November 21 – Magpies and Mallards, Mostly

The temperature today at our house began at 2 degrees and gradually inched up to 19 degrees by late afternoon. As far as I know, the coldest it has been here this winter is 1 degree a couple of days ago, but I think it will be colder soon, and of course, there will be more snow (a total of about 10 inches have fallen in our yard so far this winter).

After Sunday’s snow (a couple inches), birds have been even more eager for food than before. Every morning before it is light, I put out seed in the feeders and on the ground. Way before dawn the Pine Grosbeaks usually arrive, anywhere from one to 8 of them. They rarely say long, but do reappear periodically during the day, and usually are the last ones visible at night.

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The Magpies swoop in as it gets lighter and are generally around on and off all day, anywhere from two to eleven of them. They eat anything and everything. Often there is a magpie on each of the feeders, and a few on the ground and in the trees.

The Mallards usually don’t arrive until midday, but then they come in huge flocks, sometimes up to 90 at once (confirmed by a count on one of my photos)! Although they mostly sit on the ground with their feet tucked up in their feathers, and eat whatever feed they can reach from their sitting-spot, there are a couple of males that fly up to the platform feeders to eat sunflower seeds. All at once while they are eating, a few will lift their heads and start bobbing them, preparatory to a sudden take-off, and soon most or sometimes all of the rest will take off at the same time. Sometimes one or two remain for hours more, seemingly ignorant that the rest have departed.

Dark-eyed Juncos seem to come in briefly and infrequently, but they are around now (1-4 at a time).

Regularly throughout the day the Steller’s Jays, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches appear. Rarer in our yard are the Common Ravens and Bohemian Waxwings (seen only 4 times so far this winter). Photos of a jay and waxwings lit by the sun are below.

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November 17 – Mostly Many Mallards

Yesterday (another beautiful day) I birded a bit more with Andrea at Westchester Lagoon and along the coastal trail. Birds were extremely scarce. Of course there were a few Mallards, plus Black-billed Magpies, Common Ravens and a Common Merganser fly-by. Also thanks to Andrea for a very nice cup with its basket in which I can make tea.

On the way home I stopped by Cuddy Pond where I expected to find Mallards and of course found way over 100 of them in the small area of open water, plus a couple of magpies.

When I got home I shoveled the about 3 inches of snow from the driveway before going in the house and as I shoveled, small flocks of Mallards kept flying low over my head toward the back of our house. When I came through the house and looked into the backyard, there were 51 (!) Mallards spread across the yard, trying to find feed under the snow, and probably waiting for my return. Some of them are shown below.


A few Mallard pictures from the day before:

Later I watched the Pine Grosbeaks, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, and then photographed a Dark-eyed Junco hopping in the snow.


One of the views from our house yesterday evening is shown below:

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November 13 – Anchorage Winter Sampling

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of birding around Anchorage with Andrea Bennett who is here this week for a meeting.


There were very few birds around, except in our yard. At Potter Marsh where ice covered all the water except the rushing creek, there were only two Bald Eagles and two Common Ravens.


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At Hillside Park, we only had Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Later along Arctic Valley Road, the only bird that we saw was a Northern Goshawk, briefly perched along the road before our stopping caused it to fly away. At Ship Creek, we only saw a single American Dipper and a few Mallards. No bird pictures at these places, just a few frosty scenes.

There was much bird activity in our yard when we stopped there, however, with the same species that have been around lately. Pictures below are from earlier in the week in our yard. A couple of Dark-eyed Juncos have been sporadic visitors, greatly outnumbered by the Pine Grosbeaks.

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Both Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees have been in the yard, the former at either the dried mealworms, the seeds or my homemade “suet” (peanut butter mix), the latter just at the suet.

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The Red-breasted Nuthatches split their time between the suet, the peanut butter in the log holes and the peanuts and seeds in the various feeders.

Every now and then a Common Raven stops by to look things over, probably wondering what all the Steller’s Jays are finding (2-5 often around).

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The Mallards that originally came to our yard to eat bird seed now have their own feed, but some of them seem to prefer birdseed, usually limited to scrounging seed that has fallen from the feeders, but every now and then hopping up on a feeder that has sunflower seeds. They arrive at random times, sometimes just a single bird, but more often 3-7 of them, and once 30 all eating at the same time. Typically they waddle over to the food or water, and then immediately sit down and tuck their feet up into their feathers to keep warm and start shoveling in the food.


