Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bulletin #116 – Alaska #4 - waterbirds & herbivores

David McDonald Photography

Friendswood Texas
July 18, 2010

Bulletin #116 – Alaska #4 - waterbirds & herbivores

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.

There are 5 loon species worldwide, and all 5 of them are in Alaska. Unfortunately we found only 3 of them. The large (32") Common Loon (Gavia immer) is also known as the Great Northern Diver in Europe. In breeding plumage here, the bird is IDed by the black head, red eye, and speckled back.

The smaller (25") Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) has a gray head, black throat and white spots on back. The sexes are similar. I did not get a good photo in Alaska, so here is a photo I took in CA. This is the breeding plumage.

The Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata) is very similar to the Pacific Loon but it has a red throat rather then black, and the back lacks the white spots.

The Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) was very common on the lakes around Anchorage. It is an easy ID in breeding plumage with the bright red neck and yellow bill.

We found 2 tern species both of which were life birds for me. The most common tern in Alaska was the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea). This small tern has a blood red bill and red legs. It is #100 in the book ‘100 Birds To See Before You Die’. It is included in the book for the fact of its long migration from the arctic to antarctic and back annually. It is a long lived bird (20 or more years), so the authors state that they may migrate 1 million kilometers (650,000 miles) during their lifetime.

The Aleutian Tern (Onychoprion aleuticus) has a black bill and white forehead patch. It resides in western coastal Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. We saw a pair of them in Nome.

We had a number of gull species as well including some arctic species. The Mew Gull (Larus canus) is the smallest white headed gull in North America. It has a plain yellow bill, yellow legs, gray wings and black wing tips with white spots.

The large Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) is an almost pure white gull of the arctic. The adult has pink legs with a yellow bill. The bird shown here in Barrow is a 2nd year bird that has a pink bill with black tip.

A life bird for me was this Slaty-backed Gull (Larus schistisagus). This is a bird from Siberia and it is the only dark backed gull to be found in the Bering Sea.We saw it in Nome. It is the dark backed bird in the center of the photo. The others are Glaucous-winged Gulls.

The Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini) is a small black-headed gull of the arctic. It is IDed by the unique upper wing pattern of black tips, gray central patch with white ‘V’ in between. The bill is black with a yellow tip. We found a pair of these gulls at Barrow.

The last gull is the Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla). This bird nests on cliffs in the north Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It is a white headed gull with black wingtips and no white spots. The wing tips look like they were dipped in ink. The bill is plain yellow and the legs are black. We saw hundreds of these gulls on the pelagic trip out of Seward including huge nesting colonies.

We saw 3 large herbivores in Alaska. 2 species of deer were located on the trip. We saw several Moose (Alces alces) but unfortunately, no males with antlers. This is the largest member of the deer family at 600-1200 pounds. Here is a female that ran across the road right in front of our van.

The other ‘deer’ we saw was a Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). I was expecting to see caribou in Alaska. After returning home and researching the photos, I discovered that the reindeer from Eurasia and the caribou in North America have been reclassified as the same species. My old mammal book had them listed as separate species. The reindeer is a slightly smaller subspecies than our native caribou. In Nome they have Reindeer that were imported from Europe as a meat source for the Inuit in the early 1900’s, as they were no native caribou there. We saw several herds of these reindeer on the tundra. We also ate some reindeer sausage, which is sold throughout Alaska. We looked diligently for the reindeer with a red nose, but didn't find him. I guess he was closer to the North Pole than Nome AK. Both the moose and reindeer were life mammals for me.

The other mammal was a Muskox (Ovibos moschatus). This member of family of sheep, goats and oxen is more closely related to goats and sheep than to oxen, despite its name. It originally occurred across arctic North America and Eurasia. It was hunted to extinction everywhere except northern Canada, but with protection, captive breeding and reintroduction, it has rebounded well. It can be domesticated and yields meat, milk and highly prized wool called qiviut. The animals shed the wool in spring and it brushes off against bushes, where the Inuit collect it to make into yarn. It is stronger and warmer then sheep wool and softer then cashmere! Follow the link to read more about this unique product. It is IDed by the massive size (400-750 lbs), shaggy coat reaching almost to the ground and curved horns.

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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