Jan. 21 – Anchorage – 100 and Holding

No new birds today but another enjoyable crisp beautiful day anyway – blue skies and distant mountain views.

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I spent the morning looking for a possible Evening Grosbeak that had been seen yesterday in Anchorage, but as far as I know no one saw it today, certainly not me. After that I did an extended drive through downtown looking for the Peregrine Falcon again, but again even the pigeons it had been harassing when others saw it a couple of days ago were nowhere in evidence.

To satisfy my need for seeing something, I drove down Garden Street in Anchorage where the two main bird feeding yards were still covered with American Robins and Bohemian Waxwings, mainly dining in and under the fruit trees.

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When I returned home in late afternoon, I saw a Northern Shrike a block from our house, and as I drove toward our house, the shrike preceded me and landed in a tree in our backyard, the second time I had ever seen one for our yard list. Pine Grosbeaks, Black-capped Chickadees and more Bohemian Waxwings were visiting our yard for their evening meals, and Common Ravens were flying overhead to their evening roosts and I had to accept the fact that I had not seen any new year-birds for the day.

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Tomorrow’s another day.

Note: I intend to write in this blog every day that I go birding this year, whether or not I see any new birds, so I expect that messages similar to the above will happen often.

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Jan. 20 – If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Try, try again. And again. And again.

Today was a couple of those trials. I started the day birding with Louann Feldmann – my first try for the newly discovered Peregrine Falcon in downtown Anchorage, which she had seen yesterday. No luck, not even a pigeon, which the falcon apparently had been chasing yesterday.

So, we went to where the Cedar Waxwing had been seen, and where I had seen it earlier, for Louann’s second try for the bird, and we found it, as well as the usual Bohemian Waxwings, American Robins (many of them today after I had tried so hard to get my first one a few days ago), Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and a Brown Creeper.

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Then, we were off to look once again, and again unsuccessfully, for the Townsend’s Solitaire that was seen a while ago behind the Anchorage International Airport along an airport fenceline. We did see the Northern Hawk Owl again without even trying, a bird that I had tried for many times this year before I finally saw it.

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In the afternoon I went downtown again to look for the Peregrine Falcon, but nothing again, not even a pigeon. I know I will see a Peregrine somewhere this year, but still….

At home, we had a couple of redpolls, including at least one probable Hoary Redpoll again, a species I had thought would be difficult particularly in this part of Alaska, but which is being found all over the place.

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So, today was a mixture of trying for and not finding birds, trying for and finding birds already seen this year, and not trying for and yet finding uncommon to rare Alaskan birds that I had already seen this year. I guess that is a sort of typical day, but I had not thought about it that way before.

Although I have seen quite a few birds this year so far, I am sure there will be many more days like today when I do not succeed at what I try. But I will keep trying.

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Bottom line: NO NEW BIRDS TODAY.

Jan. 19 – Homer, Day 3 – Lovely Loons

My parents used to call me “Loony Lynnie” because of my birding obsession and my joy in imitating the call of a Common Loon (the only loon species I ever saw in Wisconsin where I grew up).

Today I had another reason to be called that. I, along with Aaron Lang, spent most of the day looking for loons, new year-loons that is. We first drove a few neighborhoods looking for robin flocks and possible Townsend’s Solitaires, but then headed for Homer Spit for serious looking for eiders and loons.

It was fairly breezy with a chilly feeling, but we stopped at numerous places and scanned and scanned and scanned. We did not have any trouble finding Common Loons as well as various winter ducks. Flocks of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches (my most recent year-bird) flew over as did Snow Buntings. 127.JPG

Just before noon Aaron spotted the first of two Red-throated Loons for the day, but it dove, never to resurface as far as we could tell and I missed it. We then spent time not finding new loons in the huge gull flocks that were gathered at the end of the spit, which flocks included a Thayer’s Gull, zillions of Glaucous-winged Gulls and hybrids thereof, as well as Mew Gulls. The usual wintering goldeneyes, mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks as well as all three scoters and Common Murres littered the water, and Bald Eagles were perched everywhere. But for a long time the only loons were Common Loons.

