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July 31, 2014

Bird of the Week – Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe Male

The Red-necked Grebe is the larger of Alaska’s grebe species. North American Birds described this species as “territorial and interspecifically aggressive, commonly threatening or making underwater attack dives against other waterbirds that enter its breeding territory.” It’s a bully, and a raucous, noisy bully at that. That’s right; it’s a Redneck. It typically nests on slightly larger ponds than its smaller cousin, the Horned Grebe. Unlike most waterbirds, this grebe builds its nest on a floating nest of bulrushes. If the water rises, the nest floats up, instead of being drowned. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.  

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Bird of the Week – Bufflehead


North America’s smallest diving duck is the Bufflehead. With his dramatically colored head– it looks like a white dome from a distance – this is another easy waterfowl to identify in the field. This duck winters in salt water, but nests in the boreal forest in tree cavities. Or boxes if someone has put a box up near a pond. The kids, at 1-2 days old, jump from the nest cavity to the ground and then follow the hen to the nearest body of water. The Bufflehead is a close relative of last week’s Goldeneyes. For more bird photos, please…

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Bird of the Week – Goldeneye

Barrow's Goldeneye Drake, Tangle River, Denali Highway

This is a bonus week, because it is hard to talk about one of Alaska’s Goldeneye species without comparing it to the other. And Alaska boasts two species of Goldeneyes. Common Goldeneye occurs across much of North America. We see them in breeding plumage here. The male has a roundish white patch between the eye and the bill. By comparison, the Barrow’s Goldeneye is less common, occurring most often in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and has a crescent-shaped white patch between the eye and bill. You can see that the black and white patterns on their backs are different…

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Park Service Gets it Wrong on Drone Law

When I worked as a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) about 20 years ago, I came to realize that the concept of “wilderness” was a subjective one. Everyone experiences wilderness and wildness in different ways, and their perspective of what constitutes wilderness is often connected to noise level. For example, certain border lakes in the BWCAW allow for the operation of 25 hp or less motors (while almost all of the 2,000 or so lakes prohibit any motorized craft). For some people, even that was too much; but for others, 25hp or less meant no…

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Bird of the Week – Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail Drake, Creamer's Refuge, Fairbanks

If last week’s bird is obvious for its bill, the Northern Pintail is famous for the drake’s namesake tail. Apart from the impressive tail, the white stripe extends up into the chocolate brown neck and the bill is silver and black.  Altogether a handsome bird. Like the Northern Shoveler, the Pintail is a dabbler, foraging in the top of the water column. As often as not, what you see are duck butts. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.    

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Bird of the Week – Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler Drake, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks

The Northern Shoveler’s bill gets all the attention, distracting you from noticing that the drake and the hen are both very handsome ducks. Shovelers are dabblers, birds that feed in the top of the water column without diving entirely underwater. The Shoveler’s bill is well-adapted to that role. The Shoveler hen is much less flamboyant, with cryptic coloration that makes her hard for predators to find when she is on eggs. Some ornithologists speculate that the male hangs around as a distraction for predators until the eggs are hatched. But that is quite a bill, isn’t it? For more bird…

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Bird of the Week – Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck Drake, Rock Creek, Denali Highway

For the WC, only the Wood Duck is more spectacularly colorful than the a Harlequin Duck drake in breeding plumage. And, unlike Harlies, Woodies don’t occur in Alaska. Not only are Harlequin drakes handsome; they seem to pose in striking nice positions. So far as WC knows, Harlequin drakes only have one critic: Harlequin hens. Readers are invited to offer their own caption to the photo. Harlequin Ducks migrate inland to breed and then return to their true home, near-shore salt waters in coastal Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck, Tangle Lakes, Denali Highway

WC has been accused of neglecting waterfowl in his selection of Birds of the Week. Ironically, WC is a graduate of the University of Oregon, a Duck – a Fighting Duck. So WC will post a few duck photos, honoring his alma mater and answering certain carping quacking critics. We’ll start with the Long-tailed Duck. Formerly known as Oldsquaw, the Long-tailed Duck spends most of its life at sea. In the winter, you can find rafts of thousands of Long-tailed Ducks off shore of Kodiak Island, so many that despite the distance you can hear the calls. Which does indeed sound…

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Bird of the Week – Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake in Flight, St. Paul Island

A handsome, delicate-looking gull, the Black-legged Kittiwake breeds in southcentral and southwestern coastal Alaska. Generally a colonial breeder, some of the rookeries are immense. The species’ name probably comes from its call, which does sound very much like “kittiwake”. A small number of non-breeders can usually be found along the bridges on the easterly side of Valdez Arm. The lemon-yellow bill, jet blacklegs and black-tipped wings are reliable field marks for this species. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Red-legged Kittiwake

Red-legged Kittiwake, St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands

There are only a handful of places in the world where you can see this gull. The Red-legged Kittiwake is found in the Pribilof Islands, a few of the Aleutian Islands and parts of Siberia. A small, handsome gull with the signature bright red feet, it nests on St. Paul Island. This bird’s bill is dirty from hauling grass and mud 3/4ths of a mile to a nest on the steep, high cliffs known as Kittiwake Condos on the northwest corner of the island. It’s two miles uphill from where the guides park the van, but it’s worth the walk….

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