May 17 – Encounters with BS and Rattled Raven

Bear Spray, that is. A few weeks ago, I accidentally discharged a can of bear spray in my birding vest pocket while it and I were in my car. Very unpleasant, obnoxious and memorable. Today while doing my second Birds ‘n’ Bogs survey I got to smell that nasty smell again. At least it was outside the car and intentional. Early in the survey I had noticed a moose along the edge of my walk down to the bog.

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The moose seemed uninterested in me, so I walked down the other side of the big open area that goes down to the bog. It was a lovely though cloudy day, with everything turning green.

When I got down to the bog, the moose was no longer visible. I watched and listened to birds, all the while keeping an eye and ear out for the moose. After about 20 minutes, the moose appeared, having risen from its nap, and walked down to the bog to drink.

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I have no further pictures of the moose, because then it proceeded to walk straight toward me, calmly, but steadily toward me. There was nowhere for me to hide, so I just watched and tried to move out of its way. I fumbled with the new can of bear spray (now in a plastic bag because I definitely never want it to accidentally discharge again), and did a trial squirt to be sure it worked). It seemed that whichever way I tried to ease out of the way, the moose seemed to aim in that direction. Eventually, the moose passed by me, maybe 15 feet away, and kept going, and I didn’t have to find out whether bear spray would deter a moose. Shaking with relief, I walked in the opposite direction as the moose, only to walk through droplets of bear spray that remained suspended in the still air. It took more than an hour for my lips and face to stop tingling from the oily pepper spray, but all’s well that ends well.

Birdwise, the survey was uneventful, except for the  constant bombardment of Wilson’s Snipe (can be heard in the moose video).

Yesterday’s birding at Lakes Hood and Spenard produced my first Horned Grebes, Pacific Loons and Bonparte’s Gulls of the year (in Alaska), along with the usual scaup and goldeneye, Northern Shovelers, and Red-necked Phalarope.

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Again, the Red-throated Loon was the highlight, coming right up to and within 3 feet of me on the shore.

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I ended yesterday by watching a very rattled Common Raven that appeared to be upset about everything. Some days can be like that, but not recently.

 

May 12 (Part 3): Lakes Spenard and Hood

As is often the case in summer, highlights at these two lakes were loons. There was a Common Loon floating along and preening.

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I saw a Red-throated Loon fly in on the north side of the lakes while I was on the south side. It was at one of its two “favorite” sites, along Floatplane Drive, when I got around to the north side. As last year, it was very tame. After I watched for a short period, it lowered its head and began to make its lonesome calls.

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Raptors seen were a Bald Eagle and an Osprey (the latter photographed nearly over my head through the car windshield).

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There were also at least two Red-necked Phalaropes bobbing in the bumpy waters on Lake Hood.

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The yellowlegs there seemed to be only Lesser, as far as I could tell.

A single Spotted Sandpiper called from near one of the planes.

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I also saw distant ducks (Greater Scaup and Barrow’s Goldeneyes) and photographed Northern Shovelers that were somewhat closer.

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Tomorrow I have a few other things to do than bird, so I’ll need to refrain from birding all the time.

 

 

May 12 (Part 2): Potter Marsh

After doing my Birds ‘n’ Bogs survey (blog post Part 1), I drove the road along Potter Marsh and then walked the boardwalk there. In addition to Sandhill Cranes calling and flying into and out of the marsh, the usual spring birds were about.

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Mew Gulls and Arctic Terns flew over the marsh usually calling loudly. Some were spread out across the marsh, probably staking out their territories.

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Along the nearby water’s edge there were at least five Red-necked Phalaropes hunting for food, and sometimes interacting as shown in the video (this is all right next to the highway and the sounds of cars and motorcycles predominate).

Miscellaneous ducks dabbled or dove, including American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, Ring-necked Ducks, Greater Scaup, Mallards, Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teal.

A single dowitcher (presumably Long-billed?) probed the mud.

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Four Red-necked Grebes swam about and gulped down little fish.

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Two Trumpeter Swans swam slowly along, periodically upending themselves to feed.

From the boardwalk, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Black-capped Chickadees could be heard singing and sometimes seen, but were not photographed. Tree Swallows flitted about. Those sitting along the boardwalk only moved when someone walking by them got very close.

