Friday, July 9, 2010

Bulletin #115 – Alaska #3 – shorebirds, red fox

David McDonald Photography

Friendswood Texas
July 9, 2010

Bulletin #115 – Alaska #3 – shorebirds, red fox

Hello friends,

I had 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, 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.

A number of shorebirds are primarily Eurasian species and can only be seen in Alaska for Asian species, and New England and the Canadian maritime provinces for European species. In Alaska, several species nest there as well as eastern Siberia. They winter in Asia, Australia etc. We were fortunate to find several of these unique species on the trip.

The first of these is the Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica). This Asian species breeds along the western Alaska coast. It is IDed by the typical upturned godwit bill and rufous neck and breast in the male. This life bird was found our first day in Nome.

Another godwit, the Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica) breeds in the Anchorage area. It is a spring migrant through the upper Texas coast where a few are seen annually. In Anchorage, we saw several flocks of them. The male is IDed by the typical upcurved bicolored godwit bill, dark chestnut belly and gray throat.

The female is larger and has duller coloration. In this group photo there are 3 males across the front, and 2 females at the back. Notice that the bellies on the females is much paler than the males.

The next Euarsian species is the Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis). As its name implies, it winters in the south Pacific. Some breed in western Alaska on mountain top tundra. There is only 1 location that is accessible outside Nome. It requires driving 70 miles, then hiking up the mountain about ¼ mile to the tundra. So all birders seeking this species, have to go to the same place. There were perhaps 30-40 people on the mountain the morning we looked for it. It is IDed by the downcurved curlew bill, striped head and buffy rump and tail as seen, in flight, in the second photo. This was another life bird for me.

Dowitchers are difficult to separate in the field for many birders. Fortunately in Alaska, they have differing ranges with the Short-billed breeding along the south coast and the Long-billed breeding on the arctic coast. This Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus) perched on the railing of the boardwalk at Potter’s Marsh in Anchorage. This afforded a nice eye-level picture.

The Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis) is a 9” plump shorebird of rocky coasts in western Alaska. It is IDed by the reddish back and black belly patch. They usually breed north of Nome, but this bird was seen on a mud flat outside of Nome. It was another lifer.

 Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotis) migrate through the Houston area in spring to their breeding grounds in the high arctic. This bird was found in Barrow. It is IDed by the yellow legs and sharp demarcation of the breast streaking to the white belly.

The Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) in breeding plumage is an easy bird to identify, as it is our only sandpiper with a spotted breast. It also has yellow legs and bill. It has a distinctive bobbing motion of its body as it feeds. This one was in Anchorage.

There are 2 species of sandpiper with the name Yellowlegs - Great and Lesser. As the name suggests, they are different sizes. However, to identify them in the field one has to use the bill size and shape as they are seldom found together. The Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) has a long slightly upcurved bill. The Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) has a shorter straight bill. In Anchorage, we found this pair of birds side-by-side so the size difference can be readily seen. The Greater is sleeping on the left and behind the Lesser, but is still taller.  

 Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) are small (6”) sandpipers with dark legs and short bills. They are rather drab even in breeding plumage as this bird is. They may have a little reddish color on their backs or head. This bird was found in Nome. 

Leaving the best sandpiper for last was this beautiful breeding plumaged Ruff (Philomachus pugnax). This is another Eurasian species that may show up in North America on either coast. I have actually seen a female twice on the Texas coast, so it wasn’t a lifer, but it was my first time to see a male in breeding plumage. The male of this species has a collar of long feathers that he fluffs up in his display to attract a mate. We found this bird in Barrow and he put on a show close to our bus. This is #83 in the book ‘100 Birds to See Before You Die” The authors state you must see the breeding plumaged male to count it.

 Plovers are another family of shorebirds. The group of Golden-Plovers are particularly beautiful in breeding plumage with their golden speckled backs and black underparts. The American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica) has a white stripe down the neck to the wing that separates the golden back from the black throat and breast. They winter in South America and migrate through Houston in the spring to the arctic coast. This bird was seen in Barrow.

The Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva) has the white stripe continuing all along the flanks. They breed along the western Alaska coast and winter in south Pacific. They can be seen in winter all over Hawaii on lawns and golf courses. This bird was photographed in Nome. 

We saw several Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), but this one was closest to the road and provided the best picture.

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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