The leaves on trees and brush are starting to show a hints of yellows and reds. Choruses of geese and cranes fill the skies as waterfowl practice flying in V-formation, preparing for their long journeys south. Youngsters that hatched this year will soon take off on their first big "road" trip following one of the flyways that birds travel to their wintering grounds. Right now, many birds gather in flocks in staging areas, feeding to store energy before the long trip, giving us a chance to enjoy them before they leave to visit birders in other places.

Sandhill Crane over Creamer's Field
Beth Peluso
CraneHeadlineTanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival August 26-28

This upcoming weekend marks the annual Tanana Valley Crane Festival in Fairbanks at Creamer's Field Important Bird Area. Up to several thousand Sandhill Cranes gather in the fields to fuel up before they migrate south. Check out the Tanana Valley Crane Festival schedule and see what the festival has to offer!

American Golden-Plover
Milo Burcham
presentationAugust 24 Presentation on The Arctic Refuge: America's Birdbasket

As part of the lecture series commemorating the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty, Audubon Alaska's Policy Associate Susan Culliney will be giving a talk about the importance of the Arctic Refuge Wednesday, 2:00pm at the Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Anchorage. The Center is at 605 West 4th Avenue, Suite 105, Anchorage, AK 99501, in the old federal building at the corner of 4th and F Street downtown. Birds from all 50 states converge on the Arctic Refuge to raise their chicks in the long Alaskan summer days. Come learn about these beautiful birds, their incredible journeys, and why all Americans have a stake in conserving the wildlife found in the Refuge.

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The Gwich'in Gathering
Susan Culliney
SusanHeadline Where the Birds Know Their Names: Five Days at the Edge of the Arctic Refuge
by Susan Culliney

As the Policy Associate for Audubon Alaska, I recently spent five days in remote Arctic Village at the biannual Gwich'in Gathering. The Gwich'in are a First Nation of aboriginal people from the Yukon River flats of northwestern Alaska, and in Canada's Yukon and Northwest territories. They gather every other year to maintain ties with family and friends; to keep their traditional food, dance, and language alive and thriving; and to tend to the governance and resolutions of their Native nation.

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Sea ice on a calm day
Milo Burcham
SeaIceHeadlineA Page from the Arctic Marine Atlas: Sea Ice

Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is important habitat for many species, from seabirds to polar bears. Sea ice extent, the location of the ice margin, is a commonly used means of assessing changes in Arctic sea ice. The ice margin reaches its southernmost position in March. Spring warming drives the margin northward more than 1,000 miles toward its September minimum extent. Researchers have used satellite-based radar to map sea ice extent since 1979. How has sea ice changed in the past few decades? This draft sea ice map from the atlas shows the change in sea ice extent from March through September.

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A juvenile Merlin perches next to its parent at Bike and Bird Day
Beth Peluso
BikeHeadline Bike and Bird Day a Success

Despite a soggy day, Audubon Alaska's Fifth Annual Bike and Bird Day at the end of July was a success! Bird sightings included sandhill cranes, scaup ducklings, and a noisy family of Merlins (in addition to the merlin from the Alaska Zoo). Thanks to our summer Important Bird Area Assistant Cole Talbot for his hard work in planning Bike and Bird Day this year. Many thanks also to all the volunteers that braved the weather and helped made this a great event. We hope to see you (and drier weather) next year!

QuizHeadline Name that Bird Photo Quiz
Mike Baird, Wikimedia Commons

Previous Quiz Bird

This Month's Quiz Bird
The previous quiz bird was a Pelagic Cormorant.

You may see this bird in the globally-significant Upper Tanana River Valley Important Bird Area at this time of year. Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds including swans, geese, ducks, cranes, and raptors pass through the valley each spring and fall.

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CraneFest Creamer's Field offers the opportunity to see crane families interacting, and to see the "teenage" crane youngsters. This long-standing festival offers events for all ages, from science talks to guided bird walks to kids' outdoor activities. The featured speaker is crane biologist and naturalist Paul Tebble, former director of Audubon's Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska, where the Platte River serves as a major migration stopover for Sandhill Cranes during spring migration. Audubon Alaska's Beth Peluso will be leading Field Sketching and Birding Basics workshops and a Birding Hot Spots Tour. Check out the Tanana Valley Crane Festival schedule and see what the festival has to offer!