There was at least one Greater and one Lesser Yellowlegs around and calling periodically. I believe my photo is of the Lesser:

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Part 3 will be of birds found at Lakes Spenard and Hood.

 

 

 

 

May 12 (Part 1): Anchorage Birds ‘n’ Bogs

I surveyed Anchorage’s Oceanview Bluff Park for Alaska Audubon’s Birds ‘n’ Bogs program this morning. It was windy and a bit chilly at 45 degrees. Of the target birds, I saw both Tree and Violet-green Swallows fly overhead, and a single Greater Yellowlegs displayed in the distance. This is the “early early” survey of the site, with three more to follow in the next few weeks.

There were Mallards and Green-winged Teal, distant calling Sandhill Cranes, a fly-by Northern Harrier, singing Orange-crowned Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, as well as American Robins, Black-capped Chickadees, and Common Redpolls.

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Highlights for me we the usual displaying Wilson’s Snipe (at least three), the most noisy birds of today’s survey. One of them hurtled down and landed in the wetland right in front of me, sit still for awhile, and eventually started feeding and calling (see video).

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May 11 – Warblers and Much More – Ohio

I have just returned from just over 3 days at the Biggest Week in American Birding in northern Ohio, where I was part of a panel on women in birding, in particular those who have done big years across the U.S. and Canada (ABA big years). It was wonderful to talk and bird with new and old birder friends.

Strangely enough, very early in the meeting a highlight was a Snowy Owl that was still around after having gone south for the winter. When we saw it, it was sitting on a wood pile way across a field. I’ve now seen them in Wisconsin, Texas, South Dakota, Alaska, Minnesota and Ohio, plus Newfoundland (in this photo it looks sort of like a carved owl, but it was real).

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The other owl highlight was an Eastern Screech-Owl in the woods near the festival headquarters:

The woods that we birded were full of warblers, often easily visible in trees that were much less leafed out than is usual for this time of the year.

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Following in no particular order are photos of some of the warblers seen while I was in Ohio:

Northern Waterthrush

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Yellow Warbler

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Common Yellowthroat

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Prothonotary Warbler

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Northern Parula

Bay-breasted Warbler

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Blue-winged Warbler

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Cerulean Warbler

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Black-and-White Warbler

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Black-throated Blue Warbler

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Tennessee Warbler

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Blackburnian Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

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Cape May Warbler

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Warbler-like Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were common:

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Also seen around the festival headquarters were Purple Martins, and Tree and Cliff Swallows:

The woods at Magee Marsh, while mainly birded for their warblers, also had a few American Woodcocks that created quite a stir when found, either sitting quietly or slowly feeding in the dry leaves. You’ll have to look very carefully to see the bird in the first of these pictures, but it is there. The video shows the bird feeding, which I have never before seen until this trip. I certainly did not realize that, like Wilson’s Snipe and Jack Snipe, when woodcocks feed they bounce slowly up and down.

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Other birds seen and photographed included Red-winged Blackbirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Great Egrets, Canada Geese already with goslings, Baltimore Orioles, and Black-billed Cuckoos.

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It was great to see birds of spring, especially the 24 warbler species that I saw, many of which bird species I saw as I was growing up in Wisconsin, and most of which do not make it to Alaska. Now back to seeing what’s around my Alaskan home.

May 5 – A Bit More of Anchorage Spring

I spent a couple of hours this morning briefly checking a few more Anchorage birding areas. I started at Spenard Crossing but not easily finding anything new, went over to Westchester Lagoon. There, new year-birds were a single Northern Shoveler and five Arctic Terns (at least) near to and on the closest island to the parking lot with Mew Gulls and Canada Geese.

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At the boat dock area on Ship Creek, there was a single Sandhill Crane grazing and three swans (presumably Trumpeter) far out on the mud. The latter flew off soon after I arrived but the crane stayed. Also there were five Green-winged Teal, Canada Geese, and miscellaneous gulls.

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I walked upstream a bit on the sidewalk, where many of the plants were budding out.

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There were three Common Mergansers in the stream, two of which engaged in a bit of X-rated activity.

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Nearby there was a noisy altercation among three Mew Gulls.

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The highlight for me, however, was a small bird that flew high into a sapling and stayed there. It surprised me to see that it was a Merlin (it had seemed much smaller).

