Jan. 31 -The Year is 1/12 Over

No new birds today, but I didn’t expect to get anything because I did not have much time to bird. Beginning about 2:30 I did a short drive through the UAA campus, went on an enjoyable 2-mile walk on a part of the Chester Creek Trail in Anchorage, drove through one of the birdier Anchorage neighborhoods, and took a short drive through downtown. It was another blue-sky day, but a bit chillier than yesterday (about 23 degrees). The only birds were some of the commonest winter birds here – Common Raven, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak and Common Redpoll.

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Tomorrow starts a new month of course. It will be difficult to add many birds during the month because it is unlikely any new birds will be arriving into the area until March at the earliest, and most of the birds that are now around that I haven’t yet seen this year aren’t that easily found. I will be trying, however.

105 species for January and for the year – and holding

Jan. 30 – Success South of Anchorage

My plan today was to check out Potter Marsh south of Anchorage, one of my most favorite birding spots in the Anchorage area, and then try to figure out where to bird next. I knew Potter Marsh would be mostly frozen and I did not expect much to be around, but you never know. I thought maybe a Merlin might cruise by or something else good (=”new”) might appear.



It was a beautiful morning, with the sun just beginning to clear the southeastern mountains (about 10 am). The Black-billed Magpies were out in force, and I heard the sound of Black-capped Chickadees as I walked to the far eastern end of the boardwalk.


As I approached the end, I saw a bird-shaped lump in a tree silhouetted against the snowy slopes. It really looked like a large raptor. My heart started to pound as I realized it really looked like a goshawk-shaped raptor. My scope was in the car, so rather than risk the bird leaving as I raced back to the car, I cranked up the magnification on my camera and fired off a zillion photos. It was a NORTHERN GOSHAWK, apparently a young bird, which I happily showed to a non-birder photographer who was sort of interested in it. The goshawk then dove downward and disappeared from view.


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On my walk along the boardwalk back to my car, I saw a female Common Merganser diving and resurfacing in the narrow patch of unfrozen water, the only duck of the day.

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I decided to drive farther south and try for Townsend’s Solitaire in the Windy Point area along the highway. It was a beautiful drive and the water was unusually flat and there was no wind. I understand that Dick Prentki was the first to find and report solitaires there in other years, and that others had also seen them there. I tried to find solitaires there last winter, but was completely unsuccessful, despite multiple short hikes up the hill and multiple scope-scannings from down on the highway. Part of my problem in my tries last year was that the trail was very icy and I did not go far.


Today the trail was absolutely ice-free and I was free to clamber over rocks and walk the mostly easy trail farther than before. I actually did not need to go very far because almost immediately I saw a perched-up TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE on a spruce. But it dove down and I did not get a picture so I walked on. hoping for a better, photographable view.

I soon heard a solitaire calling and then had two of them squabbling and singing in the wooded area about 0.3 mile from my car. Although they were rarely still, I was able to get some photos when they occasionally landed on a branch. I walked a bit farther and then turned around. On the walk back another solitaire flew over my head going downhill.



A great morning!

105 species so far

Jan. 29 – A Pocketful of Peanuts, and…


When we first moved to our house in Anchorage a little over a year ago, I was amazed that the Steller’s Jays that came to our feeders were so tame. The first time I held out my hand holding peanuts in the shell, one of the jays hopped to my hand to take a peanut. Of the little flock that periodically visits our yard 2 or 3 are willing to take a peanut from my hand, particularly when it is not winter and they can immediately stash the peanut in the grass on the lawn.

Because I have often wondered whether most Steller’s Jays are so tame, I have for a while recently taken a baggie of peanuts along in my pocket when going out birding thinking I might try it. A couple of days ago I threw some to a magpie which flew down and got the nuts, but until today I had never tried it with non-yard Steller’s Jays.


This morning I went to the Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area, one of my favorite Anchorage birding places and walked the trail. This was the site where I saw my first Steller’s Jay after we moved here, and they are often around.  Although there was a theoretical chance I could have added a year-bird there today, I did not do so. What I did do is try out the peanuts when a flock of seven Steller’s Jays came flying through the trees. As soon as I got out the baggie, three of the jays circled back and flew down to branches above my head. When I threw some of the peanuts on the ground a couple of feet from me, without hesitation they flew down to get them.

