Anchorage Audubon’s Big Anchorage Birding Day just finished, going from 5 pm on 3/24 to 5 pm on 3/25. I participated as part of the Twisted Lister team for the third year in a row. Four of us – Louann Feldmann, Kenna Sue Trickey, Sue Westervelt and I spent all of the daylight hours and many of the dark hours in that period going from Anchorage south to Portage and back yesterday, then today all around Anchorage, then to Girdwood (for a very rare to the area House Finch that was reported midday today) and back to Anchorage. Temperatures ranged from about zero degrees this morning, which was a bit nippy, to the mid-20s, which in the sun was great!
Highlights of our 27 species for me: the many Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks and Pine Siskins, a Merlin dashing through a bird feeder area in Girdwood, a Belted Kingfisher (and maybe 2) near Girdwood, a singing American Dipper, the Hawfinch that is continuing in Anchorage, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches in the hills above south Anchorage (distant photo of one), the Common Goldeneye that has wintered here, the first American Wigeon of the year among the Mallards at Cuddy Pond and the Girdwood House Finch, which was singing loudly when we arrived.
We also had a few moose the last two days and gorgeous scenery.
It was a great 24 hours, finished by a Tex-Mex dinner where we learned what everyone else and seen and missed, had fun talking to the other birders who participated, and also learned that we tied for third place, not as good as hoped and not as bad as feared.
Our neighborhood moose (or one of them) was back yesterday morning, first nibbling on our neighbor’s bushes and trimming them back to where they emerge from the snowbank, and then eating on another neighbor’s pine tree. We have had regular moose tracks through the snow in our yard, but usually the moose has gone by the time it is light out. The news media have reported that the moose population is more ornery than usual, probably due to the fact that the snow is covering most of what they want to eat, so we need to be careful when we go outside so we can avoid an encounter with a moose.
Birds have been as usual, with no noticeable reduction in the Common Redpolls.
Common Redpolls are still the most numerous birds by far in our yard, and in many places around town. When they first arrived months ago, their little tweets and zeeps were gentle, but lately their sounds have escalated in volume and persistence. Oddly they often sound much like Dickcissels and not much like they did earlier. Maybe they are getting into breeding mode, with all this sunlight and temperatures in the 20s above (not below). I have taken their being around for granted in the last weeks, but I will really miss them when they depart to go wherever they go in the summer (north I assume).
The only other flocking birds in our neighborhood are the Bohemian Waxwing that come though every couple of days looking for berries probably, which our neighborhood mostly lacks.
Yesterday I went to west Anchorage to see if other neighborhoods had anything around that we don’t have. Other than Rock Pigeons and Starlings (not found in our neighborhood), birds there were similar to ours, but I think we have cornered the market on redpolls. I also drove out to Point Woronzoff to see what the view was on such a sunny day.
Then it was back home to watch the squabbling, feeding redpolls —
and back to writing, writing, writing…
I have not posted for a while, because it’s mainly been redpolls, redpolls and more redpolls, and I have been writing and writing and writing on my book, rarely leaving the house except for scheduled (non-bird) events.
Today, another sunny cold day, I decided to seek something else and headed south to Girdwood this morning.
Along the way there was lovely scenery, a few Common Ravens and an immature Bald Eagle.
My first goal was Northwestern Crow, seen last week in Juneau, but not yet seen in the Anchorage Borough this year. As expected, the usual pair was at the Girdwood gas station.
I then went to Alyeska, and in addition to many Common Redpolls everywhere and a handful of White-winged Crossbills, I added two more birds to this year’s Anchorage list – a single Song Sparrow in an Alyeska parking lot and Pine Siskins flitting about and coming down to a sidewalk near the parking lot where I could finally see them well.
Time to get back to work…
This morning I birded with Bev Agler, one of the Juneau birders that helped me with my Alaska big year last year.
We walked much of the Mendenhall Wetlands dike trail, braving the stretches that were not protected from the wind. Early on our walk amidst many Mallards, we found two male Northern Shovelers, and when I looked at my photos just now I realized there also was a female shoveler there. Further on we saw a couple of Hooded Mergansers and a Common Merganser as well as American Wigeons.
Although much of the water on the flats was frozen there was a small area of open water, at which there were shorebirds. We first saw the Wilson’s Snipe which flew a few short flights, sliding on the ice when it landed. Nearby were three Killdeer, one of which flew off and was seen again later. There also was a single Dunlin, and for a while there were four shorebirds all together in the small area of open water.
