Ornithologi

A studio for bird study

Category: Alaska

Remembering Tom Cade: 1928-2019

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Showing Tom Cade an occupied Gyrfalcon nest with a nest camera, recording images for The Peregrine Fund’s Gyrfalcon Conservation Program.

Today I’m remembering Tom Cade, ornithologist and conservation giant. Tom passed away yesterday at the age of 91. His legacy is widespread, not only across the earth but through time, for generations into the future. Rather than describe this enduring legacy, I want to here describe one of my most cherished memories of spending time in the field with Tom as I showed him my study area during my Gyrfalcon work.

While I was conducting my field study on nesting Gyrfalcons in western Alaska, Tom came to visit for a few weeks. He stayed with me and Ellen Whittle, my field partner, in a small apartment in Nome. It’s hard to describe the conditions in such an apartment, but the few photos I’ve included here should be telling. I was so impressed with Tom, since he seemed entirely content to be in this run down shack of an apartment, cramped with two young ambitious biologists. In fact, I think he enjoyed it!

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Tom Cade and Travis Booms, walking along a tundra road on the Seward Peninsula.

Of course, we only spent time indoors when the rain wouldn’t allow otherwise. We made many trips out into the tundra to show Tom around, and Tom also spent time with Travis Booms and Joe Eisaguirre as they flew around the peninsula in a helicopter, accessing Gyrfalcon nesting sites. As we drove the roads with Tom, looking for wildlife and checking on raptor nests, we listened intently as Tom told stories of his last visit to the region nearly 60 years prior. He told us stories of a mid-tundra train wreck, seeing his first Gyrfalcon, and how the Nome area truly was different from his last visit, with more vegetation than he had previously recalled.

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Tom Cade, a man with an incredible legacy and an excellent sense of humor.

Apart from his unending wisdom and knowledge, I was impressed with Tom’s sense of humor. He was having fun, and wasn’t afraid to let it show. As is appropriate in western Alaska, July is a time for King Crab. With Tom in town, we had a great excuse to occupy our time during bouts of rainy weather with Crab feasts! I’ll never forget having crab with such excellent people, and I could tell from the photo above that Tom was having a great time as well.

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Crab Feast! Tom Cade, Bryce Robinson, Ellen Whittle, and Joe Eisaguirre. I think Joe was hitting his limit at this point. Photo courtesy of Travis Booms.

After Tom departed Nome and returned to his home in Boise, and I came home following the field season, we saw each other only intermittently. The last time I saw Tom Cade was in a meeting, only a few months ago. He listened, and only spoke when he needed to. But, he was participating. His passion was enduring, so much so that even until the last parts of his extraordinary life, he participated in the work he had set forth.

It is sad to see people go, but it provides us all a perspective on our lives, how we choose to live them, and who we are and want to be. Reflecting on Tom’s life has caused me to reflect on myself, and how I might honor and continue what the man did for multiple species facing extinction, and for the people he inspired, inspires and will inspire. I’ll take that spirit into the future, and do with it what I can.

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Generations of Gyrfalcon researchers: Bryce Robinson, David L. Anderson, Tom Cade, Travis Booms, and Mike Henderson.

If you’re unfamiliar with the legacy of Tom Cade, visit The Peregrine Fund’s website. Everything you see there is a testament to Tom’s legacy, and what he created. Also visit the following link for a great video highlighting Tom’s life: https://www.peregrinefund.org/people/cade-tom

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American Ornithological Society Conference 2019 Logo

by Bryce W. Robinson

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I am privileged to share the logo that I created for the American Ornithological Society’s 2019 conference. The logo features three Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri), a flagship bird for Alaska and a focal species for some of Alaska’s most influential ornithologists.

