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October 1, 2016

Bird of the Week – Red Knot

Red Knots, Egg Islands, Cordova, Alaska

One of the parts of this weekly column that WC likes is that sometimes WC is lucky enough to photograph new Alaska birds. Milo Burcham, a terrific nature photographer based in Cordova, Alaska, allowed WC to tag along on  boat trip out to the mudflats west of the mouth of the Copper River in May 2016. The target was Red Knots, a handsome, but very spooky, shorebird. We found them. Handsome birds. And maybe even more spooky than advertised. There are big numbers to begin with, and if you get closer than 200 meters, they are gone. This photo was…

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Bird of the Week – Pacific Golden Plover

Pacific Golden Plover, Gambell, St. Lawrence Island

Until 1993, American and Pacific Golden Plovers were thought to be one species. In that year, the Bird Gods – the American Ornithological Union – split them. In breeding plumage, it’s pretty easy to tell them apart: the Pacific’s white stripe extends all the way down the side, where the American Golden Plover’s ends at the shoulder. If you’ve been to Hawai’i, you’ve seen these birds on the lawns and golf courses. They are distinctly more approachable there than breeding territory. Pacific Golden Plovers are awesome migrants. They fly directly from Hawai’i to Alaska, for example; nonstop. The next time…

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Driving To Alaska’s Political Madness


My parents first came to Alaska in the ’60s, driving a red and white Volkswagen bus. They came from Virginia and like so many Alaskans, they came for one year – that was almost 50 years ago and they never left. I’m happy to report I’m making the trip they did, though by a more northerly route. It’s a bit of a shock to my Alaskan mind to drive through four states in a day without going through a foreign country. There is so much to take in on open road and border crossings. You can drive for days on…

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Bird of the Week – Brandt’s Cormorant

Brandt's Cormorant, Small St. Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

We’ll finish up cormorants with the Brandt’s Cormorant. Unlike the other three, this species breeds only in North America, and reaches the northerly limit of its range at Kodiak Island. This species’ life history and populations are tied to the rich upwelling associated with deep upwelling currents like the California Current. Long-term monitoring of the population at Farallon Islands, California, the single largest colony of the species, has helped establish the relationship between breeding success and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which determines the timing and degree of nutrient-rich upwelling, and hence food availability. It’s pretty easy to tell this species form the other…

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Open Thread: The Shrimp Whisperer


Indie Alaska, a project of Alaska Public Media has released this amazing short doc on Al Laudert and his shrimp art pieces. It’s just too fun not too watch.

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Poll: A Write in For Mark Begich?


In a classic Alaska election flashback to 2010 we could see another write in candidacy for the US Senate. This time people might have a easier time writing in this candidate, at least when it comes to spelling than they did in 2010. In a statement to The Midnight Sun and in an interview with KTVA former Senator Mark Begich won’t rule out a write-in campaign. Midnight Sun: “I’m getting a lot of calls from people who say they are not satisfied with their choices and they are not interested in seeing another Miller Murkowski fight, I will keep listening to…

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Step One: Show Up in November


In the recent Alaska primary election, there was a 15 percent turnout — a record low. Alaskans feel their voices aren’t heard. Many have lost hope. It’s easy to see why. We have a Senate President who works for ConocoPhillips and who, along with his other oil company buddies in the Legislature is refusing to fix our oil tax structure that has us paying out $700 million more in oil-tax credits than we get in production taxes. Efforts to fix our fiscal situation were violently opposed by every special interest group out there. Big mines in Alaska pay a measly…

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Bird of the Week – Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant, Old Chevak, Alaska

WC hasn’t seen very many Double-crested Cormorants in Alaska. This one was on a tide-blown snag on the otherwise treeless Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, near Old Chevak. The Double-crested Cormorant is the most numerous and most widely distributed species of the six North American cormorants, but probably the least numerous in Alaska. In the U.S. and Canada, it is the only cormorant to occur in large numbers in the interior as well as on the coasts. A few Double-crested Cormorants winter in the Snake River Canyon here in Idaho. Probably more than any other bird species, the Double-crested Cormorant is…

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Shame On Alaska’s Rape Kit Backlog

Photo by Department of Public Safety - Crime Lab DNA sampling

Last fall, Gov. Bill Walker requested to know the number of rape kits held by the Alaska State Troopers and police departments around the state. Thirty-four of the 53 police departments have yet to report their numbers. The 19 that have, including the Troopers, have reported that their inventory goes back more than 20 years and is about 3,600 untested rape kits. Unlike the bumper-sticker policies of the last administration, Walker created a Cabinet position with the specific goal of reducing sexual violence. There isn’t one fix to rid us of our rape epidemic, unless rapists all decide to stop raping, so primary prevention through…

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Bird of the Week – Pelagic Cormorant

Pelagic Cormorant, Sitka Sound, Alaska

The Pelagic Cormorant is the smallest and most widely distributed of six cormorant species commonly seen in North America and the four species of cormorant seen in Alaska (we had a look at a Red-faced Cormorant sometime ago). This is another mis-named bird species. Despite its name, Pelagic Cormorants are in-shore specialists, It feeds primarily on solitary fish and invertebrates on the bottom. It can be difficult in the field to tell a Pelagic from its cousins, the Double-crested, Brandt’s and Red-faced, but with a little practice the smaller size and comparatively small bill are pretty good field marks. Pelagics have an extensive…

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