Counting Ravens at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
Beth Peluso of Audubon Alaska interviewed Rick Kaiser about his experience on the Prudhoe Bay Christmas Bird Count this year. Read his story below.
This is Rick Kaiser’s third Christmas Bird Count in Prudhoe Bay, on the North Slope of Alaska. He works as a computer specialist on the Trans-Alaska pipeline. He says, “I inherited the Christmas Bird Count along with the job.” (The Prudhoe Bay count was started by Ed Burroughs in 1987.) This year Rick did the count himself.
Ravens are the only birds recorded for the Prudhoe Bay count. “I’m a naturalist, not really a birder, but it’s now one of the traditions I enjoy on the Slope, counting ravens. That makes it easy for a non-birder. I’d need a bird book to do a count in Washington where I live.”
Rick says the weather was good for this year’s count: winds of only 5-10 mph, a temperature of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (with a windchill of -36 degrees), and skies clear enough to see the moon on the horizon. He left camp about noon when light started trickling into the sky. By the time he reached the dump at 12:30 it was as bright as it would get that day. “It’s like dusk, light enough to see, but you still need headlights.” He saw a raven with a tag on its wing, but it was too dark to read the number. Although Rick saw a handful of birds as he drove his pickup on the gravel road, the larger groups gather at the dump. He saw one raven interacting with an Arctic Fox: the fox dug up something, while the raven waited patiently about a foot away; the fox just looked at the raven, but didn’t go after it. When the fox left, the raven stepped in. “It’s like they were helping each other.” Rick counted a total of 57 ravens this year; the highest count so far was 129.
The most memorable part of doing the Prudhoe Bay count? “It’s the joy in watching these birds as they’re playing in 20 below. They fly and roost in pairs, and you can tell they’re a couple. They do aerial acrobatics all the time. You can see they’re having fun.”