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April 19, 2014

Bird of the Week – Northern Wheatear

Northern Wheatear, Eagle Summit, Steese Highway

There is a bird that winters with elephants and giraffes, and summers with us in Alaska. The Northern Wheatear has one of the longest migration routes among the passerines, the small singing birds. The species breeds on rocky slopes like the White Mountains and Brooks Range in Alaska. Once the kids are fledged, it packs up and flies to Africa – yes, southeastern Africa – for the winter. 9,000 miles, each way. The bird weighs just 25 grams. It’s a privilege to photograph them. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Alaska is at the northerly limit of the range of the Pine Siskin. Even smaller than the Common Redpoll, it’s a member of finch family and a big fan of bird feeders. Pine Siskins are gregarious; you find them commonly in large flocks. The yellow in the primaries and heavily streaked breast, with the buffy wingbars, make this a pretty easy bird to recognize. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – American Dipper

American Dipper with a Snack

When folks think about birds that winter in Alaska during the long, dark winter, they often forget one species. The American Dipper, a bird that spends a big chunk of its life under water, stays in Alaska all winter. Dippers forage by walking and swimming in shallow, fast streams, catching fish and invertebrates. It survives by staying in the air pockets under river ice, where the temperature is a relatively mild 32 degrees. In the summer, you’ll see the bird along fast-flowing streams, doing its namesake dipping movement. The old name for Dippers was Water Ouzel, a name that calls…

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Bird of the Week – Great Grey Owl

Great Grey Owl

The largest, but not the heaviest, owl in North America is the Great Grey, an owl of the boreal forest. Even more than other owls, a Great Grey is mostly feathers. This particular bird is an educational bird some of you may recognize. Earl – that’s right, Earl Grey – lives with WC and Mrs. WC. You mean you don’t have mice thawing in your refrigerator? At 27 inches tall, with the distinct “bow tie” around the neck, this is one of the easiest birds to identify if you are lucky enough  to see one in the field. Or in…

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Exxon Valdez – Lessons Learned & Lost

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill 15 Years Later

In recognition of today’s 25-year anniversary of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska (March 24), this seems a good time to reflect on lessons learned, and lessons lost. 1. Oil spill “cleanup” is a myth: Once oil has spilled, the battle is lost — it is impossible to effectively contain, recover, and cleanup. Exxon spent more than $2 billion trying to clean up its Alaska spill, but recovered less than 7 percent. BP spent $14 billiontrying to clean up its 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, and although they collected some at the wellhead, burned and dispersed some (with toxic chemicals), it recovered only 3 percent from the sea…

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Bird of the Week – Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl, Delta Barley Project

Short-eared Owls don’t usually breed in Interior Alaska, although there was an active nest along the Denali Highway a few years ago. They mostly breed on the north side of the Brooks Range and the North Slope, but pass through here in spring migration. The “ears,” like the “horns” on a Great Horned Owl, are feather tufts. They are “short” in relation to the tufts on its non-Alaska cousin, the Long-eared Owl. Short-eared Owls are among the most widely distributed owls in the Western Hemisphere. WC has seen them in Hawaii, in the Galapagos Islands, on Tierra del Fuego at…

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Moose Gate!

moosegate

Meanwhile in Canada, that’s a fine moose he got himself into! A random act of kindness by three Canadian men frees a terrified baby moose from a potentially fatal situation. We love when a moose story has a happy ending.

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Subaru Love, or How I Lived

SubaruLove

Tuesday morning on my way to school, I was driving on one of the back road highways that criss-cross Upstate New York. Coming around a slight bend, I saw a car half out into the road I was driving on. I had a decision – slam on my brakes and hope for the best, or swerve around the car blocking the road. I went with the latter. Deciding not to go into the opposite lane behind the car I attempted to go in front of it. there was more space on the side of the road there, and I thought…

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Bird of the Week – Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl, Delta Barley Project, Alaska Highway

Another Alaskan owl, now much harder to find, is the Northern Hawk Owl. The Hawk Owl has the longest tail among North American owls. The black border around the white facial disk is also a great field mark. Like the Boreal Owl, the Northern Hawk Owl is a plunge dive feeder, and is suffering from the unseasonable mid-winter rain storms, which make it impossible for them to punch through the snow to the prey below. Last year WC saw exactly one Hawk Owl. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Road Trip! ANC to FBX (PHOTOS)

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The road from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back is spectacular regardless of the season. I recently posted some photos from an autumn ride which were rich in color and clouds. But winter holds a particular charm of its own, with stands of bare birches and aspen; snow-kissed spruce; sawtooth mountain ridges that somehow look larger clad in white; and expansive vistas of frost-covered valleys, dotted with lakes and rivers frozen solid and covered with snow. There are few signs that humans exist, other than occasional power lines, and the very highway that takes you from the beginning to the end…

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