January 21 – Moon & More (Birds, of course)

Last night was the “super blood wolf full moon” and in Anchorage we had mostly clear skies to view it! Some of the many pictures that I took as the lunar eclipse progressed follow:

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Between trips out to the back porch for picture-taking we came in to warm up. Our dog was delighted with so much in and out the door activity.

A few recent scenic shots:

Some days here have almost no birds, and other days, like today, there have been quite a few (50 or so Bohemian Waxwings and 75 or more Common Redpolls plus 1-2 each of a handful of other species), which is good for January at our house. Pictures below in order taken from our windows since I last posted are of the now fairly common Northern Goshawk on the fence between our yard and one of our neighbors, Bohemian Waxwings, Common Redpolls, Downy Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Shrike, and Pine Grosbeak:

One of these days I need to get outside and actually do some non-yard birding, but meanwhile, it’s great to look out into the cold yard and see what I can see.

 

January 10 – Goshawk Slaughters Again

It was both gruesome and fascinating.

Late on the afternoon of January 8th, the Northern Goshawk, which has been making periodic forays through and into our yard since it killed a Mallard and ate part of it as we watched a couple of weeks ago, struck again. My non-birding husband was home this time, having been instructed by me to pay attention to when the Mallards arrived, since I was off at a meeting and could not note down the hour of their visit for my regular eBird posts. Not only did the Mallards arrive at about their normal time (4:30 pm, when it is just getting dark out), but their nemesis, the Northern Goshawk arrived about the same time and immediately caught and killed another one of them in our neighbor’s yard (these neighbors have moved so no one is there now). My husband did not watch the gory sight anymore, and just told me about it when I got home.

Yesterday morning after a couple of hours working at my computer I decided to go upstairs for a break, and saw that the Northern Goshawk was back on the ground in the neighbor’s yard having breakfast on the frozen Mallard, with feathers flying around it. Every now and then the Goshawk would flap its wings, apparently trying to move the Mallard, maybe to expose more edible parts, and gradually dragging it toward our yard. Some of the following pictures are a bit blurred due to my taking them through the window and through the fog formed by moisture expelled to the outdoors by our hard-working heater (outside temperature about zero degrees F).

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Eventually, the carcass was light enough for the Goshawk to lift it to our neighbor’s wooden fence.

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I was a bit concerned that the Goshawk would bring the carcass into our yard, where our dog might find it, so I went outside with our dog to try to shoo the hawk away. The hawk flew low across our yard dragging the Mallard, and our dog Caster raced out for the chase, barking wildly. It looked for a while that Caster would grab himself both a Mallard carcass and a hawk, but the hawk managed to lift itself high enough to clear the next fence and dive into our other neighbor’s spruce trees. Unfortunately I was so fascinated by the chase that I did not think to take any pictures of it.

Last night, the Mallards returned to dine again at about 4:30, but no Goshawk appeared. It was probably still stuffed with Mallard. Every day when I put out bird seeds, I am thinking of feeding little seed-eating birds, and also, nowadays, seed-eating Mallards that wander in from elsewhere in Anchorage. It’s somewhat disconcerting to realize that I am also periodically feeding “my” Mallards to a Goshawk (which, of course, as a normal wintering Alaskan, has to find food somewhere).

January 5 -Rime & Hungry Birds

It is winter, with morning temperatures not far above zero, and colder weather coming each day. Winter is so beautiful here in Anchorage, especially when the clouds lift and the mountains can be seen.

Overnight low fog has recently settled on and coated the branches with rime, which is beautiful on cloudy days but even more beautiful when the sun shines briefly on it.

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Oddly enough, there are long periods of time when there are no birds visiting any of my many feeders even in this cold weather, but every now and then they arrive, with chirps. song, and quacks.

There is a lot of this winter left in this cold north land, and lots more seed and suet will be needed, I am sure.

 

 

December 28 – Cold, Cruel, Beautiful

I am looking out my home office window and watching in fascinated horror as a Northern Goshawk rips off feathers and pulls out bloody morsels from one of the male Mallards that was just minutes ago eating grain in our snowy backyard. I am trying to see it from the Goshawk’s point of view as I watch the terrible, riveting sight. For almost an hour, the Goshawk has feasted, twice spreading its wings to mantle the duck as a raven flew over, and then a few Mallards actually came down for a few seconds before they saw the Goshawk and fled in terror. The Goshawk flew away when I went outside, and immediately four Common Ravens circled low, looking for leftovers, but I bagged the remains so I could let our dog go out in the yard. Maybe at least for tonight I’ll have a completely vegetarian meal. This is the way Nature is, but oh my goodness, it’s hard to take when it’s so up close and personal!

The pictures below are a small sampling of the zillions of pictures that I took, with the last sets of photos taken through the outside steps because the Goshawk had moved the prey to a different location from the initial kill site.

 

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December 24 – Merry Christmas from snowy, cold, beautiful Anchorage

The title says it all, but I’ll illustrate with a few photos taken from inside our house –

The snow –

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The cold (the time on this readout is not our local Anchorage time, but some meteorological reference, GMT, I believe, entered by Dave)-

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The beauty, with a nearly full moon through the branches west of our house and the pink skies east of our house this morning –

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I wish everyone the best for this holiday season!

