Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Alaska Edition Continued: Grace, Earned and Unearned

 [One picture of the alpine tundra: Whimbrel.]

We struggled to find our first hawk-owl - and now we're up to 6, I think. The staked out Great Gray Owls had disappeared, then 2 hours and 100 miles later one flies up off the road and crosses in front of the vans, carrying prey, point blank views for all. We walk and walk over uneven alpine tundra looking for Smith's Longspur - and find it, when, we hear, all the other tour groups up here now are having trouble with that bird. We also find a Whimbrel nest with 4 eggs. Luck favors the prepared, I guess, and the hard working.

 [Yesterday we sadly bade farewell to our friends at Sheep Mountain Lodge along the Glenn Highway. Anjanette Steer, here with Mark (there are Dall Sheep up on that mountain in the background), plans to race in the Iditarod next March. She and her husband Zack run Sheep Mountain Lodge. Zack has raced in the Iditarod several times, placing as high as third. You can follow the Iditarod online, and we'll be cheering for Anjanette.]

[Some of the Steers' sled dogs. They get the summers off, Zack told us, to rest, heal any injuries, and because it's too hot for them to train. It was 40 degrees in the mornings; Zack says they run best at 10-15 below.]

[Fireweed is just beginning to bloom.]

The alpine tundra today was magnificent - vast, quiet, both colorful and somber, Long-tailed Jaegers flying overhead, Lapland Longspurs bubbling their songs, flowers blooming. My knee's paying for the trekking over uneven, spongy ground, but it was worth it. So much so we'll be out there again tomorrow.

 [Male Lapland Longspur returns to earth after a high display flight.]

[We re-made an old acquaintance, not seen since Denali National Park at the start of the trip - Arctic Ground Squirrel along the Denali Highway.]

 [Lifer. . . if you can find it. The tiny dot atop the rocky promontory, top left, is a gray morph Gyrfalcon. The ledge under the overhang down and right from it, with the whitewash, is probably its eyrie. This is shot with my SLR and 300mm, much cropped. I studied this bird for 20 minutes at 60 power, pretty much hogging my scope from the participants (there were plenty to go around), eventually seeing it fly. Bulky, gray, muted face pattern, wings fell well short of the tail so not a Peregrine, broader and blunter winged - now, to get one closer. . . ]

 [Mark and I were crazy enough to plan to prepare a meal for our tour on our arrival at Denali Highway Cabins last night after a long day of birding, and a long drive. Mark made his famous bread, shortbread cookies, baked potatoes, and broccoli. I took on salmon for 16 people, on an unfamilar grill - with fresh Copper River Sockeye (we're less than 100 miles from the river), it's hard to screw up. Yuuuummmm!!]

[Another picture of alpine tundra: this young Caribou investigated us today, wheeling when it got downwind and caught our scent.]


  1. Hi, Don! We'd like to use your photo of a Lapland Longspur on BirdNote.org. Will you please contact me and I can explain further?
    Ellen Blackstone, BirdNote

  2. I would like to know what the daily routine of a Great Gray Owl. Like from waking up at dusk or so and what it does for a whole 24 hours.

    phlebotomy training in alaska