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I won’t be able to bird for awhile in Anchorage (or Alaska) as I will be on my way to see Lower 48 spring warblers in Ohio and be on a panel of women birders at the Greatest Week in American Birding next week. It will be fun to immerse myself in birds, most of which I will not ever be able to see in Alaska.

 

 

 

May 4 – Lakes Are Open, Loon Is Back, Life Is Good

I began this morning birding along the roads on both sides of a very wind-swept Potter Marsh, now totally ice-free, where most of the activity was noisy Mew Gulls.

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On Old Seward Highway behind the marsh I found a young moose, and one of the Bald Eagles on the nest.

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At first I was going to quit birding because it seemed like there were no new birds around and the wind was so strong, but then decided to go over to Lakes Spenard and Hood, which had still been ice-covered the last time I looked. I was delighted to find that they were open, the only remnants of ice being a few small piles on the shore.

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I was even more delighted to find that the (presumable the same) Red-throated Loon was back. It was not particularly friendly but did allow a few photos before swimming farther away.

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I drove to Floatplane Drive, where in addition to both Goldeneye species and new-for-the-year Greater Scaup, there was a dozing Red-necked Grebe, and a single feeding Red-necked Phalarope (photo). Maybe the phalaropes will nest there again this summer.

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Last year this lake area became one of my favorite spots to bird because of the quite tame loon and the phalarope family. I’m looking forward to a re-run of that this year.

 

 

April 29 to May 2 – Nome (Trip 3 for 2018)

I returned home yesterday from a 3-day trip to Nome. I took over 1100 pictures, so although I have attempted to eliminate most of them for this post, there will be very many photos. Although many are rather dark, due to the cloudy darkness most of the time, they still show what things in Nome were like on this trip.

It was lightly raining/snowing when I arrived and it snowed at least briefly each day I was there, with the temperature hovering around the freezing mark. The roads varied from bare wind-blown gravel to very icy, and changed to what appeared to be quite icy beyond the signs posted saying not to travel farther. On my last day there as I was beginning to drive out Teller Road, I watched a truck that had just passed me spin around on the road in a complete circle, finally coming to rest at the edge of the road facing the direction it had been travelling, and then just driving on. I decided not go any farther, since I’d been out that road multiple times the previous days. Although the sun briefly attempted to make an appearance, the weather had so far not done much to melt the rivers or ponds, except for a couple of slivers of creek showing through the snow.

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It did not appear that much melting had occurred off the roads and everything on each side of the roads still remains snow-covered. On one large expanse of snow near the mouth of the Nome River (Council Road) I found my first gulls. All but one (a Herring Gull, not in photo) appeared (to me, not a gull-person) to be Glaucous Gulls of various ages and mantle shades of gray.

On one drive in that area, a Common Raven was fighting a small struggling seabird that I could not see very well as it kept being pushed down by the raven. I assumed (because I saw them later) that it was a murre. But when I looked at my photos, it appeared to be a Least Auklet. Comments?

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In that same area later that day I saw distant speck that was a living Common Murre sitting on the snow. The next day, probably that same murre was dinner for a flock of gulls that arrived after one of them found it just as I arrived at the spot.

At first I thought the sea ice was mostly broken up and that I might be able to bird the open water from shore, but the steady winds the next night pushed the ice together toward the shore and very little water could be seen except in the far distance.

The final day, there were some open areas in the ice pile-up, and Long-tailed Ducks and a single Common Eider became visible as barely identifiable dots (through the spotting scope) in the open area toward the jetty. A Thick-billed Murre had also been reported there and I was able to see a few of them, also basically little black and white dots, with the black-and-white pattern on their breast helping to identify them.

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This trip was a last-minute addition to my year of exploring Nome birding, added mainly because I wanted to learn more about the pace of change of the Willow Ptarmigans’ plumage molt. In early April when I was last there, most of them had not started their spring molt with only a few of them showing any brown feathers. I learned on this trip that while many of them now have partial or completely brown heads and necks, most of them were still all white. But at first I couldn’t find any ptarmigan. Finally I found a small flock on Teller Road, where in early April they had been numerous.

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The next day on Kougarok Road I was delighted to find that there was, as earlier in April, a large flock of ptarmigan almost to the Nome River bridge. They were eating (presumably gravel) on the road and were spread across the snow on both sides of the road. I estimated at least 80, but there could have been twice that many, as they were quite camouflaged on the snow.

