September 29 – North of Anchorage

I drove north of Anchorage today, birding along the Matanuska Townsite Road and Inner Springer Loop Road and then on the way home along the Reflections Lake trail. Birds were few and far between, but the day was a crisp sunny fall day and very enjoyable. Most of the mountaintops were snow-topped, new since I was last in the Palmer area.

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I only counted four bird species at the Townsite Road and only photographed two: Black-billed Magpie and a distant Northern Shrike (not photographed: Common Redpoll and Black-capped Chickadee).

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Driving in Palmer I only saw Canada Geese, a very large flock of a couple of hundred wandering far away from the road at the State Fair Grounds.

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At Reflections Lake, I had more Canada Geese fly over and heard a Common Redpoll and Black-capped Chickadee. It’s sort of obvious that summer is past and winter is not far behind. People I talked to last night were saying that Alaska has only two seasons: a very short summer and winter, and it seems close to true.

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297 species so far

September 28 – More Anchorage Birding

Before birding today, I took a picture out our living room window of the “termination dust” (first snowfall of the season) on the Chugach Mountains, which was there a couple of days ago when I arrived back in Anchorage.

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My birding today began at Spenard Crossing in a flurry of American Robins (not snow), on the ground, in the bushes, flying around. As I was taking pictures of them, I realized that one of the birds was different –  I was not looking at an American Robin, but a Varied Thrush, which I had never before seen at Spenard Crossing. Always a joy to see anywhere.

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Also at Spenard Crossing were a Common Merganser, five Greater Yellowlegs, and multiple Mallards.

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At nearby Westchester Lagoon were more Mallards and many Greater Scaup. I photographed a few Green-winged Teal in the wetland across the trail from the Lagoon, as well as a Wilson’s Snipe and one of a pair of Gadwalls.

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297 species so far

September 27 – Silent Fall (Nearly)

Except for nearly inaudible tapping sounds made by a Hairy Woodpecker almost beneath the Potter Marsh boardwalk I did not hear any bird out there today. Silent sleeping Mallards and Green-winged Teal and a soundless fly-by Black-billed Magpie were the only other birds seen from the boardwalk. I even amused myself by taking a picture of my shadow while I waited and listened and hoped for more birds.

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Eventually I gave up and drove the highway along the marsh. I had been wondering if I had missed the fall swan migration while I was out on the islands, so I was delighted to find that there were 14 adult and 2 immature Trumpeter Swans toward the south end of the marsh floating silently, preening and eating.

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297 species so far

September 26 – Back in the Land of Trees, Chickadees and Crossbills

I birded in Anchorage today, at the Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area, Cuddy Park and home. I’m coming back to my usual birding world after nearly a month of Alaska island birding.

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At the Natural Area were a couple of Black-capped Chickadee mixed flocks. Photographed were: Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper and Downy Woodpecker. There also were both kinglets and a couple of Boreal Chickadees in one of the flocks. The only sparrow in the area was in a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the open field and I did not find any warblers.

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Out on the estuary flats was a single distant bird, a perched Peregrine Falcon.

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At the cattail pond near Cuddy Park was a single inquisitive Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

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As I was beginning to write this blog post, I noticed a small flock of flitting birds in our back yard birches and went out to check them out – eight young White-winged Crossbills apparently munching on birch seeds and talking quietly as they flitted from tree to tree. I had been worried that I would not see one this year, but this winter looks like it will be a crossbill winter.

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297 species so far

September 25 – Last Day, St. Paul

No new birds for me today. The weather turned windier, with some fog and rain, and few birds were up and about when I was there (until about 4 pm, when my plane departed for Anchorage).

We birded many of the usual sites but the “good” birds that were seen yesterday, except for the Swainson’s Thrush, were not seen while I was there. Photos below are scenes from today, including a foggy view of distant mountains and the Lake Hill area, a fly-by Gyrfalcon, seals from a distance, and two views of the wild celery that birders on St. Paul regularly and often with some difficulty search for hiding little birds.

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A few pictures of birders on St. Paul are also shown below: Laura Keene and John Weigel with me in the center (they are two of the birders doing an ABA big year this year), Susan Clark and Scott Schuette (St. Paul tour director), and Claudia Cavazos (one of the St. Paul guides) with me and David Greening. I have pictures of some of the other birders but they were a bit fuzzier (and I did not have their permission to use them) so I have not included them here.

