In Nikolskoye village on Bering Island every year a children summer camp is organized by the local school. The Commander Islands Reserve takes active part in the creation of happy leisure time for children. In 2017 the camp started on July 3 and continued for 21 days. The Commander islands Reserve gave six educational lessons and organized a trip around Bering Island on our tracked cross-country vehicle. One of the lessons took place on Severo-Zapadnoye rookery of marine mammals and other two lessons were held by the researchers of the reserve.
The participation of the Commander Islands Reserve in the school camp of Nikolskoye village in 2017 started with arranging a big trip around Bering Island. The reserve gave GPS-navigators to every participant. On July 7 we took the children and the head of the school Marina Petrovna Levaya to the starting point of the foot trail – Buyan Bay on the eastern coast on the island. The participants headed to Lisinskaya Bay and visited Tolsty Cape and Peredovaya Bay on their way there.
Some parts of Bering Island are still covered with snow. Somewhere the snow doesn’t melt all year round. Photo by the school camp on Nikolskoye village
A part of the trail situated on the core area of the reserve – special zone, which is closed for everybody except for the researchers of the reserve and other scientific organizations. But the children did not only relax and admire the beauty of their home island, but also were in charge of a serious task – to monitor as any scientist would do.
The participants counted arctic foxes and registered the number of encountered sea gulls, cormorants, kittiwakes, fulmars and other animals using their GPS-navigators. They even met a herd of deer – about 500 individuals – in the valley of Peredovaya River.
After everybody returned to the village the first class started. As well as other three lessons, this one was held in the Commander Islands Reserve visit-center by Oksana Solovanuk, Main Specialist of Environmental Education Department. The children found out about the invertebrates of the littoral zone – the coastal zone, which is underwater during high tides. They also saw and touched dried starfish, balanus shells and mussels and other exponents of the reserve. There were some funny quizzes and practical tasks as well: to tell the species by its image, to draw or color one of the invertebrates.
Children color the shells of a mussel during one of the classes. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve
The flora of the Commander Islands is unique. We find here plant species characteristic of both Asia and North America. The islands are the only place, where they live together. The diversity of grasses and shrubs astonishes with its beauty. The Botanist and Researcher of the Commander Islands Reserve Angelica Shilova is the perfect candidate to show the wonders of their homeland to the children.
A lesson with botanist in the Commander Islands Reserve visit-center. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve
The lesson about plants was divided into two parts even on the preparatory stage. The first part was consecrated to herbarium, its rules and purpose – why the Commander Islands Reserve needs to make and store its own herbarium. During the second part the participants made their herbarium out of the prepared samples, made by Angelica Shilova, and learned which plants are beneficial or edible, how to collect them and store for winter. In winter because of storms and harsh weather food is delivered on the islands irregularly, so a hot cup of tea with some crowberry or cranberry, collected with your own hands, is most welcome.
Near the observation point on Severo-Zapadnoye marine mammals rookery. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve
Then the camp together with the Commander Islands Reserve headed to the field trip to Severo-Zapadnoye rookery. The children saw the inhabitants of the rookery: northern fur seals, sea lions and harbor seals. Oksana Solovanyuk told the participants about the biology and ecology of the animals, as well as about the state of the population of fur seals and sea lions, the numbers of which are declining for an unknown reason.
The next day children had a class about waders – a very diverse family of birds, which visit the Commander Islands during migrations or live here. Waders are the holders of some absolute records – a female bar-tailed godwit with a GPS-tag once covered 11 000 km without landing during its seasonal migration from Alaska to New Zealand.
Bar-tailed godwits. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve
Right before the Whales Day the children had a class organized by Alexander Sidorov, Biologist and Cetaceans Specialist. The class began in the visit-center and moved fast to the coast between Gavanskaya and Ladyginskaya Rivers. By a happy chance a grey whale chose this spot for its dinner. Grey whale is a very rare species for the water area of the reserve. We usually have a chance to see it twice or thrice a year.
Children observed the grey whale. You can see its flipper above the water. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve
According to Alexander Sidorov, grey whales are one of the most ancient species of cetaceans, which is still connected to the coast.
“Their age is estimated at about 30 million years. The grey whale is the only baleen whale, which feeds by filtering large quantities of sand through its whale bone to search for food. The whale fills its mouth with sand, lying on the left side right near the coast – at a depth of several meters. Then it turns upside down and pushes the substrate through the whale bone. All small invertebrates, which are concentrated in large numbers in the sand, stay in the mouth and become the food of the whale,” said Biologist and Researcher of the reserve Alexander Sidorov.
Grey whale in the upper water layers. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve
The children used spyglass to watch this giant mammal and its behavior. Alexander Sidorov told them many new facts about whales and dolphins.
“In Russia such big numbers of cetaceans can be found only around the Commander Islands. The populations are very dense and diverse. I believe, that children will remember our class not only as a set of scientific data, but also as a meeting with one of the rarest and most fascinating whales,” said Alexander.
After the camp was over Oksana Solovanuk and the researchers handed the children their participation certificates and small souvenirs from the Commander Islands Reserve. In total 20 children, 2 guides and 2 mentors took part in the event.
Those children, who couldn’t take part, do no need to be upset: summer is not over, a whole month of august is ahead and the Commander Islands Reserve is planning to organize classes in our visit-center and local kindergarten and field trips to Toporkov Island.