Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Since the last cold snap about a month ago temperatures  have been slowly creeping above the freezing point; at least during the day. At first a small patch of open water appeared at the mouth of Chester Creek.
Immediately the resident Mallards showed up to occupy the fresh habitat.
Slowly the open patch grew in size and crept down onto the lake below Spenard Crossing. Then on Tuesday of this week a pair of Trumpeter Swans materialized as if from nowhere.
Where did they come from? How did they know that there was open water at Spenard Crossing? By the way Spenard Crossing gets its name from the place that Spenard Road crosses Chester Creek. It is also called, Eastchester Lagoon. Westchester Lagoon lies immediately across Minnesota Drive on the far side of the small lake.
These swans are about the first migratory birds to arrive in Anchorage every spring. This year they are a month early. I made it by Spenard Crossing on Wednesday to get these photos. It was a bright, sunny day but the skies have been overcast since then.
These birds will be here for a short time only. Soon they will move on. Only they know where they go next.
While I was admiring the swans, a pair of Common Mergansers flew in. Who told them that there was now some open water to be found?
 The ice seemed to be melting away while I watched as the patches of open water grew in size.
The females are more impressive than the males in my opinion. That is not the case with other species of mergansers. They are generally easier to approach than males.
The male does not care what I think about the subject to be sure.
They will soon be moving on as well. They nest along flowing river banks.
Common Goldeneyes first showed up on Wednesday also. Another duck which nests, (in tree cavities) along flowing river banks.
I guess that this is a female bird although her markings and behavior are a little puzzling.
There were many more males present than females.
Since I finished the elk painting I have been completely lazy. This 2006 painting received some minor damage over time so I repaired it. While I was at it I made a few minor alterations that improved it. I like the crisp colors of this one. Other than an hour working on this I have done virtually nothing with my artwork.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gary and Terry in Antarctica

Antarctica used to be about the most expensive place on earth to visit. Apparently the cost is slowly coming down as different companies compete for clients. It is still very expensive but now it is within reach of many more people.
Being from Alaska, Gary showed the passengers and crew of his cruise ship what being tough is all about
No thanks, I'll just stay on the boat.
Gary went to Antarctica with his wife Terry. Normally she does not like to go to the places where Gary goes, but this trip was an exception.
This is a colony of Gentoo Penguins. It is late summer down there at this time of year.
A baby Gentoo takes a nap on a rock. I guess that it misses its mommy.
A brilliant white, Snow Petrel.
Gary and Terry were able to see a number of albatross species, like this huge, Wandering Albatross.
There were lots of dramatic ice formations.
Such a graceful creature, Dusky Dolphin.
The bane of all penguins, the fearsome Leopard Seal. They are quite tame if you are not a penguin. There is more to come from Antarctica.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Birds of Palau

There has been a significant shift in the world of birding in the last several years. One that I was barely aware of and I only started to grasp the importance of it fairly recently. It first started to dawn on me when there was a report of a Warbling Vireo, (non resident in Alaska) near a school in town.
Several of us birders were gathered together looking for the bird in some thick trees. Then Alaska's most hardcore birder, Dave Sonneborne pulled out his iPhone and started playing its song in hopes of luring the bird into the open. No luck that day, but a neat little tool to have at your disposal.
About a month ago I reported on being able to see a female Cassin's Finch in Anchorage. It was being seen with a female Purple Finch, (which I later saw in Seward). Both birds are nearly identical in appearance. While I was looking for the birds there were several local birders already present looking for them. I mentioned that I had not had time to review my field guide to study the subtle differences between them. 
One of the birders pulled out her iPhone and pulled up some images of both birds so we could study the field marks. A nifty improvement over a physical book. It has almost endless possibilities for accessing information. Duh! Why did it take so long for me to grasp that idea?
So for the last few weeks I have been corresponding with a company that has invited me to illustrate a smartphone field guide app to the birds of Palau. I had little knowledge of the birds that occupy that island nation, but I jumped at the chance.  My guess was that there were probably only about 40 or 50 species and that most of them would be widespread aquatic birds like terns, shorebirds, and egrets. I figured that there were only a few land birds.
 First thing I went on the web and downloaded a checklist of the birds of Palau. It turns out that there are 149 species, ten of them are endemic. I was right, most of them are widespread aquatic birds, like the Collared Kingfisher above. Palau also has another similar kingfisher, Micronesian Kingfisher.
Next I went through some of my old photos to see which birds I already had photographed in other places, like this Little Egret in Thailand. The Collared Kingfisher is from Thailand as well.
This one is from South Africa, Striated Heron. They live practically everywhere.
Palau has very few raptors. Black Kite is one of them, Peregrine is another.  
Brahminy Kite has been seen there but it is considered to be accidental.
Pacific Reef Heron is another bird that can be seen in Palau.
As can be easily guessed, shorebirds make up the biggest group of Palau birds. This is a Common Greenshank. I have already seen most of Palau's shorebirds in one place or another. Many of the birds of Palau are only present as passage migrants or winter visitors.
Most of Palau's land birds are endemic but one that is also widespread in the world, Blue Rock Thrush. The land birds are what interest me most. Things like Palau Fruit Dove, Nicobar Pigeon, Palau Fantail, Giant White-eye, and Blue-faced Parrotfinch. There are several introduced European species and one spectacular bird, Eclectus Parrot.
It is premature of me to be making this announcement since I have not signed a contract yet, but I had to come up with something to post this week.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Troll Hunting in the Lava Tube

My friend Dan just got back from his latest harrowing adventure in Hawaii. He was following up on a legend of trolls living in a particular lava tube on the big island. He and his wife Julie, (above) made all the proper preparations based on the things that the characters in Dan's favorite Finnish movie,'Troll Hunter' did to prepare for a close encounter with a troll.
With a great deal of trepidation they made their way underground. .They slowly worked their way all the way to the back of the lava tube and passed through an enchanted portal into a  mysterious world.
 There they came face to face with the first troll. It was terrifying.
Few people could look into the gaze of a troll and live to tell about it.
Don't stare too long into this face. You may turn to stone or something.
Actually these are Dan's grandchildren taken with a fisheye lens, and he told me that Troll Hunter is the worst movie ever made. I found the movie in Blockbuster and being my usual twisted self, I could not resist the temptation to rent it. Dan got it all wrong. Troll Hunter is a delightful movie, watch it if you can find it.
After surviving the lava tube, they visited Peepee Falls.
I wonder if there are any trolls living in the grotto behind these falls?
This looks like the ultimate swimming hole to me.
Next they had to visit the world's largest Banyan tree.
A Hawaiian bird that visits Alaska occasionally, Pacific Golden Plover.
Not quite in focus, (Dan needs to invest in a better telephoto lens). This is a Peaceful Dove.
Another introduced dove from Southeast Asia, Spotted Dove. Dan and his wife are leaving for Thailand in a few weeks where they will see plenty more Peaceful and Spotted Doves.