August 18 – Sparrows, Hawk and More in Anchorage

I needed to be sure my new (replacement) boots felt okay for all my upcoming travels so I chose a wet grassy place to bird today, Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area. They were fine, so my packing decisions were done.

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On my walk in the woods and in the grass and brushy area were a few Orange-crowned Warblers but no other warbler species today.

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Other non-sparrow birds seen and photographed included a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and fly-over Sandhill Cranes and Mallards.

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While I was peering into bushes to try to find the source of little chipping sounds, a raptor arrived, apparently also interested in the little chipping sounds. It landed very close to me so I could just see its head through a nearby bush, and sat there silently peering around. I gradually inched sideways so I could see more of the raptor, taking pictures continuously. Although it was large, leading me to initially think it was a Northern Harrier, I’m now thinking it was a large (female) juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk (Cooper’s Hawks are not supposed to occur in Alaska). I did notice that its tail was not rounded but rather squared off. It flew off low to the ground between bushes and I could not see it leave. Comments are welcome.

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Sparrows seen by me, and probably by the raptor, included numerous Lincoln’s Sparrows, at least two Fox Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows (juvenile and preening bird in photos below). Some of the juvenile birds looked like possible Golden-crowned Sparrows and for awhile I entertained thoughts of even rarer sparrows, but probably they were White-crowned (last picture below showing a sort of golden area near its bill). Again, comments welcome.

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289 species so far

August 17 – Just Backyard

Too many errands, meetings and deadlines to deal with today so my only birding was a bit of staring out into the backyard and quickly snapping a few photos. In addition to the birds photographed – White-crowned Sparrow immature, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco and American Robin immature, there were also four Steller’s Jays eating from the peanut jug and from my hand whenever I went outside, and Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees.

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I am mostly packed. I head off with my birding friend Lena for Juneau on Friday, Ketchikan on Saturday and the Wilderness Birding Adventures Juneau to Whittier Gulf of Alaska trip on Sunday. Maybe a new bird or two?

289 species so far

August 16 – Anchorage, and Planning Ahead

I birded this morning with Mary Ann and Bob Bjornsen who are on a multi-month driving trip from Colorado through Canada to Alaska and back.

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We went to Potter Marsh first where we were entertained by a young Bald Eagle stuffing itself on dead or dying salmon. There were also a couple of noisy Belted Kingfishers and the usual cluster of Greater Yellowlegs and Mallards.

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We then went briefly to Westchester Lagoon and the nearby trail where there was another Bald Eagle, another two Belted Kingfishers, two fly-by Sandhill Cranes and the usual ducks and Canada Geese.

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At home my leisure activities have mainly been feeding “my” Steller’s Jays and trying to figure out what to take on my upcoming trips to Juneau/Ketchikan/Gulf of Alaska pelagic, St. Lawrence Island (Gambell) and then St. Paul Island. The guest room, soon to be cleaned for a guest, is the current site of disarray and planning. The jays come to my hand (and water and feed) on the back porch. I will post more pictures of them on Facebook and on eBird.

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289 species so far

August 15 – More Anchorage Sampling

I spent some time today just enjoying the sunny and quite birdy day. Our yard was busy with birds including at least seven Black-billed Magpies at the feeders and fence and birdbath. One of the young magpies sat on the porch, probably wondering why the Steller’s Jays spent so much time there.

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I checked out Cuddy Park where Canada Geese and Mallards are still regularly congregating even though the city is making great efforts to discourage people’s feeding the birds. I was surprised to see an unspotted Spotted Sandpiper working its way across the grass amid the Mallards.

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At Spenard Crossing a Red-breasted Nuthatch surprised me by coming within two feet of me at it investigated nearby branches for insects. As with our yard, Black-billed Magpies were common and splashing in the water on the warm day, and a Belted Kingfisher was periodically diving into the water from various vantage points. There was yet another Solitary Sandpiper for my year-observations. Most of the fireweeds were completely done blooming and were covered with fuzz.

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My final birding stop was Westchester Lagoon and the nearby trail. In addition to the many scaup and mallards, near the trail there were a few American Wigeons and one of the many Red-necked Grebes. Far out on the mudflats were about 55 loafing Bonaparte’s Gulls, two wagging-tailed Spotted Sandpipers, dowitchers, a few Hudsonian Godwits and the previously reported and very difficult to see American Golden-Plover.

