My friend and I drove into Homer, Alaska one evening in April of 2006. Our trip was fortunately timed – though not purposely – because we caught the eagles still in town. They were reaping the benefits of friendly human feeders before leaving for summer’s greener pastures.
As we drove down onto the Homer Spit eagles were perched on nearly every building. The sun’s long evening rays set them off and they were so still that we asked each other, are they real?? But as we drove down the spit to the Land’s End Hotel, we saw enough of them shuffle their feathers or blink their eyes to know they were totally and gorgeously real.
If I had only thought to take a photo… (Though at that time I used a plain point and shoot which would not have done justice to the moment.)
Over the next couple of days I took plenty of time to walk the beaches and absorb the feelings of a place that was (and still is) pretty much totally foreign to me. As a landlubber in Alaska I see plenty of wildlife, but usually not the same wildlife as near the coasts.
This was a common sight on the beaches, people leaving fish guts and carcases out for the eagles. Gulls and crows benefit too.
I never saw an eagle growing up (bald or not!) until about 10 years ago. Now I see them at least a couple of times a year in and around Fairbanks. It could be that as a child or young adult I wasn’t paying attention, but I’d be willing to bet that their population has grown throughout Alaska over the last couple of decades as it has generally in North America.
On the right you can see the mottled feather pattern of a 2 or 3 year old eagle. It takes 4 years for an eagle to get its adult plumage and wing length.
Valdez has quite a few bald eagles too, but I’ve never seen this many at a time anywhere but Homer. (Some day I’ll make it to Haines too for the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival and the Chilkat Preserve.) If you’re a bald eagle fan all three of these places should be on your list!
I saw a snow bunting once before, in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. In its summer garb. But this one I spied on a gravel road in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan in its winter plumage. My husband and I were in the middle of a 6 week long road trip that started and ended at our home in Fairbanks, Alaska, but that took us through 4 Canadian provinces and at least 14 states. And of all the amazing times we had this snow bunting was actually pretty special because it was one of the few close encounters with birds that I had over the whole 6 weeks.
Michigan’s scenery, little did I know, is astoundingly beautiful! I had no idea there were sand dunes in the Midwest! Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (on left) is a must-see part of North America.
As is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You can see red-orange sandstone that is 500 million years old in the photo on the right. This cliff has been beautifully sculpted by the waters of Lake Superior. The interesting part is that even though the rock that makes up the landform is hundreds of millions of years old, the cliff itself that you see jutting out into the water is only a few thousands of years old. No landform around this area could be older than 12,000 years old because that’s when glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. But this land is rising. It has risen far enough up since then, and been sculpted by the forces of erosion, to give us a spectacular view of rock formations that used to be buried.
So as my husband and I are visiting this most scenic of places, this snow bunting is pick pick picking at bits of something along a gravel road, letting me get closer and closer with my camera.
He must have just arrived from more northerly climes, smartly getting busy eating as many seeds and insects that he can before the coming winter. Snow buntings spend the summer in Alaska and northern Canada and before winter fly to the Midwest of America, southern Canada, and the coastlines of Alaska. Males have darker heads in the winter and more black on their wings, like this little guy.
I know all this about snow buntings now because I have my handy birding books around me. But when I was taking the photos I thought maybe it was a sparrow of some kind. To my delight, when I finally got home and looked it up I found out it was a snow bunting which is not a sparrow. I would have never recognized it because the one I saw in Prudhoe Bay was in it’s June breeding plumage which is mostly white. Moral of the story: take at least one birding book with you on your road trip!
Sian Ka’an is close to Tulum, Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula – a dazzling coastal ecosystem. My husband and I rambled along in our rented Jeep with no A/C on a long white gravel road that winds along the coast of the Caribbean Sea. It was a drop dead gorgeous sunny hot day. The shining white beaches were radiant even with the washed-up garbage strewn about. I hopped over photo op after photo op, looking for pieces of beach glass (something I could do for days, weeks, months!).
If it had been our choice, my husband and I would have driven that road till the end. But as we all know, daylight is limited and vacation time goes especially fast.
Possibly the best part of Sian Ka’an was the old weathered bridge that stood alongside the newer bridge that we traveled on. They cross a beautiful blue-green river that flows into the ocean. You can see a video of them here.
Locals fished off the bridges, breezes relieved the heat, and I found bird after bird to photograph. To the left are female and male Great-Tailed Grackles. The gull, tern, and turnstone were firsts for me (below).
I’ll fondly remember this old weathered bridge for all my days, along with the fine feathered friends I met that day.
In February 2011 my husband and I were able to make a 5 day visit to the Hawaiian island of Kauai and one thing that amazed us was the existence of chickens all over the place. They seemed to have an uncanny ability to avoid getting hit by vehicles! I’m sure it happens but we saw no evidence of chicken roadkill, even while they are constantly seen pecking and preening alongside nearly every single roadway. Survival of the smartest, I guess.
Turns out they are called Red Junglefowl. The Hawaiian name is Moa and according to the Hawaii Audubon Society wild populations exist only on Kauai. It’s hard to know where the actual Junglefowl begins and the domestic chicken ends though, since they have interbred to the point of total confusion.
My guess, after a small amount of research, is that the dark brown chicken on the left is closer to true Junglefowl, and the one on the right is more of a domesticated chicken. Both of these photos were taken at Brennecke’s Beach in Poipu, where they intermingled with the tourists. (If you click on the photos you will get a lot more detail.)
Moa were brought to the Hawaiian islands by Polynesian colonists. The birds pictured here would not be considered the truly wild Junglefowl that were once widespread on the islands. In 1883 the mongoose was foolishly introduced to several Hawaiian islands, and although one dead mongoose was found alongside a road in Kauai in 1976, and other sightings have been reported, it seems not to have affected the Kauai population of Junglefowl. Let’s hope that continues.
Lucky these chickens that live free lives. They could have just as likely been born into a factory and lived out their lives in 8×10 cages with their beaks cut off. Sorry to be gruesome but this is what our industrial food system has brought to our planet. (Please consider not eating factory chicken!)
After all, the chicken is the nearest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex! Give them a little respect!