September 16 – Home, not Nome, on the (Moose) Range

I’ve had meetings and projects lately, so have mostly been around home in Anchorage. A few bird photos from our yard follow, of squabbling, eating Steller’s Jays and a Dark-eyed Junco on a seed feeder.

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The most exciting thing about our yard lately (until this morning) has been watching the fireweeds gradually turn a fiery red. The photos below were taken each day from Sept. 12-15, the first two days not being sunny, so the lighting also affects how red the leaves are. It is clear, however, that there is more red and less green in the leaves.

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This morning’s excitement was invasion by the two neighborhood moose, mama and half-grown young, which munched on trees and sadly, on fireweed, in the back yard. We would never have noticed them in the middle of the night but our dog heard them and let out a curdling whine/bark at 3 a.m. I closed all the blinds and the windows that had been open so he couldn’t see or hear the moose and eventually he settled down and we went back to sleep. When we got up at 7 a.m., the moose were still there, visible in the half-light, munching some more before hopping the fence to browse on a neighbor’s bush.

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I went out on the front porch to get a few pictures as they munched a few minutes later.

The mother then wandered into the street, followed by the youngster. It turned out the youngster was interested in something to eat besides vegetation so there was a brief feeding interlude out in the street before they both wandered farther down the road.

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Tomorrow I’m again heading off to Nome for a few days to see what it’s like at this time of year. I expect that most bird numbers will be way down, but hope that there will still be ducks and geese.

 

September 8 – Nome Birds and More (Aug. 26-Sept. 1)

Finally I’m getting around to posting more bird photos from my last trip to Nome. Although in Alaska most little birds have raised their babies and fled by now, the loons (Red-throated and Pacific) were still around Nome often with flightless young in tow.

Same thing with Common Eiders, some of which had very tiny young.

Same thing with the ptarmigans that I was able to see along Teller Road, but the young I saw could fly, and did.

The flocks of geese were gradually increasing – just a few Brant, but larger flocks of Cackling and White-fronted Geese were around.

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I did find a couple of my hoped-for Nome birds for this trip – Boreal Chickadees (3-4) in the spruce trees near the end of Council Road (near Gray/Canada Jays, new for the area on my last trip), and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (with similar Pectoral Sandpipers) on Safety Sound.

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The main non-bird activity around Nome was musk oxen, all over the place, and not just in the places that I had found them earlier.

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September 5 – Nome Roads in Late August (Aug. 26-Sept. 1)

As far as I know the temperature had not yet dropped below freezing before I arrived in Nome on August 26th, but many areas were showing signs of colder weather. Fireweeds were mostly done blossoming but their red vegetation brightened up many vistas as I drove along.

Before I get to the pictures showing the beauty along the roads, in an attempt to tell a more complete story of my trip, I guess that I should mention a not-so-beautiful fact of Nome life in August. In many waterways, it often was not so beautiful in the water, and the surrounding air was filled the smell of rotting fish, presumably mostly salmon, that had spawned and died at the end of their long swim inland, so that their species might be replenished.

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Most of the time, however, the air was crisp and clean, and the dead fish were easily ignored and forgotten. The following scenes are along Teller Road on August 27th, when the road periodically went through clouds and rain, followed by a few closer shots of fireweeds:

Scenes along Kougarok Road on August 28th follow. First is the picturesque often birdy old house that was even more picturesque with the red fireweed leaves, followed by scenes along the road, including fireweeds:

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Scenes along Council Road on August 29th follow, including Safety Sound, the beautiful greenish yellow marsh vegetation near the Bonanza Bridge, and the spruce trees near Council, and of course a few more fireweed pictures:

A few times, I stopped the truck and got out to wander on the tundra, where the color that was beginning to appear was mostly limited to leaves and not flowers.

On my last day in Nome, September 1st, when I drove much of Kougarok Road again, I was delighted to see that a few fireweeds were still in full bloom. I’m sure that will not be the case when I return in a couple of weeks.

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September 4 – Nome Raptors (Aug. 26-Sept. 1)

It has taken awhile to wade through the nearly 2500 photos that I took on this trip.I am hoping to do a couple more posts on it after this one, including scenes of the hills and tundra, just beginning to turn to reds and yellows, and photos of birds seen for the first time in Nome.

