May 31, 2006

One of Those Days

Don't you love those days that seem to go on forever because nearly everything is coming out exactly opposite of the way you hoped it would? Well, that's been my day. Drama was today's theme with my staff. Fun-filled emails and phone messages telling me all the little things that people are or are not doing greeted me first thing this morning. It's always nice to start the day with unnecessary theatrics. Then a cancelled staff meeting forced an impromptu "let's meet right now instead" meeting that caused me to be late for another appointment (FYI - click on that image for the movie).

I also heard today from the folks at Crater Lake. I was informed that just before they were about to call and offer me the job, they heard from a long-term employee whom they thought was not interested in the position. Well, it turns out he was interested, which effectively bumped me off of the top spot. So it's back to the drawing board. But it's ok, because there has got to be at least ONE position opening this fall somewhere in one of the 392 parks, monuments, battlefields, seashores, lakeshores, scenic rivers and historic sites. At least, I hope there is...

May 28, 2006

Hot Hot Hot

It was 79 degrees in Seward yesterday. It's weird. Not supposed to be this hot in May. Less than ten days ago we were still post-holing through a foot of snow on the trails at Exit Glacier. It's nice to see the sun, of course, but there can be too much of a good thing.

I haven't had time to sit down and write up a report of the birdathon from last Sunday yet, but will try to get to it later this week. We didn't do quite as well as we had hoped, ending up short of the record, but we still saw 108 different species. The most notable birds of the day included a single Eurasion Wigeon on the Kenai Flats and an Aleutian Tern (which we didn't end up counting). I thought it was rather appropriate that our day started and ended exactly the same: with an owl, a snipe and a no-show.

May 18, 2006

I Love the Smell of Necrosis in the Morning

There is nothing quite like the smell that permeates the air as the dentist scrapes necrotic tissue out of the roots of a dead tooth. That's what I got to experience yesterday morning, after one of the most excruciatingly painful nights of my life. Let me just say that toothaches suck donkey butts. However, if you have never experienced the joy of someone using a file to scrape the nerve out of the roots of one of your teeth, you should try it. The sound is very unique.

But I'm all better now. And I get to look forward to getting a nifty golden tooth. Which isn't quite as cool as having a golden hand that screws into your arm (see "Time Bandits" if you have no idea what I'm talking about), but it's still up there with an eyepatch or the ability to turn your eyelids inside out.

In other news, several Tufted Ducks have been spotted in the area. These eurasian ducks are very uncommon in North America, so their presence in Seward should cause a local stir in the birding community. I have yet to make the trip to see them, since a boat is sort of required. Hopefully they'll stick around until Sunday when we head into Resurrection Bay for the Birdathon. They'd make a splendid addition to our Big Day list!

Speaking of which, I'm still looking for people to sponsor me for this whole thing. If you're interested in making a fully tax-deductable donation, all of which will benefit the Arctic Audubon Society and Alaska Bird Observatory, email me right away. Remember, not only will you be helping two fantastic non-profit organizations, you'll be helping me to win a pair of Zeiss binoculars! Now, who wouldn't want that?

May 14, 2006

Lonesome Highways

Yesterday's trial run of approximately half of next weekend's Birdathon yielded some surprises and more than a few no-shows. Most notably with the waterfowl. But, we've still got a week for them to show up, so I'm not worried.

Besides, even by myself, and only half-heartedly trying to identify all of the various songs floating through the woods and merely scanning all the tiny little dots swimming on distant ponds through the scope, I still ended up with 64 bird species, four moose, and one porcupine.

But the highlight of the day has to be the black bear sow with twin cubs that crossed the road in front of me. I was twenty miles or so down a lonesome dirt road north of Seward when I came around a corner and saw her standing not more than 20 feet from my car. As she strolled into the woods on the side of the road I was easing slowly past her when I spotted two of the tiniest little cubs I have ever seen. They weren't any bigger than our cat and were bouncing around on each other as their rather large mom (she was one of the biggest black bears I've ever seen) tried to encourage them to climb a tree. I stayed for only a few seconds once I saw she had cubs, since I didn't want her getting too stressed out. I just wish I had brought a camera. Oh, well.

