One of the great things about birding is that wherever you travel there is an excellent chance that you will run into old friendsand some of them may have feathers! You probably expect to see new birds as that may well be one of the reasons you travel. But seeing birds you know from back home in different surroundings or behaving differently is almost like seeing a new bird. Many of the birds we are seeing in Alaska are friends from back home. Some look and behave just as they do in the Eastern Sierra. The Spotted Sandpipers we saw in Nome in early June looked and behaved just like those back home. They have large bold spots on their underparts and run along the stream edge teetering, and then fly away with bowed wings quivering below the horizontal plane. If there hadnt been so much snow around we may have thought we were back home! When we enjoyed Spotted Sandpipers in the Bolivian Andes in the late 1970s they looked and behaved just like our Inyo birds in late fall, that is, without spots.
But many of the birds while the same species as in the Eastern Sierra look and behave quite differently on their breeding grounds in Alaska. The Lesser Yellowlegs, which is casual to rare in spring and uncommon in fall in Inyo County, is a common breeder in much of Alaska. In Inyo we dont get to see them stand in the top of a conifer (mostly spruce in Alaska) and sing. Neither do we get to see them hover, facing into the wind, while pouring forth with Toodle-doo, toodle-doo, toodle-doo. The Semi-palmated Sandpiper, casual in spring and uncommon in fall in Inyo, reminds one, in Alaska, of a hummingbird as it hovers into the wind with buzzing wings and pours forth a churring melody. Almost all of Inyos records for Horned Grebe involve fall or winter birds in drab basic plumage. In Alaska they are all in their finest go-to-meeting apparel. The same is true of the Pacific and Red-throated Loons common breeders in Alaska but very uncommon migrants in the Eastern Sierra.
It is fun seeing many of the sparrows that winter back home all dressed up and breeding in Alaska. Golden-crowneds are gorgeous with their black and gold hats, American Tree Sparrows singing from every available perch, and Lincolns still skulking but occasionally found singing from a high perch. One of the most common sparrows here is the Gambels White-crowned Sparrow, the same race that winters in the Eastern Sierra. We have strained our eyes but havent found any with bands!
So seeing old friends in different places, doing different things, and dressed fit-to-kill is just as much fun as seeing your first King, Stellers and Spectacled Eiders, Ivory Gull, and Bristle-thighed Curlew. Well, almost!Tags: crow, grebe, gulls, hummingbird, loon, owl, sandpiper, sparrow