January 16 – Gosh – Raptor Rapture

Yesterday (January 15th) began, as many days lately have begun, with birding Anchorage neighborhoods filled with Bohemian Waxwings and a few American Robins, but no Hawfinch.

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So, I thought I’d next try one more time for the Northern Hawk Owl, which I also had not been able to find in previous hunts. This time (about noon), however, as I drove the road where it had been reported (Hood Lake Drive), there it was, perched like a little unmoving knob on a light post. Maybe it had been there before?

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As I watched, it flew to a nearby spruce, and I was able to get pictures through my front windshield.

I drove closer, and got a few more pictures, and it then flew to another spruce, and then another. Wonderful!

I thought that would be it for raptors for the day. After all, it is Anchorage in mid-winter. But a couple of hours later as I looked out into our back yard (which I do regularly, hoping for a return of the Northern Goshawk), a small raptor flew in and perched in a birch, a slender Sharp-shinned Hawk. It stayed less than 10 seconds and flew off. I was able to get a few blurry photos of it through the branches. Wow, two raptors in less than 2 hours!

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About 15 minutes later, about 40 Mallards arrived, followed immediately by the Northern Goshawk, the first time I had seen it in midday (about 2:30). All the Mallards scattered, and the Goshawk disappeared after them, but returned about 10 minutes later to the closest birch in our yard, and then flew to a farther birch. It stayed perched in the birch for about half an hour, preening and glancing about, undoubtedly waiting for the Mallards to come back. But the Mallards did not return. Unfortunately, when it was in the closer birch, its back was to me, and when it flew up to the far birch, the camera focused on the branches and not the bird. Still, I did get a few photos that show that it is a Goshawk.

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I also got photos showing a very unhappy Red-breasted Nuthatch (the little dot at the top of the tall photo below) scolding the Goshawk, before the Goshawk flew.

As I write this, however, at about 8:45 AM on January 16th, the Mallards are back. There are about 50 of them out in the dark in our yard, eating food that I put out for them earlier on the snow. I guess they are gambling on the Goshawk not flying around in the dark, and on no nocturnal raptors happening by.

January 13 – Goshawk, Redpolls, Moose

Although I have spent time looking for other rarer things since I last posted, what I have seen mostly lately is the same old, same old, including a few Pine Grosbeaks and many Common Redpolls, plus two more appearances by the Northern Goshawk in our yard, and miscellaneous moose sightings. Rather than go into more detail, following are pictures of these things.

Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls (at the end of the second video, you can hear our dog barking at all the Redpolls on the porch):

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Northern Goshawk (again in the half-light just before darkness on two different dates):

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Two moose in the Turnagain neighborhood of Anchorage:

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Moose along Northern Lights in Anchorage (I saw six (!!!) moose there that day in a 1/4 mile stretch, but only photographed these three):

Tomorrow we take our dog Caster to his first “reactive Rover” class, the primary goal being to teach him to be less antagonistic to other dogs. Should be interesting.


January 6 – Feeding a Goshawk

Actually what is happening is that I’m regularly feeding Mallards, many of them, and it appears that a Northern Goshawk has come to our yard to dine on the Mallards. I first saw the Goshawk about 1:15 today. I looked up into the trees behind our house and saw a large bird that did not appear to be a raven. Before I had a chance to study it more, it flew and I could see that it was a large long-tailed accipiter. It appeared to be a Northern Goshawk. But it was gone so I couldn’t study it further. Two hours later, I was watching Mallards arrive into our backyard, but when they immediately departed I could see a large raptor right on their tails. Still no photo and not a very good view. A couple of hours later, at about five o’clock and considerably past sunset, more Mallards were briefly out there again and I saw a silhouetted large bird back in the trees behind our house. It was the Goshawk. I was able to get diagnostic, but crummy, photos of it before it was completely dark out. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it tomorrow, of course.

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Otherwise, yard birds have been the usual ones, but with a greater than usual number of Black-billed Magpies.

Other photos are of Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls.

