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AFC Flag Expedition #7:
The Freshwater Seals of Lake Baikal, Russia
Expedition Artist: Terry Woodall
Purpose: Terry has returned from observing and recording the rare Baikal Seal in its habitat in Russia. He became the first sculptor to receive support under the AFC Flag Program.
Location: Lake Baikal, Irkutsk (south-eastern Russia)
Scheduled For: Mid-June to mid-July, 2008
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Artwork Presented at Sister City Event
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Eugene, Oregon Mayor Kitty Piercy presented a Terry Woodall salmon sculpture to Mayor Victor Kondrashov at a Sister City gala event.  Irkutsk, a city of half a million people and the main city in the Lake Baikal region is the sister city to Eugene, Oregon and was visited by Terry Woodall as part of his 7th AFC Flag Expedition to Lake Baikal. At the evening event in Eugene, Terry showed the "Art of Conservation 2009" companion book which featured his flag expedition and explained about his AFC field study concerning the freshwater Baikal Seals.
Photos
  • Sister City Presentation
 
Web Cam Progress , Ushkanni Islands
Monday, July 2, 2012
It’s been four years to the week since my 7th Flag Expedition and explorations to remote regions around  Lake Baikal.  One project that I promoted and that I have a keen interest in, and was only conversation during my expedition, is now becoming a reality.  This project is spearheaded by the Limniological Institute and Lake Baikal Museum in the lakeside town of Listviyanka.
 
Scientists and biologists from the  Institute now have a web cam installed on the remote Ushkanii Islands, where numerous freshwater Baikal Seal’s gather every summer and where my artistic field study took place.  The concept is to beam live video streams of the nerpa’s antics and activities to Listviyanka and the city of Irkutsk, and eventually supporting a live feed over the internet.
 
The most recent correspondence by e-mail [June 13}came from Vasili Maslyukov, the director's assistant at the Baikal Museum, and clarifies  their progress as follows: 
 
"We bring all equipment at the end of May and bring it back in the middle of September/
Previous years there was transmitting over space using sattillite. Bandwidth was very narrowonly 250 - 350 kilobit per second. So we shoot during 4 hours and transmitted during night/ And next day we showed the video of previous day. As you see there was no online transmition

The company - space provider promissed us during three years that we would get 4 megabit per second. But unfortunately they never did it. So this year we has broken the contract with them.

Theoretically we can get 4 mps this  year and extensive work is being done. We shall use two retranslators to Ust-Barguzin and from there through optical cable to Irkutsk. Anyway we have installed all equipment but without transmitter and store everyday high quality video onto computer with HDD of high capacity."

 
 
So the anticipation of the live internet feed is still tentative, however the institute is acquiring daily video of the nerpa activities, and is still working towards an active internet feed.  Their objective is for the world to see the only freshwater seals without traveling to their habitat, thus lessening the impact of ecotourism.  This is also a method which I believe will be important for protecting species and their habitats in the future.


Photos
  • Baikal Mermaid by Vasili
 
Art of Conservation Exhibition and Festival
Friday, November 11, 2011
Terry Woodall presented his lecture on the world's only freshwater seals of Lake Baikal, Russia, at the Artists for Conservation art exhibition and festival, an epic event for wildlife art in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

 

"Battle of the Bulls", a wood sculpture of two elephant seals fighting for dominance by Terry Woodall, was selected for the prestigious "Art of Conservation" 4th annual international art exhibition. Starting Nov. 4 through the 13, this event took place at the Grouse Mountain Resort high above Vancouver, B.C., with an art festival of workshops, lectures, and artist demonstrations, all of which included Terry's participation.


Photos
  • Baikal Seal Presentation
 
Guest Artist for Tahoe-Baikal Instiute
Friday, July 2, 2010
The Tahoe-Baikal Institute, which provided invaluable logistical assistance for my Lake Baikal Flag Expedition,  has invited me to participate in their 20th annual membership dinner and fundraiser event as their featured artist.  Without hesitation I agree to fully support the organization's efforts and create a sizable nerpa sculpture floating through a natural formed wave , all created from choice myrtlewood.  This piece and 3 smaller myrtlewood nerpa sculptures are my donation to the silent action scheduled for the evening event. 
 
A sizable Ski Tram is the transportation of choice to access the Heavenly Mountain Lodge, located 2000' above Lake Tahoe, which is the spectacular mountain top site of this occasion celebrating the Tahoe and Baikal watersheds. The evening begins with mingling in the lounge, where the "Slippery Nerpa" is the special drink offering of the night, as the lovable nerpa of Lake Baikal seemingly takes the center stage.  Guests enoy the incredible deck vistas, live music  and browse the nerpa art nearby.

Besides the sculptures on display at the silent action tables, an adjoining hall harbors bronzes and wood sculpture inspired by my field studies, and the AFC "Art of Conservation II" companion book, which is opened to the featured 7th Flag Expedition pages. All is well received, and I enjoy the antics of a group of Baikal exchange guests from Mongolia, who are delighted with photographing each other around, behind and through the "negative space" and unusual forms of my sculpture.

Live bluegrass music merges into the formalities and introductions of the evening, which include fifteen Russian and Mongolian participants in the Summer Environmental Exchange program sponsored by TBI. Guests are treated to a striking sunset as the dinner commences, and the lights of South Lake Tahoe appear far below in the ensuing twilight.

The excitement of the evening peaks with the final hour of the silent action, as winning bids are announced and the event comes to a close. The participation and generosity of the many people interested in the Institute’s cultural exchanges and environmental research helps ensure the health of these two great lakes found on opposite sides of the globe. 


Photos
  • Nerpa Sculpture Presented at Tahoe-Baikal Event
 
AFC Bares its Teeth in 2nd "Art of Conservation" Exhibition
Sunday, September 27, 2009
In the art world parlance of talk the talk and walk the walk, the Artists for Conservation Foundation  is running a major marathon, culminating in its 2nd annual wildlife art exhibition, "The Art of Conservation" hosted by the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum outside New York City. Wildlife artist and AFC member John Banovich headlined the late September art show opening with an acceptance speech upon receiving the coveted Simon Combes Conservation Award. His statement "I like painting big mammals with big teeth" resonated through the audience, and was amplified by the Banovich paintings adorning the entry hall of the Museum, especially the large hippo head emerging from a water hole with mouth agape, exposing one of the largest sets of teeth in the animal kingdom.

