Today Louann Feldmann and I uneventfully braved icy Arctic Valley Road in the Chugach Mountains northeast of downtown Anchorage, with Louann at the wheel. We saw no birds on the drive, but when we got out of the car at the top, a couple of Common Ravens and a Black-billed Magpie welcomed us. The sun was just beginning to light up the surrounding peaks but we were still in shadows as we began our climb up one of the trails hoping for the sight or sound of ptarmigan.
At the top of the mountain slope ahead of us was a narrow sunny area, and it was in this area that Louann spotted the first WILLOW PTARMIGAN. As we scanned the area, we could see that there were at least 40 ptarmigan walking around on the snow and sitting up in the willows. As we approached nearer, the ptarmigan moved away from us, and they never allowed us to approach too closely. Whenever any of them flew a bit, we could see that they had black on their tails. A few of them periodically croaked the typical Willow Ptarmigan sounds. Although some of them seemed at first glance to be completely white, we did not find any that we could convince ourselves were White-tailed. While Willow Ptarmigan is much easier to get in Alaska than White-tailed, still it was a very welcome new bird for the year.
By the time we came back down the trail, the sun was lighting up most of the hills around and there was a lovely sun dog just over the top of one of the mountains.