My Twitter Feed

July 4, 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…

Read More

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.

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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.

Read More

Bird of the Week – Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow, Valdez, Alaska

We’re not quite done with sparrows just yet. The Fox Sparrow is probably Alaska’s most variable sparrow, ranging from Sooty or Pacific subspecies shown here to the Red or Taiga species seen in Interior Alaska. There are at least four subspecies in Alaska; perhaps as many as 18 in North America. It’s also one of the Alaska largest sparrows, and kicks up leaves jumping and hopping as it forages. Unlike some other songbirds, it is perfectly, well, reasonably, confortable in the rain. Which in places like Valdez is a good thing. The Fox Sparrow also has one of the most…

Read More

Bird of the Week – Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks, Alaska

We’re still on sparrows. There are lots of sparrow species, the Little Brown Jobs or LBJs. This one is the Lincoln’s Sparrow, a boreal forest specialist. Because the species breeds only in boreal regions, has a distinct preference for dense shrub cover, and is secretive in nature, much of its biology remains poorly documented. And it can be difficult to photograph. (It’s not a great photo; it’s a little soft and the shadow across the head is a distraction. This is a target species for this coming summer.) The Lincoln’s Sparrow is a microhabitat specialist, preferring low willow cover with dense ground vegetation and…

Read More

Bird of the Week – Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow, Steese Highway, Alaska

The distinctive yellow eyebrow – technically, the supercilium – and buzzy sa-sa-sa-savannah call make this a pretty easy species to identify. The yellow eyebrow can sometimes be a little indistinct and hard to see in the field. Savannah Sparrows prefer grassy meadows, cultivated fields, lightly grazed pastures, roadsides, coastal grasslands, sedge bogs, edge of salt marshes, and tundra. They are common along brushy roadsides in Interior Alaska.  Camera geek stuff: f7.1, 1/400, ISO200. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.  

Read More