Alaska Mosquitoes Are the Bane of All Existence, Even for the Willow Ptarmigan

by Bryce W. Robinson

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What is the Alaska State Bird? Well, according to everyone I spoke to before my journey north, the Alaska state bird is the Mosquito. I’ll admit now, I understand their point. If there is no wind on the north slope, and temperatures are fair, the mosquitoes are intolerable. Luckily, one can prepare for the onslaught by bathing in carcinogenic 100% Deet and wearing cumbersome face nets.

One can prepare, if one is human. I saw first hand the other night that all blood carrying life here suffers from the miserable insects. I was watching a Sandhill Crane feeding in the short grass of the tundra. In an instant, the peaceful scene changed as two violent Willow Ptarmigan began a campaign to oust the crane from their area. I assume the behavior was due to the presence of a band of small young ptarmigans, hidden somewhere nearby.

After the crane wisely vacated the area, I took the opportunity to pair the striking summer plumage of the two ptarmigan with the golden evening sun for some spectacular photography. The Ptarmigan were cooperative. I set myself at an appropriate distance from the birds, and laid on the tundra to sit at their level. While I shot the birds, the Alaska state bird conducted its business on all of my vulnerable areas. It’s been three days, and I’m still itching.

What struck me most was the amount of mosquitoes on the head of the male Ptarmigan. The poor bird was constantly shaking the bastards off, but to no avail. He was being mercilessly bitten, and had no defense. I felt for the small feathered creature. In this instance we shared something; the misery of the mosquito, a fact of life in the north country.

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