Monday, March 24, 2014

Where the Wild Things Are Tippy Top Tour (last installment)

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The above Google Earth map is my roadkill observations from the return leg of the Tippy Top Tour.  These observations would have been made from Fairbanks, AK to Reno, NV.  Below is a guide to what the different color bubbles represent:

Green bubbles are for animals that are alive
Red bubbles are dead/ roadkill observations
Yellow bubbles are for animals that I heard
Turquoise bubbles are for animals whose tracks I observed

You may click on each bubble on this map and read more about the siting in the info box.

these observations were made via the Champ seen here on the Top of the World Highway
The first Where the Wild Things Are Tippy Top Tour map is here.  I also did a map much like this during the BLC to Bering Sea trip that may be viewed here.  On my northbound leg of the Tippy Top Tour I was only gathering data on critters bigger than a housecat.  After discussing my project mid stream with the fine folks at Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, I started to collect all wildlife observations regardless of the size of the animal.  That means this return leg map will have much more data than the first leg of the trips map.  Also, my observations from the BLC to the Bering Sea trip didn't reflect roadkill or the study.  If you are interested in how the study is coming along you may view my contributions to the study here.  I am proud to say basically everything on that map north of the US border with Canada is my contribution to the study.  Keep in mind though all the data from my map above is yet to be added to the aggregate.

my old friend the Yukon River as seen from the beginning of the Robert Campbell Highway
I really enjoyed making this current map!  Going forward, whether I am taking part in a study or not, I will collect this data for my own knowledge.  The return leg really challenged me to take the time to correctly ID the animals I was observing.  Through this process I basically learned more about the natural world I am traveling through.  I have to be accurate with my data collection and this has challenged me to be more observant about the animals I see along my routes.

this Stone's Sheep is licking salt from the shoulder of the ALCAN highway just outside Muncho Lake PP
 caribou came to the ALCAN highway near Muncho Lake, PP to lick salt off the road
Bridge over Lapie Canyon along the Robert Campbell Highway
One thing that really stands out to me when looking at the above map is the large number of passerines and corvids that ended up being roadkill near Ft. Nelson, BC.  That is a long stretch of roadkill I pedaled through.  I am a little surprised by all of the dead corvids as I have rarely observed this in the wild or while pedaling.  It makes me wonder if they were poisoned or if something in that environment was causing this.  Ft. Nelson, BC is ground zero for resource extraction:

"Unconventional gas exploration is the premier industry in Fort Nelson, employing a large percentage of Fort Nelson's community members. The region's natural gas industry centers around the Horn River Basin, Liard Basin, and the Cordova basin which all contain vast amounts of gas in shale rock formations. Many of the world's most recognizable oil and gas companies are operating in the region, including EnCana, Nexen, Apache, Imperial Oil, and several more. The most common form of gas extraction is the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, in which a drill bit is first vertically, then horizontally inserted deep into the ground in an attempt to reach poorly accessible shale gas formations. As with any gas operation in North America, there are significant concerns to the environmental and social effects of the industry on the surrounding area. Large amounts of water are being extracted, most of which is withdrawn from nearby lakes and rivers, which continues to be a hot topic in the region and within the oil and gas industry."

The above quote is from Wikipedia and as I work through catching up my journals we will revisit the entire resource extraction theme for this area.  The large number of Swainson's Thrush roadkill I observed approaching Ft. Nelson had nothing to do with resource extraction though.  I watched several of the small birds get hit by oncoming traffic while pedaling this bit of the route.  My theory is the birds tendency to feed along the gravel shoulders of the road and their flight pattern when spooked by approaching traffic are the major factors in the large number of roadkill here.  For every roadkill Swainson's Thrush in this area I saw, I probably saw 30 live birds foraging together.  My other theory when looking at this map is that East to West roads provide the biggest obstacle to migrating birds.  I started to draw my own scientific conclusion to this when I got into another roadkill rich section of highway along the border of Northern Nevada and Southern Oregon.  During this leg of the Tippy Top Tour I observed several roadkill Yellow Rumped Warblers again on an East to West highway.  I was especially bummed out to see these road kill Warblers as I have one that is a winter resident in my front yard in the BLC.  I think I look forward to seeing his and her return every year more than they look forward to the suet and seedblock I put out for them.  I never realized they are a bird of the high desert as well, but now I know!  Maybe the East to West highways versus South to North highways prove to be a bigger obstacle for migrating birds because they have a higher likelihood of crossing them during their migration.  An East to West highway they have to cross at some point, but a South to North highway they may fly along either side of the route without ever needing to actually risk a crossing of it.  Of course these are just my observations when looking at the map, I have no scientific credentials to make these observations.

roadkill Yellow Rumped Warbler
road kill juvenile White Crowned Sparrow
If you use Google Earth or are really paying attention to my routes on these maps you may realize I have a reroute on the above map.  I ended up doing three alternates on the return leg that aren't reflected on my Tippy Top Tour Tracker.  The first one is in Idaho (although it isn't reflected in the above map either), the Weiser River Trail.  Just outside New Meadows, ID I got on this old Rails to Trails route and made it to almost Weiser before I had to punch out due to a muddy route.  Regardless of this though I saw a ton of Elk, Turkey, and eventually a black bear must have come within a .10 of a mile of my camp one night.  That is the new turquoise bubble above by the way.  I woke up in the morning and doubled back about a .10 of a mile due to muddy trails (my road touring bike was a mess in minutes).  I was surprised to see fresh black bear tracks in the mud of the trail that weren't there the evening before.  The thing that stands out about this observation is that it is the last black bear I would be near on my return home.  The second alternate was up near Prairie City, OR where I realized I could pedal through the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness versus having to double back on 395 from John Day, OR.  I had pedaled 395 on the northbound leg and this detour was excellent!  I highly recommend it and it is reflected in the above map.  The last alternate was near Adel, OR.  Here I realized I could pedal south the back way into Cedarville, CA.  Again this saved me doubling back on my northbound route out of Alturas.  I highly recommend this route which makes use of maybe 17 miles of good graded dirt road.  I have no doubt I got more wildlife observations taking this route and it was special to stand on the flanks of the Warner Mountains with a flock of several hundred Sandhill Cranes migrating south above me.  We had both made the round trip migration together this year!

a black bear sow and cub play in the middle of the Robert Campbell Highway
I was also blown away by the number of critters along the Robert Campbell Highway in Yukon Territory.  I now know if I am seeing lots of smaller critters (like squirrels, porcupine) then there is a higher likelihood of observing bigger animals like bears and caribou.

the Champ and Krud at the end of the Robert Campbell Highway (Watson Lake Sign Forest)


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  2. Great post Adam. I have no scientific cred but it occurred to me that a road that parallels a migratory path might be dangerous as birds flying along the road might see it as a source of food and spend more time on the road than those who only have to cross it once. Then again maybe not

  3. Good point Brendan! I hadn't considered that angle. Thanks for checking out the post!