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July 1, 2015

Bird of the Week: Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Hartney Bay, Cordova

Even birders struggle to distinguish Semipalmated Sandpipers from Western Sandpipers. Generally, Semipalmateds are paler than Westerns, less rufous in coloration. The bill is a bit blunter. But Semipalmateds can be pretty rufous, and generally sandpipers’ bills are probing the mud, making comparison tough. As WC said, it’s a tough identification in the field. This photo catches a field mark that is quite hard to see in the field but definitive: note the webbing between the toes. That’s the “semipalmated” business in the bird’s name. This is another photo taken while laid out flat in the Hartney Bay mud. WC would…

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At the Historic Stonewall Inn – Gay Marriage Celebrations in NYC

NYC Reacts to Gay Marriage  Ruling at Stonewall Inn

On a week of historic Supreme Court decisions and non-stop breaking news, the decision that gay marriage was constitutional has swept the Nation like a cool breeze on a Summer day in Fairbanks. I’m stuck in New York City for the time being so hearing the news, I ran to the Stonewall Inn, the place many call the home of the LGBT rights movement in the USA. The celebrations were just ramping up as it was only an hour after the official announcement from D.C. but the crowd was certainly celebratory. Here’s a couple of my best shots – I’ll…

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Bird of the Week: Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper Flock, Hartney Bay, Cordova

We’re continuing with the hard ones, the sandpipers. This week it’s Alaska’s most common peep, the Western Sandpiper. Truly spectacular numbers of Western Sandpipers move through southcentral Alaska in spring migration. This flock was photographed at the Copper River Shorebird Festival in Cordova, Alaska. The birds hang out in Hartney Bay to re-fuel, foraging for in the mud and resting. This shot was taken by WC while prone in the mud of Hartney Bay. Not a task for those of a delicate sensibility. Camera geek stuff: f5.7, 1/400, ISO200. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week: Rock Sandpiper

Rock Sandpipers, Homer Small Boat Harbor, Alaska

You’ve seen a lot of sparrows, the Little Brown Jobs or LBJs of birding, and they are admittedly hard to identify in the field. Now, let’s spend some time with birds that are even harder: sandpipers, the peeps of the birding world. Rock Sandpipers winter on the rocky shores and breakwaters of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. But they breed on the Bering Sea Coast, mostly on mudflats and intertidal zones, which kind of makes you scratch your head about the species common name. Most sandpipers are cryptic, quite hard to see in their environment. Rock Sandpipers are a champion…

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Alaska Lemming Caucus Over the Edge

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This has been a difficult week for many Alaskans. So much uncertainty as 10,000 pink slips go to our friends and neighbors working for the state. Fairbanks Sen. Pete Kelly argues they aren’t pink slips, because there’s an “if” in them, as in “You’re not laid off if a handful of senators get their poop together.” Of course, we know there’s no chance Pete and his collaborators will get their poop together. Instead of pink slips, people online are calling them “Pete slips.” Our current legislative crisis is the handiwork of a small cabal of senators who refuse to compromise their misguided ideology. The…

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Bird of the Week – Smith’s Longspur

Smith's Longspur, Denali Highway, Alaska

The bird species in Alaska that WC has probably worked hardest to photograph is the Smith’s Longspur. Uncommon, highly localized and skulky, WC has spent days and hiked miles to photograph these birds. It’s worth it, too. Besides everything else, the species is easily disturbed, so WC will be vague about where to find it. In addition to being difficult to find and photograph, Birds of North America notes another unusual characteristic: Smith’s Longspurs have one of the most unusual social breeding systems known among songbirds. Unlike the majority of birds that form socially monogamous relationships for breeding, Smith’s Longspurs are…

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Court Delivers Double-Whammy Over Pebble

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Friday, the Alaska Supreme Court issued two decisions that will have far-reaching impacts about how the Department of Natural Resources conducts business in hard rock mineral exploration, and the ability of the State and others to chill opposition. While the two cases involved the Pebble Prospect exploration, neither will impact the development of that mine. Background In 1988, Teck Cominco drilled the first exploration wells in what would become the 360 square-mile Pebble Prospect. By 2010, ownership of the Pebble claims would change hands from Teck Cominco to Northern Dynasty Minerals to the Pebble Limited Partnership. Collectively, those entities would…

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Bird of the Week – Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur Male, breeding plumage, Eagle Summit, Steese Highway, Alaska

The Lapland Longspur is an exceedingly common species of the alpine and coastal tundra in Alaska. During courtship, its call and incessant fluttering mating flight can drive a birder to distraction. But it is also an exceedingly handsome species, especially a male in breeding plumage. Longspurs take their name from the long back toe that’s characteristic of the genus. After egg laying, you see males far more often than females, as they skillfully lead you away from the nests. Not a sparrow, but a cousin to a sparrow. Camera geek stuff: f5.7, 1/250, ISO250. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen…

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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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