Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bulletin #119 – Alaska #7

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
August 8, 2010

Bulletin #119 – Alaska #7

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 were several cormorants in Alaska. The Red-faced Cormorant (Phalacrocorax urile) is a resident bird of the Aleutian Islands. In breeding plumage the facial skin is red. In basic plumage, it is orange as seen here. The orange extends around the eye. This was a lifer for me.

Jaegers are closely related to gulls and are in the same family. They nest on the tundra across the arctic, but otherwise are oceanic birds. They feed by harassing gulls and terns to make them release their fish.

We saw 2 species in Alaska, both on the Nome section of the trip. The Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus) is dark above, light below with a dark chest band. Notice the elongated pointed central tail feathers.

The other was a lifer. The Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus) has a clean black cap, white underparts, no chest band and very long tail. All these field marks can be seen in this bird that we found right beside the road eating some carrion.

Ptarmigan are members of the grouse family that inhabit the Arctic. There are 3 species in North America and we found 2 of them in the Nome area. They were both life birds for me. Because the length of the winter season, these birds are almost pure white in winter, for camouflage. The male Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) in courtship plumage has a brown head and neck and white body. The edges of the tail are black. Notice the red eyebrows!

The male Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) in courtship plumage has the red eyebrow, is mostly still white, but has a beige wash. The black stripe through the eye is another ID mark of this bird. This bird is number 92 in the book '100 Birds to See Before You Die'. It earns its place in the book by being the most northerly wintering land bird in the world.

Here is a Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) that we found in the Anchorage area. He was foraging on the ground and flying back to the nest hole near-by.

There were several other mammals found on the pelagic trip. The first is the Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris). This wonderful mammal has the densest fur of any animal and consequently was hunted almost to extinction. But now with protection, they are making a comeback. They occur along the north Pacific coast and range as far south as Big Sur in California. They can usually be seen floating on their back while sleeping or eating. They are one of the few mammals to use tools. They often will place a rock on their stomach and then smash a crab or sea urchin against the rock to crack it open.

The other was a Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus). This northern fur seal is much larger and lighter color than the familiar California Sea Lion. The males may get to 11' in length and weigh 2500 pounds. The first photo shows a family group with the huge male, some females and a dark pup. The second photo is a pup. This was a lifer for me.

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.

The trip is now sold out.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald


photos copyright 2010 David McDonald

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