Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bulletin #113 – Alaska #1 - waterfowl

David McDonald Photography

Friendswood Texas
June 24, 2010

Bulletin #113 – Alaska #1 - waterfowl

Hello friends,

I just returned from a great trip to Alaska with TOS (Texas Ornithology Society). They run an annual trip to Alaska in early June. We visited Anchorage, Nome, Barrow, the Denali Highway and had a pelagic trip out of Seward. It was a fantastic trip with most usual birds seen and photographed along with numerous mammal species.

Most of the new birds for me were non-passerines (shorebirds, waterfowl, alcids etc.) There are 4 species of Eiders in the world. These northern sea ducks were the source for eider down feathers in the past. The breeding male are black and white bodied, with variably colored faces. The females are brown. We saw all 4 species (Common Eider in Nome and the other 3 in Barrow.)

The male Common Eider (Somateria mollissima) has a white back and neck, black breast and cap on head and an orange bill.

The male King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) in breeding plumage has a mostly black body, greenish facial patch, grey head, red bill and orange above the bill. We were fortunate to find a pair close to the road on our last day in Barrow to enable us all to get some good photos.

The male Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri) is an endangered arctic species with black back, buffy belly, white head and a black spot on sides of breast. Like the King Eider above, we saw the Steller’s the first day in Barrow, but they were too far away to photograph. The second (and last) day had several birds closer (about 40-50 yards), so at least a decent photo was possible. This was a lifer for me.

We saw the last bird, a Spectacled Eider (Somateria fischeri) at great distance in the scope, but weren’t able to find any close enough for photo purposes. This bird was also a life bird for me.

One of my target birds for the trip is the unusually marked Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus). This monotypic genus of sea duck inhabits swift flowing mountain streams in breeding season. It is sort of the waterfowl equivalent of the American Dipper. In winters, it inhabits coastal areas. The male is gray with brown flanks and several white spots and stripes on the head, neck and wings. The female in the second photo is brown with 3 white spots on the sides of the head. I had looked for this species in winter, in Monterey, California, but had never found one. We saw these birds at Nome and some others along the Denali Highway. It was another lifer. It is also #75 in the book '100 Birds to See Before You Die'.

The last lifer duck was the Black Scoter (Melanitta americana). Scoters are black bodied seas ducks in 3 species. I had seen the other two on several occasions in California. These scoters also occur, in winter, along the upper Texas coast. However, they tend to stay well out from shore so are hard to see well and they would be nearly impossible to photograph. The male Black Scoter is entirely black except for the bill which has a prominent orange knob on it. The female in the 2nd photo, is brown with a pale lower 1/2 of face. The group on the trip saw one bird in Nome, but this pair was photographed along the Denali Highway.

The Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) is unusual in that it has 4 molts annually with 4 different plumages for both sexes. Most guide books show only 2 of these. I had taken photos in Monterey CA, of the winter plumage, but in Barrow, I got the spring plumage in Sibley. The brown, black and white plumage and long tail feathers of the male are an easy ID. The female is the second photo.

I got my best ever photos of a male Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis) at Potter’s Marsh in Anchorage. This is a famous area to find nesting waterfowl, gulls, terns and grebes.

I got pictures of the 2 large aquatic rodents on the trip. The first is the Beaver (Castor canadensis). This was a life mammal for me, despite growing up in Ontario. The beaver was the main target of the fur trade in Canada from the earliest days of settlement. It also appears on the 5 cent coin and is the national animal due to its place in history. Unfortunately it was hunted and trapped to near extinction across eastern North America, but is now making a comeback. It is identified by its wide flattened tail that resembles the blade of a paddle. We saw this one swimming under a bridge, on our first day in Nome.

I have seen the similar Muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) several times previously. It has a hairless tail that is slightly flattened vertically, but for the most part appears round at a distance. This one was photographed in Anchorage at Potter's Marsh. The second photo shows the rounded tail.

I will be leading a 9 day bird photography tour to Costa Rica in conjunction with Lillian Scott-Baer of Baer Travel March 3-11, 2011. We have worked out an itinerary to visit La Selva Preserve, Savegre Mountain Hotel in the central mountains for Resplendant Quetzal and other montane species and Wilson Botanical Gardens (Las Cruces). We have also retained the services of local guide Rudy Zamora to accompany us and locate and ID the birds for us to photograph. We will also have beautiful flowers and hopefully some mammals - tamanduas, monkeys etc.

I will be giving several talks in the evening on bird photography, Photoshop etc.

The price will be $1960 double to $2380 single. This includes hotels, all meals, guide, transportation in Costa Rica etc. The only other cost will be airfare and personal purchases (alcohol, souvenirs etc) . Space is limited to 10 persons to maximize our opportunity to see and photograph the birds. I have birded in Costa Rica previously. It is a wonderful country to visit and the bird life is exceptional. I hope that you can join us.

Here is the schedule of payments for the trip.

$ 25 reservation fee (not refundable)
$ 575 due April 30, 2010
$ 600 due July 30, 2010
$ 740 due January 15, 2011
Please send deposits to:

ScoBar Inc.
34 Galway Place
The Woodlands, TX 77382

Note - we will try to pair up singles and triple would be $1890 per person.

There are only 2 spaces left for this trip as of today, so please email me, if interested.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald


photos copyright 2010 David McDonald

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