There was a large difference between the number of birds that I saw in Nome in late August and the number that I saw in early August. Many of the smaller birds were no longer heard or seen, but of course, it is possible and even likely that some of them were hiding in the bushes and had not yet migrated. The raptors were much more noticeable than they had been before, and they are the subject of this post.

On Teller Road, there were at least four Rough-legged Hawks hunting on August 27th, usually hovering and backlit, or hurrying by and out of sight.

The next day early on my drive up Kougarok Road, there was a Peregrine Falcon sitting on a pole, apparently hunting as it looked around and downward. I heard the chips of sparrows in the bushes beneath the falcon, but the falcon just sat. It only moved from the pole when I drove closer and passed where it had been sitting.

Farther up the road, two Golden Eagles were perched high above the road. Another was seen flying away a couple of days later on Teller Road.

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On the next hill on Kougarok Road, a Merlin also sat waiting (in my wishful thinking, erroneously originally identified by me as a Hobby with its reddish leggings), and then it flew away and disappeared, never to be seen again.

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In a brief trip along Safety Sound later that day, a Northern Harrier was photographed (others had been seen earlier on the other roads but not photographed).

On August 29th, there was another Peregrine Falcon unsuccessfully harassing ducks out on the water at Cape Nome before it came and perched near me on the cliffs.  A redpoll (small white dot at left of first photo) bravely scolded the Peregrine.

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Most exciting was the number of Gyrfalcons seen. On Teller Road on August 30th, three of us first saw a Gyrfalcon perched on the ground. We screeched to a halt. As it took off I tried for photos but failed. Soon thereafter, there were two Gyrfalcons circling and chasing each other near a cliff before both hurtled off and disappeared. Again, bad photos.

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I thought that would be the best I could do to document Nome Gyrfalcons, but the Gyrfalcon on Council Road the next day was more cooperative than I have ever experienced for a Gyrfalcon. I looked upward into the sun to see it and try to photograph it, as it sat for a few seconds on a low cliff along the road. It then squatted and launched off the cliff away from me, never to be seen again as it dropped below the cliff. The results were rather interesting views of a Gyrfalcon.

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August 17 – Favorite Nome Sightings (8/7-8/11)

Following in are photos of some of my favorite bird sightings on my early August trip to Nome. There were a few bird species that were more easy to find this month than on my previous trips this year. Some of the birds were in juvenile plumage.

Included were Northern Shrikes.

There were also many Northern Wheatears, primarily at many of the open rocky areas along the roads or on the roads.

Although I have now been down to the end of Council Road a few times, the only area along the roads where there are numerous spruce trees and therefore the best chances to see some forest birds, this is the first time I have seen a Gray Jay there, a very welcome sighting. This one did not stay around long, and flew off after about a minute.

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Bluethroats, while no longer being heard singing, were still around and could be seen, often on the roadside, usually the somewhat faded-looking females or the young birds with dark-markings and not blue on their lower throats. Usually they were darting off the road as I approached, and were difficult to photograph. Often I waited patiently near or in my car, hoping they would return for a photo. I was unaware that one of those shown below had jumped off the ground just as I took the picture, until I looked at my pictures.

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Some of the Arctic Warblers were still singing and calling, enabling me sometimes to see one. Like the Bluethroat, I expect (but don’t yet know) that the Arctic Warblers will have migrated away by my next visit in a couple of weeks.

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The more typical North American warblers that were still being seen along the roadsides, usually not singing and usually hidden in the brush, included Wilson’s Warblers and Yellow Warblers. Northern Waterthrushes were heard but never seen, and Orange-crowned Warblers were seen but not photographed.

I was particularly interested to see that some of the Bohemian Waxwings that had been around in July, a species not common at any season in Nome, had nested and produced youngsters there this summer, and were still feeding them:

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The last species I’ll show in this post is Merlin, which I was delighted to see on Teller Road and at two different locations on Kougarok Road.