The global reach of the AFC was emphasized by the two featured flag expeditions of the show, Artist David Rankin’s expedition to the headwaters of the Ganges River, and Sculptor Terry Woodall’s expedition to Lake Baikal, Russia. A cast of worldly nature artists also in attendance included Alison Nicholls, whose 5th Flag Expedition to Zimbabwe, Africa was highlighted in the 2008 first annual AFC art exhibition; the communicative Susan Fox who just returned from the 9th Flag Expedition to the steppes of Mongolia; bird painter Ria Winters of the Netherlands who recently completed the 8th Flag Expedition to the Mauritius Islands in the Indian Ocean; and the adventurous Kelly Dodge who left the opening weekend show by immediately flying to the Galapagos Islands to fulfill the 10th flag Expedition.
 
The Friday evening preview of the art exhibit was capped with insights into the merits of artistic field studies by the two featured Flag Expedition artists. David Rankin presented dozens of watercolors in the video and flag journal which he compiled on his 2007 field study of the headwaters of the Ganges River in the Indian Himalayas. In his brazen "see for myself" outlook, David took his own GPS readings of the Gangotri Glacier to monitor one of the world’s fastest melting glaciers, with the intention of returning and comparing any changes.
 
Terry Woodall emphasized the ecological importance of his theater of study, Lake Baikal, Russia, and acknowledged its role as the first environmental movement in that country. With its 1500 endemic species, the large lake is also known as the "Galapagos of Russia" and Terry’s field study focused on the world’s only freshwater seal species, resulting in bronze sculptures of these aquatic animals, one of which is in this exhibition.  Close up shots of the "nerpas" and their comical antics highlighted his slide presentation. 

A Saturday afternoon highlight of the weekend event was a special behind the scenes tour of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City led by the museum’s Senior Exhibitions Manager and AFC member Steve Quinn. Steve began the tour with a lecture about the key role artists have played in the creation of early conservation initiatives including the founding of the AMNH with its beautifully painted dioramas of wildlife. Artists were then treated to an exciting tour of the exhibitions department studios, where a replica of a recently recovered Arab dhow* filled with Tang dynasty pottery and gold was being constructed as part of a new exhibit on the ancient Silk Road. The work for this new exhibit also included a 120 foot mural that Steve himself was painting.
 
The excitement of the weekend coasted through the Sunday afternoon open doors with hundreds of guests enjoying this premier showing of wildlife art within the framework of conservation.

 
 
Arrival, AFC "Art of Conservation" Opening Weekend
Thursday, September 24, 2009
     After a long cross country flight, the first thing I do after identifying myself as a participating artist and checking in at the Hilton front desk is request the artists gift pack, which I assume is readily available. Sure enough, the clerk procures and graciously hands me the prep pack for the second annual "Art of Conservation" exhibition. Striding to the lounge, luggage in tow, I pull out the highly anticipated and beautifully hard bound companion book for the art exhibition. As I muse over my copy, seeking out the coverage of my flag expedition, I am warmly greeted by Artist David Rankin and his wife Deanna.
      "Now how did you get that book," David begins, "I went around and around asking for my book at the front desk, all to no avail."
     I knew he was as eager to see the book as I was, since David lead the 2nd Flag Expedition into the Himalayas, which was the other featured expedition of the opening weekend events.
       " I just politely asked for my artist gift packet," I teased him.      
       "Ah hah, you asked for a gift pack, and I kept asking for a ‘book’. So its all in the terminology," and without a moments hesitation, he was on his way to the front desk.  
       Within five minutes, he was back with his prize. "Hey, it worked," he beamed, and we both began searching the pages, each of us enamored by the six full color pages devoted to each of our Flag Expeditions. Soon we are discussing and kidding each other about our forthcoming slide presentations on the expeditions.
      The wisdom of AFC President Jeffery Whiting in creating such an impressive companion book is well regarded, and gives enduring longevity to the short time span of a fluid art exhibition.
        Its all in the terminology.


 

 
Sea Life Salt Free, Bonneville to Baikal
Friday, July 3, 2009
This is the first exhibition of the art works I have created from the 7th Flag Expedition and the artistic field study of the nerpas, and I have combined the Baikal inspired works with wildlife of the Pacific Northwest region. Touching upon anomalies of nature, this exhibit focuses on both Northwest sea life dancing between salt water and freshwater pursuits, and the world's only freshwater seal species which lives a thousand miles from any saltwater ocean, the nerpas of Lake Baikal, Russia.
 
The White Sturgeon Gallery, located in the beautiful Water Resources Education Center overlooking the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, is hosting  the July through August art exhibition.  Curator Maya Jones is excited about the event, particularly the statement piece "Deadlock" which draws attention to the salmon-sea lion conflict at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia and 150 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
 
A bronze nerpa curving into a driftwood wave form [also bronze] is the main baikal feature of the show. Through the long winter between my mid-summer expedition to Lake Baikal and this early July showing, I have also completed a relief carving which now hangs above the bronze. This work is completely inspired by my quiet hours observing the nerpas lounging on rocks of the Ushkanni Islands, and cormorants swarming over the sea mounts nearby. In the carving, five nerpas scramble and lie about on the rocks, while a pickett fence line up of cormorants border the cliff edge above them. Titled "Lords Of Baikal" it is 19" high by 37" wide, carved in solid black myrtlewood with rustic touches adding texture. The frame is also noteworthy, being a unique form of  curly maple strips that formed over wounds to the tree.
 
 

 
 
The Nerpa in Bronze
Sunday, May 10, 2009

With the physical flag expedition and adventure in Russia well behind me, the follow up work of creating art resulting from the field studies and inspiring others with the wonders that I have experienced will be an even longer journey.

Having just completed my first two bronze nerpa sculptures resulting from the flag expedition to Lake Baikal, I am pleased with the news that my first piece, "The Sentinel", has been accepted into the 2nd annual AFC "Art of Conservation" exhibition, scheduled for late September at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum just outside New York City. As part of the exhibition’s opening weekend events, I have also been invited to present a slide show and review of the 7th flag expedition.
 
