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May 27, 2016

Bird of the Week – Merlin

Merlin, Denali Highway

Here’s another falcon, slightly smaller than last week’s Peregrine Falcon. The Merlin is a remarkably fierce predator; WC has watched them kill and fly off with birds as large as a Lesser Yellowlegs. An adult female Merlin weighs  about 8.5 ounces; a Lesser Yellowlegs weighs about 3 ounces. That’s 40% of the Merlin’s weight. Merlins seem to prefer open and semi-open areas, nesting on the edges of fields or swamps. Their primary prey is small (and not so small) birds. Alaska’s Merlins are all migratory; the winter from the Southwestern U.S. down to Central America. They breed across Alaska, but…

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Crony Capitalism is the Norm In Juneau


The debate in Juneau over oil tax credits has captured the attention of most Alaskans by now. Alaska is paying out over $700 million more in oil tax credits than we get in production taxes. This arrangement where we pay more in tax credits than we get in production taxes is projected to last until 2025. But below the surface lies a much deeper debate over the fundamental nature of capitalism in our society. Capitalism is generally defined as an economic system where private individuals control the means of production for their own profit. A danger of capitalism has always been when…

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Bird of the Week – Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon, Tanana Lakes, Fairbanks

It’s hard not to like the Peregrine Falcon. In many ways, it is the poster child for the environmental movement. The species was nearly extirpated by DDT and other environmental contaminants. The populations have recovered and adapted to humankind to some extent. It’s not at all unusual to see Peregrines nesting on skyscrapers in big cities, feeding on pigeons. But the Peregine is wholly admirable in its own right. A cosmopolitan bird, it can be found in deserts, swamps, alpine reasons and agricultural area.   WC has seen Peregrines in almost all Alaska habitats. It’s a champion flier, with some birds…

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Bird of the Week – Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier with Prey, Donnelly Training Area, Ft. Greely, Alaska

There’s still a few Alaska raptors to have a look at. This week it’s the Northern Harrier, formerly known as the Marsh Hawk. This is how you will most often see a Harrier, flying low over an open field or swamp, rocking back and forth a bit, head turned down, looking for prey. Northern Harriers hunt a wide range of prey, mainly small- and medium-sized mammals and birds, coursing low and buoyantly over the ground. Unlike other hawks, the Harrier frequently relies heavily on auditory cues, as well as visual ones, to capture prey. Annual breeding numbers and productivity are strongly influenced by…

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Panel Discussion: Hydraulic Fracturing in Cook Inlet


What: Panel Discussion: Hydraulic Fracturing in Cook Inlet From the Cook Inletkeeper Where: Islands and Ocean Center, 95 Sterling Hwy, Homer, AK 99603 When: Tuesday, May 17th from 6:30-9:00pm Join us for a panel discussion on Tuesday, May 17th from 6:30-9:00pm at the Islands and Ocean Center. BlueCrest Energy’s plans to conduct offshore fracking operations north of Anchor Point have prompted widespread community concern. In response, Cook Inletkeeper will moderate a panel discussion with various agency, industry and NGO experts to provide details on the proposed operations, and to give local residents opportunities to pose questions and get answers. For more info contact…

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Who Does The GOP Think That They Represent?


This week several legislators from the House minority wrote an op-ed. One paragraph specifically answers the question, “What the hell are they doing still in Juneau?” I know, you probably thought it was for all the fancy lobbyists dinners and fat per diem checks, but it boils down to this: “The $775 million in cash subsidies to the oil industry is more than the combined budgets of the Alaska Court System, Department of Corrections, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and Department of Fish and Game. Combined.” Can we just think about that for a minute? I’ll wait for you…

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Bird of the Week – Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk, Delta Barley Project, Delta Junction

The Swainson’s Hawk is uncommon, even rare, in Alaska. This bird was seen and photographed in Interior Alaska in 2013. The normal range of this species extends only to the Canadian prairie. Oddly enough, a second Swainson’s Hawk was seen in Fairbanks that same spring. Like other Buteos, this is a polymorphic species. This is a dark morph, as was the one in Delta, although they are obviously different birds. Swainson’s Hawks are best known for their spectacular annual migrations, moving in vast flocks from North America to the pampas of South America. It’s not uncommon for hawk watches in…

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Republicans-know-best Strategy Failing Alaska


A few months ago, I explained why the Republican majorities running the Alaska House and Senate would be wise to accept a Democratic offer to put aside party politics and work together as one big caucus of the whole to address our fiscal crisis. The last time we had a bipartisan Senate, it managed to come up with a fair oil tax structure, and put $16 billion in the bank. And thank God they did, because we’re living off that savings right now. But no, Republicans rejected bipartisanship and decided to go it alone. After their successful partisan gerrymandering of…

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Bird of the Week – Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk self-identifying; Delta Barley Project, Delta Junction

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in Alaska. This another polymorphic hawk, presenting a bewildering variety of colorations. In fact, the dark morph, “Harlan’s Hawk,” was at one point thought to be a different species. In Alaska, look for the dark head and the dark “belly band” and you’ve probably got a Red-tailed. In flight, it’s a little easier. Red-tailed Hawks breed throughout interior and southcentral Alaska. Alaska and Canada birds migrate to the southwest U.S., to Mexico and Central America and even to northern South America. Elsewhere in the U.S. they are present year-round. Camera geek stuff:…

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Mary Epperson Made Homer What It Is

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Originally Printed in the Anchorage Daily News Alaska has lost one of our best — I would venture to say our very best — this week. Mary Epperson passed away in Homer, surrounded by her family. She was 93. In 1954, Mary, her husband Jack and two children moved to Alaska. At her insistence they brought a piano with them. Their family settled on the Kenai Peninsula, and Mary set about making the community of Homer what it is today. This is no exaggeration, she literally made our little hamlet by the sea what it is. She was the city…

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