From Kanuti Refuge to the coast of South America, this bird is a travel expert

A large brown shorebird with long curved bill stands in the grasses of the Arctic tundra.
A large brown shorebird with long curved bill stands in the grasses of the Arctic tundra.
Whimbrel on tundra breeding grounds. Credit: Shiloh Schulte/USFWS

Hundreds of miles inland from the icy waters of the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean, a shorebird’s piping whistle calls across the boreal wetlands of interior Alaska. Spiraling and singing, he performs a dramatic aerial display for his potential mate, a female whimbrel recently arrived from wintering in South America. The midnight sun skims across the horizon as they begin their summer life together on Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge, at the edge of the Arctic Circle.

For those of us with wanderlust, the incredible long-distance…


Invasive Species

Moss balls and zebra mussels

Zebra mussels on a moss ball, surrounded by other moss balls and with “Shrimp Buddies” and “Betta Buddies” packaging in the background
Zebra mussels on a moss ball, surrounded by other moss balls and with “Shrimp Buddies” and “Betta Buddies” packaging in the background
Moss balls come in a variety of styles and sizes including Marimo Balls and Shrimp Buddies, but there’s more to these moss balls than meets the eye. 📷 Deborah Kornblut/USFWS

Looking for office décor? Do you have fish in need of somewhere to hide? How about a new fuzzy, low maintenance friend to welcome into your home? Some will say the soft and spongy freshwater moss ball can help you with any of these needs.


Shorebirds

From Millions to a Few Museum Specimens

brown bird with a long bill
brown bird with a long bill
Digital depiction of an Eskimo curlew by USFWS/Christina Nelson

This lanky, medium-sized, mottled brown shorebird with a decurved bill once darkened the skies with its migrations across the North American continent. In the 1850s, observers described flocks of calling birds that stretched for miles every spring and fall, their voices sounding like the distant jingling of sleigh bells.


Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge

Up-close look at the order Odonata

There are roughly 35 dragonfly species known to occur in Alaska. They range in size from tiny metallic-green sedge sprites to the five-inch-long lake darner. With 26 species documented to date, one of the top areas for dragonfly diversity in Alaska is Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge.

digital depiction of a dragonfly showing it on a blade of grass with wings stretched outwards.
digital depiction of a dragonfly showing it on a blade of grass with wings stretched outwards.
Digital depiction of a lake darner dragonfly. 🎨 USFWS/Sara Wolman

“Today I saw the dragonfly…He dried his wings: like gauze they grew; Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew. A living flash of light he flew!”

— The Dragonfly, by Alfred Lord Tennyson


Aviation

Wildlife enthusiast Nate Olson navigates a career in aviation

Man outside of a float plane with mountains in the background
Man outside of a float plane with mountains in the background
📷 USFWS/Lisa Hupp

Nate Olson came to Alaska because he wanted to see more than southcentral Minnesota farmland.

Like a lot of Midwestern kids, I was drawn to mountains,” recalls Nate, the Alaska Regional Aviation Manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I wanted to see something more. Basically, I just wanted to leave.”

And leave he did—but by a route that was more rather than less constraining, at least initially.

I joined the Navy on a whim,” Nate says, “and there were a few times in boot camp when I asked myself ‘What have I done?’ But it was good for…


Migratory Birds

Rufous hummingbirds in the far north

A female rufous hummingbird approaches a currant flower to feed
A female rufous hummingbird approaches a currant flower to feed
A female rufous hummingbird approaches a currant flower to feed. 📷 Peter Pearsall/USFWS

Imagine standing 3 inches tall and weighing 3.5 grams (less than the weight of a nickel). Would you be bold and boisterous? Rufous hummingbirds are. Though they’re among the smallest hummingbirds in the world, these electric creatures zip across the landscape in an annual migration cycle that stretches north to Alaska and as far south as Mexico and Florida.

And, they do it in style.


Pollinators

Bee Mimics in the Far North

Put your fly swatter down.

Blueberries. Fireweed. Lupines. Forget-Me-Nots. Pollinators are an essential link in the reproductive success of many of Alaska’s flowering plants. We usually think of bees or bumblebees (maybe even bats or birds) when we think of pollinators, but let’s not forget the flies.

The Flower Flies

a bee look-alike fly on a red flower
a bee look-alike fly on a red flower
A flower fly in Galena, Alaska — likely Epistrophe grossulariae. 📷 D. Sikes

There are nearly 900 species of flower flies in North America, with roughly 200 species in Alaska (they’re also known as syrphid or “hover” flies). Adult flower flies feed on pollen and nectar. …


Invasive Species

A conversation about crayfish in Alaska

Adapted from a conversation with Matt van Daele (Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak), Jeff Woods (crayfish fisherman), and Tammy Davis (Alaska Department of Fish and Game). Listen to episode 24 of “Fish of the Week!

a crayfish next to a ruler
a crayfish next to a ruler
A signal crayfish caught on Kodiak Island, Alaska. 📷 Blythe Brown/Kodiak Soil and Water Conservation District

Arrival of Crayfish in Alaska

Tammy: We first heard about crayfish on Kodiak Island in 2002 — a student was out fishing in Buskin Lake and found several. That following summer, we did some opportunistic trapping but weren’t that successful.

Matt: Back in 2003, I was a brand new high school intern with Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Sport Fish division in Kodiak. …


All The Fish

Growing up as she did in a small Wisconsin town, Riley always gravitated to the outdoors. With family who instilled a sense of independence and adventure, she learned to explore her surroundings on foot and skis, then took to rock climbing and rafting, developing an intense interest in wildlife and wildlands along the way.

woman fishing on a dock
woman fishing on a dock
Riley takes a cast into Anchorage’s Little Campbell Lake. 📷 USFWS/Katrina Liebich

My grandma played a critical role in my childhood and my curiosity about nature,” says Riley. “She had this inexplicable sense of the way the world worked. She spoke magically about plants and animals, all the way down to the stinkbugs in her house.


All The Fish

Harbingers of spring and fresh hope

a small fish in a hand
a small fish in a hand
A male Eulachon. Males are bumpy and firm; females are smooth and soft. 📷 Katrina Liebich

Adapted from a conversation with guests Ted Hart from the Chilkoot lndian Association and Meredith Pochardt from Haines, Alaska. Listen to the full “Fish of the Week” podcast episode about Eulachon here.

What’s in a name?

The American Fisheries Society has settled on Eulachon, but there are others.

The local name I hear a lot is ooligan. It’s like o-o-l-i-g-a-n. And oolichon. Many people say hooligan, and the traditional name for them is saak, s-a-a-k. That’s the Tlingit name.

Candlefish. Once dried, they’re so oily, you can literally light them on fire.

Salvation fish.

U.S.Fish&Wildlife Alaska

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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