The prospect of presenting my artistic pursuits in a venue of this caliber is overwhelming, and I am honored to share my adventure in Russia and extend the flag expedition mission on behalf of the Baikal Seals and their theater of nature.

Creating the first Baikal Seals in Bronze, see "Creative Process" on Terry’s AFC home page.


Photos
  • Baikal Curl
  • Baikal Curl
  • The Sentinel
 
Young Students Exchange Letters
Friday, January 16, 2009
  Resulting from the 7th Flag Expedition to Lake Baikal, Russia, a letter exchange program for 11, 12 and 13 year old students has been established between the Ecology School of Ust-Barguzin, Russia, and middle schools of the Coos Bay area, Oregon, USA.  "Pen Pals for Pinnipeds" emphasizes the similarities in both environments and highlights the Baikal Seals of the Lake Baikal region and the four pinnipeds found in the Coos Bay area. 
  Ust-Barguzin is a town of 9,000 inhabitants located on the remote central-eastern shores of Lake Baikal, and is the headquarters of the Zabaikalsky National Park. The huge wilderness park includes major habitats of the unique freshwater seals.  The National Park and the Ecology School are promoting the letter exchanges of the youth of their community.
   The rugged Pacific coastline of Coos Bay and North Bend is home to  elephant seals and harbor seals, as well as sea lions. Young  elephant seals have been found wandering on North Bend city streets and harbor seals swim up local rivers.  A program encouraging college education for young students of these adjoining Oregon towns  is organizing the letter exchange for the USA recipients. 

 
 
Sister Cities
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The nearby city of Eugene, Oregon has a sister city program with Irkutsk, Russia, and is celebrating their twentieth anniversary of this cultural tie. Galina Groza has advised me during the planning of the Flag Expedition based in Irkutsk, and she invites me to the special sister city event in Eugene, which she is active in organizing.

Special guests and speakers include a delegation of four representing the city council of Irkutsk and their interpreter. One of the Russians oversees the arts and culture events and establishments of Irkutsk, and I enjoy discussions with her. Representing Eugene are the mayor, ex-mayor and some of the founding members of the sister city organization. Also in attendance is an exchange student from the city of Ulan Ude, who is attending a Eugene high school.

After a lively buffet, speeches and gift giving, the evening is highlighted with a performance of Russian folk music by three musicians formally of Russia and now Oregon residents.


 

 
Last Day in Russia
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
   It is my last day in the city of Irkutsk in Siberian Asia, and I am greeted in the morning with a downpour of steady rain, as if to say "good bye Oregon boy".  Besides a few spectacular evening thunder and lightening displays, this day is the only real rain I've seen in the entire duration of the Flag Expedition.  In the early morning drenching, I slog my way through neighborhoods amongst wet and weary commuters to an appointment with Jenny Sutton, one of the founders of the Baikal Wave.  Baikal Wave is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of Lake Baikal and the Siberian Frontier.  A lot of activity in the interest of the ecology of Lake Baikal is centered here and probably the most comprehensive and up to date information on the Baikal Seal can be found here.  Jenny has been with Baikal Wave since 1990, and I am privileged to garner more background material for this Flag Expedition on the Freshwater Seals of Lake Baikal.
 
                                          Lake Baikal Pollutants  
  Pcb's have been detected in the fish of the lake.  An isolated village in the mid section of the lake, which subsists mostly on local fish, including the salmon-like  Omul, has  registered noteworthy   levels of pcb's in the milk of mothers.  Since the pcb's are in the fish, they are also in the nerpa at the top of the lake's food chain.   Improvements are slowly being made in the one industrial contaminate of the lake, the paper mill at Baikalsk.  It will soon have greatly reduced its discharges into the lake, which contain pollutants that have not been good for the ecosystems of the lake in the past.  The building of this paper plant in the 1960's galvanised the first major green movement in Russia.  Subsequent public outcrys more recently in Irkustk diverted a planned oil pipeline to the North, away from Lake Baikal and its watershed.   
                                       
                                            Changing Ice Cover
  Exacting records have been kept since 1869 on the temperatures and ice cycles of the Baikal region.  The seasonal ice cover over the lake is now 18 days less than the historical average, and the temperature has increased 2 degrees celcius over all of Siberia, and 1.2 degrees over Lake Baikal.   Less days of ice and softer snow cover in  winter can threaten the seals, as their molting and birthing is dependent on seasonal ice, and the pups in dens are more vulnerable to predators with less solid snow cover.  The changes in ice is being monitered into the future by scientists at the Limnological Institute and Museum in Listvyanka, which I visited earlier in this expedition. 
  
                                            Hunting of Seals
Hunting quotas are set and monitered at about 5000 seals per year.  There is a minor demand for fur, mainly from  China, and hunting is not considered a threat to maintaining a stable seal population.  Some Buryatia people have used the seal fat for medicinal purposes.  
    
  Lack of funding for enviromental protection, research and agency management is a problem in the Baikal region, as it is in many regions.  It is people like Jenny that help keep a focus on the  conservation needs of ecosystems such as Baikal,  and there is lots of support as people throughout Russia consider Lake Baikal as their Sacred Sea.  And it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason, with the only freshwater seal species in the world at the center stage.   

 
 
Nature Museum Ceremony
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
  It is my last days in this "Paris of Siberia" and I bid my new friends farewell in a presentation ceremony at the Irkutsk Nature Museum organized by Vladimir Khidekel.   I recount my experiences of the expedition and seal observations in the Ushkanii Islands, and present wood sculptures of seals as a token of appreciation to those organizations that have worked so hard on the behalf of the Baikal Seal and the protection of its environment.   
   Honored guests include Jenny Sutton, the Director of Baikal Wave and a major voice in  the interest of protecting the seals.  Representing the Great Baikal Trail project is Elena Chubakova, and Tatyana Beyauskaya from the Tahoe-Baikal Institute.  A special presentation is made to Olga Elina, Director of the Nature Museum, for hosting my exhibit and to have a sculpture of seals in their permanent collection.