 

 

December 15 – Christmas Bird Count, Anchorage

Today was the Anchorage CBC. Due to the short days, a full day of birding was about 5-plus hours. The temperature was just below 20 degrees, and there was little wind, so it was a very pleasant though mostly cloudy day to be birding. My assigned area, as for the past couple of years, was along Chester Creek and nearby neighborhoods. Most of my day was spent walking on the newly snow-covered trail along the creek. Most of the birds seen were the usual ones for the area and season, with one notable exception (see below).

Scenes from my walk follow:

Ducks seen were Mallards and a single Common Goldeneye:

Although in previous years there were multiple American Dippers in the area, I only found one of them today:

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Other birds seen by me include: Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Common Ravens, Black-billed Magpies, two Pine Grosbeaks, and a handful of American Robins.

The highlight birds for me, two of them, were Varied Thrushes, which no one else saw today on the count, as they are basically not known to winter here! They appeared to be a male and a female (or possibly a young bird), which were perched with robins and were not seen with each other.

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Scenes from the count-down gathering this evening are below. If you are interested in total bird counts, etc. for the complete Anchorage count circle, you will need to check the Anchorage Audubon website in days to come after everything gets officially tallied.

 

 

 

 

December 14 – Nome & Anchorage in early December

I spent Dec. 4-7 in Nome, where, as I expected, there were few bird species around. Unexpectedly, however, the Nome harbor area was full of gulls. This is apparently very unusual, and every time I tried to post my sightings on eBird, I was asked the same thing: was I really sure that I had seen this many gulls? The video below shows one pan of just one of the gull flocks, so you can get an idea of what fun it was to try to count them.

Gull species were mostly Glaucous, but there were also multiple Glaucous-winged and Herring, a Thayer’s or two and two Slaty-backed Gulls. Below are some pictures of scenery and birds (gull, Gyrfalcon (2 different birds, at least) and buntings, mostly McKay’s Buntings and a couple of Snow Buntings) taken during that trip.

My kind hosts, Remi & Igor, shared their home and wonderful meals with me.

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Since I have been home, it has finally become winter, evidenced by yesterday’s 5-6 inches of snow and another inch or two since then. We now are a 2-snow-thrower family, the “his” version being shown below.

November 24 – They’re Gone; They’re Back

Most of the lakes in Anchorage finally (much later than usual, I believe) have a thin layer of ice across them.

The ocean inlet, however, seems to be ice-free so far.

Most of the ducks, except for Mallards at places where the water is open, such as at Spenard Crossing and Cuddy Pond, and our yard, and a Common Merganser every now and then, seem to be gone for the year. The Mallards in our yard regularly behave as if they thought they were lightweight songbirds as they perch on the bird feeders.

One day only a Rock Pigeon visited along with the Mallards. It seemed to be particularly attached to one of the male Mallards, flying when the Mallard flew and hopping along near it on the ground.

Until quite recently the weather has been unseasonably warm and little birds have been infrequent in our yard, except for periodic visits by Steller’s Jays, Black-billed Magpies, and the absolutely too-cute Red-breasted Nuthatches.

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A couple of days ago, however, when we had a brief cold spell, the yard was hopping, with first-for-the-season Common Redpolls and Bohemian Waxwings.

Today, when a small flock of Mallards was in the backyard, they suddenly took off and in their fleeing midst was a huge (in comparison with everything else in our yard except the Mallards) Northern Goshawk. All disappeared, and since then only a few Mallards have flown rapidly over our yard, clearly afraid to land again. Just now, however, a single male Mallard has dared to land briefly in our yard again. They will be back, and maybe the Goshawk will too. It pays to pay attention to birds, even in a mostly empty back yard.

 

October 28 – It’s here!

Winter, that is. This morning began with rain, cold rain, often heavy. By mid-morning, little snow flakes were coming down but melting on the ground. Even by 1:00 there was still not much snow on the ground up in central Anchorage, but down at our house (in the coldest part of Anchorage), the snow has stayed, and we’ve even had to shovel the porches. There will be more, undoubtedly much more before anything resembling spring occurs, but right now, it’s rather exciting to see the snow.

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There were four unhappy-looking American Robins (or that’s how they appeared to me) in the deciduous trees on one side of our yard.

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On the other side of our yard, our neighbor’s spruce trees look just like Christmas.

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Tomorrow, I fly to Nome for my last scheduled trip for the year. I’m scheduled to give a talk there on Friday night about my Alaska big year (2016). Nome’s temperatures have been fairly similar to ours lately, but I don’t know what their snow situation is now. Depending on what birds are around in late October/early November (I’m curious whether any McKay’s Buntings, which winter in Nome, are there yet), I may come back for a quick trip in December to complete my year of checking out Nome’s birds. Spoiler alert: I’m having so much fun exploring Nome, I’m thinking of continuing this self-defined project next year. Stay tuned.