Posts tagged “passerine

A Snow Bunting at Pictured Rocks

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 thePictured Rocks National Lakeshore - Michigan 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!

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


Say’s Phoebe on Rosie Creek Trail

I spotted this sunbathing beauty near Rosie Creek Trail outside of Fairbanks in August 2009.

Maybe it was migrating south.  Or maybe it was spending the last couple of days surveying its territory, waiting for a Crane Fly to wander by.  Either way, doesn’t it look more majestic than its humble 4 or 5 inches?

The Say’s Phoebe is named after Thomas Say, a naturalist who named hundreds of new species at the beginning of the 1800s.  He identified over 1,000 species of beetle alone, and over 400 other insects.  He saw and described the Say’s Phoebe during an expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1819.

But isn’t it kind of silly to associate this enigmatic little creature to a man from the 1800s?  And what did Native Americans call the Say’s Phoebe?  … What is in a name anyway?

… Alas, we must communicate.

 

You might have noticed that this spruce tree has a lot of cones.  Apparently, the year after a conifer goes through a period of stress – such as drought – the tree produces a crop of cones that is much larger than normal. The dark ones are immature.

This is a Black Spruce (there are no naturally occurring pine trees in interior or northern Alaska though spruce trees are often mistaken for them).  Black Spruce is looked at with disdain by a lot of Alaskans because it represents unbuildable wetlands fraught with frost lenses and mucky tundra.

But this mucky tundra is the Say’s Phoebe’s living room for the summer.  It spends its years flying between an arctic paradise and a tropical paradise.  To the Say’s Phoebe, this fair-sized Black Spruce (12-15 feet tall) is the perfect perch for hunting mosquitos, unbuildable wetlands and all.