Zaz Hollander

Thousands of dead common murres are washing up on the beaches of Whittier, an unprecedented die-off that has scientists wondering how many more thousands remain uncounted throughout Prince William Sound. A recently retired federal biologist doing beach surveys in Whittier over the weekend estimated there were more than 7,800 dead murres along a little over a mile of beach. That’s nearly five dead birds per meter of beach, officials say. The scale of the die-off is unprecedented along the Sound, longtime residents say. “It’s just mind-boggling,” said David Janka, a Cordova charter owner who passed along reports of dead birds from there as well as Valdez, Tatitlek and Chenega. “I just took a picture a few minutes ago of an eagle with a murre in its talons.” David Irons, a former U.S. Fish...Zaz Hollander
Hundreds of grounded common murres continue to challenge rescuers and baffle scientists as Alaskans grapple with the mystery of the starving, disoriented seabirds. The sightings of the small, penguin-like murres far from their normal marine feeding grounds now stretch inland to Glennallen, Healy and even as far north as Two Rivers outside Fairbanks. The marine birds that generally can’t take off without water began showing up on the ground far from the North Pacific in October, and were mostly found around Palmer and Wasilla, rescuers say. Then stormy weather last week brought with it a sudden spate of murre sightings from Whittier to Sutton and Talkeetna, with many in the Upper Susitna Valley. More recently, people in the Denali Borough reported numerous murres. Experts say it’s...Zaz Hollander
WASILLA -- The head of the Alaska State Troopers has apologized to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman newspaper for the actions of a sergeant who seized a reporter's camera memory card during a traffic stop near Willow in September. Division director Col. James Cockrell also pledged to give all troopers search and seizure training, the Frontiersman reported this week . The incident involving troopers Sgt. Mike Ingram , a 12-year veteran, began after reporter Brian O’Connor took photos of troopers arresting an assault suspect. O’Connor drove away, only to be pulled over by Ingram a few miles south on the Parks Highway. O’Connor said in an email in mid-September that Ingram mentioned only the photos -- not any kind of traffic or equipment violation -- when he pulled him over. The trooper asked...Zaz Hollander
A ground search was underway in Houston Thursday for a 56-year-old woman missing since Tuesday evening when she left for a walk and failed to return home, Alaska State Troopers say. Diana Pittser left her house in the Millers Reach Road area on foot and with only a flashlight, according to a troopers dispatch released Thursday. She was bound for a nearby river. The Little Susitna River flows past the area. Friends and family began searching when Pittser didn’t come back but couldn’t find her. Troopers said they received a report at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday that Pittser hadn’t been seen since 8 p.m. Tuesday. Members of MATSAR Search and Rescue are conducting a ground search. More than 20 family, friends and neighbors are out looking for Pittser as well, some on four-wheelers and others going...Zaz Hollander
Normally found skimming the North Pacific, seabirds known as common murres are appearing inland in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and elsewhere in Southcentral Alaska, starving and unable to fly. Reports of grounded murres have emerged from Moose Pass to north of Talkeetna, with many found this week in the Susitna Valley. The foot-tall black and white birds that resemble small penguins are showing up in odd places -- on the shoulder of busy Knik-Goose Bay Road outside Wasilla, just off a sled dog trail in Willow, tucked up next to a house in Houston. The influx of murres is inundating local wildlife rehabilitation centers. On Wednesday alone, 20 murres arrived at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage from Alaska WildBird Rehabilitation Center in Houston, where Susitna Valley...Zaz Hollander
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Normally found skimming the North Pacific, seabirds known as common murres are appearing inland on the Kenai Peninsula and elsewhere in Southcentral Alaska, starving and unable to fly. Reports of grounded murres have emerged from Moose Pass to north of Talkeetna, with many found this week in the...
Zaz Hollander
Alaska State Troopers say the overdose death of a young Houston man in early December led to a major drug bust involving a Valley heroin ring and a supplier from California. The investigation ultimately resulted in the arrests of three Valley men and a 54-year-old female California supplier, troopers said. Authorities obtained arrest warrants for two other people indicted on drug charges but still at large. All told, troopers served 11 search warrants resulting in the seizure of 177 grams of heroin and 8.4 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of $53,000, according to a troopers press release. They also confiscated nine firearms -- three confirmed stolen -- and $10,390 in cash. The investigation began the morning of Dec. 1. That’s when a family member found 22-year-old Michael...Zaz Hollander
Backcountry searches gave way this month to memorial services for Liam Walsh, the 33-year-old skier and doctor who went missing at Hatcher Pass in late November. Walsh is presumed dead in an avalanche. Several days of aerial searching , hampered by high avalanche danger in the pass, turned up no sign of him after he went skiing alone and was last heard from at the Independence Mine parking lot Nov. 22, just before a major storm and avalanche cycle. A large snow slide closed the road to the pass for more than a week, preventing any ground searching. A coordinated ground search was planned for Dec. 17 through 20 by Alaska State Troopers, Alaska State Parks, Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs, troopers say. But continued avalanche hazard in the search area...Zaz Hollander
Alaska’s reigning butterfly expert, Kenelm “Ken” Philip, left behind more than 111,000 specimens of butterflies and moths in his Fairbanks home when he died in March 2014. The delicate creatures, stored in a special laboratory connected to Philip’s home, comprised the world’s second largest collection of Arctic butterflies. Now more than a year after his death at 82, Philip is the source of another unique legacy: the first and only guide to all the butterflies of Alaska. The University of Alaska Museum of the North this week announced the publication of " Butterflies of Alaska: A Field Guide ," co-authored by Cliff Ferris, a colleague and friend who prepared the photos of pinned specimens and oversaw the publication. Philip, a beloved butterfly expert who worked closely with museum insect...Zaz Hollander
PALMER -- U.S. Army Sgt. James W. Keogh earned a Bronze Star in 1945 for his trips into the dank, death-stalked bunker tunnels of Iwo Jima. Keogh brought home reminders of World War II: an officer’s pistol, bullets, letters and photos. He also brought home two captured “good luck” Japanese flags bearing hand-written messages to Japanese soldiers, flags carrying a family's messages and carried into war but never returned home. Seventy years later, Keogh’s Alaskan son and a trio of Japanese language scholars at Colony High School near Palmer found a home for one of those flags, with the help of a Japanese newspaper reporter. A few weeks ago, the team tracked down the now 76-year-old son of the soldier who brought the flag to the embattled South Pacific island, but left it there. Keogh, 67,...Zaz Hollander