Tag Archives: travel

Wayward Vulture

A turkey vulture in Chalkyitsik, AK; Photo Credit: Kyle Joseph

A rare bird for Alaska, turkey vultures have been seen in several locations around the state this year. The above photo was taken in Chalkyitsik, which is in the northeast part of the state in the Yukon Flats north of the Yukon River. Turkey vultures have also been documented in Noatak, which is in the northwest part of Alaska, as well as in Juneau.

Their normal range is limited to southern Canada, but these migratory raptors are built for long distance travel. They have been known to travel over 200 miles in a day by just riding the thermals and barely flapping their wings.

There is some evidence that the turkey vulture is expanding its range northward, but hundreds of birds of varying species that are not common to Alaska show up sporadically. Many go unnoticed. For the turkey vulture, it is a tad difficult to travel incognito.


“Northern Lights, Alaska Highway”

Oil on canvas, by Canadian artist Alexander Young Jackson, circa 1943

Crossing the Border

The United States will open the land borders with Canada and Mexico to fully vaccinated travelers in November. This will come as welcomed news to many border communities after 19 months of having the borders closed to visitors.


The American Lion

Skull of an American Lion, discovered in Alaska

The American Lion went extinct approximately 11,000 years ago. A sister lineage to the European Cave Lion, the American Lion was 25% larger than today’s African Lion. In fact, they may well have been the largest feline to prowl the Earth’s surface, standing 3.9 feet at the shoulder. The saber-toothed cat was more stout and muscular, and the American Lion more lean. The two predators hunted in a very different style, with evidence showing the lion being built for speed.

Home range of the American Lion

The American Lion ranged from Alaska through much of what is now the western and central United States, Mexico and into South America.

Artist depiction of the American Lion

I’ve written on here before about the steppe bison at the Museum of the North that is on exhibit. The bison was quickly frozen after its death, and preserved in the permafrost. On its flanks, one can see the claw and bite marks from an American Lion.

There is some debate as to whether the species was actually a lion, or from the tiger or jaguar lineage, but most classify the species as being a sister line to the European Cave Lion, which was isolated after many thousands of years.

A complete skeleton of an American Lion

The above skeleton of an American Lion came from the La Brea Tar Pits, but there were relatively few found in the pits compared to the saber-toothed tiger. One theory is that the American Lion had one of the largest brain cavities of any feline, so it’s possible most of them were smart enough to avoid the tar.

No matter how you look at it, the American Lion was one, big cat. It must have been an impressive sight.


Traveling the Chatanika Spur

October is American Archives Month:

1920’s travel along the narrow gauge rail of what was originally the Tanana Valley Railroad. By 1920, the TVRR had been bought out and this section renamed the Chatanika Branch. In 1923 it all became part of the Alaska Railroad.


Otis retakes Chunky Crown

Otis enjoying a salmon meal

A little bit of controversy this year for Fat Bear Week. Otis beat out Walker for the fattest bear of Brooks Falls. This may have been a bit of a popularity contest in 2021, with Team Otis coming out in droves to vote for the fan favorite. With that said, it is hard to dismiss the amount of weight that Otis put on in just a few short months. It was a lot of poundage, especially considering that Otis showed up at the river later than usual this summer, and that he is now missing two canine teeth, and many of his teeth are worn down.

Congrats to the now 4-Time Champ, and best wishes in the off season.


Battle of the Bruins

Fat Bear Week Title Match:

Bear 480, more widely known as Otis

Otis is no newcomer to Fat Bear Week. A three time winner of the championship, Otis was the inaugural winner back in 2014. He also took the title in 2016 & 2017. First identified at Brooks Falls in 2001, he is one of the older bears in Katmai. A patient fisher, Otis rarely chases salmon, and has one of the higher catch rates at Brooks Falls. One of Katmai’s all-time fan favorites, the aging bruin once again appears in the finals.

Walker, or Bear 151

Walker first showed up at Brooks Falls in 2009 as a two year old. Once known as a tolerant, playful bear, Walker has become a lot less tolerant as he has aged. As he has grown into a larger, dominate male, Walker has realized he can throw his weight around to gain prime fishing spots. Estimated to have weighed in at 1000 pounds last autumn, Walker looks to be even bigger in 2021.

Voting for the title round takes place today. Polls close at 5pm ADT.

https://explore.org/fat-bear-week?fbclid=IwAR2bAe6uPjVl6RnBELlWRCMUfMhP8O5E8tg0lUNGuWK-Zwm-1YG5Wgy0L34

Images and descriptions courtesy of Katmai National Park and explore.org


I must admit…

… this is an even better view of the Aurora than I have in Fairbanks.

Photo credit: NASA

Bear “Bracketology”

“Fat Bear Week” Bracket

We have some big names going belly to belly right out of the gate for Fat Bear Week. Holly & Grazer face off, and Popeye takes on Walker on Day One. Day Two has 402, and perennial fan favorite Otis going up against each other.

Bear 503, 747 “Wide Body”, Chunk and 132 all get first round byes.

Voting can be done at:

https://explore.org/fat-bear-week?fbclid=IwAR39LgRuTz4xbb2Hrtb09HZ50t2BfLLOVUBXNSIuKUngJkZIkf4cJtDYID0


Cub Growth

Bear #132

Bear 132 is a spring cub. 132 is one of two surviving cubs from a litter of three. It put on a lot of weight, and a lot of hair. In the September photo, 132 weighs an estimated sixty pounds.

Bear #128

Bear 128 is a yearling, and the daughter of fan favorite Grazer. Grazer is a bold salmon catcher, and 128 is following that lead. By the end of this summer, 128 was catching her own leaping salmon. Park staff have not seen a yearling regularly catch salmon from the lip of Brooks Falls. A future Fat Bear Champion in the making?

Photo credit: Katmai National Park