October 13, 2011

Happy Thursday. Starting to get light here. 24 degrees. The annuals in the garden look super annuated. They looked even more super before it turned cold.

Yokelly, we were excited beyond reason yesterday when Pam spotted a Pine Grosbeak in the yard. We both rushed out, binocs in hand, to spot four, possibly five pb’s plucking berries from the wild cranberry bushes in back of the house. Pb’s overwinter in the Interior, making them one of the elite group of about 40 species to do so. Ravens undoubtedly rule from October through March, but other birds do well here in winter also. Did I mention pigeons? Amazing birds. Anyway, we have seen pb’s here way across town at the big mobile home park near OCS and wondered why they don’t live in our neighborhood. They are colorful birds. So seeing 4, maybe 5, of them in our yard was cause for high-fives. They are called grosbeaks because they have a large beak suitable for crushing seeds and nuts. Protective gear is recommended. Nice photo of a Pine Grosbeak by Greg Schneider—

 Photo by Greg Schneider

And while we are on the topic of avian compatriots,

Birds continue to pose problems at Sitka airport

by The Associated PressAssociated Press

SITKA, Alaska – Sitka’s problem with bird strikes at its airport improved after eagle nests were removed but the problem occurred again over the weekend.

The Sitka Sentinel reports an Alaska Airlines jet with 80 passengers sucked a bird, possibly a seagull, into its right engine Sunday on its approach to Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport. The jet landed safely but the damaged engine is destined for a $1 million overhaul.

A company flight crew in August 2010 aborted a takeoff 2,000 feet from the end of the runway after it hit an eagle, which caused $2.9 million in damage to a jet.

State Department of Transportation safety and security officer Paul Khera says there have been at least five bird strikes since Aug. 24.

For the record, birders do not call these birds “sea gulls” or “seagulls” as above, but “gulls,” because many gulls live far inland, including the California gulls that nest at Mono Lake, California, east of the Sierra, and are commemorated by a pillar in Salt Lake City, Utah. True, you will find them near ocean shores, but you will also find them at the Fred Meyer parking lot in Fairbanks. Sounds like Sitka needs a bird refuge a few miles from the airport where our fine feathered friends can eat away from the airport. That’s how Creamer’s Refuge got started here in Fairbanks, as a way to lure geese and other large birds away from the float plane pond at FAX.

And since I am at it, there is a new movie due out anyday now (“I shall be released”) called “The Big Year,” based on the wonderful book of that title, which describes the competition between three expert and driven birders in 1998 to set the North American record for the most bird species seen in one calendar year. Two of the three birders were like characters out of a novel, and the book is both informative and greatly entertaining. The birders are played in the movie by Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. I read a piece in Audubon magazine in which they were interviewed, and it’s clear the actors did not really get into birding, despite some expert guidance, so I hope the movie is not just silly. The story has a long stretch in Alaska on Attu Island, famed as the place where rare Asian wanderers show up some years, presenting bird counters an opportunity to swell their totals. 1998 was the year of El Nino, and unusual winds and currents brought rarities to Attu that probably have not been seen in North America since. Anyway, the Attu sequence was filmed in Yukon to save money. Owin Wilson reportedly played golf between shoots. I’ll review the movie here when I see it.

Enjoy Thursday.


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