In 1988, the Gwich'in Nation resolved to stand strong against drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The coastal plain is the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which the Gwich'in rely on for their food security and cultural identity. Drilling activities in the coastal plain would interrupt caribou migration patterns, as well as impact denning polar bears and thousands of migratory birds. I attended this year's gathering, initially to represent Audubon's support in this important campaign; but I also came away with an enriched understanding of the ties that bind these people so intimately to their birds, wildlife, and landscape.
Arctic Village, called Vashraii Koo by the people who live there, is nestled in the embrace of the foothills of the Brooks Range. The village is hugged on three sides by the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which spreads to the north, west, and east, in huge swaths of wilderness, dramatic terrain, and lakes and streams dotted with waterbirds. A few houses and buildings congregate here on high ground, surrounded by the tundra and the East Fork of the Chandalar River. Is the land empty or is it full? It depends on how you value the resounding silence, the unapologetic open space, and the timeless wildlife dramas that play out against a backdrop of unrestrained freedom. Though the land appears motionless, caribou move in giant patterns across the tundra. Though the land appears quiet, a White-crowned Sparrow "chip!" marks the ebb and flow of the epic bird migrations that pour in and out of the Arctic, already beginning to trickle out as the summer quickly draws to a close. The Refuge is life. The Refuge is connections. This is ever more true for the people who live within this remarkable landscape.
My journey started with an early morning taxi to the Anchorage airport, where I purchased coffee and a paperback in the shops, and boarded an average commercial airline. Upon landing in Fairbanks, my trip took a distinct turn toward something more rugged and exhilarating. At the tiny airline office that services much of interior Alaska, I was weighed along with my luggage; pilots called out the first names of passengers on their flight; the plane seats may be removed or added depending on the ratio of humans to cargo; and the safety briefing went lightning fast, while differing markedly from the one we have all long since memorized and regularly tune out on most airlines. What did he say about the fire extinguisher? And was there something about a ladder? At least I gathered that we should exit out the back in case of emergency. I had a clear view of the cockpit dials and instruments, and watched the radar map depict the increasingly rough terrain below.
As Fairbanks quickly fell away below us, the lines on the landscape changed. Straight lines, drawn by roads and infrastructure, gave way to organic lines, drawn by the elements and animals: the claw marks of melting ice and snow; the soft touch of wildlife trails; rivers painted the landscape with strokes of genius. A passenger pointed out white dots on blue ponds: tundra swans, staging for their remarkable trans-continental migration. The pilot pointed to four-legged shapes on the ridgeline: caribou, auspiciously drawing near our destination, in time for the village gathering. As we touched down, a fleet of ATVs awaited to ferry the new arrivals the half mile to the community center.
As a birder who works for Audubon, I immediately keyed into the birds in the area. Young White-crowned Sparrows with brown heads tumbled around the low tundra brush. Boreal Chickadees bubbled among the short spruce trees. A Pacific Loon called hauntingly in the feeble twilight that persists through the Arctic summer nights. Early one morning I ventured out to find some early birds. It turned out the mosquitoes are also early risers in the Arctic. I felt a bite on my hand, but resisted lowering my binoculars. I had encountered some upset redpolls, and, looking for a predator in the area, I noticed a larger bird, reminiscent of a gray jay or northern mockingbird. But the species identification wasn't quite clicking for me. As I stared through the magnified glass, this enigmatic bird gave me his profile and I took in the hooked passerine's beak. A young Northern Shrike; a lifer for me! The redpolls' displeasure suddenly made sense. I could understand the small finches' concern, given the presence of this honorary raptor. I continued to study his fluffy brownish plumage, with the faint hint of a marking around his eyes that would darken into a robber's mask upon adulthood.
With my obvious interest in the local birdlife, I quickly struck up conversations with the people who live with these birds all summer. I learned that the Gwich'in have recently compiled a Gwich'in language bird book, complete with descriptions of bird songs. English speakers know that Barred Owls are curious about who cooks for whom, and Song Sparrows make requests of maids and teakettles. But the Arctic Refuge birds around the village speak Gwich'in. The Fox Sparrow soothes troubled hearts by singing "don't worry my friend, it will be okay" and the White-crowned Sparrow appeals to the local Gwich'in to come pray in church on Sundays.
We truly are all connected to each other by the birds that we often think of as "ours." The same sparrows, beloved in backyards and at bird feeders in the Lower 48 during winter, are also loved and named by local people in the long Arctic summer days. Next time you see a White-crowned Sparrow, think of a person in the high Arctic singing out a phrase in Gwich'in that, while you may not understand the language, you would instantly identify the melody as the sparrow's song. If a Northern Shrike appears in your neighborhood, think about how it may have come from Arctic Village, at the edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the caribou roam and where even the mosquitoes can't keep a visiting birder from being interested in the abundant bird life that thrives in this special place. Realize too that the people who care for "your" birds all summer rely on wild places such as the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge for their food security and cultural identity. Arctic bird songs, translated into any language, collectively tell us that now is the time to set aside, permanently, the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge from oil and gas development, once and for all, forever protected.

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Age is another important sea ice metric. Older ice tends to be thicker and less susceptible to melt by solar radiation and warm currents. Age is determined using satellite observations and drifting buoy records to track ice parcels over several years. Started in the late 1970s, satellite mapping provides a record of sea ice change. Sea ice in the Bering Sea is composed entirely of ice that formed in the current year (less than 1-2m thick). Ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas consists of one-year-old and multiyear ice (1.5-3m thick).

Sea ice margins are not only found at the extent of the ice; they are also present throughout the pack ice (ice not anchored to land) in leads (large fractures in the ice) and polynyas (areas of open water within the ice floe). Leads and polynyas are extremely important to many Arctic species. Leads form when wind- or current-induced stress causes a large crack to form in a large expanse of ice. These cracks can range from a few meters to hundreds of meters wide. A polynya is an expanse of open water caused either by an upwelling of warm water currents, by warm air current circulation, or by a combination of these. As sunlight hits the exposed water, life begins to bloom in the newly exposed water column. Because of this productivity, polynyas and leads are used heavily by fish, seabirds, seals, walrus, and whales, and by the polar bears that hunt them.

As the weather warms in the spring and summer, fast (land-fastened) ice begins to melt; first in open water through the Bering Strait, and then begins to pull away from the Northeast Chukotka Peninsula, Wrangell Island, and Northwest Alaska. Ice divergence from land affects species that depend on ice most intensely during late summer, when the ice margin recedes north hundreds of miles from the coastline. This change requires these species to decide whether to remain ashore and attempt to forage among more aggressive brown bears and humans, or follow the ice as it continues to retreat northward over deeper, less productive waters where food is harder to access. Monitoring sea ice helps us understand what hazards Arctic Ocean marine animals face and try to figure out what places are most important to protect to help wildlife in these icy waters.
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