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December 1, 2015

Bird of the Week – Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson's Snipe, Tanana Lakes, Fairbanks

Any guy who ever went to camp likely went on a Snipe Hunt. For those who never did, it’s a mild form of hazing, involving pillow cases, expeditions in the dark and getting left in the woods to feel foolish. So it may comes as surprise to learn there is such a thing as a snipe. Specifically, Wilson’s Snipe. This is a bird that is heard much more often than it is seen. Snipe courtship involves “winnowing,” a spectacular courtship flight, during which individuals produce a haunting, tremulous sound (the winnow) with their outspread outer tail-feathers. It is “produced by airflow…

Bird of the Week – Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher, Kachemak Bay, Alaska

About 15 years ago now, WC was in Valdez to start a Birdathon – in fact, a record-making Birdathon – when he encountered a drunken fisherman on the docks of the small boat harbor in Valdez, Alaska. The guy saw the binoculars and was able to conclude we were birders. “Yeah,” he slurred, “We just saw a Double-crested Oystercracker.” Which was probably a Black Oystercatcher. That’s a bird bill to remember, WC thinks you will agree. This is a true shorebird, spending its entire life along the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean, found from the Aleutian Islands to Baja…

Sarah Palin, Speaking American, and Donald Trump


Authors note: Since every other blog and news site on the planet has commented on this, I felt that the Mudflats should share in at least some of those clicks. Because let’s be honest here, the only reason any of us are covering her at this point is for the traffic; she doesn’t have the influence to really  justify it. So with that statement out of the way, enjoy the slow moving train wreck. You’re reading this because, like me… you quietly hate yourself. But look at it this way; you didn’t have to transcribe 15 minutes of Palin-Speak.  There seems to be two out…

The Weekend Off – News You Missed


  Alaska ADN – Locals, biologists free polar bear caught in fishing net in Arctic Alaska Kaktovik residents and visiting biologists worked together to free a large polar bear that became entangled in a fishing net near a Beaufort Sea barrier island Saturday night. Smithsonian – Denali and America’s Long History of Using (or Not Using) Indian Names For American Indians, place names always tell something about the location, they aim to express the essence of the place, or its dominating characteristic or idea. As Europeans settled on the continent and early pioneers explored, they often gave places new names…

Bird of the Week – Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover, Tanana Lakes, Fairbanks

Oh Lordie, another shore bird? Yep. There’s a lot of them. At least this one has a name that makes sense, even if it only makes sense in breeding season. The European name for this species, Gray Plover, fits a lot better in non-breeding plumage, but WC doesn’t have a photo of a bird in non-breeding plumage. This handsome plover breeds along Arctic coastal Alaska and Canada, and in the Yukon Delta. It winters along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America. Camera geek stuff: f13, 1/500, ISO6400. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

Bird of the Week – Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks

Crikey, is there ever an end to these shore birds? Not yet. This week we have a mediocre photo of a fairly uncommon species in interior Alaska, the Stilt Sandpiper. The heavy barring and the reddish patch behind and below the eye distinguish this species from it cousins. The species breeds exclusively on the Arctic coast, east of Pt. Barrow. It winters on the Gulf of Mexico and down through Mexico and Central America. The origin of its name is a bit obscure; its legs aren’t appreciably longer than other sandpipers. Unless you are on the Beaufort Sea, you aren’t…

Bird of the Week – Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper, Airport Ponds, Fairbanks

WC warned you there are lots of shorebirds in Alaska. Here’s another. The Pectoral Sandpiper passes through in migration en route to coastal areas for breeding. The distinctive, abrupt change from heavy streaking to pure white in the middle of the chest is a pretty good field mark. The male has an inflatable throat sac, which expands and contracts rhythmically during his display flights. The resulting vocalization is a series of hollow hoots, and is one of the most unusual sounds heard in summer on arctic tundra. This species winters on the pampas of Argentina, a remarkable migration, as much as 30,000…

Bird of the Week – Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks

A handsome, chunky shore bird with an impressive bill, the Long-billed Dowitcher is found throughout most of Alaska in migration, breeds on the wester coast and is very easily confused with its Short-billed cousin. Dowitchers forage with a rapid up and down motion, probing with their bill, like a frenzied sewing machine. It’s very distinctive. They are seen most often in the spring, during migration. It can be pretty tough to tell Long-billed from Short-billed Dowitchers in the field. The Long-billed has a bill length more than twice the thickness of the bird’s head; the Short-billed isn’t quite so magnificent….

Bird of the Week – Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs, Westchester Lagoon, Anchorage

Happily, the range of the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs rarely overlap in Alaska. If you see the bird in Southcentral or Southeastern Alaska, it’s probably a Greater Yellowlegs. The Greater is, as the label suggests, somewhat larger than the Lesser Yellowlegs, but unless you have them side-by-side, it’s hard to tell. The bill is significantly longer in the Greater, longer than the head, which sometimes helps. The call is very different, but the Greaters aren’t quite as vocal as the Lessers. But if birding were easy, if telling Lessers from Greaters were easy, it wouldn’t be as much fun. Camera…

On the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

Zach D Roberts

On the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act the right to vote has never been more under threat. There aren’t direct poll taxes or tests, there’s no Bull Connor spraying people with fire hoses. There’s an entire operation that works behind the scenes to restrict your right to vote – without you even knowing it. Which is why, today, I am reposting this story from 2014. I worked on this investigation for 6 months, filed FOIA’s and traveled 1000’s of miles to research, film and photograph with Greg Palast for Al Jazeera America. What we uncovered was a national database…