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December 1, 2015

Bird of the Week – Eurasian Collared-Dove

Eurasian Collared-Dove, Denlai Highway, June 2009

WC has received complaints that flycatchers are boring, and that readers want to see more unusual birds. All right. How about a Eurasian Collared-Dove at Maclaren River on the Denali Highway? If you look at a range map for this species, you’ll see that officially they barely make it into Canada. Yet this Marco Polo among doves turned up in the mountains of interior Alaska. Here it is picking through straw along the road from a dog musher’s winter camping spot. The species was introduced in the Western Hemisphere in the Bahamas in the 1970s, and has explosively expanded its range to…

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Photos: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade


For the first time in my weird career as a photojournalist I covered the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. My photographer friends and colleagues all sighed and said that they were thankful that they didn’t have to do it. They were weirded out a bit more when I said I had volunteered for the gig. So when I woke up at 7am (realistically a bit too late) I jumped on the subway uptown with a bit of apprehension and exhaustion, I had been covering a protest until about 10pm the night before. After talking my way into the gated off parade…

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Open Thread: Celebrating Thanksgiving at Alice’s Restaurant


I’m not really sure how this became a family tradition of mine but it’s one of the few that at 34 I still stick to, listening to Alice’s Restaurant. The famous song by Arlo Guthrie has meant a lot to me – even was able to sing it with a Bishop and some Priests in a NYC holding cell a couple years ago. That’s a long story, that you can read here. Over the years I’ve mentioned what I thought was a weird family tradition to many friends – and almost all of them told me that they too had…

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Black Lives Matter Takes to the Streets in NYC


Black Lives Matter protestors took to the streets once again in Manhattan seeing several arrests and some abuse. This time the marchers were in solidarity with the Minneapolis occupiers that were shot, allegedly white supremacists and with the Black Lives Matter protestors in Chicago. They didn’t just take to the streets, they also took to Thanksgiving Day’s Official Sponsor, Macy’s. Employees and tourists stood by taking video with their phones and managers stood by just shaking their head as just for a moment, consumerism stopped. [Click on the links to view the videos] Raw Footage: #BlackLivesMatter March Through Macy's #NYC…

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Bird of the Week – Say’s Phoebe

Say's Phoebe, Steese highway

One more flycatcher before we move to other birds: the Say’s Phoebe. The most colorful of Alaska’s flycatchers, the dark head and back and cinnamon chest and belly are distinctive. Say’s Phoebes breed on rocky cliff with ledges, but also nest on manmade structures. The outbuildings at Maclaren Lodge on the Denali Highway have hosted an extended family of Say’s Phoebes for many years. You can also find nests under highway bridges in alpine areas. The species is widespread in Alaska, but uncommon. It’s always a treat to find one. Neither of its cousins, the Black and Eastern Phoebe, occur…

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Alaskan Reps Weigh In on Syrian Refugees


Even though state and local officials have no actual power over preventing or allowing refugees to be placed in their state – nearly all of them have decided to weigh in on the issue. The 10,000 or so refugees that were originally planned on being brought to the US for temporary placement would go through “13 separate security screenings – at the international, federal and state level – before they are considered for resettlement,” but that doesn’t seem to be enough for some members of the Alaskan delegation. While not a single one of the terrorists that attacked Paris last…

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Bird of the Week – Hammond’s Flycatcher

Hammond's Flycatcher, Creamer's Refuge, Fairbanks

We should all love flycatchers; they eat mosquitoes and other bugs. Among flycatchers, the Hammond’s is famously difficult to identify. Its appearance, behavior and vocalizations are very similar to Gray and Dusky Flycatchers. Happily, neither the Dusky nor Grey Flycatchers are commonly seen in Alaska. So a big-headed, mouse-grey backed flycatcher with a two-toned mandible is probably going to be a Hammond’s. Hammond’s both hawk bugs, flying from a perch, and probe for bugs, working through leaves and small branches. They are among the earliest flycatchers to arrive in the spring. Interior Alaska is northern limit of this species range;…

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GOP Parasite TransCanada Finally Shed


The divorce between Alaska and TransCanada became final this week. The Legislature voted to buy TransCanada’s share of a prospective natural gas pipeline from the North Slope. How the state ended up in that shotgun marriage is a lesson in corporate power and Republican legislators’ willingness to kowtow to it. Our story begins with Gov. Sarah Palin’s attempt to encourage a natural gas pipeline. It wasn’t a terrible idea to try to get an independent pipeline company directly involved in the project. When the Legislature passed the Alaska Natural Gasline Inducement Act in 2007, the idea was to incentivize a…

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Bird of the Week – Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Steese Highway

Another of the difficult Empidonax genus, this little flycatcher is believed to be a relative newcomer to Alaska. Most range maps show it not occuring in Alaska; this photo was taken near Chatanika, along the Steese Highway, northeast of Fairbanks. It’s one of the more distinctive members of the Empidonax species in its appearance and habits. The yellowish underparts and eye-ring make one of the more easily identified Emps. But it can be difficult to find in the field; its plumage blends well with both the mossy muskeg forests of its summer home or the Middle American rain forests of its winter home. In Interior Alaska, it…

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Bird of the Week (Hallowe’en Edition) – Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike, Denali Highway

It’s Hallowe’en, so we might as well have a masked bird, a “bad” bird, as our bird of the week. It’s a little scarier than your basic flycatcher. The Northern Shrike is a songbird that’s gone to the Dark Side. A predator, it has evolved that wicked hooked bill and carnivorous habits. This species is a determined pursuer of small birds and mammals, which it somewhat gruesomely impales on thorns and barbed-wire or wedges in forks of branchlets. Its nickname is “the butcher bird.” Its Latin name, Lanius excubitor, means “butcher watchman,” an appropriate name for this capable and alert predator. WC and…

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