#FieldYukonAlaska – the best bits!

Field Yukon Alaska has drawn to a close – and I’ve been so caught up in the most incredible experience of my life that there has only been 2 blogs! Don’t worry though, here’s a big one to sum it all up!
Hiking the Auriol Trail
The Auriol trail is a 15km loop hike through the Boreal and Subalpine habitats of Kluane National Park. We were lucky enough to walk the first section of the trail with Mary-Jane, a First Nations member who acted as our guide, warning us of poisonous plants. She even stopped at one point to describe to us in fairly gory detail how to take apart and use every possible part of a hunted moose! The hike revealed some glorious mountain and lake views and our newly acquired scat knowledge led us to believe that for most of it, we were walking only a couple of hours behind a migrating moose. Below is a photo we took at the top point of our walk:
Photo Credit: Nick Royle
Kluane Lake Research Station
Our stay in the Yukon was hosted by the Arctic Institute of North America at their Kluane Lake Research Station (KLRS). The lovely quaint log cabins were overshadowed only by the incredible backdrop of Kluane Lake and Sheep Mountain (yes, that’s a thing, and it was COVERED in sheep) and by the wonderful welcome we received from the station staff. I’m sure I speak for us all when I say that we are endlessly grateful to Harry, Shelby, Bob and Gareth for putting up with us! Bob and Gareth… we already miss your food, especially the chocolate mousse. Our time in this special place couldn’t have been better celebrated than it was on the last night of our stay, when we all gathered on the beach (KLRS staff, students and UoE staff together) to have a bonfire.
Photo Credit: Emily Gilford
Squirrel Camp
Photo Credit: Emily Gilford
If we thought we were chilly at night in our log cabins with wood-stoves at KLRS, we were immediately shown up by the researchers living year round at the Squirrel Bush Camp down the road, who at some points sleep in unheated cabins at -35!  However, the warmth of their communal space heated by a huge wood stove and their undeniable enthusiasm for their work clearly made it a wonderful place to live, and somewhere I think many of us want to return to in future! The researcher who met us there was able to explain to us all in depth the complex social structures and behaviours of the American Red Squirrel whom we had heard defensively “rattling” at us from trees since we arrived. We were also able to see a female squirrel at very close range as she ran around the trees above us which was awesome and learning about the research being done and equipment involved in it made our visit completely unforgettable.
Photo Credit: Emily Gilford
One of the educational highlights of the trip was the opportunity to spend a couple of days taking all this local knowledge we were absorbing and synthesising it into questions. We then asked these directly of the environment by setting up our own mini-research projects, which is really cool cause it’s rare at a UK University to get the opportunity to do undergraduate research in a foreign national park! Some examples of projects included:
  • How does position within a flock affect vigilance behaviour in Mallards & Green Winged Teal feeding in mixed species flocks on Slims River?
  • How Predator Presence Affects Red Squirrel Territorial Rattle Frequency?
  • What is the effect of competition and secondary pests on the expression of Spruce Broom Rust?
I’m sure you’ll all have a good laugh at this picture of me sat duck-watching for my project on the edge of Kluane Lake, wrapped up in millions of layers and a sleeping bag. All I’ll say is – not a bad view to have whilst doing uni work is it?
Photo Credit: Joanna Griffith
Haines-Sitka Ferry
After a 3 hour coach journey from KLRS to Haines, we travelled to Sitka, our destination in the U.S.A. by an overnight ferry. You might be surprised that a ferry would make it onto anybody’s trip highlights, but I can safely say that it was on many of ours, for two main reasons. Firstly, we all slept out on the deck under heatlamps, and honestly the experience of sleeping under the stars wasn’t something any of us wanted to miss out on. It was totally worth it, especially because by the time all of us had our sleeping bags out it felt like a giant sleepover! Secondly, the next morning we awoke to stunning views of the Alaskan coastline and spent the morning watching humpback whales and Dall’s porpoise off the side of the boat.
Sheldon Jackson Salmon Hatchery
One of our first day activities in Alaska was getting shown around the hatchery by the Sitka Sound Science Centre and getting to help out with some of the work they do there. Salmon hatcheries are important in repopulating commercially fished salmon stocks in order to conserve species and keep the local fisheries going. Learning to extract eggs and sperm from a dead salmon was a fairly gruesome lesson, but really opened many of our eyes to the practicalities of working directly on projects like this.
Me, extracting eggs from a salmon. Photo Credit: Francesca Ellis
The Tlingit People
My personal favourite lecture of the entire trip came in Sitka when we got the opportunity to hear from Chuck Miller, a member of the local Tlingit people and his uncle Hermann Davis Sr. who was a leader in the area about their culture. It  was really interesting to hear about the challenges they have faced and the way the Tlingit culture has adapted to modern times. As subsistence fishermen, it was fascinating yet again to hear their opinions on issues of marine conservation, especially as the respect they had for the environment they live in was so clear and integral to their way of life.
Whale Watching
On our final day, we took a 6 hour whale watching boat trip which I think was in everybody’s top 3 moments from the trip. For the birders, Harlequin Duck and Eagles, for the marine biologists (and everyone else!) there was Humpback Whales and Steller’s Sea Lion, for those who grew up on Attenborough, there was a pair of sea otters holding hands, and for Emily Gilford, there was the fattest bear I’ve ever seen!  We were so lucky in our sheer number of whale sightings that at points there where too many whales to count!  All of this was only improved by the presence of a PhD student from the local university, who was able to tell us all about the study they do on the movements and behaviours of the whales.
Final Celebration
It would have been wrong to end such a once-in-a-lifetime experience without looking back at our trip and celebrating it, so that’s just what we did on our final night in Alaska. We got together in our minibus groups and had a fun quiz night with rounds about all the different things we had seen over the last two weeks, and then prizes were awarded for the funniest moments on the trip, which was a lovely way to end. The diverse group of staff and students on this trip were in themselves a highlight, and certainly made my trip even more than the fattest bear! I would like to end this blog and sign out by saying thank you so much to everyone who came on the trip for creating such a wonderful atmosphere, you guys are the best!
Photo Credit: Emily Gilford

saap201    September 30th, 2018    Yukon    , ,

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