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September 3, 2015

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…

Bird of the Week – Lesser Yellowlegs


The signature shore bird of the boreal forest might be the Lesser Yellowlegs. William Rowan got it exactly right when he wrote, “They will be perched there as though the safety of the entire universe depended on the amount of noise they made.”Lesser Yellowlegs provide biparental care to its kids but the females tend to depart breeding areas before chicks can fly, thus leaving males to defend the young until fledging. Whether it is one bird or two, they are noisy, with the distinctive tu tu tu calls. Even if it weren’t for the call the bright yellow legs that gives these birds their…

Bird of the Week – Spotted Sandpiper


We’re back to the peeps, the sandpipers. It doesn’t take many weeks to see all of Alaska’s hummingbirds, after all. But there are lots and lots of shorebirds. The Spotted Sandpiper is fairly common in Alaska. The signature spots are only present during breeding season. But the Spottie also has a distinct, teetering or rocking behavior that makes it pretty easy to recognize in the field, even after it loses its spots. Spotted Sandpipers are among a small minority of birds that have reversed sex roles; i.e., females are more aggressive and active in courtship than males, and males take the…

Court Delivers Double-Whammy Over Pebble


Friday, the Alaska Supreme Court issued two decisions that will have far-reaching impacts about how the Department of Natural Resources conducts business in hard rock mineral exploration, and the ability of the State and others to chill opposition. While the two cases involved the Pebble Prospect exploration, neither will impact the development of that mine. Background In 1988, Teck Cominco drilled the first exploration wells in what would become the 360 square-mile Pebble Prospect. By 2010, ownership of the Pebble claims would change hands from Teck Cominco to Northern Dynasty Minerals to the Pebble Limited Partnership. Collectively, those entities would…

The Weekend Off – News You Missed


Alaska ADN – Sudanese refugees living in Anchorage have vehicles vandalized Mohammed Hano and Mbarek Suleiman, refugees from a violent conflict in a distant African country who now live in Anchorage, say they woke Sunday morning to find their cars covered in messages telling them to leave the place that was supposed to be their final, safe home. The Week – Baked Alaska EARLIER THIS WINTER, Monica Zappa packed up her crew of Alaskan sled dogs and headed south, in search of snow. “We haven’t been able to train where we live for two months,” she told me. Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, which Zappa…

Quiet, 26 Years After the Spill


Several years ago Shannyn Moore, Jeanne Devon and I went out to Prince William Sound [read the post from Jeanne Devon] on an assignment from BBC World Service. We were sent for the odd request that could only come from a international news agency like the BBC… gather sound. They didn’t need video, or pictures, just sound. BBC had certainly been there before and had much in their catalogue to make it sound like their reporter was in Alaska – but they were looking for sound from right then. It was July 4th weekend so instead of BBQ and beer the…