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May 25, 2015

Bird of the Week – Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco, Fairbanks, Alaska

The Dark-eyed Junco is one of Alaska birders’ favorite species, because it is among the first spring migrants to arrive and the last to leave. There are half a dozen subspecies, but the Slate-colored shown here is the version found most commonly in Alaska. The black head and the pinkish bill make this another easy species to identify in the field. The call sounds amazingly like an old-style cell phone ringing, and WC has seen birders check their phones when they have heard the bird’s call. Very common, a habitué of feeders and, yes, another sparrow. But at least it…

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Bird of the Week – Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow, Cordova, Alaska

One last sparrow, and WC has saved a handsome one for last. The Golden-crowned Sparrow is easily identified by the strong golden line on the crown of its head. The gold crown contrasts nicely with the otherwise black head. It also has easily recognized call, “oh-deary-me.” It’s a bit secretive, lurking in dense brush, but the males perch on shrub tops during breeding season, to establish territories and attract mates. This bird was photographed on spring migration on the Copper River Delta. Camera geek stuff: f5.7, 1/320, ISO250. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow, Valdez, Alaska

We’re not quite done with sparrows just yet. The Fox Sparrow is probably Alaska’s most variable sparrow, ranging from Sooty or Pacific subspecies shown here to the Red or Taiga species seen in Interior Alaska. There are at least four subspecies in Alaska; perhaps as many as 18 in North America. It’s also one of the Alaska largest sparrows, and kicks up leaves jumping and hopping as it forages. Unlike some other songbirds, it is perfectly, well, reasonably, confortable in the rain. Which in places like Valdez is a good thing. The Fox Sparrow also has one of the most…

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Bird of the Week – Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks, Alaska

We’re still on sparrows. There are lots of sparrow species, the Little Brown Jobs or LBJs. This one is the Lincoln’s Sparrow, a boreal forest specialist. Because the species breeds only in boreal regions, has a distinct preference for dense shrub cover, and is secretive in nature, much of its biology remains poorly documented. And it can be difficult to photograph. (It’s not a great photo; it’s a little soft and the shadow across the head is a distraction. This is a target species for this coming summer.) The Lincoln’s Sparrow is a microhabitat specialist, preferring low willow cover with dense ground vegetation and…

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A 6-Pack of Reasons Amy Demboski Should Never Hold Office

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Shockingly there are still Anchorage residents who are answering “undecided” when asked who they will vote for on May 5th in the mayoral election. Maybe their brains are stricken with spring fever, or cabin fever, or a controlled substance of some kind (#YesOn2). We’re about to make it easier for you to decide, and the decision has little to do with policy and everything to do with integrity, honesty, and ethics. We’d like to believe that those things, when utterly lacking in a candidate of any political persuasion, render that candidate unsuitable to hold office in the eyes of the…

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Bird of the Week – Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow, Steese Highway, Alaska

The distinctive yellow eyebrow – technically, the supercilium – and buzzy sa-sa-sa-savannah call make this a pretty easy species to identify. The yellow eyebrow can sometimes be a little indistinct and hard to see in the field. Savannah Sparrows prefer grassy meadows, cultivated fields, lightly grazed pastures, roadsides, coastal grasslands, sedge bogs, edge of salt marshes, and tundra. They are common along brushy roadsides in Interior Alaska.  Camera geek stuff: f7.1, 1/400, ISO200. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.  

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Bird of the Week – White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow, East Denali Highway

In the spring in Alaska, it’s hard to walk along a road or trail and not hear a White-crowned Sparrow. It’s often described as an “elegant little bird,” and it is certainly handsome.   Unlike some sparrows, the White-crowned is a bit of a generalist, occupying a wide variety of habitats and foraging on insect as well as seeds and fruit.  The distinctive white stripe on the op of the head makes this an easy bird to identify in the field. Camera geek stuff: f6.3, 1/500, ISO400. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Anchorage Secessionist Wants to be its Mayor

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I’ve been lucky enough to reside in several parts of Alaska. When I lived in Fairbanks, I heard constantly how Fairbanksans were “real Alaskans” and people in Anchorage couldn’t handle a real winter. Anchorage, on the other hand, barely acknowledges the existence of Fairbanks — you mean that little town with ridiculous weather and bad air? Southeast Alaska is viewed as North Seattle. And Kodiak is a rock with rockets — more Pacific island than piece of Alaska. But the real “us and them” is between residents of the Mat-Su Borough and Anchorage. That rivalry has barbs. I’m not sure…

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Bird of the Week – American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow, Denali Highway, Alaska

The American Tree Sparrow is mis-named. It breeds in Alaska and Canada, north of the treeline, far from trees. Early European settlers thought it looked like the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, an unrelated species, and the name stuck. The handsome, brown-capped little sparrow breeds in alpine habitats across Alaska, between the Brooks Range and the Coastal Range. This is one of the smaller Alaska sparrows, best seen in spring when the male perches on top of low bushes, singing to establish his territory and  to find a mate. Camera geek stuff: f4, 1/250, ISO200. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather…

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Bird of the Week – Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow, Copper River Delta, Alaska

The Song Sparrow is one of the most diverse and widespread songbirds in North America, with 24 diagnosable subspecies (52 named) breeding from Newfoundland to the Aleutian islands here in Alaska and south to central Mexico. Coastal southcentral Alaska is the northerly limit of its breeding range. Individuals vary 150% in body mass over this range—the largest subspecies breed in beach grass in the Aleutians, the smallest in California salt marshes. The species commonly seen in mainland Alaska is at the larger end of the size spectrum. While the species generally winters in the western states, birds regularly over-winter in southeastern Alaska…

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