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I am glad I went to St. Paul, but I could not stay longer due to various deadlines and commitments back in Anchorage. Current plans are to bird the greater Anchorage area until I go to Barrow in October.

297 species so far

September 24 – Day 11, St. Paul AND Another New Bird!

The birds, they are a-changin’ here on St. Paul. Today was a beautiful, nearly calm, sunny day. We spent much of our time either tromping through the wild celery or walking the quarry roads. And we had birds!

 

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In addition to the usual birds, a couple of RED-FLANKED BLUETAILS (one at the quarry and one along the road past Webster House), another Sky Lark (most likely the mystery bird seen 2 days ago), a Blackpoll Warbler, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Swainson’s Thrush, a Warbling Vireo and five Bramblings were found and seen by the group of birders on the island.

Photos below of perched up birds below: one of the Red-flanked Bluetails in silhouette (the other was seen better but I did not get a photograph of it), a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, a Pacific Wren singing, a Brambling and a Warbling Vireo.

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Tomorrow I am scheduled to leave St. Paul in the afternoon. Maybe another bird before then?

297 species so far

September 23 – Day 10, St. Paul AND a New Bird!

In mid-afternoon, our van was heading back to the airport because some members of our group were flying out today, when suddenly our leader and driver, Scott, screeched the van to a halt and yelled out “Sky Lark!”. We piled out of the van and amazingly were able to see the SKY LARK, which had been chased up from the road by the van. It was flying along the edge of Polovina Lake away from us. No photos were taken unfortunately because all the cameras were left in the van in our hurry to get out. But we saw the bird. The other van-load arrived soon but the bird was gone. Hopefully we’ll find it again tomorrow if anyone still “needs” it.

Otherwise, much of the day was as usual, but just less wind. Photographed were: more fur seals (impossible for me to resist), a flock of mainly Rock Sandpipers and a couple of Red Phalaropes, a Snow Bunting, a Pacific Wren, birders checking out some wetlands and sunset in the Lake Hill area of St. Paul Island.

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296 species so far

September 22 – Day 9, St. Paul

I think that my love of taking photos is keeping me as sane as possible as we look for new birds day after day with minimal results, spending most of each day from dawn until near dusk (minus times for meals) walking through difficult acres of knee-high to thigh-high wild celery, walking pond shorelines and through soggy wetlands, walking lava strewn expanses of land, peering into large depressions in the earth where tired wind-blown birds might have taken refuge from the wind, and doing sea watching.

 

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Today we did have a Red-throated Pipit and a mystery pipit-like bird so there was a spurt of excitement. In addition, all of us, including the person who had arrived recently and had not been able to see the Jack Snipe, were able to see the Jack Snipe today after days of looking for it.

Photographed today were: one of the Wandering Tattlers that is around the island, flying Brant geese, a Ruddy Turnstone, a flying Red Phalarope, and a Rock Sandpiper, on a rock.

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I have a couple more days on St. Paul, so there’s still a chance for a new bird or two. We shall see.

295 species so far

September 21 – Day 8, St. Paul

In the midst of rain and rainbows and wind, another mammal-rich day – reindeer, seals, and fox.

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There were some birds too., but none new for the trip. Birds photographed include Harlequin Duck, Lapland Longspurs bathing in road-puddles, a very distant perched Gyrfalcon, and Horned Puffins.

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Maybe the winds will finally bring new birds tomorrow?

295 species so far

September 20 – Day 7, St. Paul

Today was more of a mammal day than a bird day even though our leader for today, Scott Schuette, did his best to find new island birds beginning with a dawn sea watch. The wind has not yet delivered any rare birds to us, but it just keeps blowing and we keep hoping.

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Meanwhile, we had delighted moments watching an endemic Pribilof Island Shrew on the road near the van early in the day.

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Toward the end of our birding time, we had more delighted moments watching a female Orca hunting baby fur seals in shallow water while another Orca waited farther out. Just before we drove off for our supper, the female apparently caught them some supper. We did not stay to watch any more.

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Other mammals today were the usual foxes, which I did not photograph, and fur seals, of course.

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We did actually look at some birds today, and I photographed a few Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, a flock of Northern Pintails taking off and couple of spinning, feeding Red Phalaropes.

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We also took the opportunity during the slow birding today to visit the small museum and Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church, where Father John told us a bit about the church and its history. Although seeming small and unimposing from the outside, the church was beautiful and inviting inside and I am glad we were able to see it.

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295 species so far