Good 46º clear sunny morning.
The willow ptarmigan is a master of disguise. It changes the color of its feathers to white during the winter (to match the snow) and light brown in the summer months (to blend in with the ground). It's a ground-dwelling bird that can be found in the Alaskan tundra.
It is snowy white in winter and an intricate mix of reds and browns in summer. This rotund grouse of subarctic tundra lives year-round in areas where most bird species can survive only during the warmer months. Ptarmigan are well suited to brutally cold winters, using heavily feathered feet to walk over deep snow, and excavating snow burrows.
The willow ptarmigan has a varied and seasonal diet. The bird is herbivorous for most of its life and subsists on various plant materials. As juveniles, they may feed on insects due to an inability to digest plant material caused by underdeveloped cecums. In the summer, their diet is highly varied and may consist of berries, flowers, leaves, twigs and seeds.
In Alaska, the main dietary item of the adults at all times of year is willows such as the Alaska willow Salix alaxensis, with leaves being eaten in summer and buds, twigs and catkins supplying the birds' main nutritional needs in winter and early spring. In the early twenty-first century, there has been an increase in shrub expansion in arctic Alaska that is thought to be greatly affecting the willow ptarmigan's winter diet. Because of the way they browse, Ptarmigan help shape the landscape of the area. After heavy snowfalls, the birds cannot access the shorter shrubs as they are blanketed with snow, so they will eat the taller species that poke through. In one study it was found that 90% of the buds of the Alaska willow within their reach had been browsed. This will stunt the willows and create a feedback cycle extending through the entire ecosystem. However, in winters with below average snowfall, the browsing of Ptarmigans will not have such a drastic effect as their feeding will be spread out across a range of lower plant species. It is also believed that the greening of parts of the Arctic is affecting Willow Ptarmigan populations by altering the shape and size of the shrubs they are able to feed on.
Have you noticed how the tastes of Greece are getting so popular? Now you know what one of our all-time favorite summer lunches is. (In fact, we like it in the spring, fall, and winter too!)
- 1 pound twist or any medium pasta shape
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1 cup ripe olives, chopped
- 8 ounces (about 2 cups) crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
- 2 small tomatoes, chopped
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
Also celebrating is Linda Kuehl, daughter-in-law of friends Patty (& the late Cliff) Kuehl... HAPPY BIRTHDAY LINDA!!