Photos: Arctic predators caught in the act of nest-raiding

Even if you disagree with the Wildlife Conservation Society's position on energy development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, the group's newly released series of "camera trap" photos -- showing what it says are examples of threats to endangered ground-nesting birds in Arctic oil fields -- makes for a compelling slide show. WCS biologist Joe Liebezeit writes in an accompanying New York Times column that his group believes oil-field structures and human activity give foxes and predatory birds an unnatural advantage over nearby ground-nesters by providing denning and nesting opportunities, thereby increasing their numbers.

The network of roads and pipelines connecting oil drilling platforms and supporting facilities is a virtual playground for species like arctic foxes, ravens, and gulls. These generalist species, like the urban pigeon, are opportunistic consumers and take full advantage of garbage, roadkill and other sources of food left by mankind.

The foxes can be seen scurrying into culverts and under buildings in the oil fields, taking advantage of new-found homes that provide protective shelter for them and their young. Ravens, which rarely breed in the Arctic because of the scarcity of nesting sites on the treeless tundra, are now seen nesting on towers, in the eaves of buildings and on other structures across the transformed landscape.

Evidence suggests that their numbers have risen to unnaturally high levels in the oil fields because of the free food and housing opportunities that development provides. Unfortunately for ground nesting birds, these generalist species love to eat eggs and hatchling birds.

The camera-trap photos also held some delights for WCS researchers: bears, caribou and musk oxen triggered the camera sensors, and one series of photos shows geese successfully chasing a fox away from their nest.

See and read more at The New York Times.