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February 6, 2016

Bird of the Week – Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal, Sunnyside Pond, Fairbanks

WC and Mrs. WC used to participate in a Birdathon for Arctic Audubon and the late Alaska Bird Observatory. It’s a fundraiser: birders get pledges for the number of species they will see in 24 hours, and then try to find as many species as they can. The more pledges and the more species, the greater the funds raised. One year, after 23.95 hours of non-stop birding, completely exhausted, we were standing at a very swampy pond in the Goldstream Valley, wondering how we would get another species. And, at the last possible minute, a Blue-winged Teal flew in. WC…

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Alaska’s Dirty Little Secret, and Why Bernie Can Win


To the disappointment of conspiracy nuts across the U.S. of A, President Barack Obama confirmed this week he won’t run for a third term. Even if he could, he said, his wife wouldn’t let him. And besides, why would he want to get treated like the substitute teacher for another four years? Oh, that’s right. The only people crazier than armed bird refuge squatters are those contending for the GOP nomination for president. I wonder what any one of the GOP candidates thinks about Alaska? Drill? Um, we tried that. The oil companies are going to keep our oil in…

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Bird of the Week – Spectacled Eider

Spectacled Eider, Yukon National Wildlife Refuge

A close cousin to last week’s King Eider, the Spectacled Eider is another of Alaska’s arctic sea ducks. The Spectacled Eider is classified as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. But WC suspects there was still poaching back in 2008 when this photo was taken. Getting this close involved a 90 minute stalk wiggling along on WC’s belly, and even then the bird was quite nervous. Birds that weren’t nervous likely wound up in a supper pot. Like a lot of ducks, after mating the drakes leave. But WC was able to find one small group still hanging around together….

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Open Thread: Lox Stocks Soar While Oil Tanks


Alaska is currently in a weird spot. Currently oil is going for less than salmon. I’m sure that these numbers aren’t 100% comparable for AK, but either way it’s a fantastic conversation starter.

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The Weekend Off – News You Missed


Alaska ADN – ADN poll: Alaskans like Trump, Sanders for president An Alaska Dispatch News poll found registered voters in the state have their eyes on two candidates that would have been considered unlikely front-runners just a year ago: real estate billionaire and reality TV star Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist. The Guardian – The rise and fall of Sarah Palin: plucked away from Alaska, she lost her soul There was a time when Sarah Palin was normal by Alaska standards. Way back before the hoopla, and way before she endorsed Donald Trump, she…

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Bird of the Week – King Eider

King Eider Drake, Resurrection Bay, Alaska

A King Eider drake in breeding plumage is so outrageous looking, that it seems improbable. But, yeah, that’s really what they look like, easily the most colorful of North American waterfowl. This is a sea duck, that comes ashore to nest in tundra ponds along the Arctic coast of North America, including Alaska. The Latin name for this species is Somateria spectabilis. The genus name Somateria is a combination of the Greek words sōma or sōmatos, meaning “body”, and erion, meaning “wool”; the combination, “wooly body,” is a reference to the eider’s famously thick, soft down. The species name, spectabilis is Latin for “showy”, “remarkable” or “worth seeing”, a reference to the handsomeness of the adult…

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Bird of the Week – Surf Scoter

Surf Scoters, Eyak Lake, Cordova

The third and last scoter that breeds in Alaska – or North America for that matter – is the very cool Surf Scoter. With the white neck patches and that extravagant white and orange bill, it’s very easy to identify this species. This medium-sized sea duck breeds in boreal forest lakes of northern Canada and Alaska, and during nonbreeding periods is widely distributed in nearshore marine habitats along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America. Surf Scoters are aptly named. They forage in the surf, diving in and out of the waves. They are very strong swimmers, diving as…

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Bird of the Week – White-winged Scoter

White-winged Scoter, Steese Highway

This week we’ll look at another Scoter, that slightly obscure clade of ducks that breed in Alaska. This week, the White-winged Scoter. The drake White-winged is easily identified by the lovely white line under their eye, the orange bill with a black knob, all against an overall dark body. The white wing of their name are sometimes not visible when they are on the water. In flight, however, it’s another excellent field mark. Of the North America’s three species of scoters (White-winged, Surf, and Black Scoter), all of which inhabit Holarctic waters, the White-winged Scoter is the largest and best known, in…

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Watch for Aurora Click Bait


Every once in a while over the last month or so, I have been seeing worrisome queries on aurora interest pages on Facebook. It all started with a classic click-bait headline, “2016 Is Your Last Chance to See the Northern Lights Before They Vanish.” How accurate is this? Is this true? These are some of the questions that introduce the post to others. The very easy, accurate and simple answer is, “Absolutely not. It’s complete hogwash.” Of course, once you click on the article, you get a rather perfunctory explanation of the solar cycle, and how the sun’s activity peaks…

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Open Thread – The Alaska Highway

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 1.49.07 AM

It’s a new year and so I figured it’s time to bring back the weekly open thread posts. I want to know from everyone what their New Year’s resolution is – and how long they think they will last. My resolution is to stop spending all my extra money on camera gear and related accessories. I’m betting I’ll last a month. Completely unrelated to my question, here’s a fun video I found a while back discussing the creation of the Alaska Highway. January 4th, 2 years ago I was driving this highway during the Polar Vortex, shockingly I survived without…

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