December 8 – Dog, Ducks, Disputes

The biggest dispute, oddly enough, was not between our new dog, Caster, and the Mallards. Until this morning Caster had not even met our ducks as I had deliberately not taken him out to the yard when the ducks were around. But this morning, the ducks were waiting to be fed out on the backyard snow when I got up, and Caster needed to go out. So, with him on a short leash, we made it down the back stairs and out to the side fence for a brief stop. The ducks, in alert mode with their heads high in the air walked toward the back of the yard but did not fly. We went back up the steps and I put food in Caster’s bowl and went back out to feed the ducks, and they came in rapidly to gobble up the food. Caster was eager to go back out into the yard, so we went back, and the ducks ignored us as we passed quite close to them to the other fence. Suddenly Caster had had enough and he made a sudden lunge on the short leash, and off went the ducks. They came back later when we were in the house and could be seen by Caster from inside the house through the porch railing.

Caster is a very nervous high-strung dog most of the time but sometimes does stop running around to investigate something and even sometimes goes to sleep, when I can finally get a few pictures.

It has been close to freezing and raining lately so everything is coasted with a light layer of ice. Mostly it has been overcast, but every now and then the sun has peaked through and lit up the mountains.

Birds other than ducks were mostly not around until late yesterday and this morning. A Downy Woodpecker and two Hairy Woodpeckers have been to the feeders after a bit of absence.

Steller’s Jays (2-3) have periodically stopped by for peanuts as usual.

Unfortunately for them, the local red squirrel that is mostly not around, has developed a love for the peanuts in the peanut jar too.

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At the peanut jar is where the most active disputes have occurred lately (you can hear the bell on Caster’s collar jingle in the video).


December 3 – Dog Daze

I’ve been a bit distracted from birds and birding the last two days, even though I have remembered to put out feed/seed, and even though it’s been weird to have a porch-Mallard lately, eating dropped bird seed.

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The reason for the distraction is our brand new dog, a part-Husky named Caster (was “Castor” at the SPCA but we’ve changed slightly to be “Caster” as short for forecaster). We adopted him yesterday. He is about 1.5 years old and very alert and friendly to us and other people, although he apparently needs help in being dog-friendly. We’ll be taking him to classes in January to help with that. Now he and we are dealing with his having just been neutered and needing to wear a big white cone-collar when we aren’t watching him to keep him from biting and licking at his stitches. Pictures and videos of our new family member follow (please note, one of his toys, not a dead rat, appears in the first video, as does my swinging camera strap at the end):

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I’m sure Caster will appear again in my mostly bird-related blog in days to come.


November 29 – Moose, Magpies and Me

My tale starts with me: about 8:30 am this morning I went outside in the backyard IN THE DARK to fill my bird feeders and put down duck food. I could see where to go because the feeders were silhouetted against the snow. I do this every morning without incident. I then came back in the house to get some water to put out in the two heated water dishes, and when I went back on the porch to go down the back steps (it was still dark), I could see a big dark silhouetted blob on the snow just beyond the feeders — it appeared to be a moose lying down on the snow. Clearly it had been there when I was outside at the feeders and I had probably been less than 30 feet from it! I raced back in to get my camera to see if I could get a photo in the dark.


While I watched, part of the dark blob arose – there were two moose! The second moose, apparently a yearling briefly wandered away, and sniffed at one of the feeders.


The second moose then came back and lay down again next to its mother. Time passed as both moose chewed their cuds.

Mallards arrived but soon left because they were spooked by me standing on the porch in the halflight.


Gradually it became lighter and my photos improved. Then the Black-billed Magpies arrived in the yard, and a couple of them went over to hop on the moose’s backs, eating something apparently off them.

After about an hour both moose stood up and began browsing on our saplings as they wandered around the yard. I followed the mother with my camera (I stayed on the back porch) making a video recording as she walked past the feeders, including the suet feeder featured in my last blog, and munched on birch twigs over her head. In the video you can hear Pine Grosbeaks up in the trees and a Common Raven sitting up on another birch in the back of our yard.

Finally, the mother decided to leave the yard, jumping over the gate beside our house, and her young one followed.

They went out in the street in front of our house, and wandered down toward the neighbors’ yard, where they were last seen munching on one of the bushes.


I love Alaska!

November 26 – Minus 6 Degrees!

It most definitely is winter! On Friday (11/24) when it was “just” minus 3 degrees and there were hardly any birds around I thought they had all left. But yesterday and today they are back in our yard chowing down enthusiastically, even though the temperature is below zero most of the time.


The favorite feeder for many of them seems to be the suet feeder hanging on the nearest birch tree, as shown by the pictures below of Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Downy Woodpecker and Black-billed Magpie.

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They also will eat at other feeders, of course.

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On the porch, the logs with peanut butter are also loved by the Downy Woodpecker and Red-breasted Nuthatch, and the nuthatch also makes the rounds of other feeders.

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The Steller’s Jays still prefer the peanut feeder, although they will eat various other seeds.

The Pine Grosbeaks usually eat sunflower seeds from the various feeders out in the yard, but have also started coming to the porch feeder area on the railing and on the porch floor.

The Mallards also are still eating sunflower seeds that I provide for the grosbeaks, as well as the cracked corn and duck food that I throw on the ground and put in dishes. They are starting to come for meals three times (or more) a day. How does one have just a few Mallards around?

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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.