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December 19, 2014

Bird of the Week – Horned Puffin

Horned Puffins, St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands

Last week’s bird, the Tufted Puffin, has a close cousin that’s almost as colorful, Alaska’s other puffin, the Horned Puffin. The “horns” aren’t really horns; they are fleshy knobs that appear in breeding season. For a bird that is relatively common, they are poorly studied. but are believed to be the most pelagic of Alcids, spending most of their lives far out in the ocean, coming ashore only to breed, and then only after several years. Camera geek stuff: f18, 1/500 ISO1000 For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffins, St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands

From the smallest Alcid to the largest Alcid, the Tufted Puffin. WC has received complaints that Alcids aren’t very colorful. We’ll address that, too. At just under 16 inches long, the Tufted Puffin is more than three times bigger than its diminutive cousin, the Least Auklet. The flashy plumes are a breeding season characteristic, as are the electric-orange legs and feet. (Technically, this is the second time Tufted Puffin has been the Bird of the Week. But the earlier post was a captive bird, at the Alaska Sealife Center. These are wild birds, on St. Paul Island, in the Priiblofs.)…

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Bird of the Week – Least Auklet

Least Auklet, St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands

The smallest Alcid – the smallest seabird in North America – is the tiny Least Auklet Just a bit over six inches long, it makes up in abundance what it lacks in size. There are an estimated 20 million Least Auklets in Alaska waters. The oversized feet help it dive and swim under water for zooplankton. Despite its tiny size, it is recorded as diving to 75 meters or more. A Least Auklet eats about 90% of its body mass in food each day. When you consider the population, the sheer fertility of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska is…

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Bird of the Week – Crested Auklet

Crested Auklets, St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands

WC has neglected the Alaska alcids, the “flying footballs” of Alaska waters. Alaska doesn’t have penguins – whatever they may think in the Lower 48 – but we come close with these diving seabirds. We’ll start with a species that always makes WC smile, Crested Auklets. The crest is a sexual characteristic in both genders; both males and females prefer a mate with a big crest. Let the innuendo begin. Camera geek stuff: f14, 1/60 ISO1000 For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Red-faced Cormorant

Red-faced Cormorant, St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands

Alaska is the only place in North America where you can find the Red-faced Cormorant. Cormorants dive for fish, and nest on cliffs and ledges like the bluffs of St. Paul Island. The body appears black, but actually has a greenish-purplish cast, best seen on cloudy days. Camera geek stuff: f4, 1/8000 ISO100 For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.  

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Bird of the Week – White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill Male, Nabesna Road

White-winged Crossbills are evergreen cone specialists. You can see that the bill does indeed cross at the tips, allowing the bird to lever open spruce and tamarack cone bracts to get to the seeds. The male is a lot flashier. White-winged Crossbills aren’t always easy to find. They follow the cone crop. When spruce and tamarack cone production is low, the birds will move elsewhere. This is a boreal species; further south, even in Southeast Alaska, the Red Crossbill is more common. Camera geek stuff: f5.6, 1/8000, ISO2500 For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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Bird of the Week – Glaucous Gull


The Glaucous Gull is Alaska’s largest pale gull. In shape and size, the Glaucous Gull is similar to the more familiar Herring Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull. But the Glaucous Gull has no black in its feathers, is quite pale and has a clear yellow iris. There are other very pale gulls in Alaska, but you won’t usually see them unless you are in Barrow in October. WC has no idea what this north coastal bird was doing at Galbraith Camp, along the Dalton Highway, 200 miles inland. Camera geek stuff: f11, 1/3200, ISO2500. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather…

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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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