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August 15 – Nome Fireweeds (8/7-8/11)

I was in Nome from August 7-11, birding of course. This post will not be about Nome birds, however, but will only be about the showy fireweeds that I photographed along the roads around Nome, and a few other plants. Until today, I had thought that the widespread fireweed was Alaska’s state flower, which it should be in my opinion, but I was wrong (Google says it is the alpine forget-me-not). The fireweed’s flowers at the bottom of the stalks open first, with blossoming progressing up the stalks, and long thin pods forming where the flower petals have dropped off. I have been told that when all of the flowers are gone and the stalk is just full of pods, summer is over. As can be seen from the photos, fall appears to be just around the corner in parts of Nome, but many flowers were still in full bloom when I was there. I will be back toward the end of August – I hope some are still blooming then.

Fireweeds on Council Road:

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Fireweeds on Kougarok Road (yes, a bird did sneak into one photo):

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Fireweeds on Teller Road:

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There were other flowering plants around, as well as other interesting vegetation, some of which I photographed. The first shown below is what I believe is a dwarf fireweed. The last group of pictures shows “cottongrass” (I think).

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July 30 – More Close-up Loon Pics

I have been feeling locked in our house, as the house-painting crew covered the windows with plastic and sanded noisily to remove old peeling paint from our siding, window sills, porch, and then put primer around the windows and a few other places. So, while waiting for that to happen and now for the paint to dry (I know, like grass growing) and for them to return at some unknown future time, I’ve taken time to go back and look at a few recent pictures. I realized that I had not posted every last recent loon photo (I love loons, can you tell?). So here are a few more.

On July 18, there were two Red-throated Loons at Lake Hood, on a bay where I had not previously seen any, and there were no others visible on bays where the usual loon has been this summer. They seemed a bit scruffy and at first I thought they might be young, but I think they were just beginning to molt a bit.

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I was back to Lake Hood on July 23, and found that “old faithful”, the tame loon that is regularly at another bay of the lake was back there and the other two were not to found. This loon was sleeping at first out in the lake, but then awoke and rapidly swam toward me, arriving right next to me as usual. It then called loudly, including a different call that I had not seen this loon do. As the rain started to fall, the loon abruptly tucked its head under and apparently went back to sleep. Usually if the loon calls, it is when a plane is flying nearby. So much fun to see! I need to go back before the loon(s) are all gone.

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July 21 – Potter Marsh Boardwalk

In preparation for a church nature walk that was held this morning, I have recently gone to Potter Marsh boardwalk a couple of times. Things are usually pretty slow at this time of the year, with few birds singing, and most birds having fledged their young, but it is still fun to see what might be around.

A week ago I photographed a few of the Canada Geese that were around and Black-capped Chickadees. It was interesting that there were a couple of Tree Swallows still feeding young in one of the bird houses, but most were gone.

Yesterday was a very foggy morning when I came back to check one more time before the nature walk.

I could hear Alder Flycatchers through the fog. The Canada Goose family was there, way out in the long grass, and Yellowlegs were beginning to gather on the mud.

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When I drove along the highway, I could see that there were two distant Sandhill Cranes. There were also two Trumpeter Swans out in the marsh. I don’t recall every seeing them there in summer, and am not sure whether they nested there or not this year.

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This morning for our nature walk was gorgeous and clear and warm, for Anchorage (over 70 degrees), with a slight breeze. A beautiful day for a walk, and great people to walk with!

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Alder Flycatchers were still noisy, with a family in the trees around the parking lot, and others along the walk.

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There were more Yellowlegs at the water’s edge today, mostly sleeping, probably waiting until the water level went down enough for there to be exposed mud along the edge.

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Other visitors to the boardwalk informed us of a moose that was down toward the end of the walk noisily munching on the very deep grass, so we quickly went down there. While we were there we also watched a bald eagle carry a stick into a tree a long way from where their nest was this summer – maybe practicing for next year.

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Down toward the other end of the boardwalk where the river flows out of the marsh, we could see a few different types of fish, little troutlike things to quite large salmonlike things, but not being fish-experts, we did not attempt to identify them.

 

 

 

July 17 – Nome Worried Wagtails, etc.

Following are a few more things from my July Nome trip. I need to finish this, because I don’t want to get behind. I’ll be in Nome again in early August, and hopefully will have more pictures to show.

I had never before this trip seen wagtails, so close-up and personal and in my face. It clearly was wagtail nesting time, and they were not happy anytime I came near or through their territory. I saw them a number of different places, but the two places where they seemed the most worried are mentioned and shown below.