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As we gradually headed back up the spit, mostly scanning the waters to the west, Aaron finally found a distant RED-THROATED LOON that I was able to see in my scope, though not photograph. Soon after that he found a Yellow-billed Loon that immediately totally disappeared, in spite of our searching the water for it for nearly 1/2 an hour. As we continued driving back up the spit, we pulled over and scanned again, and Aaron saw what appeared to be a Yellow-billed Loon. We got out of the car, and it popped up quite near us. We both saw the YELLOW-BILLED LOON and it dove again. When it reappeared farther out near a Common Loon, I was able to get a few distant photographs.

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With great elation, I welcomed the Yellow-billed Loon as my Alaskan bird species #100 for 2016! Soon after, Aaron’s wife Robin and their daughter Phoebe joined us and allowed me to take a celebratory photograph.

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I am now back in Anchorage, ready and raring to go to try to get a few birds in the coming days that have been reported by others by not yet seen for my 2016 big year.

[I just had to put another of my Yellow-billed Loon photos here even though they are a bit fuzzy]:

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100 species so far!

Jan. 18 – Homer, Day 2

My birding day began just after dawn, walking up the hill with Aaron Lang to his house. The roads leading to his house were quite icy and it is unlikely my rental truck would have been able to negotiate them. From his porch we watched a host of White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows, a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and my first AMERICAN TREE SPARROW of the year eating seed near a brush pile in his back yard. His wintering Anna’s Hummingbird (which I first saw last fall at his house) repeatedly visited a feeder hanging over my head. Black-capped Chickadees and Common Redpolls zipped around the yard as we waited for our g0al bird to appear.

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We took a break from our vigil and wandered up his driveway to see birds near a neighbor’s feeder, and then returned to Aaron’s porch. After a little while we went into the house and peered out a window at the same brush pile. Finally our goal bird, his wintering WHITE-THROATED SPARROW appeared right where it has been seen 90% of the time when it has appeared, near the brush pile.

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We then drove around the local areas that were good habitat for, and/or were places where Townsend’s Solitaires have been seen. But not today. After giving me some ideas of where to bird, Aaron then went off to his afternoon commitment and I drove down to the Homer Spit. I had a number of possible goals. The weather was good and I decided to do some scope-scanning for loons out at the end of the spit. There were loons, but all I could see were Common Loons. There were plenty of Black Scoters, a few White-winged Scoters and many Long-tailed Ducks. As I was staring at the flock of Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls, a small bird flitted over my head. My first thought was that it must be a Song Sparrow (one of which I had just seen toward the beginning of the spit), but more little birds followed, my first GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES of the year.

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I decided to go explore other Homer areas, but then I received a text and then a phone call from Martin Renner, who volunteered to help me look for Snow Bunting flocks, and maybe find a McKay’s Bunting among them. We did find some Snow Buntings, but they mostly stayed down in the grass and were difficult to view. We explored a couple of grassy areas, and I had my first grim encounter with some of the many dead Common Murres that litter many Alaskan shores and other areas. My birding day ended when it got too dark to see anything. I hope to be birding shortly after dawn tomorrow for my last day of this trip to Homer.

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98 species so far

Jan. 17 – Homer, Day 1

This afternoon I flew south down to Homer from Anchorage, a flight of about 45 minutes. Because the flight was delayed, I was worried that I would not get to Homer when it was still daylight. Aaron Lang had agreed to let me come look for the White-throated Sparrow that has been coming to his feeder for a long time if I got in before darkness descended. Between the time of making these plans and my arrival, however, he learned of a Brambling that was coming to feeders of the Craigs in Homer, so the plan changed to try for that first, assuming I got in before it was too dark.  Although I saw a Brambling 16 years ago in Alaska (the data for which I have not yet entered on eBird), I have tried many times since then without success.

As the plane flew along, I took pictures out the window of a landscape that I had never seen from the air, although I have driven from Anchorage to Homer a couple of times. I figured that if I did not get in in time to bird, or if I did not see or photograph any birds, I could at least post pictures of the snowy world that I saw today..IMG_3000

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When the plane got to Homer, it looked like we might have time to check for the Brambling before it got too dark, and so Aaron drove me to the Baycrest Hill area of Homer. Michael and Peggy Craig welcomed us in, and pulled out chairs in front of their back window overlooking the area where juncos and the accompanying Brambling periodically made a visit to eat seed scattered on the grass. Within about 5 minutes, the juncos and a BRAMBLING arrived, as well as a couple of Black-billed Magpies. Although the lighting was a bit low, both Aaron and I were able to get a couple of photographs before the birds flitted off and it was too dark to expect them to return again anymore today.

