Ptarmigan. Tar-mi-gan. Silent 'P' for this little bird. Similar to a grouse, the Ptarmigans are a small, hardy upland game bird. There are several species found in Alaska, but the one I'm going to share with you is the Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) which I almost literally stumbled upon in Denali National Park & Preserve.
Just over a month ago, my friend Katie and I, were traipsing around DNPP. We were looking for wildlife, mountains, and peace and quiet. We did a shuttle into the park the first day, which brought us alot of wildlife sightings, but also brought us around many other visitors.
On our second day in the park, we decided to hop off the bus at mile 15, and do some exploring at Savage River. There's a beautiful river, not so savage at that time of year, a canyon full of wildflowers, and of course the wildlife.
The interpretive signs at the beginning of the trail we took instructed visitors to be on the lookout for the arctic ground squirrels, Ptarmigan, and pika, and the hoary marmot. All 4 species hang out at the higher elevations above treeline among the rocky, shrubby nooks and crannies. Along our walk, we were rewarded with half of those critters AND less of a crowd!
As we were walking along the river, I approached a bush that came alive. A family of Willow Ptarmigan were hanging out amongst a...willow! I unfortunately didn't get a picture of the young, they ski-daddled pretty quick into some thicker brush, but Mom and Dad hung out and I got some beautiful pictures of them.
Mom on left, Dad on right.
I love their feathery feet! These Ptarmigan are quite well adapted for snowy, cold life. In the winter they turn all white, and those feathers help insulate them.
The final picture I want to share is not from DNPP, but from the Palmer Creek trip I took with the Keen-Eye Birders in July. I found this scat on the trail, and ID'd it using Bird Tracks & Sign (Elbroch), as Ptarmigan (species unknown...):
Palmer Creek, July 14th 2012
And, by the way!: in the past week I've moved back from Alaska, had my car severely break down (get towed, and has been at the dealership since), move all of my belongings from a storage unit 3 hours across the state, unpack, and today was my first day of classes at the State University of New York at Cobleskill. I'm going to try and keep up with blogging, but my life is about to get reeeeal busy again!
Rest In Peace
Richard White - August 24, 2012