July 24 – More Stunning Than Watching Grass Grow

It was actually the opposite of watching grass grow – the grass (and mud) disappeared, as the waters rose both nearly invisibly and rapidly.

This morning I went to Westchester Lagoon and the coastal trail to the south of there by the Audubon Bench. It was maybe an hour before high tide, a very high tide of 32.6 feet (as compared to the previous low time of 1.8 feet). Hudsonian Godwits were accumulating on the island in the Lagoon, Short-billed Dowitchers were gathered on the pond just west of the Lagoon and Canada Geese were scattered across the lake.

Out on the mudflats water had started to cover the mud. Two Sandhill Cranes were strolling in the grass and mudflats. A couple of times they paused in their strolling to call loudly.

A few mostly Greater Yellowlegs were wandering about, and all seemed calm. But it was not. The water was rising, rising, rising, and it was almost impossible to see it happen. Gradually the cranes and shorebirds were forced closer to me and whole areas of mud disappeared. The shorebirds (yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers mostly) began to fly about with nowhere to land except in the water. It was clear that there was advantage to having the long legs of the cranes and yellowlegs but eventually they had to fly away.


After the shorebirds had all departed for unknown more upland sites, ducks and Bonaparte’s Gulls swam in closer.

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Back in the Lagoon the shorebirds had also disappeared. As I walked the trail, all of a sudden a family of mostly grown Mallards came splashing wildly across the lake toward me and the shore. I was confused until I heard the cry of a Bald Eagle above. Maybe they thought I’d protect them from the eagle.

There were many Red-necked Grebes around, both half-grown young and adults. The oddest thing was that two adults seemed to be trying to build a nest on what appeared to be a floating mass of vegetation, since the water of the Lagoon had not before this had a little island at that spot. Very strange.

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July 21 – Way Too Many Grouse Pictures

I just could not stop taking pictures this morning. I was on a drive up Arctic Valley Road  and saw the round dark blob ahead in the road just under two miles from the upper end of the road. Although I have seen one Spruce Grouse this year in the Kenai area, this was the first one for this year in Anchorage, even though I have been looking regularly. I took pictures as I drove closer, and then parked and got out and walked toward him. Although he was clearly keeping a cautious eye on me, most of the time he was eating along the roadside or wandering out in the middle of the road for a while. When another car drove by rapidly and scared him into flying away, I drove to the end of the road and turned around. When I got to where he had been, the grouse had returned to the same roadside spot so I drove up to him and took pictures out the window. He never left while I was there, and eventually even I got tired of taking pictures. Below is a small (really) selection of some of my favorites. Such a beautiful bird, no matter what his pose! It’s very good they are digital pictures; taking old-fashioned slides would have bankrupted me.

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July 19 – Wet Birds, not Water Birds

It’s rained the last couple of days. That and indoor chores have kept me away from wandering around the Anchorage waterways. Instead, I have watched and photographed our wet yard birds.

The Dark-eyed Juncos have been out in force in the rain, usually at least 6-7 are around. One of them has a whiter than usual tail.

The Pine Siskins often outnumber the juncos, with 10 being on the porch and feeders a little while ago. They sometimes share a feeder with the juncos.

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Less numerous are the woodpeckers, although we recently have had multiple youngsters and parents of each species Today there were just a Downy hopping on the porch railing, and a single Hairy Woodpecker sometimes sharing a log with another Downy.

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The Black-billed Magpie that was just around appears to be a wet youngster with a shorter tail.

While some of the birds are looking a bit shabby in the rain, the fireweeds in the back yard are thriving and beginning to bloom. So far they uneaten by the neighborhood moose that we saw yesterday down the street.


July 17 – Anchorage Water Birds

I checked out a few of my favorite Anchorage sites to see how they were doing after my weeklong absence. There were numerous duck families, Mallards, American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teal at  Lakes Spenard and Hood. Some of the ducklings were nearly adult-size, but there were also many tiny ducklings.

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There were two Red-necked Phalaropes at Lake Hood in the midst of the many ducks.

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The Red-throated Loon is still at Lake Hood, but seemed somewhat nervous about staying too near me and also seemed very sleepy. The only noises it made sounded a bit unhappy. Maybe it was a bad weekend at the lake.

I saw only one Red-necked Grebe when I drove along the north side of the lakes, also quite sleepy.

On the south side of the lake, I looked for more Red-necked Grebes, but instead found two red-necked Horned Grebes, my first of the year.

At Potter Marsh, the highlights were a noisy Spotted Sandpiper and a munching moose.

At a very brief stop at Spenard Crossing in the early afternoon, I photographed two tame young Mew Gulls.