Photos
  • Nature Museum Presentation
  • Jenny Sutton of Baikal Wave
  • For the Great Baikal Trail
  • Tahoe Baikal Institute
  • Reviewing the Flag Expedition
 
Nerpaquarium
Monday, July 21, 2008
  In an Irkutsk aquarium, Baikal Seals have been trained to perform an array of challenging feats, and one that stands out for this artistic study is the art of Tito, the painting nerpa.  Tito has many abstract paintings to his credit, and even had publicity in the New York Times.  I had the privilege of observing this seal in action, and even acquired an original.  However, it is a bit difficult to decipher his signature!
   Much to the pampered seal's credit, studies have proven them to have a high degree of intelligence in the animal world.  From training and studies with the U.S. Navy, sea lions in particular are on a par with dolphins in mental capabilities.

Photos
  • Nerpa Acknowledges the AFC Flag
  • Tito and his Fans
  • 'Bin with the Seals Too Long
 
Full Circle of Lake Baikal
Sunday, July 20, 2008
  Leaving the riverside port of Ust-Barguzin by small ship, I will traverse the entire southern half of Lake Baikal, having completed a full circle back to Irkustk.  The 10 hour trip passes miles of remote shoreline and isolated islands, including the 45 mile-long  Olkhon Island with its prominent shaman rocks. 
  Turning the corner of the north end of the island, we enter the Small Sea, although this is a misnomer as I have yet to see anything small in this vast region.  It is a full two hours sailing this sea until we pass through the straights at the southern end of Olkhon and back into Lake Baikal proper.
 
Stilt Trees
   It is a beautiful July day in the middle of Asia and I spend most of the voyage at the ship's stern, soaking in the panorama as it unfolds.  There is something about traveling a full day on the sea that opens up your mind and hones all your senses, lifting your thoughts to new levels.  Points of interest along the way are the White Cliffs of Sagan Zaba with their petroglyphs and caves, and the natural wonder of the stilt trees of Peschanaya Bay. The stilt trees grow in sand hills,  with erosion under their trunks creating hollows until they are elevated above the ground on stilt roots. 
   The final leg of the voyage passes by Listvyanka at the start of the Angara River, and 40 miles down the Angara to the marina of Irkutsk, where there is time to reflect on this journey to remote parts of Siberia.

Photos
  • Leaving Ust-Barguzin Shores
  • North Point of Olkhon Island
  • Shaman Rock at Cove of Khuzhir
  • Peschanaya Bay
  • Stilt Trees at Kiosk
  • White Cliffs of Sagan Zaba
  • Lisvtyanka at the Angara River
  • Irkutsk Marina
 
Gallery of Seals
Saturday, July 19, 2008
  Observations of the seals on the Ushkanii Islands resulted in many photos of individuals, groups, varying poses and antics; spyhopping and swimming, bobbing and porpoising.  It is a pleasure to share this theater of nature through these photographs.
 
 
 

Photos
  • Nerpa Frozen in White Marble
  • Swimming through Crystalline Waters
  • Sleepy Eyed Sunning
  • Rocky Perch
  • Scanning the Field
  • Nerpa Pose
  • Caught in a Yawn
  • Balancing Act
  • Favored Real Estate
 
Day in Ust-Barguzin
Friday, July 18, 2008
  With an artistically shaped form of the Siberian Pine  and a limited selection of tools, I shape out and detail a smooth flowing sculpture.  Working throughout the day, I entertain my hosts and leave them  with a stylized waterfowl for a centerpiece in their home.  In a short time I will be leaving this rustic village of Siberia, and I take a last stroll through this wood oriented town.  With its miles of pine and larch forests, this area supports a wood millling industry, and most residents have an abundance of firewood for the cold winters and a wealth of building materials.  Ornate wood houses, many of them log construction,  are the norm on the streets of Ust-Barguzin. 
  The town is situated on the Barguzin River and its entry into Lake Baikal, and after a mile walk I am wading in Lake Baikal on an expansive sandy beach framed by pine trees.  Further along, and I am casting a line into the Barguzin River.

Photos
  • Wood Carving
  • Carving Detail
  • Church of Ust-Barguzin
  • Soccer Fields Nearby
  • Fishing in Siberia
 
Of Shaminism and Animal Spirits
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Legend of Bukhe Shulun
  "As the people herded their livestock over the mountains and into green pastures of the next valley, one bull was missing, having returned to the spot he had left.  Three times the herders moved the bull over the mountains, and each time he returned to the same spot.  Finally, the bull lay down and  would not move.  When the herders came to move him, he had turned to stone.  Since that time, the stone bull has been revered as the protector of all the animals in the valley."
   This natural stone monument, draped in prayer ribbons and said to have magical powers, is set on the east edge of the expansive Barguzin Valley, and framed by the sawtooth Barguzin Range to the west.  This magnificent range, with peaks up to 7500 feet, divide the valley from Lake Baikal.  Wild reindeer herds and numerous brown bear roam the upper plateaus of these mountains.
 
Buddhists of Buyarita
   At the base of the mountains are two Buddhist Datsans, one at the base of a holy peak and a major pilgrimage destination of that religion.  Buddhism arrived from Mongolia and China in the 18th century, overlapping with the Shaminism of the Evenkins, who were the native reindeer herding peoples of Buryatia.  Today, the Evenkins live further north and Buddhism is still a major religion of the region.
   Also along the cliffy eastern edge of the valley are pictographs from even more ancient peoples.  Deer, mountain goat, distinct birds and fish, and human figures with headdresses can all be discerned in red paint at one site. 
 
Touring the Valley 
   On this wide loop through the Barguzin Valley and its holy places, we have absorbed its incredible scenery and spotted elusive Siberian cranes, falcons, osprey, various waterfowl, the large moor buzzard and a wolf pair. 
  

Photos
  • Byk Stone
  • Buddhist Mountain Datsan
  • Prayer Flags on Pilgrimage Route
  • Stacked Stones on Pilgrimage Path
  • Destination of Pilgrimage
  • Ancient Pictograph
  • Animal Art of Ancients
  • Moor Buzzard
 
Art in Ust-Barguzin
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
  The entrance gate into Zabaikalsky National Park has a new adornment as Misha, Eva and I deliver and install two paintings of Baikal scenery in the outdoor display stand.  Eva has an art degree from a university in Berlin, and has created these works for the park.
  On the return to Ust-Barguzin, I assist in collecting small driftwood pieces with unusual shapes and forms for children's art classes held at the visitor's center.  Sponsored by the Ecology Center School, the class will include creating clay sculptural forms from the driftwood shapes we have collected.
   The Ecology Center School is a community organization that supplements educational projects for children, and I have been in discussion with them to begin a cultural exchange project between students of my hometown, based on the ecology and conservation of each area.  Their nerpas of Lake Baikal and the harbor seals of my area would be a keystone subject for the exchange.
   The visitors center also proudly displays some of the work of their local artist, Peter Korshunkov, who was prolific in sculpture and painting into his 80's, and is now deceased.  His work includes some free form wood sculpture.  