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Tomorrow Aaron and I will hopefully see his White-throated Sparrow and bird more around Homer. There are a few other possibilities that might also be added to my year list in the Homer area. We shall see.

95 species so far

Jan. 16 – More Robins and More

I watched my yard birds in the morning and waiting for it to warm up at least a little. My usual Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-billed Magpies and a Steller’s Jay were out and about in the cold frosty air.

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In the early afternoon, I ventured out to the Chester Creek Trail where Aaron Bowman had told me that White-winged Crossbills had recently been seen by someone. Although these crossbills were everywhere in Anchorage during the winter of 2014-15, I had not seen one all this winter, nor had I seen any reports of others’ sightings of them. So I walked about a mile, seeing Black-capped chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, a Common Raven and a Black-billed Magpie, but no crossbills. There was a distant flitting flock of something that could have been what I was looking for, but possibly not. If it had been a bit warmer I might have continued farther along the trail, but not today.

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To warm up, when I got back to my car I drove the nearby neighborhood where I had done the Anchorage Christmas Bird Count. This is where I had looked for robins numerous times this year (having seen them there on the CBC) without success, and where we had seen a Merlin (still needed for 2016). Today, probably because I no longer needed robins for my Alaska big year, I found about 40 robins at and under two different feeders. Although this neighborhood like many others in Anchorage has spruce trees, none of them harbored any crossbills that I could see nor did I find a Merlin.

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I decided to head home, but before I did, I checked my emails and found that about an hour earlier Thede Tobish had seen a Cedar Waxwing near his house in the neighborhood where I had seen my single robin yesterday. While Cedar Waxwings are regularly found in southeast Alaska in late summer, they are rare in Anchorage and not a bird that I could assume I would see this year.

So, I changed direction and headed over to try for the waxwing. When I reached the correct street, I knew I was in the right place because there was a handful of cars parked all together, about 6 people staring off to the right side of the street and a tripod aimed in the same direction. And there, next to a bird feeder and sometimes on it, was my first CEDAR WAXWING of the year, and the first one I have ever seen in Alaska! Of course, there were more American Robins all around, as well as a small flock of Bohemian Waxwings and chickadees. The Cedar Waxwing was definitely a bonus bird for January in Anchorage.

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94 species so far

Jan. 15 – Finally an American Robin

I expect that many birders, especially those in the “lower 48” have already seen American Robins this year and that it was no big deal. Up here in Alaska, it sometimes takes a lot of work to find a robin in January.

It was cold today (about 11-15 degrees at our house in Anchorage) and the cloudiness had turned to blue skies. For a while I was content to look out the window and watch the Pine Grosbeaks sitting on the still snowy branches, but then I realized that if I was ever going to get a robin for my year list, I’d probably need to leave our yard or wait for spring.

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I drove over to the Turnagain neighborhood of Anchorage, where American Robins had recently been reported. I had driven through there a couple of times earlier this week without success but I needed to try again. I nearly ran into my first animal sighting – a moose munching on low vegetation in a yard.

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I drove up and down nearly every street in the area where the robins had been reported, finding Black-billed Magpies, Common Ravens, Steller’s Jays, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, and flyover Mallards. On a repeat pass down one street I suddenly saw a tree holding about 15 birds just visible over the top of a house. I drove to a nearer street and was in the midst of a flock of Bohemian Waxwings, clearly over 200 of them. They were crowding the branches of nearby berry-bearing and other trees, fluttering down to the ground beneath the trees, constantly calling. I scanned them carefully, but they were all waxwings.

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As I was taking pictures of the waxwings, I heard a single chirp of a robin. I got out of my car and looked carefully around. All alone in a distant deciduous tree was a bird that looked longer and larger than the waxwings, and I thought I could detect an orangish hue to its breast. I took many pictures, trying to focus on the bird, which was mostly hidden by branches. Yes, it did seem to be an AMERICAN ROBIN. It flew down, disappeared briefly, and then flew into the small tree where many of the waxwings were gorging themselves, right next to my car.