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289 species so far

PS. Please note that yesterday’s blog post has been corrected with respect to the raptor being chased by a Merlin.

August 14 – Anchorage Again (Corrected)

This afternoon I went to Potter Marsh and to the Old Seward Highway behind Potter Marsh.

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As is usual on the weekend, the boardwalk was full of people but the birds as usual ignored all of us. Ducks at the marsh were Mallards, a single Northern Shoveler, a few Green-winged Teal and a couple of American Wigeons (not photographed).

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Shorebirds that I saw were limited to Short-billed Dowitchers (about 5), Greater Yellowlegs (about 7) and a single Lesser Yellowlegs way out in the marsh.

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A single Belted Kingfisher put in a brief appearance but mostly was just heard in the distance.

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There were at least two Bald Eagles seen from the boardwalk at the marsh, and when I went behind the marsh on the old highway the same juveniles and a Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk were found (previously incorrectly identified as a Bald Eagle). A Merlin was clearly agitated by the hawk’s’ presence and spent much effort chasing it around above my head.

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289 species so far

August 13 – Anchorage Miscellany

I birded at a few different Anchorage spots today in between rain showers. First I went to the woodland portion of Spenard Crossing, thinking fondly of the finches that were there nearly two years ago. Not today of course. This morning there were only the usuals, including Mallards, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, fly-over American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Dark-eyed Juncos.

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At a brief stop at Westchester Lagoon I saw a small mixed flock of dowitchers and yellowlegs, a Bonaparte’s Gull and distant ducks, mainly scaup.

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This afternoon I walked the trail at Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area, again with the usual suspects, including Sandhill Cranes out on the mudflats and grassy areas, many Black-capped Chickadees, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, four Steller’s Jays one of which landed out in the shrubbery, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

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I also made a brief stop at Cuddy Park, thinking of the Palm Warbler that was there early last winter, but not today. Today there was an unseen chipping warbler, plus a Black-capped Chickadee, a Black-billed Magpie, a Mew Gull, about 30 Mallards and a Canada Goose.

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289 species so far

 

 

August 12 – Sockeye Burn and Palmer

Although it rained before, sometimes during and after birding today, we managed to sneak in most of our birding in the non-rainy times. Barbara Carlson, visiting from San Diego, and I first went to the Sockeye Burn north of Willow with woodpeckers as our goal.

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The drive there took about two hours with few birds seen along the way, but as soon as we got on Sockeye Drive we heard a Western Wood-Pewee, apparently a late lingerer. Although we saw it well, including its dark breast-pattern, my only photos are of its back.

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After hearing and seeing Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows, a Downy Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadees and Gray Jays, we saw our first goal bird, a female American Three-toed Woodpecker.

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We then wandered more of the road area in the burned-out spruce forest, finding a Swainson’s and a Varied Thrush, an Alder Flycatcher, a Black-capped Chickadee, a Hairy Woodpecker, a Spruce Grouse along the road, and finally our second goal bird, a Black-backed Woodpecker.

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Mission accomplished there, we went to our second destination, Jim Lake along the Old Glenn Highway in Palmer. A Pied-billed Grebe, a rarity in Alaska, had been seen there a week or so ago. I had not gone earlier to see the Palmer bird because I saw one in Ketchikan this winter. I am glad I went for this one too because it was closer and could be seen better. Also at the lake were about 18 Red-necked Grebes, a Belted Kingfisher and various goldeneye ducks (not photographed).

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I’ve got about a week left before my intensive fall birding schedule begins, and probably won’t see anything new for the year before then. But if I don’t go out birding I surely will not see anything new, so I’ll be trying.

289 species so far

August 11 – Anchorage Yard-Birding

Another rainy day. I opted to limit my birding for the day to our back yard. The yard was very busy with warblers and chickadees and juncos and robins everywhere much of the day–14 species in all. Some of my pictures follow. As can be seen in most of the pictures, which were taken looking down from our back porch, our lawn is the greenest lawn I have ever had due to the nearly unceasing rain.

There were at least four Steller’s Jays, two adults and two grown young, but of course, since they came and went, it could have been multiple family groups.