Photos
  • Installing Paintings in Park Kiosk
  • Installed Paintings
  • Unique Driftwood and Clay Replicas
  • Driftwood and Clay Detail
  • Wood Sculpture
 
White Tailed Eagles of Lake Baikal
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
   Again I am drawn to the field, and with Misha Ivanov of the Great Baikal Trail project and translator Eva, the day begins in the low lying isthmus area connecting the mountainous Svyatoy Nos Peninsula.  We start down a sand track in a thick pine forest seeking a  nesting site of the White Tailed Eagle.   It is difficult seeing through the thick pines, and Misha is constantly distracted by an early crop of big russela mushrooms dotting the forest floor, and we collect the delicacies without hesitation. 
   Still seeking the nest, I finally spot the large thicket of sticks midway up a pine tree.  We quietly stalk up to the nest and wait for any signs of eagle activity.  After a period of waiting and watching, Misha  spots one chick briefly extending its head into our view.  I have been hearing what sounds like young chatter, but the intermittent sounds are coming from an opposite cluster of trees and not from the nest.  Suddenly we identify the sound as a large adult eagle swoops up from the trees and circles around us and the nest in a series of figure eights, affording us some excellent views of this marvel of the sky with its wide, white tail.  After the obvious nest-check, the adult retreated back into the pines, out of our sight but not a great distance away, and we also retreat back to the road.
 
Ghost Forest
    As we venture further into the peninsula, an extensive ghost forest of scattered dead pines spreads out to the north of this flat marshland.  We turn off to the sandy beach to the south and make our way to a rustic wooden tower complete with log ladders that was built for an early geographic survey.  I follow Misha as he scales to the top of the 100 foot tower for the breathtaking, 360 degree view of Lake Baikal, 20 miles of continuous fine sand beach and the scattered pines of the extensive marshland.  With our field glasses, we pick out three more eagle nests in various pine snags of the skeleton forest that is slowly drowning in the marshy soil. 
   Escorted by trumpeting curlews,  we slog across the half mile of marsh until we reach the ghost forest.  Here we are in sight of two eagle nests, and the closer one seems abandoned.  After scrutinizing the far nest, Misha spots two adults perched on a skeleton tree nearby.  Of course they have also seen us, and after a few moments of observation, they become nervous at our presence and begin circling around the nest area.  As we make our way back to the sand road, we spy a Red Footed Falcon, and I admire some unusual wood formations of the ghost forest.
 
Gray Heron Rookery
   In the estuary close to the mouth of the Barguzin River, we explore an extensive Gray Heron rookery.  It is full of the large birds, squawking and squabbling in a tangle of nests.
   The power is out in the village as we return, and my homestay has turned into a hostel stay as Eva and Andrea host more travelers.  The candle lit evening is lively with friendly dialogs  in Russian, German and English.
     
 
    

Photos
  • Inhabited White Tail Eagle Nest
  • Ghost Forest Nest
  • Heron Silhouette
  • Gray Heron Rookery
 
Visitor Center Presentation
Monday, July 14, 2008
  The Zabaikalsky National Park has jursdiction over all of the Svyatoy Nos Peninsula, surrounding bays, the Ushkanii Islands and the Barguzin Mountain Range.  They monitor the nerpa populations and protect their habitat, and it is my wish  to acknowledge their efforts and thank them for assistance with my Flag Expedition.  Their new visitor center in the middle of Ust-Barguzin is ideal for a presentation, and my translator Eva Heitzmann hosts a ceremony attended by park rangers, park staff, teachers from the Ecological Center School, and others.  I have a special salmon sculpture from Oregon that I present to National Park Director Vladimir Melnikov,  and I entertain the group recounting my experiences in their National Park.  They are very interested in the descriptions and photos I show of the pinnipeds from my home coastline.
 
Web-Cam Installation
   A current project between the Limnilogical Museum in Listvyanka and the National Park is a real time web-cam to be placed on the island this summer.  After two years of planning, the  project ready for installation, and will be wind powered with a minimum of disruption to the seal population there.  Since this will give many people the opportunity to observe the seals without disturbing them in their habitat, I think this is a good project to help support, and I discuss some variables with Director Melnikov and the visitor center manager Olga Skosyrskaya.  Since the visitor center is new and without internet or phone connections, I offer to help bring the web cam into the center, with internet connection and LCD monior for displaying the feed from the web cam.  The main purpose is that people not able to travel to the islands can easily view the seals live at the visitors center. My proposal is welcomed with toasts of champagne.

Photos
  • Presentation of Wood Sculpture
  • Highlight of the Ceremony
 
Following the Song of the Seal
Sunday, July 13, 2008
I celebrate having successfully sought out the freshwater seals of Lake Baikal in their remote summer habitat of the Ushkanii Islands. After three days of field study I have acquired excellent photos, film and drawings of these unique seals to assist me in future sculptural art works inspired by this astounding nature experience.  It was a privilege to camp in these idylic islands of marble set in crystaline waters,  and I am eternally grateful to the Artists for Conservation Foundation, the Zabaikalsky National Park, Baikal Watch, and everyone who helped make this wilderness area adventure possible.

Photos
  • Song of the Seal
  • Sketching in the Field
 
Islands of Nerpas and Cormorants
Saturday, July 12, 2008
  Early morning I set up the spotting scope on the cliff edge and sketch details of  nerpa faces and anatomy.  Later in the morning we break camp, bid farewell to the endearing seal population and leave the Ushkaniis for Baklanii Island deep in the Chivyrkuysky Gulf. The time we have spent on the Ushkanii's was one of total solitude, seeing only two boats the entire time,
never hearing an airplane, with no sign of artificial lights on any horizon.  Our surroundings have been only the distant mountains and this "sacred sea" of Russia, which we have shared with the prolific populations of sea gulls and seals.
  Our crossing and entry into the gulf is in a thick fog, and we follow the barely visible shore of the Svyatoy Nos Peninsula until we break out in a sunny cove with a hot springs.  Lunch and a mineral bath soothes the return trip.  After relaxing, we cross the rough chop of the gulf to the far northern shore, and seek out a large outcrop of rock thrusting upwards a half mile offshore.
 
