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August 28, 2015

Bird of the Week – Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper, Airport Ponds, Fairbanks

WC warned you there are lots of shorebirds in Alaska. Here’s another. The Pectoral Sandpiper passes through in migration en route to coastal areas for breeding. The distinctive, abrupt change from heavy streaking to pure white in the middle of the chest is a pretty good field mark. The male has an inflatable throat sac, which expands and contracts rhythmically during his display flights. The resulting vocalization is a series of hollow hoots, and is one of the most unusual sounds heard in summer on arctic tundra. This species winters on the pampas of Argentina, a remarkable migration, as much as 30,000…

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Bird of the Week – Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks

A handsome, chunky shore bird with an impressive bill, the Long-billed Dowitcher is found throughout most of Alaska in migration, breeds on the wester coast and is very easily confused with its Short-billed cousin. Dowitchers forage with a rapid up and down motion, probing with their bill, like a frenzied sewing machine. It’s very distinctive. They are seen most often in the spring, during migration. It can be pretty tough to tell Long-billed from Short-billed Dowitchers in the field. The Long-billed has a bill length more than twice the thickness of the bird’s head; the Short-billed isn’t quite so magnificent….

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Bird of the Week – Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs, Westchester Lagoon, Anchorage

Happily, the range of the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs rarely overlap in Alaska. If you see the bird in Southcentral or Southeastern Alaska, it’s probably a Greater Yellowlegs. The Greater is, as the label suggests, somewhat larger than the Lesser Yellowlegs, but unless you have them side-by-side, it’s hard to tell. The bill is significantly longer in the Greater, longer than the head, which sometimes helps. The call is very different, but the Greaters aren’t quite as vocal as the Lessers. But if birding were easy, if telling Lessers from Greaters were easy, it wouldn’t be as much fun. Camera…

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On the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

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On the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act the right to vote has never been more under threat. There aren’t direct poll taxes or tests, there’s no Bull Connor spraying people with fire hoses. There’s an entire operation that works behind the scenes to restrict your right to vote – without you even knowing it. Which is why, today, I am reposting this story from 2014. I worked on this investigation for 6 months, filed FOIA’s and traveled 1000’s of miles to research, film and photograph with Greg Palast for Al Jazeera America. What we uncovered was a national database…

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Bird of the Week – Lesser Yellowlegs

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The signature shore bird of the boreal forest might be the Lesser Yellowlegs. William Rowan got it exactly right when he wrote, “They will be perched there as though the safety of the entire universe depended on the amount of noise they made.”Lesser Yellowlegs provide biparental care to its kids but the females tend to depart breeding areas before chicks can fly, thus leaving males to defend the young until fledging. Whether it is one bird or two, they are noisy, with the distinctive tu tu tu calls. Even if it weren’t for the call the bright yellow legs that gives these birds their…

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President Trump Wants Palin in Cabinet

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I’d like Sarah Palin to be in a cabinet too – preferably one that is soundproof. But, we don’t always get what we want. Loudmouth fake political celebrity, and bad hairpiece-wearing reality TV star Donald Trump is running for office. And he’d love to have loudmouth fake political celebrity, and bad hairpiece-wearing reality TV star Sarah Palin in his cabinet in the unlikely event he is elected President of the United States. When you think about it, it’s really amazing these two haven’t connected long before now. I mean, ok, there was that awkward first date where they both ate…

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Bird of the Week – Spotted Sandpiper

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We’re back to the peeps, the sandpipers. It doesn’t take many weeks to see all of Alaska’s hummingbirds, after all. But there are lots and lots of shorebirds. The Spotted Sandpiper is fairly common in Alaska. The signature spots are only present during breeding season. But the Spottie also has a distinct, teetering or rocking behavior that makes it pretty easy to recognize in the field, even after it loses its spots. Spotted Sandpipers are among a small minority of birds that have reversed sex roles; i.e., females are more aggressive and active in courtship than males, and males take the…

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Bird of the Week: Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird, Kachemak Bay

We’ll take a break from the pesky shorebirds and take a moment to look at one of nature’s marvels. Just one of the 338 known hummingbird species breeds in Alaska, the Rufous Hummingbird. The Rufous Hummingbird is nothing less than astonishing. This tiny little 3.5 gram bird migrates thousands of kilometers, from the shores of Cook Inlet to northern Mexico. If you don’t find that amazing, your sense of wonder must be lost. The female builds the nest and in just a few days after arriving, lays and starts incubating eggs. Three weeks later, the kids are fledged and after building fat…

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Jade Helm – What is Actually Happening in Texas

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  There has been a lot of conspiracy talk about Jade Helm 15 as the military exercises get underway this week. Here’s what is actually happening, and why. So what is our military doing? The world situation is changing and the combat environment that our forces face will soon change from deserts, hills, and villages, to one where our troops will have to fight in a more urban and or metropolitan setting. So in response to this, our Special Operations Forces (who normally are one of the first into the fight) are familiarizing themselves with operating in these types of environments….

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Mudflats Goes Militia in Talkeetna

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Friday 13:00, Tesoro Station Mini-Mart, Talkeetna, Alaska The Tesoro gas station mini-mart in Wasilla does not carry potatoes. As a matter of fact, they do not carry produce of any kind. I am supposed provide dinner tonight for my little corner of the militia encampment. Yes, I’m going back again this year to the Alaska Prepper/Survivalist/Militia Rendezvous, and instead of PB&J like last time, I’ve got steak, and asparagus – but I left the potatoes sitting on the counter at home. After a couple laps up and down the tiny aisles, I have to make a call. The closest thing…

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