I love arctic Alaska, but there is a bird in the news that displays unmatched devotion to the tundra.
The northern wheatear looks like a cross between a robin and a shrike, and we see them on high rocky ridges throughout the Brooks Range. Their distinctive call and undulating flight are nearly ubiquitous in the gravely high country above the Kongakut River and their flashy tail pattern elicits interest from even the most casual birder. For years I have told everyone who would listen that these diminutive birds spent the summer in Alaska and winter as far away as Afghanistan. I’m more often accused of hyperbole than understatement, but recent research has shown that wheatears travel as far as sub-Saharan Africa on a 9,000 mile journey and travel on average 180 miles each day.
This summer when I watch them courting and singing on the rocky tundra ridges, my appreciation and admiration will be deepened by the knowledge of their astonishing annual migration.