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I did not stay long at Westchester Lagoon either, just long enough to take pictures of the Short-billed Dowitchers (with a couple Greater Yellowlegs) and some action shots of one of the Red-necked Grebe families, still actively feeding their young.





July 10-15 – Nome Birding Trip — Pied Wheatear and More

I’m back in Anchorage now and able to post pictures and more information about my  trip to Nome that ended yesterday. Yve Morrell, who is doing an ABA big year, invited me to join her in Nome, with the goals of seeing a first-ever hemisphere record bird, the Pied Wheatear, and of adding more birds to her year list. Missions accomplished. Yve, however, was delayed a day in getting to Nome.


Some Nome scenes and flowers are shown, beginning with some downtown sites:

Below are highlights of the trip for me.

One of the most commonly seen birds was Long-tailed Jaeger. This picture was taken on Monday the 10th as I drove some of the Council Road before Yve arrived.

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While I was waiting on the foggy morning of the 11th for Yve’s delayed flight in, I encountered a Common Raven near the airport that seemed to want to tell me something.

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On most days we saw at least one Eastern Yellow Wagtail, usually not staying in one place very long. Usually they were seen in sandy/gravel areas on the Council Road.

Also on Council Road near Cape Nome were Yellow Warblers and Pacific Golden-Plovers (photos), Common Redpolls, American Pipits, Lapland Longspurs, and White-crowned and Fox Sparrows. Farther out were many Common Eiders and a couple of Tundra Swans (photos). We also saw many Red-throated Loons, and a couple each of Common, Pacific and Arctic Loons, but none of my pictures of the loons shows much detail so they are not shown here. On Thursday on our way back from a drive out Council Road Yve and I stopped at a gravel pit where Bank Swallows were nesting in holes high above us.

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Our main goal at Cape Nome was the Pied Wagtail. From Tuesday the 11th through much of Thursday, we did not have a single sighting that we were sure was our target bird, even though we spent about 4 hours there each day. Finally on Thursday (13th) afternoon when we saw the bird well-enough to confirm its identity, we realized that we had probably seen it earlier, darting from one rocky area to another and up to the alder-covered slopes, rarely pausing long enough to allow us to see it well. Photographs were even trickier, but finally, possible.

Of course we were elated!

Before we saw the Pied Wheatear, late on Wednesday morning we took a break from the hunt. Peter Burke from Colorado, whom we met while he was also looking for the wheatear, told us that he had found a Bar-tailed Godwit on Teller Road. In addition to seeing a godwit walking the river rocks as it ate, we saw a few Rock Ptarmigans on Teller Road.

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On Friday Yve, Peter and I went out Kougarok Road to try to find Bristle-thighed Curlew, a species difficult to find anywhere in the continental U.S. except in the Nome area. On the way there we found a family of the very similar Whimbrels along the road (picture of a young Whimbrel).

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Also along the road was a single caribou, probably the same animal that we saw on the back on the road later that day.

At about mile 72-plus on Kougarok Road we did the arduous climb up Coffee Dome, my 4th trip up it, much harder the older I get. We got to the top without sign of the curlew and hardly any other birds except a noisy American Golden-Plover. We were surrounded, however, by many hungry mosquitos and biting flies.

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We turned around to head back down the hill on a somewhat different part of the hill and all of a sudden were being scolded by two very irate Bristle-thighed Curlews, which sometimes dove at us as we progressed through their obvious territory.


On our drive back into Nome we took a side-trip up toward Pilgrim hot springs. When we got to where we could walk out on the tundra, we went looking for Northern Wheatear and were delighted to find about seven of them, including some fuzzy young ones.


Before evening that day Peter took us for a quick drive so we could see musk ox, which he had seen earlier.

On our last day in Nome, Yve and I drove all the way out to Teller (about 70 miles), with White Wagtail as our goal. It was a bit foggy and sometimes rainy (the first we’d had during the daytime on the trip) but beautiful anyway. We saw maybe 40 Willow Ptarmigan along the road, including many family groups.


We did find two adult White Wagtails in Teller, and on the drive out of town had 3 or 4 young wagtails (photographed through the front window of the car; although unfocused the clear difference in color of the immature along the roadside can be seen in the photo).

It was definitely a trip to make us happy birders!


I plan to go back to Nome soon!




July 10 – Lake Hood White-winged Scoter and Continuing Birds

This morning I went to Lake Hood for a brief look-around. Before I post my photos of other birds, I need to post a picture of the White-winged Scoter. There had been a Surf Scoter at the lake (and maybe still is somewhere), which is what I assumed this bird was when I saw it. I took a few photos without even looking at the bird. When I got home I realized that I had found a White-winged Scoter ! I guess I need to pay more attention sometimes.