Sonja gets home tonight from a week-long trip back east to visit family and attend a friend's wedding, so I've spent the better part of today cleaning up the "bachelor pad" that temporarily replaced our apartment. I gathered quite the tower of dirty dishes in only a week. It was rather impressive how I was able to fit nearly every plate, cup and utensil we own in the sink without anything falling out. Too bad I didn't have a camera ready. Oh, well.

And, just in case you were looking for one, here's a dumb dinosaur.

May 13, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

Maybe there is hope for U.S. Even on the question about which President was more honest, Clinton trumps Bush, 46-41. Perhaps Americans actually ARE starting to use their brains.

Anyway, I'm off to scout out some birding locations in Kenai and Nikiski today for next week's Big Day/Birdathon. I'm still confident we'll be able to break the record, particularly if the Ross's Goose and Eurasion Wigeons stick around for another week here in Seward.

And, did you know that crabs are this season's grapes?

May 11, 2006

Horny Birds = Crazy Birders

Well, it finally happened. Spring has sprung here in Seward. The birds are arriving in droves and they are, to put it bluntly, horny as hell. But then, I think everyone would be if you only got to get it on once every year...if you're lucky. The forests around Exit Glacier are particularly deafening lately, as every single male bird is currently singing his guts out. Varied Thrushes are so excited right now that they aren't even waiting their turn to sing, instead trying to out-"REEM" their neighbors by belting it out in the middle of another's song. Not to be outdone, the tiny little Ruby-crowned Kinglets are filling the air with the loudest song in relation to body size of any bird in North America. Even the haunting warble of the Hermit Thrush doesn't sound quite so melancholy at this time of year.

Then we've got the guy pictured above. This impressive looking Spruce Grouse has recently claimed a section of the Harding Icefield Trail as his own personal clubhouse, and seems to think any type of intrusion into his space an insult of the highest order. Doesn't matter if you look like another grouse or not, he doesn't want you there.

The arrival of spring migrants, and their hormone-induced choruses, signal the start of another annual occurance up here in event as bizarre as those who participate in it. You've heard of telathons and readathons before. Heck, they've got "athons" for just about anything nowadays. But there's one "athon" that trumps them all for the sheer number of blank stares and dumbfounded exclaimations of "you actually do that?!" that it generates. The Farthest North Birdathon!

Next week I will be participating in another attempt to break Alaska's single-day birding record during the annual Farthest North Birdathon. I, along with a 16 year old birding genius from Fairbanks, will be spending one calendar day (midnight to midnight) racing across south-central Alaska looking and listening for as many different species as possible.

But it's more than just a competition to see who can find the most birds. This is also the primary source of funding for both the Arctic Audubon Society and the Alaska Bird Observatory. So, I need to collect pledges and donations from any who would like to sponsor my birdathon this year. You've got two options. You can either pledge a per-species amount, which will obviously depend on how many species we find this year (we're hoping for 131), or you can donate a fixed amount. If anyone is interested in sponsoring me for this event, feel free to send me an email with your name and the amount you would like to pledge/donate.

My team this year is planning an ambitious, yet not quite ridiculously long, route. We will be starting our day at 12:00am in Anchorage, probably camped out in the yard of another birder who told us about some Northern Hawk Owls that have been calling every night from the woods nearby. We will then spend the better part of eight hours scouring the Anchorage area and the Mat-Su Valley as we try to squeeze out every last bird before heading south down the Seward Highway, where a short (90 mile) detour will hopefully result in a handful of unique shorebirds. Finally, we plan to arrive in Seward sometime around 7:30 in the evening, at which time we will board a fast boat for the Chiswell Islands, a favorite haunt of puffins, kittiwakes, cormorants and auklets. Then, at 11:59pm, just as the last of the twilight disappears, we hope to be parked on the side of Exit Glacier Road straining for the distant call of the now unusually common (in Seward, anyway) Western Screech Owl.

Remember, by sponsoring me for this birdathon you, too, can be part of Alaskan birding history!

Now who wouldn't want that?

May 06, 2006


Because I don't really feel much like writing anything today, go read this.

Then, play this.

That is all.

