite a show! Below are a few photographs I have been able to upload from the last few days.

 

Male Rock Ptarmigan in breeding plumage. Photo by Neil Paprocki.

Female Willow Ptarmigan. Photo by Neil Paprocki.

Male Willow Ptarmigan in breeding plumage. Photo by Neil Paprocki.

The arctic is now teeming with wildlife as the snow melts rapidly off the long frozen tundra. Temperatures the past few days have been in the 50s with abundant sunshine welcoming the newly arriving migrants to their breeding grounds. Huge flocks of Snow, Canada, and White-Fronted Geese dot the landscape. Greater Scaup, Green-Winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, and Pintails arriving from the lower 48, greet us at every turn. Small groups of shorebirds flutter along small ephemeral pools of snow melt and include American Golden Plovers, Whimbrels, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Red-Necked Phalaropes, and Long-Billed Dowitchers, among many others. Present among all of these birds is the often-overlooked Ptarmigan, who we will be observing intently these next few weeks…

 






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