Cormorant Success Story
   This seamount is an exclamation mark for another success story in this theater of nature.  In 1957 the cormorants native to Lake Baikal were hunted to extinction, as they were undesirable competition for fishermen.  In 2001, twenty cormorants were re-introduced in an effort by National Park biologists and the Global Ecological Foundation.  As the seed group became established, it grew to a modest thirty by 2006, and then took off with up to 600 birds estimated this year.  It is surmized that the seed group attracted other birds to join them, until a large colony  is now thriving.  As we cruised around their rock home, we observed hundreds of birds flying around and aligned in rows, perched again on this rock promonatory.
 
Baklanii Island
   Soon we put in at Baklanii Island, and what an idlyic paradise island we've discovered.  The  calm waters are deep blue-green, the sun is warming, the sand is fine and bright white.  Only the white birch trees and pines remind one that this is the Siberian Northland, as July washes away the normal taiga atmosphere.  Eva, my translator, is seeking out pottery shards left by the ancients for display in the National Park Visitor Center in Ust-Barguzin, and determines that this magical Isle is a good place to look.  Sure enough, we discover the shards in the sand berms, and the guide Kolja finds a beautiful green neophrite arrowhead.  He has lived his whole life in the vicinity of the gulf, has Buryatia lineage, and we joke that the ancients are smiling down on him. We explore a deep cave on the upper cliffs, and take the boat around a cliff edge where Kolja points out a red outlined pictograph also left by the ancient peoples.  It resembles a fish or aquatic animal, and my yearning imagination determines that it must be a nerpa!
    After examining our treasures, which include large shards imprinted with designs and known to be 3000 to 5000 years old, we leave the island for a marshy area in the interior reaches of the gulf.  Here we cast a line, and in no time Kolja and I are reeling in perch and nice sized pike of about 20 inches.  Beaching at a fishermens hut, we build a fire and cook our catch speared on stakes.  Soon we will leave this awesome wilderness behind and return to the village of Ust-Barguzin. 

Photos
  • Nerpa Pose
  • Baikal Seals
  • Seamount of Cormorants
 
Exploring the Islands
Friday, July 11, 2008
   I am up early and eager to explore our surroundings, which include an extensive sea gull  rookery covering the island's west end.  The large number of birds are in a constant state of soaring, squawking, sparring and generally carrying on, with their noise giving us a background concerto day and night.  Making my way over the shoreline boulders, I observe many nests, some with eggs.  There are also various seal remains washed up on the rocks.
  Retreating from the Yellow Legged Sea Gull colony, I focus on the Baikal Seals gathering on the North shore, which is their main haul out area.  I spend the rest of the morning observing their activities, which is quite entertaining,  and acquire excellent photographs and video.  They are playfully in and out of the water, jockey for position on the sunning rocks with slaps of the fins, and many bobbing, spyhopping individuals dot the open water.  We count 170 seals in one viewing session this day.
 
Cruising the Islands
   In the afternoon, Kolja pilots the boat around the other islands, all with seals present, and we stop at the only ranger residency, on the big island of Bolshoy.  An older meteorologist leads us into the forest to some hidden away clay pits,  and we gather some raw clay for sculpting.  We also visit a cave used by people four thousand years ago, and observe some unusual natural marble formations, one very large one known as "elephant rock", and a smaller one which I fantasize as a nerpa laying in the water. 
   Back at our "home" island, I spend the rest of the afternoon sketching the seals.  Later, as we prepare the campfire, a small catamaran pulls into camp, which is a great surprise in this isolated place.  It is one Finnish and three Russians on a filming expedition, and they join us at the campfire for a lively exchange of adventure and island lore using three different languages. 

Photos
  • AFC Flag on Tonky Island
  • Island Scene
  • Elephant Rock
 
Landing on Tonky Island
Thursday, July 10, 2008
It is a very rough crossing, eight miles of open water and white caps as Lake Baikal flexes her muscles, and we are relieved to reach the protection of the islands.  The Ushkanii's are composed of one large island with prominent mountain peaks named Bolshoy, and the long slender island of Tonky and the two round saucer shaped islands of Krugly and Dolgi. As the boulders of Dolgi come into view, it is obvious that many of the shapes we see are seals lounging in the sun, and bobbing heads are everywhere in the vicinity.  Without coming too close, we swing by and beach on Tonky Island close by.
 
Pitching Camp
   A white sand and fine gravel beach a half mile long marks our campsite for three days, and we pitch tents, gather wood and survey our surroundings.  A low lying forest of larch and pine caps the bluff, which is propped up by out croppings and large boulders of sparkling white marble, some patched with bright orange lichen.  The calm waters surrounding the island are crystal clear, varying with aqua colors of blue and green, with the rocky bottom visible to thirty foot depths.  The majestic wall of peaks of the Svyatoy Nos Peninsula fills the horizon directly across from our camp, and the very distant sawtooth ridges of the Barguzin Range is visible to the Northeast.  The beach gently curves to a point to our left, and the ever present nerpa scouts are moving slowly from the point until they are directly in front of our camp.
 
First Nerpa Observations
   With plenty of daylight left in this land of the midnight sun, we hike over the bluff and quietly scan the opposite rocky shore,  discovering a large seal colony covering the boulders and swimming about in their aquatic world.  By the time a blazing sunset closes out the viewing, we have counted over 60 seals and observed their antics; bobbing and spyhopping, diving and chasing one another, and playing a cat and mouse game with us, as we try to remain hidden but are obvious to them the whole time.  Sometimes they will become nervous and all crash into the water at once, and other times ignore us completely.  It is delightful to be in this remote place and observe such phenomenal wild nature on its own terms. 
  By ten thirty it is still light enough to make our way back to camp, and we light a bright bonfire  as the evening darkens.  By  midnight, the dull glow of twilight that still lightens the horizon will remain until the light of dawn ignites the next day. 