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Then I tried putting some peanuts in my hand, and I had a taker, and then another one. I got out the camera and got a few pictures. I’m not sure why it is such a thrill to have a “wild” bird sit on my hand, but it is. Who cares that there were no new birds today?




BUT WAIT – I had just written the above when Aaron Bowman called and said that the Red-winged Blackbird female that he’d seen yesterday with some starlings near his yard had returned. So I hopped in my car and skidded on the ice across Anchorage to Aaron’s house. Of course the birds had departed when I arrived, but soon thereafter Aaron and Tim Stevenson, who arrived shortly after I did, refound the blackbird. Tim called me from where the bird was south of Aaron’s house, and I went over and saw the RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD!

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103 species so far

Jan. 28 – Sockeye Burn Trip

I finally drove to the Sockeye Burn today, even though my husband told me that freezing rain and/or snow was likely by early afternoon. The Sockeye Burn area is about 80 miles north from our house, past Wasilla and Willow (between Anchorage and Fairbanks). The over 7000-acre fire occurred in June of 2015, and shortly afterward, birders discovered that both American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers had found the burned dead trees.014

When I began to plan my Alaska big year last fall, I realized that I should really go to the Sockeye Burn for these woodpeckers, which are often difficult to find in much of Alaska. Today I no longer needed a Three-toed Woodpecker, which I saw in Anchorage earlier this month, but I still lacked the Black-backed Woodpecker.

I was sort of hoping to find someone to do the drive with me, because of my unfamiliarity with the area and because I am a wimp when it comes to solo driving on icy roads that are remote and a long way from anything else. That didn’t work out, so yesterday I planned to do the drive myself, but chickened out due to the rain and near-freezing temperatures. I vowed to try it today, and I did!

The drive there was uneventful. After about 1.5 hours, I reached Sockeye Ave., and drove in to where others had posted woodpecker sightings last fall toward the end of Chum St. (I am putting in road details if anyone else wishes to find it.) The roads through areas of unburned and burned trees was snowy but not slippery and I was optimistic. A moose preceded me for part of the drive. I parked the car and walked the road south. I did not leave the road because everything was posted with Keep Out signs, so any Black-backed Woodpeckers needed to be near the road for me to find them.


It was very quiet. A couple of Gray Jays, usually noisy, quietly flew by. I hoped that any woodpeckers would be a bit noisier, but all was silent except for periodic Boreal Chickadee talk and the sound of a redpoll. After coming to a driveway, I went back to the car and moved it to the corner of Chum and Randall and walked east to the end of Randall. A single small woodpecker, I assume a Downy, flew silently over the road and disappeared. I saw no other birds before reaching the end of the road. 013aA

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On my walk westward back to my car, suddenly I heard a very quiet irregular tapping, and saw a woodpecker, a male BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER, working diligently up a very black trunk. He got up to about 20 feet and then flew down toward the base of another burned trunk, where I got more pictures.


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I probably would have stayed for hours, delightedly taking more photos, but my phone rang. It was my husband telling me that the forecast storm was coming in from the south, and that I needed to get moving to try to get back to Anchorage before it got too bad. I ran back to the car, jumped in and headed out. By the time I got halfway home, it was raining, and then there was heavy rain mixed with snow, and then mostly snow cutting visibility way down. The good news was that the temperature stayed about 37 degrees and the precipitation did not seem to be freezing on the road. I was so elated about the woodpecker, that the drive home, though a bit scary, seemed to zip by. A great trip!


102 species so far

Jan. 27 – Persistent Peregrine Patrol

When I woke to today’s rain on the icy streets, I decided to delay my trip north, and instead went into the “try, try again” mode with respect to finding a Peregrine Falcon in Anchorage. I tried again. I really did. But in spite of keeping today’s vow to drive around in downtown Anchorage for at least one hour, and in spite of my finally seeing pigeons downtown, I did not see any falcons. One had been seen this morning too by someone else, so I knew there was a chance, but….