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I’m not sure what bird species I will try for next. Maybe I’ll just drive around outside Anchorage and see what I can see.

93 species so far

Jan. 14 – At the last minute…

After dealing this morning with needed phone calls and other chores mostly related to planning future birding, I went on a lovely walk in the BLM property early this afternoon a couple of miles from our house. In late December I had walked this trail for the first time and among other birds had seen a Gray Jay. Because Gray Jay had so far eluded me this year, today’s walk was targeted entirely on finding a Gray Jay for my big year list.

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As on yesterday’s walk, it was a winter wonderland with fluffy snow still covering all the branches. I started taking numerous pictures as I walked along as there were very few birds to watch. A little flock of Boreal Chickadees and a Black-capped Chickadee was all that I found on my over 2-mile hike. There were was not a sight or sound of any jays and not even any Common Ravens (I did see ravens later as I drove through an Anchorage neighborhood).

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So, I drove home after my walk, resigned to being limited to posting snowy tree pictures and moaning about the lack of any new birds for the day. I was about 0.2 mile from our neighborhood when I noticed a perched-up bird on a tall spruce along the road. The bird looked good, but I was past it and there was traffic so I could not stop. I finally pulled over and looked back, trying to see what the bird was without success. I made a U-turn and pulled off on to the edge of the road. I  drove a little bit toward the bird, took a picture through the windshield, looked at the picture, and repeated. I just could not be sure of what the bird was – I was afraid that wishful thinking was affecting my judgment. I could not get out of the car to get a better picture because of traffic, so I drove past the bird, pulled on to another side street and walked back toward the bird, taking more pictures as I approached it. Finally, I was sure -it really was a GRAY JAY!!

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92 species so far

Jan. 13 – A Beautiful Day, but…

No new year birds. I knew that this day would come, and I knew it would be soon, because there aren’t many birds that I know of that are around Anchorage that I haven’t yet seen this year, and I plan to be around Anchorage at least a couple of days.

There are some birds around though, and I tromped out beyond the Anchorage airport today in the new soft fluffy snow to try for one of them (Townsend’s Solitaire) but it was not to be found. It is likely that I heard it a fair distance from me, but it fell silent and I could not locate it. I amused myself by taking pictures of snow on branches. There’s something about snowy branches that I cannot resist, so I did enjoy the walk very much. I did have Black-capped Chickadees, a few redpolls and a couple of Black-billed Magpies to entertain me on the walk.

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On the drive back past the airport, I saw the Northern Hawk Owl again. Since I also cannot resist taking pictures of owls, I stopped and took a few, including pictures of the owl preening high in a tree.

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My plans for the immediate future are fuzzy, but on Sunday I’m going to Homer to bird with Aaron Lang, so I expect to add a few birds then. In any case it will be fun to bird with him.

Jan. 12 – A Hoary Redpoll Saves the Day

Today I birded a bit by myself. new camera birds 034.JPGSince I just received a photo of me taken as I watched the Spruce Grouse yesterday, before I discussed today’s birding I thought I’d include it here for those who haven’t witnessed me in my formal winter birding attire.

I started my birding today by going to Spenard Crossing (Anchorage), the site of wonderful birds in 2015 as well as in earlier years, but not so much lately. It was a pleasant morning walk, light snow, about 32 degrees, and a nice assortment of the regular winter birds of Anchorage. But nothing new, as expected. I consoled myself by remembering that for a year with 366 days and a state in which 270 birds in a year is a very good number, there were going to be many days when I did not get a new bird this year.

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So, I enjoyed the Mallards, the goldeneyes (I believe both are Barrow’s, but would welcome comments), Black-billed Magpies, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

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After running a few errands, I went home for more chores, and then the birds arrived at our feeders. About 20 Pine Grosbeaks were joined by a large flock of about 40 redpolls, as well as by Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. There had been a similar sized redpoll flock in our yard in late 2015, at least one of which was a Hoary Redpoll. I scanned them carefully today and yes, there was a HOARY REDPOLL, with classic Hoary features – white unmarked rump, white nearly unmarked sides and pale back.

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91 species so far