Photos
  • Island in View
  • Landing on Tonky Island
  • Tent Camp Established
  • Tent Camp on Shoreline
 
To the Road's End
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
   We leave Ust-Barguzin early by van, and shortly arrive at the ferry crossing of the Barguzin River. We are not far from the mouth of the river at Lake Baikal and the area we traverse is low lying estuary, followed by a rough sand track.  I am with Kolja Makavejev, guide and boat captain, and Eva Heitzmann, translator. Eva points out two White Tailed Eagle nests in tall pine snags across the estuary,  and notes that there are at least six nesting pairs on the Svyatoy Nos Penninsula.
  After over an hour of  washboard sand track we make the 30 miles to uninhabited Monakhovo, site of a boat dock and tent camps.  The only road into the Zabaikalsky Wilderness ends here.  We have crossed the narrow neck of land at the base of the peninsula, coming from the Barguzinsky Bay side in the South, and now in front of us the huge Chivyrkuysky Gulf opens up to the North.  We load the boat on the beach and set out, and take all of two hours in a speedboat to span the Gulf and reach the open waters of Lake Baikal. This gulf could stand alone as an enormous lake, and it is only a small part of Lake Baikal.  The far North side of the gulf is bordered by the distant Barguzin Mountains, sawtooth peaks rising up to 7500 feet.  The shoreline we are hugging rears up into the corrogated peaks of the Svyatoy Nos, and both sides show glacier and snow patches on the highest peaks.   From the boat dock on, there is absolutely no sign of civilization, other than a very few occasional boats. Midway out in the Gulf, an eagle flaps overhead, and we follow his course across the bay and into the looming mountainside, until we see him land in a treetop. 
  As we finally round the face of the peninsula, still in calm coastal water, I spy a dark head bobbing ahead of us, and sure enough, it is our first Nerpa sighting.  It looks us over, turns and porpoise dives, as if welcoming us to his neighborhood.  In the same moment, we can look beyond the seal to the distant Ushkanii Islands, barely looming through the fog a full eight miles away out in the middle of Lake Baikal, and our final destination.  

Photos
  • Ferry Crossing
  • Road's End at Monakhovo
 
The Republic of Buryatia
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
After circumventing the southern end of Lake Baikal for seven hours on the Trans Siberian Railroad, I arrived in Ulan Ude, the capital of Buryatia, which is about 150 miles from the border of Mongolia.  After spending the night of July 2, I will travel eight more hours by van over rough gravel, dirt and broken pavement to reach the village of Ust-Barguzin, which lies on the edge of Zabaikalsky National Park and the immense Svyatoy Nos Peninsula.  One could say that distances are vast here, as I am only half way to the northern end of Lake Baikal.
  At the end of the bone-jarring ride to Ust-Barguzin, I am welcomed with a home stay by a delightful young couple, both rangers for the national park. There are no hotels in this remote Siberian town, and I am keen to learn about their lifestyle.  They have many small buildings for particular purposes, such as firewood storage, and extensive gardens for produce. And of course, a bathhouse for the Russian necessity of a suana, which I am invited to partake in, and happily accept.
  We spend the evening planning the adventure ahead, that  of traversing the Svyatoy Nos Peninsula and boating forty miles to the Ushkanii Islands, located in the middle of Lake Baikal. 
I am contemplating those vast distances once again.   

Photos
  • Symbol in Buryatia
  • Ulan Ude Monument
 
The Nature Museum Exhibit
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
   Our exhibit and presentation goes as planned, with TV and radio interviews, flash bulbs popping and a power point presentation on the Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition, the pinnipeds of the Oregon Coast, and the myrtlewood groves and wood used in my work.  I have seven myrtlewood wildlife sculptures on display, including two major pieces presented to the Great Baikal Trail and the Baikal Wave for their conservation efforts.  It is a pleasure to share in the enthusiasm of protecting wildlife shown by the people of Irkustk and  giving them a glimpse of my art world from the other side of the globe. The response is one of intrigue and gratitiude for the interest shown in their special ecosystems of Lake Baikal and its unique wildlife, especially  the freshwater seals.
  The afternoon event is a fitting end to my stay in Irkustk, as tomorrow I leave on the fabled Trans-Siberian railway for the city of Ulan Ude, and the beginning of the outdoor adventure of seeking out the nerpas of the remote Ushkanii Islands.  Due to the isolation of this area, reports from the field will be less frequent.
    

Photos
  • The Nature Museum
 

Monday, June 30, 2008
  The first week of the expedition is centered around Irkutsk, a Russian city of one half million people.  Although this is a nature expedition, it would be short sighted not to make note of this city known as the "Paris of Siberia".  Irkutsk has all the stately buildings, grand plazas, fountains and statues reminiscent of Europe, but the city is closer to the Far East.  A lengthy promenade and arched bridges adorn  the Angara River, which is the only out flow of Lake Baikal 40 miles upstream.  The Angara eventually empties into the Artic Ocean via the Yenisey River.
  Unusual to any city are the rows of log houses that line main streets and downtown areas of Irkutsk.  Most are highly ornamented with scroll work, unusual designs in wood and brightly painted shutters, exuding a fairy tale charm.

Photos
  • Waterfront Cathedral
  • Kirova Plaza Skyline
  • Kirova Plaza
  • Artist in the Plaza
  • The Church of Our Saviour
  • Log Cabin Irkutsk Style
  • Homestead in the City
 
Lake Baikal at Last!
Sunday, June 29, 2008
   A lot can happen in one day, and today I have reached the shore of Lake Baikal, at the rustic port town of Listvyanka.  And there are seagulls circling about, thousands of miles from the nearest oceans.  Perched above the lake is the Limnological Institute, a museum and research center, where I join the Museum Director, Dr. Vladimir Fialkov, his assistant Vasiliy, ecologist Eleonora and interpreter Tanya for a lively round table discussion on Lake Baikal.
  Before long we are discussing tribulites and underwater scorpions, as Dr. Fialkov is planning a new floor of exhibits spanning millions of years, and is looking for an artist or artist team to produce the models of the many creatures needed.  I agree to look over the CD of diagrams and, if possible,  help move the project forward.
   We move on to descriptions of the lake of today and its many endemic species, and Dr. Fialkov describes the nerpa populations and their subsistance dependant on the Golomyanka, a small, prolific fish that is their main food source.  The Golomyanka in turn is dependant on the tiny, shrimp-like Gorodets.
   From there, its a tour of the aquarium and a long awaited first glimpse of the freshwater Baikal Seal, alongside tanks containing the salmonoid Omul and the Golomyanka, all endemic species of this "Galapogos of Russia".  An interesting feature of the aquarium are the huge pumps deep down in the lake that circulate fresh lake water through the aquarium tanks every day to help sustain the inhabitants.