On July 7th I went to Teller. Birders usually go to Teller to see the White Wagtails. I was about 25 miles away from Teller nearing the bridge over the Bluestone River, and not expecting to see wagtails for another hour or more, however, when two very upset White Wagtails came at my car, and at me when I got out of the car. They perched on the bridge sign, one at each end sometimes, on the road, and on the bridge itself. They seemed unhappy no matter which end of the bridge I was at, so presumably they had hidden fledglings out of the nest that they were feeding. I did not stay long enough in their territory to look for their youngsters, but drove on to see the less-concerned White Wagtails in Teller.

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Later that day after returning to Nome, I went out a short distance on Council Road and birded in the Hastings Creek area. To my surprise, there were at least two Eastern Yellow Wagtails diving at my head there, also clearly feeding youngsters. I tried to walk away to an area less of concern to them, but they followed, so I just left so they could settle down.

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In an area near the Yellow Wagtails, there was still a large snowbank remaining. It turns out that a number of birds were wandering around on the snow, apparently finding things to eat on it. These included American Pipits and a Western Sandpiper (I believe).

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I also walked along the beach near the Safety Sound Bridge toward the end of my trip on July 10th. Although it had been quite a shorebird hotspot a month earlier, it was now a bit slow, with noisy Arctic Terns overhead, and only a Lapland Longspur and a Semipalmated Plover photographed.

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The flowers were beautiful, and mostly different than those photographed earlier at the higher elevations.

I realized before I ended I should also post a picture of my birding vehicle for the last couple of trips. It stayed muddy and dirty while I was there, even though the rain washed some of it away. Although a smaller vehicle would probably handle better in some cases, especially when trying to make U-turns to chase shearwaters (see previous post), this sturdy truck had good clearance, drove well on the bumpy roads and had plenty of room for my gear.

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July 17 – Nome – Council Road (July 8)

I’m finally getting back to writing about my most recent Nome trip. I’m blaming the delay on the everyday (today is the third day in a row) moose activity around here in Anchorage, which is so distracting.

On my third full day in Nome, I drove to Council, my second trip there ever. Scenes from the first 50 or so miles, along the ocean and to and along Safety Sound, follow.

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After Safety Sound the road heads away from the ocean upward and then downward to the village of Council, for a total of about 72 miles.

Highlights between Safety Sound and Council included a very obliging Say’s Phoebe on the sign at the bridge over the East Fork of the Solomon River.

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Nearer to Council, in the same area as on my last trip, a Whimbrel was not happy with my passing through its territory.

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Council is the only area on the roads around Nome where there are extensive stands of trees, including many spruce trees. I had heard about this, and had pictured deep forests near the road; however, they are mostly quite spread out and not thick near the road. Bird species that inhabit wooded areas are more likely near Council but are unusual in the rest of the Nome area.

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Both on the way to Council and the way back, Yellow Wagtails around Solomon were noticeable by their constant scolding.

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The highlight of the day, however, occurred in late afternoon about 3 miles outside of Nome, near the end of my Council Road trip. I almost missed it, thinking my birding trip was about over and not paying attention to my surroundings. Suddenly I noticed an unmistakable shearwater flying along the shore and the road, and very close, maybe 50 feet from the shore. It was flying toward me, and then past as I began to slam on my brakes to check it out. Before I had time to believe what I had just seen, another shearwater coasted by. I came to a screeching halt, did a turnaround with my truck, and raced back toward where I had just been and where the shearwaters had gone. I kept going past them, and came to another screeching halt, hoping to photograph them as they came by me, but I missed them. So I again raced down the road, past them, and rapidly got out of the truck. One of them had apparently veered off and was no longer visible, but the other one did an abrupt turn as I watched and landed about 100 feet out on the water. I got a quick photo of it in flight and then many of it on the water. It turns out others had seen them too, and we all independently determined them to be Short-tailed Shearwaters by the shape of bill and head, and  range (others also noted the under-wings). These were definitely unexpected rarities for Nome, usually found way out in the ocean and not near the mainland, but we had had wind and rain the night before that probably brought them in (note waves in morning pictures above). They were clearly the rarest birds of the whole trip.

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