November 10 – More Mallards, Magpies and Fussy Jays

Winter and winter birds are here to stay. Not too much of particular note has happened recently, so mostly I’ll just show some recent photos below, including Mallards in the yard (mostly sitting on the snow and keeping their feet tucked up in their feathers away from the cold snow),

Downy Woodpeckers,

an upside-down Red-breasted Nuthatch,

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Black-billed Magpies,

Pine Grosbeaks (up to 11 at a time),

the first Dark-eyed Juncos of this winter (there were four today),

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and the very fussy Steller’s Jays, a couple of which are shown in the video for below:

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I end with sunrise photos from today, always a welcome sight at this time of the year, even if late and even if the actual sun is rarely seen.





November 6 – Too Many Grosbeaks?

Not for me, of course. I just love to have the colorful Pine Grosbeaks at our feeders chowing down, whistling from the tree tops, perching on all sorts of surfaces. This morning there were at least 10 of them for awhile. I hope people who look at my blog aren’t getting sick of seeing grosbeak pictures, however. There’s a lot of winter still ahead, hopefully with many grosbeaks to liven the days (and most likely only a handful of other species most of the time) so I am sure they will be featured in future blogs as well. Today most of the time they were around they were either at the wooden table or the small flat feeder that hangs from the nearest birch tree.

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At one point one of the two Downy Woodpeckers that were around today was feeding on the suet above some of the Pine Grosbeaks, but mostly they come to the peanut butter on the porch:

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The sun has also been colorful lately, with yesterday’s sunset –

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And this morning’s paler sky –


And the blue sky with a nearly full moon seen this morning –


In addition to the grosbeaks, the recent snow has concentrated the magpies, with six in our yard today, five of which were on or near the same feeder:

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Another swung precariously on the mealworm feeder. Most of the magpies haven’t figured out how to sit there at all.


November 5 – Serious Snow

I think this time the snow will last, probably until April. It started coming down in the middle of the night last night and snowed until mid-morning, for a total of something over 3 inches. Before I show a few scenes from today, I wish to show a photo of the second-for-the-season visitation of Bohemian Waxwings as seen from our yard late yesterday, birds that I really love to see and hear:

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No sign of the waxwings today, but the Pine Grosbeaks (up to 8 at one time) were chowing down and disputing over access to the seeds.

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Magpies also were around as is usual.

While I was away from home this morning, Mallards clearly were around as evidenced by their tracks all over the yard. There was not much food available then as it was all covered by snow coming down.

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A couple of hours after I arrived home, there was only one lonely Mallard visitor, which stayed around for a couple of hours before taking off. I think the others gave up for the day, but most likely will return.




November 4 – Same Old Is Always New

Wintertime birding in our yard, where the recent snow has disappeared, has pretty much settled down to Mallards, Hairy (photo) and Downy Woodpeckers, Steller’s Jays, Black-billed Magpies, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Pine Grosbeaks. Rarely there is a Common Raven flying by. Even though it’s mostly the same species each day, something interesting/unusual usually occurs each day as the birds check out the various feeders and interact a bit. And no matter how many times I see Pine Grosbeaks in the yard, their beauty always seems new and never ceases to amaze me. Some of my recent yard photos follow:


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The newest thing today was a little dispute between a Mallard and a couple of Black-billed Magpies, the tail-end of which I caught in a video:

This morning before I went birding I once again found that we had another beautiful sunrise (without seeing the sun):

After that I checked out Lakes Spenard and Hood and found out that they were still completely open because we’ve mostly had above-freezing temperatures during the days and sometimes at night lately. I understand that will change soon. Out at the lakes were mostly Common Goldeneyes (mostly distant), a single possible Barrow’s Goldeneye (I believe), Greater Scaup (no photo), Buffleheads, a few Mallards and a single Green-winged Teal.


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Out past the airport, the only bird I saw was a Northern Shrike, the first I’ve seen this fall.

