For the Birds

Posted By: Anne

April 18, 2011

We’ve now passed the vernal equinox, and our daylight is rushing back in an overwhelming tour-de-force of sunshine.  Waking at 6 a.m. reveals the first spots of alpenglow on the surrounding peaks here at our winter office near the park entrance, and at 9 p.m. it’s still possible to read a book by the light of the window.  Yes, it does make us eager for summer!  By the summer solstice we’ll be able to watch the pinks and oranges of alpenglow on the Alaska Range at midnight!

The return of the long days brings with it the arrival of our spring migrants. A travel weary Dark-eyed Junco graced our bird feeder this week.  It’s travel log most likely originated in the Pacific Northwest, where the comparatively mild winters allowed it to wait out the harsh Denali winter.  We haven’t quite shaken off winter’s grasp yet with nighttime temps still around 10˚F, so only the very hearty species arrive this early.  But soon the migrants will come swooping in, one-by-one, or in flocks, landing exhausted after their journey from across the globe to begin a summer of feeding and breeding.

I’m already feeling the anticipation of spring, and the promise of blooms and birds. We’re currently surrounded by White-winged Crossbills, an amazing bird with, yes, a crossed bill.  The shape allows them to pry open their food source, coniferous cones, in order to extract the seeds with their tongues in a feat of mandibular precision.   They travel to wherever there’s a bumper crop of cones, sometimes even rearing chicks in the dead of winter when the feast is peak.  And “feast” is not an exaggeration, for a single crossbill may consume up to 3,000 seeds in one day! 

We’ve seen Golden Eagles and Snow Buntings back already, some of our earlier migrants.  In fact, most of the eagles in the park are already incubating their eggs.  Experience tells us we can soon expect to see (and hear!) Fox Sparrows, Robins, Varied Thrushes, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  And looking a bit further ahead, I feel giddy with anticipation of hearing my first winnowing Wilson’s Snipe near the melting wetlands that have been locked with ice for the last 7 months.

We have 116 species of birds that breed in the park, ranging from the mighty Trumpeter Swan to the pipsqueak Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  June is peak season for bird watching in Denali and you don’t need to be a “twitcher” (avid bird watcher) to enjoy the park’s avifauna.  Some species have stories of unbelievable strength, such as the Arctic Tern that undertakes an arduous migration from Antarctica to us here in the sub-arctic, and some of mystery, such as the discovery of the first Surfbird nest here in Denali National Park in 1926.  During the first week of our summer season, starting on June 6th, we host a week at Camp Denali in honor of these remarkable creatures: Bird Migration & Conservation. Our featured speaker this summer is former director of Audubon Alaska, Stan Senner.  For those who are interested, he’ll be leading bird-focused outings during the day, and in the evenings he’ll present to all the guests staying at Camp Denali (this is an offering specific to Camp Denali; North Face Lodge will be operating with its normal programming presented by staff naturalists).  The following week we turn our attention to wildflowers with Wildflower Week, but it doesn’t mean that the birds have disappeared.  In fact, this is still prime season for enjoying Denali’s diversity of breeding birds along with the colorful blushes of blooming wildflowers on the tundra.

We still have space available for our sessions beginning June 6, June 10th and June 17th at Camp Denali during the two Special Emphasis Sessions mentioned above.  Give us a call at (907) 683-2290 to discuss personally experiencing this exciting time of year!

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Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.