I’m not sure why I have recently been so obsessed with trying to add Peregrine Falcon to my year list. I’m very, very certain that I will see one later in the year, probably without trying. When I first heard about the Peregrine Falcon downtown a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like an easy tick for my year. When I did not find it and did not even find any of its pigeon-prey, instead of making me go on to other things, I just could not shake the need to get this bird now.


Sigh. On today’s drive I went all over downtown but I repeatedly returned to survey the area around two large buildings where the falcon had been reported. Today’s efforts yielded sightings of some pigeons downtown and another large batch of them down by the Anchorage port area, in addition to the usual Black-billed Magpies and Common Ravens. The birds down by the port were skittish, making me think there was a falcon around, but although I watched them take off and land again numerous times, everything that was in the air was a pigeon. A Bald Eagle was sitting on a pole a ways off but it appeared uninterested in the pigeons’ antics.

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As l left downtown at the conclusion of my searching, I was glad to see that the mountains east of Anchorage had received an additional beautiful coating of snow while we had been getting rain. It is still winter after all.



No new birds today – still at 101 species for the year

Jan. 26 – Double Dipper Day

American Dippers, that is, as you’ll see if you read further.

Today I birded from 9:30 am – 3:00 pm at a few Anchorage sites. I began out past the Anchorage airport, with a pleasant but unbirdy walk with Louann Feldmann at the woods edge behind the airport.

We then went to Spenard Crossing to see if the Boreal Owl was going to give us a better view, or even any view, but there was no sign of the owl and the magpies and jays were silent and no help in locating the owl. The first American Dipper for the day did appear by the bridge at Spenard Crossing, actively diving and reappearing on the ice that was lining the river.



I then drove downtown to check whether any pigeons were around so I might find the downtown Peregrine Falcon, but only a single pigeon plus a few ravens were around.

After that I drove a couple of neighborhoods just looking around for feeder birds or other interesting birds. Although the robins were not around there were a couple of large Bohemian Waxwing flocks.


The final site that I visited was part of the Tour of Anchorage trail ( I walked just under 2 miles each way), where I had previously seen Gray Jays and Black-billed Magpies. Both these species were present on the initial part of the trail. I had a few peanuts in my pockets which I tossed on to the path and one of the magpies immediately flew down and grabbed them.



I continued walking the trail under the cloudy sky. Just before I turned around, I had a little flock of about eight Pine Grosbeaks singing and flitting from treetop to treetop. After I turned around and had walked a while, the sun peaked out beneath the clouds and turned the gray-green trees to slightly golden.



Just before that on one of the stream crossings I had my second American Dipper of the day. This one was nearly motionless on the icy edge of the stream, maybe resting from its diving exertions.



Tomorrow I’m planning on taking a drive north of Anchorage, and maybe I’ll find a new bird for the year.

Still at 101 species for the year

Jan. 25 – Only 11 Months ‘Til Christmas

That’s what my husband suggested as a title for this post when I asked him for ideas. It’s hard to believe that nearly a month has gone by this year. The good news is that there still are a lot of birding days to come this year, so I’m not overly disappointed that today was another day without a new bird. Because I had a number of chores and errands today (including writing my regular biweekly post for the ABA blog), I really didn’t spend much time birding, just a walk along the trails near the Campbell Tract Science Center in Anchorage. It was another beautiful rather Christmas-y day, with snow and frost clinging to branches. There were only a few bird species on the walk – Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees and Common Ravens, but it was pleasant and warm for a January day in Anchorage (just above freezing).





Our yard was more birdy, with the usual Pine Grosbeaks, both Chickadee species, Dark-eyed Juncos, Steller’s Jays, and Common Redpolls. The yard highlight of the day was our first Common Raven at our feeder. He landed on the porch railing and proceeded to demolish a suet block, repeatedly gulping down huge quantities of yummy fat as he towered over the feeder.



Still at 101 species for the year

Jan. 24 – Sunday Drive

If such a thing is possible for me to do, today I took a break from big-year birding. Without any particular bird goal in mind, I just drove south of Anchorage to Girdwood and back. The highway between Anchorage and Girdwood goes along one side of Turnagain Arm with mountains on the other side of the road and mountains across the water. It is a beautiful place to drive.