May 05, 2006

Rocky Fins

Mount St. Helens recently began pushing a huge rocky fin up from the ever-growing lava dome in its crater. From what I've read, volcanologists aren't 100% sure what this new fin means, whether an eruption is imminent or not, but it is growing higher at a rate of more than four feet per day. It's pretty crazy looking.

Here's another view from the USGS looking down at the lava dome and the 300 foot high rocky fin:

Meanwhile, Augustine Volcano in Cook Inlet has quieted down a bit. The alert status is now at "Yellow," with periodic steam and ash venting going on. Here's a picture posted on the Alaska Volcano Observatory website from a couple days ago:

May 02, 2006

Garbage Birds

I know I rag on Bald Eagles alot. I mean, they are pretty darn cool birds. It's just that they've been set so high on this artificial pedestal as the embodiment of ferocity, freedom and pride. It's not the birds' fault, though. I just find it rather amusing that the reality of these birds is often completely contrary to the image many Americans have of them.

Take the scene I observed from my office window this morning, for example. We have eagle number 1, a beautiful, fully mature adult who spots a piece of rotting fish near the shore (but in about a foot and a half of water). This bird gingerly wades out into the harbor to try to grab it, but quickly gives up, deciding that getting that wet just isn't worth a few bites of rotting fish flesh. In the meantime, a big juvenile eagle notices what the adult is doing and flies down to check it out. Here's the two birds after the adult lost interest in the fish:

So the adult flies up onto a nearby post to dry off. The juvenile, however, is now very interested in this morsel of rotting goodness. It figures a different vantage point may help solve the problem, so it hops up onto the dock:

Suddenly, this bird flops into the water, splashing around like a crazy person before hopping quickly back to the shore...with the fish in its talons. Well, this doesn't go unnoticed by other eagles for very long. Four other birds instantly appear on the scene. The juvi that scored the fish gets very flustered and starts screaming (you need Real Player to listen to that sound...couldn't find any mp3's or wav's of eagle sounds) and flapping its wings, trying like mad to hold onto its prize and gulp down a few bites before it ends up getting dogpiled by the others. Well, it manages to grab a few morsels before one of the adults bullies his way into the mess, grabs the rotten fish and flies off with the other three newcomers hot on its tail. Unfortunately, I was so entertained by all this action that I forgot to take pictures. I did get one of the "loser" flying up to a post to sulk:

All of this over a little piece of rotten salmon that some guy probably tossed over the side of his boat after he got back in the harbor. While it's true that in places where these birds don't congregate in such high numbers they tend to act a bit more "refined," but it really is hard to think of Bald Eagles as "regal" when you watch them bicker over the scraps left behind by humans nearly every single day.

But, as I said before, it's not the birds' fault. They are still pretty freakin' cool.

May 01, 2006

Mount Alice in the Morning

You can't really see them, but there are about 75 Common Mergansers swimming around off the end of that last boat in line (the one with the two orange bumbers hanging off the end). As I took this picture a few minutes ago a Song Sparrow was singing just a few feet away. For such a drab-looking bird, they certainly know how to sing.

Today is "A Day Without Immigrants." Time for the people and government of the U.S. to wake up and realize just who it is that harvests and prepares our food, cleans our hotel rooms, vaccuums our offices, assemble our computers...the list goes on. I read in the paper yesterday that Mexican workers in the U.S. illegally send an estimated $10 BILLION dollars back to their families in Mexico every year. I mentioned that to Sonja and she wasn't surprised at all.

When we lived in Jackson, WY, she worked at the local organic food market along with four Mexican coworkers. She told me that they were always at work, and how some of them had not taken a single day off in over seven years (by choice, I think...the owners of the store were very progressive people who paid fairly well and treated all their employees equally). All these folks did was work so they could send the vast majority of their paychecks home to their wives, husbands, children and parents back in Mexico. Their dedication to their families is pretty amazing and their desire for a better future for their children is inspiring.

It's time for many Americans to wake up and realize that the one thing that makes the United States totally unique in the world is its status as an immigrant nation. In fact, 98.4% of all Americans are descendants of immigrants (either willing immigrants or not so willing). To even suggest that the U.S. should limit immigration more than it already does is contrary to everything our ancestors came to this country for.

I hope that today's demonstrations allow this country to think seriously about the issue before any changes are made to our immigration laws.