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September 4, 2015

Obama Comes to Alaska: We Have to Break the Ice, so We Can Save It.

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As I drove, I imagined having to explain to a Secret Service agent that the reason my boots set off the sniffer dog is because the last two places I wore them were a pig farm and a gun show respectively. So, there was a perfectly good explanation why I smelled of gunpowder, and fertilizer. “No really! I swear! I still have the pictures on my phone!” I was glad I had allowed extra time. I had allowed so much extra time, it turns out, that I was the first member of the press at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) and waited in…

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Obama Comes to Alaska: We Have to Save the Ice so We Can Break It

4B2G8340

As I drove, I imagined having to explain to a Secret Service agent that the reason my boots set off the sniffer dog is because the last two places I wore them were a pig farm and a gun show respectively. So, there was a perfectly good explanation why I smelled of gunpowder, and fertilizer. “No really! I swear! I still have the pictures on my phone!” I was glad I had allowed extra time. I had allowed so much extra time, it turns out, that I was the first member of the press at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) and waited in…

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Obama is Coming…Glacier Conference!

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3:38 pm:  I was in 2 press briefings, one on Arctic Resiliency and one exciting one on the Arctic Steering Committee by Dr. john Holdren and Ambassador Mark Brzezynski.  I asked a question about food insecurity and the lengthening growing season.  Good answers.  The videos will be up later.  Jeannie is here now so she went to a briefing.  Then, we’ll both get placed for the President’s speech in about a half hour!!! 12:48 pm:  waiting for the first press briefing to happen in about 20 minutes with Fran Ulmer and other members of the Committee on Arctic Resiliance. 10:45…

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Bird of the Week – Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks

Crikey, is there ever an end to these shore birds? Not yet. This week we have a mediocre photo of a fairly uncommon species in interior Alaska, the Stilt Sandpiper. The heavy barring and the reddish patch behind and below the eye distinguish this species from it cousins. The species breeds exclusively on the Arctic coast, east of Pt. Barrow. It winters on the Gulf of Mexico and down through Mexico and Central America. The origin of its name is a bit obscure; its legs aren’t appreciably longer than other sandpipers. Unless you are on the Beaufort Sea, you aren’t…

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Bird of the Week – Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper, Airport Ponds, Fairbanks

WC warned you there are lots of shorebirds in Alaska. Here’s another. The Pectoral Sandpiper passes through in migration en route to coastal areas for breeding. The distinctive, abrupt change from heavy streaking to pure white in the middle of the chest is a pretty good field mark. The male has an inflatable throat sac, which expands and contracts rhythmically during his display flights. The resulting vocalization is a series of hollow hoots, and is one of the most unusual sounds heard in summer on arctic tundra. This species winters on the pampas of Argentina, a remarkable migration, as much as 30,000…

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Bird of the Week – Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks

A handsome, chunky shore bird with an impressive bill, the Long-billed Dowitcher is found throughout most of Alaska in migration, breeds on the wester coast and is very easily confused with its Short-billed cousin. Dowitchers forage with a rapid up and down motion, probing with their bill, like a frenzied sewing machine. It’s very distinctive. They are seen most often in the spring, during migration. It can be pretty tough to tell Long-billed from Short-billed Dowitchers in the field. The Long-billed has a bill length more than twice the thickness of the bird’s head; the Short-billed isn’t quite so magnificent….

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Bird of the Week – Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs, Westchester Lagoon, Anchorage

Happily, the range of the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs rarely overlap in Alaska. If you see the bird in Southcentral or Southeastern Alaska, it’s probably a Greater Yellowlegs. The Greater is, as the label suggests, somewhat larger than the Lesser Yellowlegs, but unless you have them side-by-side, it’s hard to tell. The bill is significantly longer in the Greater, longer than the head, which sometimes helps. The call is very different, but the Greaters aren’t quite as vocal as the Lessers. But if birding were easy, if telling Lessers from Greaters were easy, it wouldn’t be as much fun. Camera…

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Bird of the Week – Lesser Yellowlegs

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The signature shore bird of the boreal forest might be the Lesser Yellowlegs. William Rowan got it exactly right when he wrote, “They will be perched there as though the safety of the entire universe depended on the amount of noise they made.”Lesser Yellowlegs provide biparental care to its kids but the females tend to depart breeding areas before chicks can fly, thus leaving males to defend the young until fledging. Whether it is one bird or two, they are noisy, with the distinctive tu tu tu calls. Even if it weren’t for the call the bright yellow legs that gives these birds their…

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President Trump Wants Palin in Cabinet

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I’d like Sarah Palin to be in a cabinet too – preferably one that is soundproof. But, we don’t always get what we want. Loudmouth fake political celebrity, and bad hairpiece-wearing reality TV star Donald Trump is running for office. And he’d love to have loudmouth fake political celebrity, and bad hairpiece-wearing reality TV star Sarah Palin in his cabinet in the unlikely event he is elected President of the United States. When you think about it, it’s really amazing these two haven’t connected long before now. I mean, ok, there was that awkward first date where they both ate…

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Bird of the Week – Spotted Sandpiper

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We’re back to the peeps, the sandpipers. It doesn’t take many weeks to see all of Alaska’s hummingbirds, after all. But there are lots and lots of shorebirds. The Spotted Sandpiper is fairly common in Alaska. The signature spots are only present during breeding season. But the Spottie also has a distinct, teetering or rocking behavior that makes it pretty easy to recognize in the field, even after it loses its spots. Spotted Sandpipers are among a small minority of birds that have reversed sex roles; i.e., females are more aggressive and active in courtship than males, and males take the…

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