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The view of Anchorage from out towards the airport, another sight that is both old and always new, showed downtown buildings in front of the low clouds/fog and below the increasingly snow-covered mountains:

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October 31 – Merganser, Mallards and More

As expected days are getting shorter and darker, but there still is much of beauty to see.


Since the Mallards reappeared in our yard on the 28th, they have been back each day at random times, anywhere from a single duck just hanging out awhile to 15 of them, sometimes just wandering around for a few hours. Most of them are very tame, undoubtedly spending much of their time at the local parks where they are used to being fed by people bringing bags of bread.

Although Canada Geese have not ever landed in our yard, they do fly over periodically. All over Anchorage flocks of geese have been gathering before migration. On Sunday, some of them even visited our church yard.

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Pine Grosbeaks have also been around each day, anywhere from one to eight at a time. There is much color variation, with obvious males sporting bright rosy-red to paler splotchy reds, and the others having golden-brown, greenish-yellow or orange color highlights.

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Yesterday I spent about an hour at Potter Marsh – on the boardwalk, driving the highway along the marsh, and driving the old highway behind the marsh. Yellow leaves were no longer visible on any of the surrounding trees.

Over the marsh, the sky was lovely, with many “fish-bone” clouds (not a technical term I’m sure, but seemingly appropriate to an area where recently there were many dead salmon lying in the water).

Highlights at the marsh were three Rusty Blackbirds that flew to a treetop and stayed about a minute before disappearing.

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The only ducks visible from the boardwalk were three Mallards and a single young Common Merganser that was busy bathing and diving enthusiastically. There were a few other Mallards seen from the road, but no swans or other ducks out there.

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There were a couple of Common Ravens around, one of which was periodically plummeting downward (the picture really is of a raven).

The only non-human mammal species I saw was muskrat, at least five of them swimming around near the boardwalk.

Although I had only seen one Bald Eagle briefly while I was on the boardwalk, behind the marsh I was able to see both Bald Eagles through an opening in the trees.

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October 28 – Winter Yard Birds

While it was still quite dark this morning (8:53 a.m.; temperature just under freezing), I glanced out into the back yard and thought there seemed to be something dark in the feed dish on the grass where I periodically put cracked corn. My binoculars revealed a Mallard eating corn, and then I saw that there were more, 8 more to be exact, out in the grass. They had been gone since early summer when ducks were nesting, food was plentiful elsewhere and water was unfrozen. The young ones can now fly, lakes are freezing and the ducks are looking for food sources. The first I ever had them in the yard was midwinter earlier this year when the snowbanks were high. It may be a mixed blessing that they have re-discovered the yard so early in the winter, because they will probably bring their hungry friends as it gets colder. Note: the white circle on the ground in the picture below is frozen ice that I removed from a water dish a couple of days ago when the temperature was in the high 40s, which is unlikely to occur again until April or later I expect.

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The Pine Grosbeaks that returned recently are still around periodically most days. Yesterday morning there were six (3 females, 3 males), and yesterday afternoon there were four females and one male. This morning there was a pair.

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There are fewer woodpeckers around now than in the summer, but today there was a Hairy Woodpecker and two Downy Woodpeckers. I managed to catch one of each in a couple of photos.

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Not all birds returning to my yard for the winter are deemed equally welcome. After the Mallards had departed (about 9:25), I was looking around and saw that two of the many starlings that were around in great numbers before summer were back. They snarf up everything and seem to be impossible to discourage.

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October 25 – Amazingly Warm

It’s 46 degrees and it’s not yet the “heat of the day”!

Yesterday was just above freezing and that seemed warm enough, considering it’s Alaska. The “sunrise’ was beautiful but nothing like it was a couple of days ago.


There were four Pine Grosbeaks in our yard yesterday, first two males and later two females.

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In the above photos where the ground can be seen, one can see that yesterday the snow mostly remained. Now (10:30 a.m.) it looks like this:


Rain, daily rain, is forecast, I understand. The ground is now frozen so driving and walking may be grim soon. And then, more snow will surely come to cover the ground again – for many, many months no doubt. Sometimes it’s rather nice to NOT be doing a big year. There’s no need to get out there to chase a bird or to hunt for new birds for the year. I can just look out into the yard and see what there is to be seen.