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I also took photos and videos (again; I can’t resist) of the tame Red-throated Loon at the lake, including a few close ups of its head and neck. As can be seen from the video, it came near me, almost touching the dock where I stood at the end. Amazing!

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Finally, it does appear that Red-necked Phalaropes nested at Lake Hood. Today there were five of them (dwarfed by a duck in one of the photos). Four were out a ways, at least three of which looked like immatures. Another, a parent-type bird, the male I believe, was not happy that I was standing near one of the planes (I have received permission from the plane owner to be there). I have gone to the same place every couple of days and never been scolded before by either of the phalaropes, which have just ignored me.

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July 8 – Red-throated, Red-necked, etc.

Yesterday I first went to Lake Spenard and saw the previously reported Surf Scoter.

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I then wandered around, and realized that there were many “good” birds around that had red necks/throats. The most numerous and most common were the Red-necked Grebes, about 18 of them on the lakes. Because they were all out in the central lake areas, I did not get very good pictures. The picture from today at Potter Marsh was a bit closer.

The next was the charismatic Red-throated Loon that I have described earlier, still at the same spot, still very, very tame. One of my photos shows the loon as I looked directly down on it from the shore.

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And then there were the Red-necked Phalaropes, two of them yesterday, in the same small area of Lake Hood where they have been for weeks. One of them looked like a juvenile bird to me. It is my understanding that it is extremely unusual to have them around for so long in Anchorage.

As I continued birding yesterday at Earthquake Park, there were other partially red birds, including two scolding robin redbreasts (American Robins) and Common Redpolls.

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Today I added to my list with Red-winged Blackbirds just south of Girdwood. I had found a pair there some weeks ago, and I wanted to check out if they actually had nested. It appears that they did. I watched them go into a dense brush area and feed young ones, at least two of them that I could see, but none of them came out of the thicket to allow a photograph.


There also were five Red-necked Phalaropes in the same marshy area as the blackbirds.

Other sightings the last couple of days included close-up Mew Gull chicks at Potter Marsh this morning, a young American Robin on the boardwalk, and treed Tree Swallow youngsters. The Arctic Terns were nowhere to be seen.

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My final photos are of a mother and two young moose that my husband noticed in front of our house last night and I managed to get a few photos as they galloped down the street.

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July 6 – Birds, Critters and Fluffy Stuff

Yesterday I went to Potter Marsh.

As I expected, the young Arctic Tern had disappeared. What I did not expect, though, was the disappearance of all of the Arctic Terns. I’m not sure whether they were just temporarily off somewhere else or whether they are really gone. It was interesting that the sign upon which an adult Arctic Tern was usually to be found lately was yesterday occupied by a Mew Gull.

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There was only a single Arctic Tern at Westchester Lagoon today. The Mew Gulls are still around in large numbers, including the young one at Westchester Lagoon shown below.

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There were still young Violet-green and Tree Swallows at Potter Marsh, and various ducklings, mostly Mallards.

Today I first drove up Arctic Valley Road. Along the road I noticed my first blooming fireweed of the year, the dwarf variety I believe.

Although the numbers of singing birds has decreased, most species of warblers and sparrows were still represented by at least one singer. Shown is a Yellow Warbler (front and back view of same bird).

There also was a single Bald Eagle that remained on the same perch from the beginning of my drive to the end of it.

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Along the road “critters” (various small mammals) were more visible than birds. They included many (over 10) hares along the drive up and at least 6 arctic ground squirrels (I believe that’s their name), plus a few red squirrels (not shown).

After Arctic Valley I went over to Westchester Lagoon to check on the Red-necked Grebes. Today in addition to the family that seems to regularly hang out at the west end of the lake, there was another two-chick family near the island (and probably more chicks farther out that I did not see). The parents of the west-end family were both diving for food and feeding the now half-grown young. The first video below shows the young take off rapidly away from one parent toward the other parent (not in the photo.

My final photos at Westchester were of a White-crowned Sparrow that was just chipping a bit and then ogling some unknown thing in the spruce branches.

So – the fluffy stuff. For days now white fluffy stuff has been drifting out of the sky and landing in our yard. Most of the time it looks like a midsummer snow storm. I thought it might be coming from some neighborhood cottonwoody thing, but I found out today that it is very widespread, all the way up the mountain, fluffing up the roadsides. I am definitely no tree expert, but it appears to be coming from willows or willow-type trees. Words of wisdom are welcomed.