February 19 – Exciting Day 3, Great Backyard Bird Count

It started out much like many of the winter mornings lately. It was snowing heavily. Common Redpolls were swarming the feeders, the Steller’s Jays were coming to the peanut feeder, taking a load of peanuts away and returning, Black-billed Magpies were squawking and flying back and forth and a couple of Pine Grosbeaks were perched high in the birch trees.

I was writing them all down so I could enter another checklist for the GBBC later, and was getting ready to leave for church. I looked out in the backyard one more time before I left just as a small hawk barreled into the birch tree above the feeder where the Common Redpolls had just been. They had disappeared completely. At first all I could see was the back of the hawk partly obscured by branches and falling snow. Then the hawk hopped up to another branch and I could see that it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk – a first for my Anchorage yard list and the first of the year!

Even though I’m not doing a big year, I was delighted to add the hawk to my year and yard lists. I expect it will be back again for the redpolls, but there are so many of them I probably will not notice when their numbers are a bit diminished.

February 18 – Day 2, Great Backyard Bird Count

Today, in addition to a bit of actual backyard birding, I went to Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area and to Ship Creek in Anchorage. The highlight of Campbell Creek was a very distant flock of Snow Buntings out on the snow-covered mudflats. With effort the birds could sometimes be vaguely seen without binoculars but with binoculars the black and white patterns could be seen, especially when a bird flew a short distance.

There were also Bohemian Waxwings and Common Redpolls flying over, Pine Grosbeaks, Black-billed Magpies, Black-capped Chickadees, a Common Raven, Steller’s Jays and at least one noisy Brown Creeper (noisy for creepers anyway). Photos of the latter two species are below:

At Ship Creek there were similar birds (no Snow Buntings) plus two American Dippers, one of which was just sitting on the edge and singing loudly. It was a nice day and snow was melting so maybe it thought it was spring.

I am glad that the combination of the nicer weather today and my desire to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count got me out to see some great birds.

February 17 – First Day of the Great Backyard Bird Count

Yesterday (before the Great Backyard Bird Count) I birded in Anchorage’s Airport Heights area after my OLE! class. Bohemian Waxwings were noisy and obvious in a few yards munching on the fruits in a variety of trees. I need to go over there in the next couple of days for the GBBC.

At Potter Marsh this morning as part of the GBBC I watched a small flock of Common Ravens and then went to Spenard Crossing where I took photos of a few waxwings, a lonely Mallard away from the huddled flock and a Black-billed Magpie.

At Cuddy Pond the two Common Goldeneyes were still there amid the Mallards.

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At home, there were over 60 Common Redpolls, and at least one bird that appeared to be a Hoary Redpoll, all frantically coming to the feeders most of the afternoon.

Tomorrow I plan to check out a few other Anchorage areas for the GBBC, as well as watch my yard.

February 15 – Upcoming Big Year Talks and Snow

Tomorrow night I give my second talk on my Alaska big year, this time at Anchorage Audubon. I really enjoy reliving my big year and all its birding adventures. Other upcoming currently scheduled talks to bird groups on my Alaska big year are: Juneau Audubon on March 9th, Fort Worth Audubon (Texas) on April 13, Golden Triangle Audubon (Texas) on April 20, the Kenai Bird Festival on May 20th and Arctic Audubon (Fairbanks) on May 1. Please let me know if your bird group has any interest in having me come talk to them. While I am most happy if my travel expenses are reimbursed, I do not charge an honorarium.

The first thing I saw this morning when I looked out the window was a pile of newly fallen (and still falling) snow under which was my car. We got about 5 inches of quite wet snow, the temperature being about 32 degrees. Bird activity was modest.

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Yesterday I went to Spenard Crossing where the usual birds were present. I photographed one of the over 100 Bohemian Waxwings, one of the two Downy Woodpeckers, one of the many Mallards, and some scenery. The sunset picture is from the evening before.

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February 12 – Monster Moose and Feeder Frenzy

Yesterday in the very early morning I was working at my computer when all of a sudden out the dark window I could see something that looked like dark silhouetted branches waving right outside the window. There are no trees there – it is under the porch that goes out from the floor above my office. What on earth could it be? I had horrible thoughts that the porch had fallen under the weight of the snow, although that seemed impossible. All of a sudden right up against the window, I could see a large object coming right at me just outside the window. It was the very large head of a moose coming out of the darkness, 3 feet away and slightly above my head! Only a single pane of glass separated us as the moose pushed its nose at the window. I backed away quickly from my desk and then ran upstairs for a camera. I went out on the porch above the moose, which sauntered out from beneath me along the side of the house where it casually jumped the back fence. When I went to the front of the house, lit by the streetlights the moose walked across our front lawn and went to nibble on the bush across the street for a short time and then walked briskly past the front of our house to nibble on another neighbor’s bushes. A bit frightening at first but neat!

