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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rock slides and rugged reefs

After seeing the Surfbird photos last night, Peter Connors kindly sent a few images of rocks he collected from Surfbird nesting habitat in Alaska!  It's wonderful to see these rocks (and the lichens growing on them), as it allows you to envision Surfbirds in breeding plumage nestled among the colors of that northern landscape: blacks, grays, whites, and rusty orange.  (The colors that the Surfbirds are acquiring now will enhance their ability to blend in with the backdrop of their breeding grounds.)

Here's a photo of the rocks alone:

And one with a small owl sculpture (~5 cm tall) for scale:

About the rocks, Peter says:  "I collected them and backpacked them out over the mountains to a small lake where we had arranged to be picked up in a float plane.  The mountains are just north of the Yukon River delta, almost to the Bering seacoast.  It is the only place I have ever encountered nesting Surfbirds."

Although native Alaskans suspected that Surfbirds nested away from the coast, the first Surfbird nest wasn't formally documented until 1926.  Here's a quote from the article in which Joseph Dixon published a description of the long sought-after nest (From Dixon, J. 1927. The Surf-Bird's Secret. Condor 29: 3-16):

"One of the most striking things about the Surf-bird is the remarkable difference between its winter and summer habitat.  Near the end of their northward migration in the spring these birds abandon the sea coast and take up their summer residence far in the interior, from 300 to 500 miles from salt water.  This involves a great altitudinal shift.  Instead of living at sea level as they do at other seasons, during nesting time they are to be found on barren, rocky mountains high up above timber line.  During the entire summer we never found these birds below 4000 feet elevation...

The rocky character of the Surf-birds' surroundings appears to remain fairly constant throughout the year.  In summer the birds are to be found most frequently near the summits of the rock slides where the broken rocks are much the same as the rugged reefs they inhabit during the winter."

I love that Surfbirds link the rocky shores of Bodega Head with the interior mountain slopes of Alaska!

Here are a few more Surfbird images from this past weekend.  I cropped the images closely so you can compare the colors and patterns of the feathers with the rocks above.

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