Apr. 20 – TEXAS Birding Break, Day 2

Debra Corpora and I birded in Rockport, then Port Aransas and back to Rockpoert today. Many birds had apparently left so there were fewer birds around today. But there still were good birds (especially for a visiting Alaskan). At the quite new Linda S. Castro Nature Sanctuary visited first and then later in the day, the bird we saw included the Wood Duck that has been there a while as well as Tennessee and Blue-winged Warblers, a Redhead, Mottled Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Indigo Bunting, Bronzed Cowbird, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.


At Paradise Pond in Port Aransas, highlights included a Black-crowned Night-Heron, Solitary Sandpiper, a Baltimore Oriole,  Yell0w-headed Blackbird, and a Scarlet Tanager.





At the Birding Center we ran into the weekly bird walk being led by Nan Dietert and Lyndon Holcomb. Birds there included Sora and Canada, Nashville, Cerulean, Cape May and Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers, as well as nearby Wilson’s Phalaropes, American Avocets and Stilt Sandpipers. There also were two alligators lying right next to the boardwalk.







After lunch, we added birder Jan Wimberly and later Lorrie Lowrie to our birding travels in the Rockport area. At Goose Island State Park were Black-and-White and Golden-winged  Warblers. At Holiday Beach Pond were Green Heron, Anhingas, a Dunlin, White-faced Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Couch’s Kingbird and Common Gallinule (Moorhen).

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On a country road with adjacent wetlands were Summer Tanager, Great-crested Flycatcher, Greater Kiskadee, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

I have left out many of the birds seen but reading through the above and looking at the pictures, it is clear that birding was beautiful today.

Birding in TEXAS today, so no new Alaska birds

Apr. 19 – TEXAS Birding Break – Day 1

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am going to be down in Texas for the rest of this week, selling books, giving talks and birding. I arrived in Austin at 5 am (Texas time) without having slept overnight on the plane. After duly noting all the Great-tailed Grackles at the airport, I got my rental car and slowly drove to College Station, home of Texas A&M University Press, the publisher of my books. I birded on the way so I would not get there too early for my meeting. On the way I saw many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and an Upland Sandpiper among other things.




After my meeting and lunch, I drove to Goose Island State Park where my friend, Debra Corpora had been birding today (I plan to post a picture of her tomorrow, because we are going birding tomorrow to some of my favorite places down here). At Goose Island after I arrived we had 10 warbler species including Yellow, Blue-winged, Yellow-throated, Tennessee, American Redstart. Black[oll, Chestnut-sided, Hooded, Kentucky and Yell0w-breasted Chat. Other highlights for me included Warbling, White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Whimbel and Willet, a bunch of peeps (Least, Semipalmated), Ruddy Turnstones, and Black Skimmers. There were at least 41 species in a couple of hours.







No new birds for AK – this is TX!

Apr. 18 – Snipe Hunt

For days now I’ve been listening for and looking for Wilson’s Snipe. Last night there is some chance that I heard a distant snipe, but maybe not. So the hunt continued today.


Today I started birding at Oceanview Bluff Park, which as I mentioned earlier was a great site last year for snipe. Again, a lovely morning, but no snipe detected. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was singing loudly, a flock of Common Redpolls was working the budding tops of the trees, and two Green-winged Teal were dozing in the little stream, until they were rudely awakened by a Mallard swimming by.




I decided that I needed to head out to the airport area where numerous snipe had been reported. On the way there, along Lake Hood Drive, I heard a definitive WILSON’S SNIPE calling from a spruce-filled bog along the road, but did not see the bird. Under ABA rules, it is countable, and I am counting it because of its distinctive sound. It’s not a rare bird of course and I will see and hear many more.


I then walked the trail along the fence at the west end of the airport runway where many trees were budding out.


I had talked to Eric Youngblood on the way there who told me he had seen a Snow Goose on the mud flats and had found an Orange-crowned Warbler along the trail. Although I heard what was most likely the Orange-crown as I walked along, it was distant and theoretically could have been something else. So, I’ll wait to count that species. I did see the Snow Goose, which was not new because in late February I saw the one that had been reported in Juneau.


I had intended to walk north a bit on the coastal trail, but my pathway was blocked by a moose.


So, I headed back to my car, and drove back along Lake Hood Drive to try for a sighting of the snipe. What I saw was three more moose, a mother and two yearlings. While I watching the moose, I heard Sandhill Cranes overhead.



I needed to cut short my birding because in a couple of hours, I am scheduled to fly to TEXAS where I will give a couple of talks on my new book, Birds in Trouble, will visit Texas A&M University Press, the publisher of my books, will see some birding friends, and will bird, of course. I do plan to post on this blog about birds seen in Texas, as sort of a southern vacation from Alaska birding. I’ll be back and birding in Alaska on April 24th.


133 species so far




Apr. 17 – Signs of Spring Continue

Sometimes going birding brings forth birds; other times such as this morning at Spenard Crossing, it brings forth rhymes:

Mew Gulls sit in pairs; cranes are flying high.
I hear a faint bird song, and another faint reply.
River running free; no ice is in sight.
Green leaves budding forth, growing toward the light.
Fifty-two degrees. I used to think that cold.
Now it is a chance for new life to unfold.

