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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Breeding Grounds Survey: Steve's Otter Song

June 13, 2014 - Alaska, Yukon Territory & Old Crow Flats
  • Fred Roetker and Steve Olson out of their flight suits and hanging out with some characters at Buffalo Airways.
    photo by Steve Olson, USFWS
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By Steve Olson, USFWS biologist, Alaska, Yukon Territory & Old Crow Flats

Fred and I have traveled over 5,700 miles (in 318 segments) at bird-view (150 ft.) and I now sit in a wood recliner, belly full of Arctic Char, and four feet from the waters of Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife's Old Town. Transcribing data while flocks of ring-necks, bluebills, and wigeon whistle by, maple-leafing overhead is actually a treat after seeing them from above for the last three weeks. Instead of raising my voice clicker, I find myself raising an “air gun” (the equivalent of air-guitar) and swinging through the motions. This metaphor is analogous to the whole reason I'm even lucky enough to be here. The data we have collected the last three weeks will be used to help guide duck hunting regulations this year, as they have for the last 50 years.

Air Tindi's Twin Otter landed and taxied in for the night, forty yards away. I have more respect for the bush pilots and planes than I had ever perceived. My education everywhere else prepared me for the biological aspect of the duty of speciating and sexing all waterfowl from above at 100 mph, but identifying and chatting about traditional metal “birds” was completely foreign to me. Beavers, Otters, Cessnas, Caravans, and Cubs are names I have now associated with search images. The North was truly made for these bush planes, or were they built for the bush? Well, I guess this chicken or egg hypothesis would have support from both realists and dreamers found up here.

The personal milestones and education I have reached and attained in my short time up here are priceless. I cannot possibly begin to describe or capture in text on this blog. Fred has been a true ambassador for me, and we've made as many invaluable connections as he caught up with. I want to thank the families, couples, and individuals who have provided me with the first-hand experiences one cannot get on a Princess tour.

Reinforcing my personal motto of finding and connecting with passion in life, the people inhabiting these areas have shared their passion for the land, animals, and traditions.

I hope you enjoy my videos on the next blog, as well as my dip in the Arctic Ocean (below), because I enjoyed every single second I spent here (even the puking in rough air), and fall asleep every night fully exhausted. Only passion could make me want more. I don't want to leave.

Steve Olson drawing a crowd at Tuk Point in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada. The Arctic Ocean was still frozen except for some sheet water. Ice still remained underneath and made it really hard to walk without wiping out. Photo by Fred Roetker, USFWS