Although Snow Buntings were seen periodically along the roads, they were mostly not present at the sites where they had been feeding earlier during the winter, except one time when there was a flock of Snow (about 85) and McKay’s (probably about 2) at the downtown parking area where some grass stems protrude above the snow, and where they were buffeted by the blowing snow.

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Other birds seen and photographed included a single Northern Shrike.

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Other highlights of this trip include the musk oxen seen every trip on Teller Road, usually either lying down or with their heads partly buried in the snow as they browsed. They appeared to be split into at least a couple of herds. At one place quite near the road I saw two groups totaling 49 animals. Their backs appear somewhat golden, sometimes with snow on top of that. In some of the pictures they are partly obscured by heavily falling snow. Most of them were large but some appeared smaller, possibly last year’s young. Mostly they just seemed to be motionless, but upon careful observation, one could see, and sometimes videotape, their movement.

Other mammals on this trip were my first-for-Nome fox, which I had thought was probably an arctic fox, but seems from my photos to be more likely a scruffy red fox (pictures taken in the very early morning hours when it was still quite dark). Comments anyone?

I also saw my first-for-Nome arctic hare, and then more of them. The first one was all white, on Kougarok Road, but on Teller Road I had four at the Snake River bridge, which were changing to brown, chasing each other around, and another two doing the same thing near the Nome high school.

My next trip to Nome will be toward the end of May. I certainly hope (as do the Nome people I talked to) that the snow will be gone, at least on and along the roads, and that greenery (and more birds) will be beginning to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 28 – Ketchikan Visit

I have just returned from Ketchikan, where I gave a bird-talk last night. I arrived there on Thursday (4/26) afternoon, and birded then, much of Friday, and this morning before my flight back to Anchorage. It’s a totally different world there, lush and green moss and budding trees and flowers in yards, and a bit warmer than Anchorage.

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Highlights were mainly at Ward Lake, one of my favorite birding spots there, and included lunchtime time birding with Steve Heinl and Andy Piston yesterday. Photos below are of: Varied Thrushes (everywhere I went), Red-breasted Sapsuckers (photos of vigorously scratching and preening bird, and their favorite tree at Ward Lake), Golden-crowned Sparrows, a Great Blue Heron, Band-tailed Pigeons (north of Ward Lake), Savannah Sparrows, and Townsend’s Warbler, all new birds for the year.

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Also photographed and new for the year was a typically skulky Pacific Wren. I recorded the song with my video camera – don’t bother to try to find the wren in the video – it is not there.

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(Note: I think there’s a video above this sentence, but it’s not showing in my version of the blog post).

Other new birds for the year include: Fox and Lincoln’s Sparrows, Belted Kingfisher, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree and Barn Swallows, Killdeer, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Rufous and Anna’s Hummingbird (1 each), Chestnut-backed Chickadee, American Pipit, Hooded Merganser, Hermit Thrush, and Bonaparte’s Gulls [no, I’m not doing a big year, but I just have to pay attention to new birds for the year, every year].

Tomorrow I go to Nome for my third trip there of the year. It’s supposed to snow and blow the whole time, so it may be difficult to find anything, but we shall see.

April 17 – The Waiting Continues

The birds are waiting for the ice to melt, and I am waiting for more birds to arrive.

At Potter Marsh yesterday (April 16) there were Canada Geese, Mew Gulls (as well as a few larger Herring/Glaucous-winged hybrid types), Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintails out on small puddles or icy expanse:

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Again there were moose, this time five of them, two of which are shown here.

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The Black-billed Magpies were not waiting, and were working on a nest that is mostly obscured by branches, as are they.

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At Hood and Spenard Lakes, there was no open water, and no noticeable activity by birds or humans.

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Spenard Crossing, however, was busy. Close by the parking lot were the usual Mallards and Common Mergansers, along with both species of goldeneye.

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Resting Mew Gulls (and possibly a few larger gulls mixed in) were out on one of the big remaining expanses of ice, clearly waiting.

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The previously reported Canvasback was way out on a distant patch of open water. While I was watching it and trying to get photos, two Buffleheads appeared.

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My last stop was out at Ship Creek, where I was delighted to find my first American Wigeons of the year in addition to the Gadwalls, Mallards and Canada Geese.

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I’m trying to not just sit back and wait for new species, so right now I’m leaving my computer to check out a few areas and see if anything else has arrived.