After leaving the wetlands, we went over to Bev’s office to add Dark-eyed Junco to my non-big-year year-list. Later we walked on the Brotherhood Bridge trail but only saw Bald Eagles there.
This afternoon I flew back to Anchorage and just could not stop myself from photographing the spectacular mountain views along the way. A gorgeous day!
Today I birded again with Brenda Wright and we went to a couple of places I had not birded before, including the Auke Recreation Area (and Auk Village area), as well as near the Juneau ferry dock and Auke Bay. Although it was sunny and not really cold, the wind was strong and noticeable and it was much nicer to be in a sheltered area like the woods.
New for the year birds included, in order seen, an early Varied Thrush (not photographed), Surf Scoters, Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Harlequin Ducks, an early (or overwintering) Red-breasted Sapsucker, a Song Sparrow and a Long-tailed Duck.
Tomorrow there should be time for a little birding before I head back to Anchorage. I’m glad I had an excuse to come to Juneau again to bird after my big year.
There was a bit of a mix-up the night of March 8, when I arrived at my reserved Juneau motel to find that it was unexpectedly closed for repairs! It ended well when I found a different motel. It was beautiful on the morning of March 9th and I went birding at one of my favorite Juneau sites, the Mendenhall Wetlands. Although it was considerably warmer (9 degrees above zero) than Anchorage in the morning, the wind made birding quite uncomfortable, so after I’d seen five Hooded Mergansers and a couple of other more usual species, I got in my car and did some land birding. I added a few birds to my year list, which of course is not my big goal this year. Included were: Northwestern Crow, Common Merganser, Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls and Belted Kingfisher.
In the afternoon after doing a short radio interview about my upcoming big year talk I birded with Brenda Wright at Fish Creek. It was a very enjoyable walk, which although there were windy portions, was often sheltered from the wind. There I added American Wigeon (many), Killdeer (3) and Pacific Wren to my year list. This non-big year I do not even know how many species I have seen this year in Alaska, but of course I can figure it out.
I ended the day giving my big year talk to a good-sized crowd at Juneau Audubon, a very enjoyable experience with a great group!
Birds in our yard have been very predictable. In addition to flyover Common Ravens, a single flyover Bald Eagle and periodic visits by Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, the most common birds are the many, many Common Redpolls (up to 156 at one time yesterday, counted by photographing them perched in the trees around the back of our yard and adding up the numbers found the multiple photographs), Black-billed Magpies (up to 7 recently), Red-breasted Nuthatch (just 1 lately) and Steller’s Jays (usually only two lately, almost always dredging peanuts out of the jar on the porch or eating dried mealworms).
I’ll be absent from Anchorage for a couple of days, leaving tonight for Juneau where I am looking forward to giving a talk tomorrow on my Alaska big year and birding, of course.
This morning I picked up Yve Morrell, the Dancing Birder, who is doing an ABA big year, and went with her to the Anchorage home where the Hawfinch was originally found. Not very long after we got there, the Hawfinch, which had been there earlier but had left before we arrived, returned and began munching at one of the feeders. Although the photos were taken through the window, they are clearer than the ones taken the other day because the Hawfinch was much closer today. Very nice!
We did not have as much success on our woodpecker drive, but American Three-toed Woodpeckers are not rare, nowhere near as rare as Hawfinches in the United States, so there was a bit less urgency in that search.
It was great to meet another woman big year birder! Thanks Laura Keene for helping us get together!
I knew some flying predator had tried to catch something in our yard when about noon yesterday I saw a very distinctive pattern in the snow in our back yard. I was just looking at it wondering whether daytime hawk or nighttime owl when my question on “who done it” was answered.
Then and today, just after noon, a Sharp-shinned Hawk has arrived in our yard, scared away the redpolls, perched on the feeder poles and made periodic aerial dashes toward the redpolls when the redpolls returned to the feeders and to the areas of the yard where there is seed on the snow. The redpolls seemed to ignore the hawk until it came after them. Then they scattered to unseen places, returning 20-30 minutes later.
After one dash across the yard the Sharpie perched in our neighbor’s spruces. I was able to get a blurry picture of it there and a couple of blurry pictures of the redpolls at our porch feeder with a more focused hawk visible in the background in the spruces, watching the redpolls.
The hawk also came back at dinnertime yesterday.
So far I haven’t seen any of the redpolls get caught.
I have included a short video of the hawk intently scanning our yard.