Photos
  • AFC Flag at Lake Baikal
  • Limnilogical Institute
  • Dr. Vladimir Fialkov
  • Vasiliy and his designs
  • The Baikal Seal
  • Freshwater Seals of Lake Baikal
  • Omul
 
Welcome to Russia!
Saturday, June 28, 2008
  Vladimir Khidekel of the Irkutsk Nature Museum welcomes me warmly on my first stop in the city center of Irkutsk.  We discuss the planned presentation of two sculpted seals mounted on driftwood waves for the leaders of conservation efforts for Lake Baikal and its nerpas, and install them in museum showcases.   
    Outside, as Vladimir shows me the nearby Old World streets and the stoic face of the museum, white fluff of pollen is falling as if it were a late June snowfall, piling up along the Old World sidewalks lined with poplar trees.
    

Photos
  • Nature Museum Welcome
  • In Irkustk
  • Is it snowing? Downtown Irkutsk
 
Song of the Seal
Friday, June 27, 2008
  Armed with a Native American cedar flute and carved myrtlewood seals for good will, and  two large sculpted seals mounted on driftwood waves, off I go, like a wandering troubadour spreading goodwill about a special pocket of seals inhabiting a very large Siberian lake.
 
  A few weeks ago it was announced that the Caribbean Monk Seal is officially extinct.  The last documented sighting was in 1952, with reported sighting in the early 60's.  The scientific community has a long timeline before an official determination is reached.
  A graceful acrobat of our aquatic world is gone, and this idylic southern sea will never again be graced by these curious and frolicking seals.

 
 
Whirlwind Weekend
Friday, June 20, 2008
   Five days until departure time and the pace is quickening, the sense of excitement is contagious, as I set out on a quick trip from Oregon to Santa Barbara, California for the opening of the Wildling Art Museum's exhibit, "Endangered Species; Flora and Fauna in Peril".  A highlight of the opening will be a Sunday afternooon lecture by David J. Wagner, Ph.D, author of American Wildlife Art, and the consulting curator for the exhibition. The weekend event is an excellent springboard for the Flag Expedition at hand, with the objectives of both being the same; to draw attention to the needs of wildlife in a changing world through art.  The plight of the pinnipeds will be represented by my Steller Sea Lions, which are a threatened species, sculpted in Oregon Myrtlewood. 
   Accompanied by my lovely wife, we shall enjoy the charm of Los Olivos, location of the Wildling Art Museum, and the surrounding wine country.  My wife has opted out on the major trek to remote Siberia,  partly due to a trip to Africa that we plan for later in the year.  Our daughter and son-in-law are living and working in Khartoum, Sudan on a United Nations assignment, and we look forward to seeing them.
 

 
 
Preparation Summary, Lake Baikal Expedition
Sunday, June 15, 2008
  It is Father's Day 2008 and a suitable time to begin the chronicle of adventure that will take me around, over, onto and into the deepest lake on earth, one that holds a full fifth of all flowing fresh water on this planet.  Known as the "Galapagos of Russia", this lake's 1,500 endemic species includes the Lake Baikal Seal, the only freshwater species of the pinnipeds, and the main subject of this Flag Expedition.
  Pinnipedia, or "fin footed", is the order including seals, sea lions and walrus that has fascinated me since childhood.  I have spent this morning at my familiar pinniped enclave on the Pacific Ocean, observing and photographing the local seals for a practice run before seeking  out the seals of Lake Baikal half way around the world.  My odyssey begins here, close to Charleston, Oregon, a quaint fishing village at the mouth of Coos Bay.  The reefs and headlands extending south are home to large colonies of Harbor Seals, Elephant Seals, California Sea Lions and the Steller Sea Lion.  The Oregon Institute of Marine Biology is located here, tucked between the steep hillsides and the wind swept bay.  Since my art studio is on another arm of Coos Bay some twenty miles away, I have enjoyed easy access for artistic studies of this marine wonderland since 1980.
 
National Geographic Television
   For the past few months I have been in contact with a team filming for National Geographic Television who are also mounting an expedition to Lake Baikal.  Since their destinations and objectives are almost identical to mine, we have shared information and sources for guides, timing and sites for viewing wildlife, and other details of travel in Russia.  Their main objective is filming both the seals in their natural habitat and the brown bears that come to the lake edge to feed on insect larva.  The premise of the television show will be the condition of Lake Baikal and its wildlife, past and present.  The film team is on the lake at this moment, as they departed for Russia in early June.
 
Oregon Institute of Marine Biology
   Shortly after learning of my selection for studying the Lake Baikal Seal, I attended a power point lecture and field trip about the local pinniped populations presented by Dr. Jan Hodder, the sea mammal expert of OIMB, which is the University of Oregon's marine biology center.  I have joined many field trips and talks with Jan over the years, and she was thrilled with my expedition plans to study the seals in Russia, and offered me full use of the OIMB library.  At her request, I will present a program on my experiences with the Baikal Seals after my return from Russia.
 
The Great Baikal Trail
   Many conservation groups focused on Lake Baikal are involved in construction of trails around the lake as a way to assist local ecomonies with eco-tourism opportunities.  This ongoing project welcomes volunteers from around the world to enjoy and enhance this pristine lake, and is headquartered in the cities of Irkutsk and Ulan Ude.  Gary Cook of the Earth Island Institute and Jennifer Smith of the Tahoe-Baikal Institute help back this project and have been instrumental in laying the ground works for this Flag Expedition to Lake Baikal.  I will have the opportunity to assist with the Great Baikal Trail project.

Photos
  • The journey begins here.
  • Harbor Seal, at home in Coos Bay
 
 

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