Birdwise, things have been very busy but not nearly as exciting. The usual birds have been swarming the feeders on this cold (starting at minus 13 and going up to about zero degrees) day. Common Redpolls, a Common Raven, Black-billed Magpies, a Hairy Woodpecker, a Pine Grosbeak, a Red-breasted Nuthatch and a Steller’s Jay are shown below. At the top of this post there is a video of a couple of picky Steller’s Jays at the peanut feeder. More snow with warmer weather and then freezing rain is forecast. I think the birds know what’s coming.

 

February 10 – Normal Anchorage Birds

We’ve had a couple of days of snow and snow-shoveling, and more snow is expected. The usual birds have been more than usually quite active.

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After my class yesterday morning I drove the nearby Airport Heights neighborhood where Bohemian Waxwings and American Robins (as well as starlings) predominated.

At home the last two days the various visiting birds have been sampling all the feeders and there are usually a couple of species at least flitting about and feeding. Black-billed Magpies have been the most evident, with anywhere from 3-6 present most of the time. They are often on the porch, but after I cleaned the most recent snow off the platform feeders, they hopped around beneath the one feeder scavenging seed that fell below the feeder (in the path I keep shoveled to the feeder) and fought each other on the birdbath feeder. They also come to the suet cake on the porch and eat peanut butter out of the peanut log.

The Common Redpolls come into the yard in little flurries, settle on a feeder or two and take off again, returning soon.

The Steller’s Jays just come to the porch, fill their beaks with peanuts or eat some peanut-butter suet mix and leave.

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We have a couple of Black-capped Chickadees, which mostly stay out in the trees and at the most distant suet feeder, but every now and then one comes to the porch to check things out.

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Lately I have not seen the Common Ravens at the suet. Today there was a pair nuzzling each other up a tree in the back yard, and then they too departed.

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We only have a female Hairy Woodpecker, but she is often around. Usually she is at the peanut butter log, but she also samples seeds every now and then. I have not seen the Downy Woodpecker male the last two days, but he is quite sporadic in his visits.

For a cold snowy world, it has been amazingly entertaining to watch the backyard birds.

 

February 8 – First Talk on my Alaska Big Year

Late this afternoon I will be driving to Palmer, about 45 miles from our house, to give my first talk on my Alaska big year to the Mat-Su Birders. Tonight I will be able to learn if the talk is too long (unlikely to be too short) and will ask if people have suggestions for changes or if they note any errors in the PowerPoint.

It seems like most of what I have been doing all year so far is putting together PowerPoint presentations on my big year and for the eight classes I am doing on places to bird in Alaska. Now I finally have begun to have time to organize and begin writing about my Alaska and Texas big years. I also have just started a second painting for the year (the first was the mountain and Bald Eagle painting). Copies of both are below. The just-started new one of course is sort of like a Rorschach test – right now you can make it into many different things.

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While I did not take many pictures yesterday or today, my favorite is that of a Red-breasted Nuthatch that came to one of the suet feeders yesterday. Usually they zip over to a feeder and leave before I get a chance at a picture, but yesterday the nuthatch actually seemed to pose for awhile.

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February 6 – White-winged Crossbill

I wandered out past the airport and then to the Turnagain neighborhood today. It had been very foggy this morning. The sun was now trying to break through and mostly succeeding, and the trees were once again spectacularly covered with rime ice.

There were few birds out by the airport. Neighborhood birds were the usual chickadees (Boreal and Black-capped) and Red-breasted Nuthatch, plus a single female White-winged Crossbill calling high in a spruce tree and not providing much opportunity for a good picture.


In our yard the usual birds were around too, including a single Pine Grosbeak and the Common Redpoll flock of about 20 that was busy on and off during the day at a few of the feeders.

February 4 – Recovery Continues

The antibiotics have reduced my fever and are gradually clearing up my head and hopefully my lungs. Today was a beautiful sunny day and most of the lightly frosted branches lost their frost. Until the weather warmed up from the earlier 4 degrees to just over 20 degrees I worked inside, finally getting to work on research on facts about Texas and Alaska for my new book, and doing some actual writing on the book.

In the early afternoon I ventured forth to check out Cuddy Pond today and saw the previously reported Common Merganser, as well as the two Common Goldeneyes and the Mallards.

At Spenard Crossing, the usual woodland birds were around (Black-capped Chickadees, Black-billed Magpies, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Common Redpolls, Common Raven and Downy Woodpecker). Although there are larger openings in the ice on the creek than when I last visited, I did not see the American Dipper that had been there a few weeks ago before the creek had nearly completely frozen over.

It was nice to be out birding for fun and not to just be trying for new species, although I was happy to add the merganser to my non-big-year year list for 2017.

 

February 2 – Recovering in Anchorage

 

Yesterday after a couple of days of an over 101 degree temperature (me not the weather), I finally went to the doctor and learned after some tests and X-rays that I have bronchitis. Antibiotics and more rest and things feel better. I gave my fourth talk for my bird class and did a little birding today and photographed some Bohemian Waxwings before heading home to take it easy again.

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Yard birds photographed included Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls.


I was also was able to photograph a Hairy and a Downy Woodpecker on the same feeder (but at different times) giving a very good size comparison.