Of course I was open to the appearance of a year-bird on this 2-hour drive, but I wasn’t chasing anything and I did not really have any particular birds in mind. I just went for a drive. I stopped along the way, took pictures and enjoyed it. The weather ranged from mid-20s to 40 degrees as I headed south, and it went from clear to partly cloudy to overcast to rainy and back to just cloudy.


On the way back the sun peaked through the clouds shortly before darkness surrounded me. On the drive, it did cross my mind that a few raptors that I am currently lacking for my big year could be possible on this route, but I did not find any of them, and that was okay.




The sum total of birds seen was 3 Bald Eagles and 2 Common Ravens. Sort of a small day for a big year, but as I said, it was okay. Of course, I’m pretty sure I’ll be out there looking for some new bird tomorrow.



Still at 101 species for the year

Jan. 23 – Yippee! Boreal Owl

Today I really was standing about 10 feet away from a Boreal Owl! And I was actually seeing it, some of the time. I began this morning at Spenard Crossing in Anchorage, starting about 9:30 and walking around and looking and listening for about two hours. Other birders arrived and left, and eventually I did too. There had been little sign of irritated magpies or jays or chickadees of nuthatches that might indicate they had found the Boreal Owl, and I certainly did not find it. So I took a break to drive around looking for other birds.

I returned to Spenard Crossing just before 1:00 and was sitting in my car thinking about heading out for another circuit along the path when my phone rang. It was Aaron Bowman who had noticed some agitated chickadees and nuthatches and had, with some difficulty, located the BOREAL OWL. When I got there it took a while for him and Enriq Fernandez to get me to see the owl, the very, very hidden owl. We all circled the spruce tree where the owl was perched, trying to see it better, but mostly without success. 005.JPG

Then came the nearly impossible endeavor of trying to get a camera to focus through the branches so I could photograph the owl. Aaron and Peter Scully, who arrived soon, both took pictures and I was also finally able to get in a position where I could find the owl in my viewfinder and get a couple of photos. Peter set us his scope and took some photos, including some with my phone, through the scope. Although none of us was able to get a picture of the whole owl, we could get pictures of its head, its side, feather close-ups, a rear view. Whenever other birders arrived, the only way to be sure they could see the owl was to have them look through the set-up scope first and then they could try to see if they could find it in their binoculars.





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It is wonderful that I can (finally) add another bird to my year list, and it is particularly wonderful that it is a Boreal Owl that I can add to my year list. Although I had seen a Boreal Owl in Finland many years ago, I had not seen one before in the United States. My only record of one was one that was heard by all of our group in Girdwood (AK) in March, 2015, on Anchorage Audubon’s spring count. Today is a red-letter day!!

101 species so far

Jan. 22 – 100 and Still Holding

I’m pretty sure that I was within about 10 feet of a  Boreal Owl today. In an area where a Boreal Owl has been recently seen by someone else, Aaron Bowman and I had a flock of about 15 Black-billed Magpies, a couple of Steller’s Jays, and some chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches all making an agitated racket and flying at and around a very dense area of a very dense spruce tree this morning. No matter where we went around and under the tree, we were completely unable to see any sign of any critter at all in the spruce, except for the squawking birds. They eventually drifted off, so after a few hours we also gave up. I went back a couple of times later in the day but all was silent and the magpies were not around to signal whether the owl had changed locations or was still in the same spruce. It was nice to have a bit of excitement, and of course we have hopes that the owl will be visible another day soon.

Meanwhile, unlike the Mallards down the creek at Spenard Crossing, I am not sitting around waiting for my goal birds. I continue to look for birds where previously reported and in locations that seem to have potential. Today I checked out the possible Evening Grosbeak area again and wandered downtown and in a few areas near downtown to look for pigeons and Peregrine Falcons. There were some pigeons in the non-downtown areas, but they looked relaxed and un-harassed.010.JPG

Meanwhile, there are the usual winter birds around to hold my interest and the days continue to be beautiful. Bohemian Waxwings continue to be all over the place around Anchorage. There were two American Dippers zipping back and forth on the stream near the owl-spruce, and everything was tinted gold in the morning sun.


I expect that I will be back at the owl-spot tomorrow morning, perhaps joined by other local birders. A Boreal Owl is a treat that many people wish to see (and was a bird that I missed entirely in my 2008 ABA big year).