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The light was beautiful on this Mallard’s head at Spenard Crossing – he really was live and not a decoy.


After Spenard Crossing, I went to Westchester Lagoon and the nearby coastal trail. The Greater Yellowlegs pair was back, and Green-winged Teal and Mallards and Canada Geese were puddling in the mud.



After supper, I did a trip south past Girdwood (where another pair of Greater Yellowlegs had joined the Canada Gees and various ducks) to just past the road to Portage Glacier where there were six Trumpeter Swans, three Red-necked Grebes, a Northern Shrike and a singing Song Sparrow.



On the road to Portage Glacier I walked a bit on the Trail of Blue Ice. Varied Thrushes and American Robins were singing. All along the road the trees were leafing out – a big change from just a couple of days ago. I usually spend time marveling at sunrises, but today it was the sunset.




132 species so far



Apr. 16 – Unseasonably Lovely, and Lappies

Today was Anchorage Audubon’s day to come to the Gunsight Mountain hawk watch. It was an astoundingly beautiful day (the picture below was taken from the hawk watch site), and it was not windy and it was not freezing.


I did not count, but there seemed to be 40-50 or more people there at any one time. For some it was a time to catch up with old birding friends, and incidentally to look for hawks. I arrived about 10:20 am as hawks were just beginning to appear. Since I had been at the hawk watch site on April 8th, I knew there was not much chance of a new hawk for the year, but you never know.



For the beginners or those who wished to refresh their memories, Bob Dittrick provided a crash course in hawk identification, very much appreciated.

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Hawks (nearly always Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, or Northern Harriers) and eagles (Bald, Golden) came by sporadically in ones, twos and sometimes five at a time. Sometimes they were  very high and hard to spot and other times they gave us very good looks.





The two Hawk Watch International women (Caitlin Davis and Rya Rubenthaler) probably were glad to have a day with others to help in the spotting as I expect it periodically gets rather tiring to be there on duty day after day. They will be doing the count every day until May 15th.


In addition to the raptors there were also Black-billed Magpies and Common Ravens. We also had two flocks of swans fly by high over our heads.


Early in the day we heard passing Lapland Longspurs and I obsessed over whether I should count them even though I did not see them. I expect to see very many of them when I go west this year, such as to St. Paul Island, and I knew I could wait until then. Still, every bird I can count now is a bird no longer in the bush, but in the hand for the year. In the early afternoon, however, a flock of about 21 LAPLAND LONGSPURS landed along the roadside near us. Definitely countable, and I wanted pictures. A couple of us headed out toward the longspurs, which flitted up and landed back very near to us. Over the next half hour or so, the longspurs stayed and many other hawk watchers walked out along the roadside to watch longspurs instead of hawks for a while (one picture shows Andrew Fisher and how near we could get to the longspurs).













132 species so far

Apr. 15 – Two by Two, Plus Cranes

I got to Potter Marsh boardwalk exactly at sunrise. Most of the birds seen there this morning were seen two by two.


Seen from the boardwalk there were two swimming Northern Pintails, two pairs of Mallards, two Black-capped Chickadees, two Black-billed Magpies hunting for nesting material on the ground next to the boardwalk, two Common Mergansers, two nearby Mew Gulls, and two fly-by Trumpeter Swans.






When I drove on the highway past the marsh, most of the Mew Gulls and Canada Geese out in the marsh looked to be paired up as well, and there were still two adult Trumpeter Swans and two subadults still at the marsh after the other two had flown north.


Not finding any new birds for the year at Potter Marsh and none at Girdwood (in the pouring rain), I returned to Anchorage figuring that would be the entire gist of my blog post for today. I decided to go to Westchester Lagoon and the coastal path south of there to see if I could add the recently seen two Greater Yellowlegs to my two-by-two list, but I did not find them.

What I did find was the sound (and not the sight) of at least one SANDHILL CRANE apparently flying north high overhead in the clouds. I don’t know if they were flying two by two or not, but there was a second call, so it fit today’s theme. While I usually am reluctant to count heard-only birds, I am very familiar with the unique sound of Sandhill Cranes. As I just recently told our Anchorage Audubon president, “There is nothing like a crane.” I’m counting Sandhill Crane for today – I’m sure I’ll have pictures to post soon when the hordes of cranes start arriving in Anchorage and much of the rest of the state.

Two by two today – ’tis the beginning of the season.

My birding expedition ended with a clear view of Denali (formerly called Mt. McKinley). There is only one Denali.


131 species so far

Apr. 14 – Oceanview Bluff Park, etc.

I was going to call this post “Nothing” because it was another day of no new birds, but that sounded too negative. The day did start with another beautiful sunrise as I left our house.


I did actually do some pleasant birding this morning after that, starting at Oceanview Bluff Park, which is one of the areas that I surveyed last spring for Alaska Audubon’s Birds and Bogs project. The portion of the park that I surveyed starts with a steep downhill slope to a flat wet area to a fairly extensive creek area too deep for me to wade, beyond which is a mixed spruce/deciduous boggy forest and then the inlet. Last year in May it was teeming with Wilson’s Snipe, but they have apparently not yet arrived there this year. There were Canada Geese around (seen through branches in photo below), a pair of Northern Pintails and the usual woodland birds.