Weatherwise, we have not had any new snow for the past couple of days, and the temperatures have been in the 12-20 degree range. The mountains are beautiful, as always.




January 5 – Birds and Snow

On January 2nd, I birded a few Anchorage sites north of where I live, including a neighborhood swarming with American Robins and Bohemian Waxwings:

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On the morning of January 3rd we awoke to snow, which lasted all day and into the night. We ultimately received something over 3 inches of soggy, wet snow – nothing compared with what people far south of us have received. Following are a few pictures taken during the snow, including of the hungry Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls eating as fast as they could before the newly scattered seeds were covered with snow:

The next morning, way before dawn, immediately after I scattered seed on the snow, hungry Mallards descended into our yard.

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Now the snow is frozen and crusty, and winter continues.



January 1 (2018!) – New Year, Same Birds

Today was in the low 20s during the day, not a bad way to begin the year in Anchorage and much warmer than many places in the Lower 48. It was very dark, however, with heavy clouds (difficult to get good photos).

My 2018 bird list so far looks much like my December 2017 list. The first bird of the year was a loud Red-breasted Nuthatch in our yard, long before it was light out, an every-day bird in most of Anchorage.

Both my December, 2017 and my January, 2018 lists include the wonderful Sharp-tailed Grouse in west Anchorage that probably all Anchorage birders have gone to see at least once. Today it was perched high in a crabapple tree, at first motionless, and then slowly munching.

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Other birds photographed today were Bohemian Waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks, Mallards and a Downy Woodpecker. Today the grosbeaks found my Christmas present to my little backyard birds, another flat-bottom feeder, which most of them seem to prefer.

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Yesterday’s photos include those of a Hairy Woodpecker and Common Redpolls, both of which were on one of the seed feeders but at different times.

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Nonbird photos were taken yesterday of Caster (and Dave)(the spotty toy on the sofa beside Caster is his new squeaky giraffe toy):


December 28 – The Redpolls Are Coming, the Redpolls Are Coming, Again

Yesterday and the day before there was just a single Common Redpoll briefly at our feeders. Today there have been anywhere from 20-30 of them the couple of times that they were around. Usually they only have stayed less than 15 minutes before all taking off. Last winter, their numbers in our yard increased to about 300 at times, and then in spring precipitously dropped to 80 and then 2 and then none. I hope their numbers are huge again this winter, so that they again cover all available surfaces upon which I have put seed. It’s looking good so far.

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Often when the redpolls were around today, the Pine Grosbeaks were too, up to 8 of them.

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And of course, the Mallards continue to come. I have to be careful to only put out food for them after we’ve gotten our dog back in the house. Otherwise, he munches up all the duck food.

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As is clear from some of the bird photos, the feeders and trees are beautifully covered with rime ice from yesterday’s fog. Each of the last two days has begun at a 1 degree temperature, without much improvement during the day. Winter is definitely here (but I understand that Rapid City, SD, where we used to live is even colder than here in Alaska!).




December 27 – Hairy Critters

I’ll get to the hairy critters, but first, there are the usual feathered critters of winter around the yard too, including Pine Grosbeaks.

A single Common Redpoll has been coming to our feeders. I’m hoping it is the advance scout of a whole flock of them as we had last winter.

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But now, let me tell you about the hairy critters. The first, of course, is our newly adopted part husky, Caster, who is definitely hairy, leaving hair everywhere he goes. He is very loving and although he pays attention to everything we do, he is mostly not demanding, and is a good companion. When not cuddling up to us, he spends time playing with his numerous toys, lying quietly on the rug, or checking to see if there is anything interesting out the front window.

The other hairy critters have been moose, at first two of them. Last night Dave went to take Caster out to the back yard before going to work on his midnight shift (I might normally have taken Caster out, but I have a bad cold and didn’t feel up to it). As Dave was walking across the back yard with Caster pulling ahead on his leash, Dave suddenly noticed in the darkness a large darker blob on the ground toward the back of the yard, a resting moose, and then he noticed another moose lying down just outside the side gate, even closer to him and Caster! They appeared to be the mother and yearling moose that have periodically been around the neighborhood. Caster was not given any more time to do his business, or to investigate the two exciting mammals, but was hustled back into the house. The two moose stayed until some time after I went to bed. I finally got to sleep in spite of Caster’s continuous whines and eagerness to go back outside.

