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September 20, 2014

Alaska Slugfest!

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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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Bird of the Week – Sandhill Cranes

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The Sandhill Crane Festival was last month here in Fairbanks. WC thought he’d break out of the usual Bird of the Week format and help folks get ready for autumn with an essay he wrote for another forum a few years ago.   THE MAGIC OF SANDHILL CRANES Each fall, several thousand Lesser Sandhill Cranes stage at Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge as a part of their fall migration. The Refuge, a former dairy, is managed by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game as a working farm and hosts large numbers of waterfowl in both the spring and fall. But it’s in the fall…

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Bird of the Week – Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan, Creamer's Refuge, Spring 12011

Alaska’s biggest bird by weight, the Trumpeter Swan: At 23 pounds, with a wing span of nearly seven feet, this is one Big Bird. Their distinctive bugling call is one of WC’s favorite sounds of Spring. The species was nearly extirpated in the Eastern half of the U.S. by the feather trade, but has made a steady recovery. While there are certainly still Alaska waterfowl WC could post, it’s time for a break from the pond and lake crowd. We’ll change bird families next week. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan in Flight, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks, Alaska

While a little smaller than it’s Trumpeter Swan cousin, the Tundra Swan is a big bird, weighing in at just under 14 pounds. They are truly lovely in flight. The “ski jump” shape to the bill, as opposed to the Trumpeter’s wedge-shape, as well as the yellow patch at the corner of the eye, distinguish Tundras from Trumpeters. The size difference is difficult to judge unless you have both species, side by side, in the field. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Greater White-fronted Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose, Creamer's Refuge, Spring 2014

The Speckle-belly, as it’s known to hunters, is a medium-sized goose that mostly breeds in coastal Alaska, but is a fairly common sight in Alaska in spring migration. It’s impossible to mistake a Speckle-belly for any other bird in Alaska; the orange bill with the white line is definitive. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Common Merganser

Common Merganser Drake and Hen

The Common Merganser breeds south of the Brooks Range in Alaska, in wooded areas along clearwater streams. The female has that excellent spiky hairdo feather-do; the male is a bit plainer, but both have the bright orange bill that is a good field mark for these birds, although you want to be sure you don’t have a Red-breasted. They are one of the less common ducks in Alaska, but you can usually find them canoeing a clear water river. Most years there’s a pair on the West Fork of the Upper Chena River. This is a fish-eating duck; that long…

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Bird of the Week – Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup Drake and Hen

Lesser Scaup is another species of marsh and sea duck that breeds far inland in Interior Alaska. Lesser Scaup are notoriously difficult to tell from their close cousins, Greater Scaup. Their ranges overlap, too. But by slight differences in the head, neck and pattern on the back, you can usually tease the two apart. These birds were at the Peat Ponds, one of the better birding spots around Fairbanks. The photo was taken in the fall of 2013. The female has moved into eclipse plumage; the male is still in breeding plumage. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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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

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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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