I then checked out Potter Marsh from the boardwalk and along the highway. The sun was just coming over the mountains as I walked the boardwalk.


In addition to the Mew Gulls, Canada Geese, Mallards, Northern Pintails, and Gadwalls, there also was a pair of scaup. Anyone who is reading this – I would be interested to know what kind of scaup you think they are.




There were also 5 Trumpeter Swans hanging out in their usual place at the southern end of the marsh.


And that was it for birding today. I needed to finish up our taxes, last minute as usual.

130 species so far

Apr. 13 – Of Ptarmigans and Yellowlegs

Although I had seen the ebird posts on Greater Yellowlegs that were found in Anchorage yesterday, I decided to first try one more time for White-tailed Ptarmigan by going up Arctic Valley Road this morning. I went about an hour earlier than we had gone a week or so ago hoping the birds might be around the lower slopes. Much more snow had melted but there still were large patches in the search area (where others had previously seen these birds). The temperature was about 35 degrees and it was not too windy, so the hike was quite pleasant.


I went up to the area we had explored before, but the only ptarmigan I found were two Willow Ptarmigan. The first one flew off in a hurry from nearly underfoot, but a bit later, the second one stayed around nervously watching me take photographs. The first picture below has a ptarmigan in it, which you can see if you look carefully. The fourth ptarmigan picture below shows a close-up of the tail and definitively shows that it is not a White-tailed Ptarmigan even though most of the tail is white.





There also were a couple of mammals around. First there were two ground squirrels (someone I’m sure will tell me their proper name) sitting up on the woody plants and munching vegetation high on the slope.


On my way driving out the road there was a male moose munching on bark and branches. At first I thought he had light-colored eyes until I realized that I was seeing the places where his antlers had been.

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After that I went to Potter March, hoping for yellowlegs there but not seeing any. So, I went to where the yellowlegs had been reported yesterday. Between Westchester Lagoon and the inlet, I found two GREATER YELLOWLEGS working the stream edge. At first they were quite far apart but as they approached each other the closer one fanned his tail and watched the other one. Both yellowlegs are in the fourth picture below. Unfortunately a Black-billed Magpie dropped down and disturbed them both. I saw and heard the two yellowlegs again later a bit farther south along the coastal trail.





There were also the usual Mallards, Canada Geese, two Green-winged Teal, Black-capped Chickadees, and gulls around the still mostly frozen lagoon.


130 species so far

Apr. 12 – Girdwood and Portage Areas

Although I did not visit any area with “reflection” in its name, today was a day for beautiful reflections after a beautiful cloudy sunrise and after  I left the highway. Along the highway I zoomed past Potter Marsh, noting on the way down that there were two Trumpeter Swans and 14 Northern Pintails, plus Mallards and gulls of course.


In Girdwood, I pulled over to check whether there was anything new at the wetlands across from the gas station. The number of Northern Pintails there had increased to over 25, and there were 12 Canada Geese and one lone Trumpeter Swan.



I walked a portion of the Trail of Blue Ice beginning at the Moose Flats area on the road that goes to Portage Glacier.




There were sounds of spring everywhere, including singing Varied Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped Chickadees and an American Robin, all of which were singing. I heard another song which I could not identify and then saw that it was a Pine Grosbeak (which seem to have disappeared from Anchorage for some weeks and I had already forgotten its song). I also heard a distant raptor calling but could not see or identify it.


At the Chugach National Forest pulloff area before reaching the Portage Glacier there were more Varied Thrushes and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, plus the apparently resident Barrow’s Goldeneye pair.


At the fish-viewing area nearer to Portage was a pair of American Dippers While the more distant one was standing on a rock and splashing and bathing, the nearer dipper mostly dozed. Every now and then it would blink and then go back to sleep.



On the way back toward Girdwood I watched a Bald Eagle pulling a branch off a dead tree, clearly in nest-building mode. It then flew off, dropping the branch as it flew.


129 species so far


Apr. 11 – Palmer and Potter

Early this morning I again checked Palmer sites that I have been checking recently, including the old Matanuska town site road, the Agricultural Experiment Station in Palmer, and and roads in Palmer where Sandhll Cranes have been reported mostly in fall, plus I drove some roads new for me in the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge. Birding was generally slow, with sightings limited to Black-capped Chickadees, Gray Jays, Mallards, Black-billed Magpies and an immature Bald Eagle.




I then drove to the mostly still frozen Reflections Lake between Palmer and Anchorage and walked the trail, including climbing the tower so I can scan across other areas of the Palmer Hay Flats. Again, birding was slow but a couple of noisy Common Redpolls and Black-capped Chickadees high in a newly budding tree added interest (they are both in the picture but nearly blocked by the branches).





Finally, after lunch I went to Potter Marsh. Highlights were about 30 noisy Mew Gulls that seemed to be starting to select home-sites, a pair of Buffleheads and four Trumpeter Swans.





129 species so far