Alaska; Nome Birds #3

Please consider all images as copyrighted – thank you. Contact me for use… DEClapp

Though Alaska has lots of wet ground there are many areas where your feet can stay dry, at least for most of the day. There are wet patches pretty much everywhere but there are many areas of dry tundra. Even the runoff streams and rivulets have shrubby edges that provide an upland sort of habitat. There are no real trees out on the peninsula but the excavated edges alongside the roads are often edges with the gravel removed to allow for drainage, and the low channels hold enough water, for patches of willow, alder, and (occasionally) poplars to grow. Certainly this is not a forested part of the world but there is a good bit of low cover. It is in that low cover that many birds reside.

The sparrows of the Nome area are pretty snazzy – yes I know that sounds odd, sparrows and snazzy are not often in the same sentence, but the White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows are really pretty sharp characters. The large reddish Fox Sparrow is also a treat. The American Tree Sparrow and the Savannah Sparrow may be a bit average looking overall, but think of where they are living and what they go through to survive. And, in the same family (Emberizidae) there is the very common and also pretty snazzy Lapland Longspur.

I have also included the Gray Jay and Short-eared Owl on this page as well. The owl is a diurnal (day time) hunter in Alaska in the summer – it has no choice. It cruises moth-like over the tundra hoping to spot a vole or lemming or perhaps a Savannah Sparrow or Lapland Longspur. The last image in this blog, well below, was sitting alongside the Kougaroc Road and all Fran had to do was aim and shoot. Once the bird flew it was over with; it drifted away over the rolling tundra hills.

AK Nome golden crowned sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrows were everywhere. They are rather solidly built and wear a bright yellow yarmulke (kippah). They are in the same Genus as White-throats, Harris’s, and White-crowned sparrows.
AK Nome golden crowned sparrow – Version 2
We had sunny (and hot) days while in Nome and the birds that were seen were often well seen and well lit.
AK Nome fox sparrow – Version 2
The Fox Sparrow of the Nome area is often referred to as the “Red” Fox Sparrow, It was one of the common songsters of the area. We had the “sooty” or gray Fox Sparrow as well. Like this bird, many of the birds we saw were already feeding young. Birds carrying food were quite common.
AK Nome lapland longspur – Version 2
The Lapland Longspur is a holarctic bird and is named for the location where the first specimen was collected.There is also a Chestnut-collared Longspur – as you can see, the Lapland Longspur also has a chestnut collar. But this is the only longspur in Alaska with this look. This is a very common bird around Nome. They nest on the tundra but after nesting the entire population drops down into the USA and winters in the grasslands of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, and down through Nebraska and Kansas into northern Texas.
AK Nome gray jay at quarry
While driving out from Nome toward Safety Lagoon we happened on a Gray Jay near the active rock quarry. Gray Jays are quite common throughout most of Alaska (and Canada and the northern USA) but they are not often found in the treeless expanse of the Seward Peninsula. So, this bird was one of those unexpected treats that we hoped for.
The Short-eared Owl is a very widespread bird. However, loss of habitat has caused its numbers in the eastern United States to plummet. However, it is still widely spread and not uncommon in Alaska’s open spaces, especially in the tundra-covered portion of the state. It is not a forest owl so the tundra provides a nice homeland for this species. The fact that they are kind of a day-time owl makes them one of everyone’s favorites.

I guess there will be at least one more page on Nome; maybe two. I think we need a scenery page and then there are a bunch more bird images to share. There are a few Alaskan specialities that will be included on that page.

Then we will head for Denali and lastly on to the Kenai Peninsula and the town of Homer. Hmmmm, there are some more things to say about Alaska’s temperate rain forest which sits largely on the coast of Canada…. Why? I think I can answer that in an upcoming page.

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