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October 7, 2015

  • Varied Thrush Male, Cordova, Alaska

    Bird of the Week – Varied Thrush

    The sad, burry song of the Varied Thrush haunts the western Boreal forest. You will hear this species more often than you see it, but its dramatic orange and black plumage make it distinctive. It’s slightly smaller than a Robin, with a similar orange breast, but the black mask and “necklace” make it impossible to confuse the two. Varied Thrush prefer mature spruce forests; they are a species of concern because of habitat loss. Camera geek stuff: f5.7, 1/250, ISO250 For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

  • American Robin feeding on Mountain Ash

    Bird of the Week – American Robin

    Even birders get tired of shorebirds. Let’s switch to thrushes. And by far the most common and the largest thrush in North America is the American Robin. WC has seen American Robins on the north side of the Brooks Range, in Nome, in the Yukon Delta, in Valdez and in Hyder, as well as all points in between. It’s also a species that adapts well to human-altered terrain. This fellow is showing feather wear; he’s likely about to molt into fresh chest feathers. The Robin’s song is one of WC’s favorite signs of spring. Camera geek stuff: f4, 1/400, ISO500,…

  • Wilson's Snipe, Tanana Lakes, Fairbanks

    Bird of the Week – Wilson’s Snipe

    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…

  • 4B2G8349

    Big Ideas for a Big State

    By Howard Weaver President Obama’s recent attention to Alaska — especially in Dillingham, Kotzebue and Seward — provides a welcome focus for looking beyond the bleak landscape of oil price collapse and budget cuts toward a brighter, more sustainable future. For perhaps the first time since western contact, Alaskans may be motivated to turn away from the love-em-and-leave-em dynamics of extraction to embrace their genuine treasures: the cultural diversity and frontier spirit of its people; an abundance of renewable resources that can be managed and sustained forever; and indigenous wisdom from the North that can benefit all mankind. Seward, then…

  • Black Oystercatcher, Kachemak Bay, Alaska

    Bird of the Week – Black Oystercatcher

    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…



Obama Comes to Alaska: We Have to Save the Ice so We Can Break It

Sep 2, 2015

As I drove, I imagined having to explain to a Secret Service agent that the reason my boots set off the sniffer dog is because the last two places I wore them were a pig farm and a gun show respectively. So, there was a perfectly good explanation why I smelled of gunpowder, and fertilizer. “No really! I swear! I still have the pictures on my phone!” I was glad I had allowed extra time. I had allowed so much extra time, it turns out, that I was the first member of the press at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) and waited in…


Obama is Coming…Glacier Conference!

Aug 31, 2015

3:38 pm:  I was in 2 press briefings, one on Arctic Resiliency and one exciting one on the Arctic Steering Committee by Dr. john Holdren and Ambassador Mark Brzezynski.  I asked a question about food insecurity and the lengthening growing season.  Good answers.  The videos will be up later.  Jeannie is here now so she went to a briefing.  Then, we’ll both get placed for the President’s speech in about a half hour!!! 12:48 pm:  waiting for the first press briefing to happen in about 20 minutes with Fran Ulmer and other members of the Committee on Arctic Resiliance. 10:45…

Stilt Sandpiper, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks

Bird of the Week – Stilt Sandpiper

Aug 29, 2015

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…

Pectoral Sandpiper, Airport Ponds, Fairbanks

Bird of the Week – Pectoral Sandpiper

Aug 22, 2015

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…

Long-billed Dowitcher, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks

Bird of the Week – Long-billed Dowitcher

Aug 15, 2015

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….

Greater Yellowlegs, Westchester Lagoon, Anchorage

Bird of the Week – Greater Yellowlegs

Aug 8, 2015

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…

Zach D Roberts

On the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

Aug 6, 2015

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

Aug 1, 2015

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…


President Trump Wants Palin in Cabinet

Jul 29, 2015

I’d like Sarah Palin to be in a cabinet too – preferably one that is soundproof. But, we don’t always get what we want. Loudmouth fake political celebrity, and bad hairpiece-wearing reality TV star Donald Trump is running for office. And he’d love to have loudmouth fake political celebrity, and bad hairpiece-wearing reality TV star Sarah Palin in his cabinet in the unlikely event he is elected President of the United States. When you think about it, it’s really amazing these two haven’t connected long before now. I mean, ok, there was that awkward first date where they both ate…


Bird of the Week – Spotted Sandpiper

Jul 25, 2015

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…