I worked closely with the conference planning chair, Colleen Handel of the USGS Alaska Science Center. We created a logo that ties in closely with the theme of the meeting – Birds on the Edge: Dynamic Boundaries. Colleen is part of a team of researchers headed by her husband, Robert E. Gill (also of USGS), that are responsible for discovering the incredible, sometimes 9 day non-stop flight of Alaska’s Bar-tailed Godwits as they return to Alaska from their wintering grounds in southeast Australia and New Zealand (see Gill et al. 2008). As such, one can see why the species is a great choice to celebrate the AOS meeting being held in Anchorage.

To register for the meeting or learn more, visit the AOS 2019 Conference website. Also, be sure to check out the merchandise that features this logo.

Just Published in Marine Ornithology: Unusual Foraging Observations Associated with Seabird Die-offs in Alaska

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

Above is a short video that I produced to supplement a paper I, along with colleagues at US Fish and Wildlife Service and USGS, just published in the journal Marine Ornithology. The video shows behaviors that we describe in the paper, and will hopefully help the reader visualize what we experienced ourselves.

The Bering Sea region is changing in many ways, but among the most sobering are the mass die-off events that are impacting the regions birdlife. These die-offs continue into this year. Since we put together this publication of the observations that I and colleagues made in 2016 and 2017, the trend has continued and is likely to continue into the future. Furthermore, on my most recent trip to the region I documented further evidence of the ongoing change that is occurring across the bering sea ecosystem. There is and will continue to be more to report.

Some of the change, such as the evidence of starving and ill affected storm-petrels that are the subject of our publication, is sobering and concerning. It hits hard on the hearts of those of us who so passionately pay attention to bird life across the globe. We care deeply about the well being of these creatures that fascinate us so much.

Some of the change, such as some of my most recent observations in the region, are exciting and stoke curiosity, as the birdlife of the region responds to the impacts of ecosystem disruption.

Ultimately, there will be winners and losers as life navigates anthropogenic driven change throughout the world. Mass die-off events will become the norm for some species, until their populations can no longer sustain such losses and they are eventually lost to our world. Others will adapt in ways we cannot yet imagine. Such adaptations will undoubtedly open our minds to processes and function in ecosystems that we are yet to understand.

Yes, climate change is a problem. It is a problem that still is not unanimously recognized. It will change our world, our way of life, and probably not for the better. But, as we experience the change, we can document what is happening for the future inhabitants of our perturbed ecosystems. We can make record of the oddities, the aberrations, so that we leave a paper trail of first observations that will help us understand when things started, and how they developed. Hopefully, as these records build the evidence of change will become insurmountable to the point that the overwhelming majority of our society cannot and will not deny that the world is impacted by our daily choices and we ourselves need to change. And when we do, hopefully it will not be too late.

This is why I want to publish notes such as this, to make a record that will add to the evidence of an increasingly disrupted world. More to come…

You can find the paper detailing our observations of odd foraging behaviors here:

http://www.marineornithology.org/PDF/46_2/46_2_149-153.pdf

Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) Plate

by Bryce W. Robinson

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My friend Kenneth, a Gyrfalcon researcher in Norway, is perhaps the most enthusiastically obsessed Gyrfalcon lover I know. I really appreciate his passion for the bird. Next week he is traveling to Salt Lake City for the Raptor Research Foundation’s annual conference. He asked me to paint a Gyrfalcon portrait for him, so I decided to take the opportunity to illustrate some perched birds to populate the plate I’ve been putting together. I going to produce some giclee prints of this plate, but I’m limiting it to 20 prints. If you like this image, and would like to purchase a print, it is available in the shop!

It’s taken me some time to paint birds that I’m pleased with enough to put into plate form. I’m still a bit at odds with these birds, but I think the above image best fits what I’m going for in creating the plate. My next step will be to paint some different postures and explore which best fills the gap in understanding the different positions and appearances that a Gyrfalcon may take on, in varying conditions. Additionally, the plate needs multiple different in flight postures, and some other age and plumage morph descriptions. Progress has been made either way, and I’m excited!

Below is the painting that I did for Kenneth, as it will look to him. I’ll be traveling to Salt Lake City myself, with this painting alongside me. Thanks for the opportunity Kenneth!

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