Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Alaska Edition: Boreal Birds and Mammals

[Swainson's Thrush teed up and singing in wet boreal woods outside Fairbanks today. Notice how the breast spots are not particularly bold or well defined; some of us were looking at a photo of a maybe Swainson's the other night (back in NJ), and the bold breast spots helped us decide it was a Hermit Thrush instead.]

Did a bit of pre-tour scouting today - okay, lets call it wandering and recreating -  mostly near the Alaska Bird Observatory and Creamery Field near downtown Fairbanks. Many birds we see in migration in the lower 48 are here now, like the Swainson's Thrush, or the "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warblers.  I'm not sure which individual Swainson's Thrushes migrate where in fall, for example whether an Alaskan Swainson's ever winds up on the east coast. However, the Myrtle Warblers in Alaska clearly do what Blackpolls do, heading east, then south, though travelling not nearly as far south as the Blackpolls. The Northern Waterthrushes breeding up here do this, too. Thus it's easily possible some of the Myrtles I saw today, and the waterthrushes I heard, will pass through Cape May this fall.

Of course, the Hammond's Flycatchers won't go east, and the Northern Goshawk I heard calling likely won't either. We all wish one of the many Mew Gulls would make it east, however unlikely.

Even the downtown Fairbanks birds were interesting - in addition to the Mew Gulls, there were many singing White-crowned Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, and Myrtle Warblers along the Chena River. Single Alder Flycatchers and Fox Sparrows sang, and Common Redpolls flew over regularly. We even found some fuzzy, streaky redpoll fledglings in thickets along the river.

I bumped into 2 Snowshoe Hares and several Red Squirrels, both of which range across the boreal forest, though we have quite a few of the latter in NJ. I guess the nearest Snowshoe Hare to Cape May would be in northern New York.

 [Snowshoe Hare in its summer pelage, boreal forest outside Fairbanks today.]

[College campuses are always good for a squirrel or too, like this Red Squirrel at the U of AK in Fairbanks.]

I found a fantastic little set of ponds nestled in boreal forest west of town today, with winnowing Wilson's Snipe, Rusty Blackbirds, and various northern nesting ducks like Bufflehead and American Wigeon, but the extraordinary observation of the day involved a pair of scaup and a grebe:

 [This Lesser Scaup pair fed actively in front of me, the female spending far more time diving for food than the male, as you would expect. Female ducks of all species face huge energetic demands during nesting, and must pre-load a month's worth of calories, since they will do ALL the incubation. The male sticks around guarding her until she's on eggs, and then heads off to molt and loaf.]

[Suddently the water under the scaup seemed to explode, and this Horned Grebe proceeded to aggressively pursue them and chase them to a far corner of "his" pond!] 

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