Then this morning, just a little while ago, I looked out the front window and there was an adult bull moose, the first we have seen in our neighborhood. He was munching on our neighbors’ bushes. Caster could see him too (both the back of the moose, visible over our neighbor’s ladders, and Caster’s ears are in the first photo below). I went outside and got a few more photos before the moose went out in the road and trotted off. Not quite a typical Alaska day, but not unusual either.

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December 23 – Minute-by-Minute & Sharp-tailed Grouse

Since I last wrote two days ago on the Solstice, we have gained a whole minutes of daylight. It will be awhile until days are noticeably longer. Although the days have been cloudy, the sun has periodically peeked out and has illuminated things, especially the clouds.





The bird highlight of the day (and week) that I finally was able to see and photograph is the Sharp-tailed Grouse first identified a week ago on the Anchorage Christmas Bird Count. It was on the same street as previously reported and sitting on a snowy fence right along the road when I arrived. It later flew up to a crabapple tree where it also has been regularly seen. While this bird is apparently a first ever record for Anchorage and therefore new for my Anchorage list, I have seen them on their normal Alaska stomping grounds near Delta Junction, and of course, they were common birds in and around Rapid City where we lived before moving to Anchorage.

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December 21 – Solstice Stuff

Officially the sun rose in Anchorage at 10:11 this morning and set at 3:38, but in reality I never saw it at all this cloudy day, except the clouds did go wonderfully pink about 9:30. Now begins the slow day-by-day increase in minutes of daylight.


Birds around our yard are the normal winter ones. Photos below are of some of the 4-6 Pine Grosbeaks that have been periodically in our yard, one of the Red-breasted Nuthatches that is often on our porch, and one of the Steller’s Jays gorging itself with peanuts. The end of the video of the jay is blurry but you can still make out the jay’s picky process of peanut selection.

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The final photo is of my newest prayer shawl, which has remarkably similar colors to the sunrise pictures shown above, although not once when I was working on it did that thought cross my mind.

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December 16 – Anchorage Christmas Bird Count

Today I birded an area for the CBC that I did last alone year (near Chester Creek), but this year I birded in the morning with a visitor from the Cincinnati area, Rick Dunning. It was a very pleasant day, about or above freezing and no noticeable wind, with the only problem being very icy trails. We walked along the south side of a portion of Chester Creek, plus birded some nearby neighborhoods.



We began the day with the usual Mallards, at first the only duck species of the day.


Highlights for me included a flock of 7 Golden-crowned Kinglets (not on the checklist for the count but seen by many people today) first heard by Rick. It was still quite dark then, but I was able to see the top of the head of a couple of them, which does not show in my partial, crummy photos of their tummies or of them flying.

Another highlight was three American Dippers (1 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon). I took a number of videos, even though the dippers kept diving and disappearing up or downstream (so some of the videos end with a habitat-view and no birds).

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We were glad to add a Northern Shrike about 11 a.m.

In the afternoon I went back to the creek trail and found a Common Merganser and a couple of Pine Grosbeaks.

Also seen/heard but not photographed were Rock Pigeons, a Downy Woodpecker, Common Ravens, Steller’s Jays, Black-billed Magpies, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, European Starlings, and Common Redpolls.

I added Bohemian Waxwings to my personal day-list in the afternoon but this species is only countable for the Anchorage CBC in the morning (which is also the case for Common Ravens, Rock Pigeons and Mallards).

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At the countdown dinner, attended by over 65 people, I learned that others in other parts of the count circle had also seen about 15 other species including Sharp-tailed Grouse (apparent first record for Anchorage), a number of duck species, Three-toed Woodpecker, and Townsend’s Solitaire. A total of about 50 species (quite high) and 10,600 birds (very low) were seen in the 15-mile diameter count circle today.