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Also at the feeders were Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees (Black-capped shown), a Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-billed Magpies, a Downy Woodpecker, a Pine Siskin and at least ten Dark-eyed Juncos scattered about on the lawn and at various feeders.

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Flitting about in the brush in the back of the back yard were a couple of Wilson’s Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, numerous Orange-crowned Warblers, some very yellow and others very gray-yellow (I tried to make them into some other species but nothing else seemed to fit; they all had yellow under their tails, no wing bars…).

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It was hard to figure out how many American Robins there were because they were flying back and forth, hopping on the lawn, bathing, and eating some type of fruit in our neighbor’s trees.

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Also heard were a Common Raven behind the house somewhere and a fly-over Common Redpoll.

Tomorrow, assuming the rain doesn’t get too bad, I’m going birding with a friend in the Willow and Palmer areas north of Anchorage.

289 species so far

 

August 10 – What Me Worry?

Yes, I worry about many things, including where I’m going to find birds needed for my Alaskan big year. Most of my worries are undoubtedly due to my ignorance of Alaskan bird distribution, as well as to my impatience.

Yesterday and today I saw birds of three species that I initially obsessed over finding this year and then finally found one each of these species after much worry and fuss. After the initial sighting of each of these difficult-for-me to find birds, I now seem to see them everywhere I go (I exaggerate slightly).

The first of these three species is yesterday’s Osprey, which experienced Alaska birders said would not be a problem. I tended to not believe them however because although I went places that were supposed to have Ospreys, I could not find them for months. Now I’ve seen them four times, all of which were when I was not even looking for them.IMG_8018 (2)A

The second species that I was erroneously convinced was going to be difficult was White-winged Crossbill. My worries did not arise until this last winter came and went and there were no White-winged Crossbills anywhere. The winter before (2014-15) I had grown accustomed to them in Anchorage and originally expected them not to be a problem, but in the winter of 2015-16, they were just gone. Finally, I was relieved to see a single male in Ketchikan. Now it seems they are everywhere. Today there was one in our neighbor’s spruce trees. At first I thought the silhouetted bird might be a Red Crossbill, but then it turned and let me see it’s white wing bars.

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The third species that I really had no clue about its abundance but got worried because I just could not find one at first was Solitary Sandpiper. I drove all the way to Fairbanks to get the first one. Today, without trying I had two of them in Anchorage (at two different sites near Westchester Lagoon). Also there was a Spotted Sandpiper along the trail, which I knew I would see often this year and I have (all three shown below).

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Other birds today included about 25 Hudsonian Godwits, many of them immatures and/or winter plumage, at the main island in Westchester Lagoon, many Red-necked Grebes as usual on the lake and the first Belted Kingfisher I had seen at the lake.

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Once I got home, the yard was hopping with American Robins and warblers, including one warbler that I would like opinions on. I only saw it very briefly but I did get one not-so-good photo. I think it is a female Blackpoll Warbler from what I can see in the picture.

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Finally, the Steller’s Jays in our yard have resumed their fanatic caching of peanuts now that their grown young are wandering freely around, and they have stepped up their interest in taking peanuts from my hands. One of the many pictures I took today is below (I’ll put a few more separately on Facebook).

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289 species so far

August 9 – Coping

It probably does not surprise anyone who knows me that in my attempt to lessen the pain of our dog’s death, I resorted to intensive bird searching in the bushes for little birds this afternoon, and then followed that with bingeing on sweets (Oreo McFlurry).

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I’m not sure that all worked that well but I did see a few birds and get some photos. I went to Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area primarily to look for warblers and sparrows.  I was able to photograph a couple of the Orange-crowned Warblers, but the Yellow-rumps and Wilson’s were seen but too well-hidden for photos.

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In among the flitting warblers was a single silent flycatcher, presumably an Alder Flycatcher, that disappeared immediately after I saw it.

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The Black-capped Chickadees appeared but the Boreal Chickadee and the Red-breasted Nuthatch that I heard were not seen.

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The only sparrows seen were a couple of White-crowned Sparrows.

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I thought that my birding was done as I left the Natural Area but just as I approached Jewel Lake I was delighted to see an Osprey soaring over the lake.

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Birding can be good for the soul.

289 species so far