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August 30, 2015

  • Stilt Sandpiper, Peat Ponds, Fairbanks

    Bird of the Week – Stilt Sandpiper

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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…

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Mudflats Goes Militia in Talkeetna

Jul 12, 2015

Friday 13:00, Tesoro Station Mini-Mart, Talkeetna, Alaska The Tesoro gas station mini-mart in Wasilla does not carry potatoes. As a matter of fact, they do not carry produce of any kind. I am supposed provide dinner tonight for my little corner of the militia encampment. Yes, I’m going back again this year to the Alaska Prepper/Survivalist/Militia Rendezvous, and instead of PB&J like last time, I’ve got steak, and asparagus – but I left the potatoes sitting on the counter at home. After a couple laps up and down the tiny aisles, I have to make a call. The closest thing…

Solitary Sandpiper, Chena Hot Springs Road, Fairbanks

Bird of the Week: Solitary Sandpiper

Jul 11, 2015

Another sandpiper that doesn’t have much to do with sand, the Solitary Sandpiper nests in trees in the boreal forest. There aren’t many tree-nesting sandpipers, which makes the Solitary pretty unique. It gets its name because it’s different in another way, too: it migrates alone, not in a flock. This is a slender, fairly small, dark sandpiper, about 8 inches long. Its upper parts are dark olive-brown, finely spotted with whitish-buff to cinnamon-white. It has a white throat and belly, yellow legs and that distinctive narrow white eye-ring. The bird’s dark underwings contrast with white belly in flight. Camera geek stuff:…

Upland Sandpiper, Delta Barley Project, Delta Junction

Bird of the Week: Upland Sandpiper

Jul 4, 2015

The Upland Sandpiper is a little different. Unlike most shorebirds, the Upland Sandpiper has only incidental contact with the shore. It spends its winters on the grasslands of South America and its summers on the grasslands of North America, including the fields of the Delta Agricultural Project, southeast of Delta Junction. Uppies have an amazing call, exactly a wolf whistle. This fellow was, literally, singing in the rain. This is a bigger sandpiper, 12 inches tall. The large, dark eye in a small head and the long, pale yellow legs make this an easy identification, even if he isn’t singing…

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Hartney Bay, Cordova

Bird of the Week: Semipalmated Sandpiper

Jun 27, 2015

Even birders struggle to distinguish Semipalmated Sandpipers from Western Sandpipers. Generally, Semipalmateds are paler than Westerns, less rufous in coloration. The bill is a bit blunter. But Semipalmateds can be pretty rufous, and generally sandpipers’ bills are probing the mud, making comparison tough. As WC said, it’s a tough identification in the field. This photo catches a field mark that is quite hard to see in the field but definitive: note the webbing between the toes. That’s the “semipalmated” business in the bird’s name. This is another photo taken while laid out flat in the Hartney Bay mud. WC would…

NYC Reacts to Gay Marriage  Ruling at Stonewall Inn

At the Historic Stonewall Inn – Gay Marriage Celebrations in NYC

Jun 26, 2015

On a week of historic Supreme Court decisions and non-stop breaking news, the decision that gay marriage was constitutional has swept the Nation like a cool breeze on a Summer day in Fairbanks. I’m stuck in New York City for the time being so hearing the news, I ran to the Stonewall Inn, the place many call the home of the LGBT rights movement in the USA. The celebrations were just ramping up as it was only an hour after the official announcement from D.C. but the crowd was certainly celebratory. Here’s a couple of my best shots – I’ll…

Western Sandpiper Flock, Hartney Bay, Cordova

Bird of the Week: Western Sandpiper

Jun 20, 2015

We’re continuing with the hard ones, the sandpipers. This week it’s Alaska’s most common peep, the Western Sandpiper. Truly spectacular numbers of Western Sandpipers move through southcentral Alaska in spring migration. This flock was photographed at the Copper River Shorebird Festival in Cordova, Alaska. The birds hang out in Hartney Bay to re-fuel, foraging for in the mud and resting. This shot was taken by WC while prone in the mud of Hartney Bay. Not a task for those of a delicate sensibility. Camera geek stuff: f5.7, 1/400, ISO200. For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

Rock Sandpipers, Homer Small Boat Harbor, Alaska

Bird of the Week: Rock Sandpiper

Jun 13, 2015

You’ve seen a lot of sparrows, the Little Brown Jobs or LBJs of birding, and they are admittedly hard to identify in the field. Now, let’s spend some time with birds that are even harder: sandpipers, the peeps of the birding world. Rock Sandpipers winter on the rocky shores and breakwaters of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. But they breed on the Bering Sea Coast, mostly on mudflats and intertidal zones, which kind of makes you scratch your head about the species common name. Most sandpipers are cryptic, quite hard to see in their environment. Rock Sandpipers are a champion…

lemmings

Alaska Lemming Caucus Over the Edge

Jun 7, 2015

This has been a difficult week for many Alaskans. So much uncertainty as 10,000 pink slips go to our friends and neighbors working for the state. Fairbanks Sen. Pete Kelly argues they aren’t pink slips, because there’s an “if” in them, as in “You’re not laid off if a handful of senators get their poop together.” Of course, we know there’s no chance Pete and his collaborators will get their poop together. Instead of pink slips, people online are calling them “Pete slips.” Our current legislative crisis is the handiwork of a small cabal of senators who refuse to compromise their misguided ideology. The…

Smith's Longspur, Denali Highway, Alaska

Bird of the Week – Smith’s Longspur

Jun 6, 2015

The bird species in Alaska that WC has probably worked hardest to photograph is the Smith’s Longspur. Uncommon, highly localized and skulky, WC has spent days and hiked miles to photograph these birds. It’s worth it, too. Besides everything else, the species is easily disturbed, so WC will be vague about where to find it. In addition to being difficult to find and photograph, Birds of North America notes another unusual characteristic: Smith’s Longspurs have one of the most unusual social breeding systems known among songbirds. Unlike the majority of birds that form socially monogamous relationships for breeding, Smith’s Longspurs are…

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Court Delivers Double-Whammy Over Pebble

May 30, 2015

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…