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October 25, 2014

Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife


By Bill Sherwonit Given my love for essays (both writing and reading them), it’s a special delight to have a collection of my pieces published this fall by Alaska Northwest Books. Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife includes thirty-four essays, written over two decades’ time. One of the joys of doing the book was to re-read scores of the essays I’ve written across the years and to find that a good number of them still “hold up” (at least as judged by me and the editors). To give a sense of the book’s scope and intent, I’ll here borrow from…

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Bird of the Week – Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler, Rock Creek, Denali Highway

The Orange-crowned Warbler isn’t the flashiest bird in the boreal forest. The signature “orange crown” isn’t usually even visible, unless the male is defending territory. Look for the yellow undertail feathers and the short, dark eye line in an otherwise fairly drab bird. Camera geek stuff: f8, 1/200, ISO800 For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler Female, Creamer's Refuge, Fairbanks

Widespread in Alaska – WC has seen them as far north as the Canning River on the north side of the Brooks Range – and conspicuous, the Yellow Warbler is one of the easier birds to identify among summer migrants. In breeding season, the male has strong, longitudinal orange streaking on his breast; the female’s are fainter. Of all of Alaska’s warblers, the Yellow Warbler is most often out in the open and most easily seen. WC has heard them called “Wild Canaries.” Other than being yellow birds, they have no relationship to true canaries. Camera geek stuff: f6.3, 1/320,…

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Bird of the Week – Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler, Sheep Creek Road, Fairbanks

Tennessee Warblers appear to be expanding their range into Interior Alaska. There are isolated places where they are found during Breeding Bird Surveys. For example, for the last seven years there’s been a Tennessee Warbler found on the Richardson Highway where the road drops down into Black Rapids Canyon. But they aren’t common. So it was a Birder Big Deal when this handsome fellow turned up outside of Fairbanks in 2008. Camera geek stuff: f5.7, 1/250, ISO 800 For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.  

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Bird of the Week – Wilson’s Warbler

Male Wilson's Warbler, Denali Highway

The small, handsome Wilson’s Warbler tends to stay in dense, brushy vegetation, often near water. But the male sometimes comes out into the open to sing, staking out his territory. The black cap identifies the adult male; the female is less commonly seen, but has the same yellow face and chest. It’s always a treat to see them. Camera geek stuff: f11, 1/250th, ISO 500. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.  

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Bird of the Week – Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting, South Fairbanks, Early Spring 2012

The all-time champion far north-breeding songbird is the Snow Bunting. The Snow Bunting is the first migratory songbird to arrive in Interior Alaska in the spring, en route to mountaintops and the far northern edge of Alaska. They are a common sight in Barrow, Alaska; much less common any further south. This may be the song bird that breeds furthest north; they are found on the northerly shores of Greenland and the northern edge of the Canadian arctic archipelago. They are welcome sight in Fairbanks each year: they are the earliest sign winter might, just possibly, be ending. For more bird…

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Forest Service Gutting 1st Amendment? Relax.

There’s a lot of outrage on the Internets these days about proposed plans by the U.S. Forest Service to gut the First Amendment by requiring permits for news media or nature photographers in Federally-designated wilderness areas on Forest Service lands. After reading a lot of the outrage, there are two things that come abundantly clear: None of the outraged have actually read the applicable Federal Register notice, and none of them are aware that this has been the status quo on Federal public lands for decades. Nothing on the face of the notice actually applies to the media. So, you have to look at the applicable proposed…

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Bird of the Week – Horned Lark

Horned Lark, Denali Highway, Spring 2011

The Horned Lark, like last week’s American Pipit, is a bird that migrates to Alaska and northern Canada to breed in the high alpine tundra, above tree line. This is North America’s only native lark. If anything, Horned Larks breed at even higher, sketchier altitudes than American Pipits. This bird was near the top of Whistle Ridge, at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. They succeed and prosper there, raising their young among the rocks, lichen and intermittent Dryas mat. Horned Larks don’t migrate quite as far south as American Pipits, although their winter ranges overlap. By the way, Horned Larks’ courtship…

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Alaska Slugfest!


What is it about us Alaskans that we just can’t seem to avoid a good slug fest? We even had one at Mudflats Central this afternoon. When the rain stopped, everything was going really well. I was hanging out with the guests watching them check out the welcome mat, and admire the slate. You really couldn’t have asked for a more relaxed and cordial gathering… when suddenly an attractive but obnoxious gang of uninvited thugs arrived from the north. There was screeching and squawking, and preening of feathers – the whole family. It just made you want to plug your ears…

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Bird of the Week – American Pipit

American Pipit, North Fork Chena River, Fall 2014

American Pipits breed on the alpine tundra, well above tree line. Unless you visit the Denali Highway, or Eagle Summit on the Steese Highway, or otherwise get to those higher elevations, you’ll only see these birds in Spring and Fall migration. This bird is already in winter plumage, losing the buffy-orange chest of breeding plumage in favor the less-conspicuous heavy streaking you see here. Soon enough, this bird will leave for southern Arizona and New Mexico for the winter. Camera geek stuff: Canon 5D Mark II, 500mm lens with 1.4 teleconverter; f5.6, 1/1250, ISO 200. For more bird photos, please…

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