My first snow of this winter season was quite a big one earlier this week in Juneau but today’s in Anchorage was even bigger. We woke up at 5 am to a winter wonderland and by mid-morning we had about 7 inches in the driveway of heavy wet snow. Not good for the back. I had all sorts of activities today, including a midday talk about St. Paul Island (and its birds of course) at the Univ. of Alaska and a client deadline and more snow shoveling when I got back from my talk. So due to my schedule and the snowy roads I did not go somewhere away from home to bird today.
The snow was and still is beautiful. It hangs on the branches wetly. It will probably require a brisk wind to dislodge it or continuing warm weather.
Two of the Steller’s Jays came by when I was home, one of which fed from my hand and the other ate mealworms. I call the latter “beaky” because of its missing upper beak. It has been coming around for over a year and appears otherwise quite healthy and eats peanuts and mealworms regularly. I expect if the snow stays around the birds at the feeders will become more numerous.
Tonight I fly to Sitka. More on that tomorrow.
301 species so far
I went to Spenard Crossing today, thinking fondly of the appearance there during the winter of 2014-15 of Purple and Cassin’s Finches. They would nice to add to the House Finch on my list for this year, but it did not happen today.
At Spenard Crossing were the usual chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches in the woods. The Black-billed Magpies, as usual, were bathing in the stream and preening after their baths.
On the lake at Spenard Crossing I was surprised to see big white butts up in the air among the Mallards – 20 swans, probably all Trumpeter but they were quite a ways out from where I was so Tundra might be possible.
At Spenard Crossing and at Westchester Lagoon there were also Common Goldeneyes. At the Lagoon, there were also Buffleheads and a Common Merganser (or so it seemed – I never saw it’s full head or beak). Most of the diving ducks were far out and mostly they were diving, but every now and then I was able to get a picture of one before it dove.
One more day of local birding and then I head out for a couple of days. More later.
301 species so far
I spent a couple of hours wandering the Palmer area today to see if I could find any geese, such as the flock that a few days ago held a possible Ross’s Goose. I did not see any geese at all, so they may all have gone farther south.
I did see quite a few eagles, including four of them sitting on the ground in an area near the fairgrounds where I had seen a large flock of Canada Geese a couple of weeks ago.
Another young eagle sat in a tree at the Matanusksa Townsite road.
All that I saw in addition to eagles were Common Ravens, European Starlings, a Black-billed Magpie, a Black-capped Chickadee and fly-over Mallards.
Unfortunately I need to stay in the Anchorage area for a few days due to prior commitments and client work and cannot chase any rarities for now.
301 species so far
Yesterday afternoon after walking the Mendenall wetlands dike trail the second time that day, I was planning to visit a couple of other areas in Juneau. When I checked my phone, however, I had an email from Stevel Heinl telling me that a House Finch had appeared yesterday at Jerry Koerner’s yard, a wonderful Ketchikan hotspot that has produced quite a few wonderful birds over the years and in particular, has been a major help to my Alaska big year. I changed my birding plans and went back to my Juneau motel to look at airline schedules. The Alaska Airline reservation system was down, and I was in a panic trying to get on the only flights that would fit my schedule (one of which only had 5 seats available). Finally the airline system was up and running and I made my reservation.
So, this morning bright and early I turned in my rental car and boarded a plane in Juneau to go to Ketchikan. For those who are not familiar with Ketchikan, to get there one needs to take a ferry from the Ketchikan airport to get to Ketchikan itself. It was a beautiful sunrise as I took the brief ferry trip.
Steve picked me up at the ferry dock and we drove immediately to Jerry Koerner’s house. About 8:50, very soon after we arrived, the HOUSE FINCH joined the 30 or more Dark-eyed Juncos dining on seed in Jerry’s yard.
In addition to the juncos and House Finch, which only stayed around 15 minutes or so, Jerry’s yard had two Eurasian Collared-Doves, a few Steller’s Jays, a Golden-crowned Kinglet, at least one Song Sparrow and a Northern Flicker.
Thanks to Jerry and Steve, shown in the photo below, for another big year bird!
Steve and I left Jerry’s yard to do more birding, but the rain then started in earnest and we mostly stayed in his car to wander around Ketchikan and check out the various gull flocks. We did leave the car to pish for little birds (such as a Swamp Sparrow) but mostly the result was nothing or just more juncos.
I am now back in Anchorage delighted with my two new birds for this trip! What’s next?
301 species so far
The Mendenhall Wetlands dike trail was slushy this morning but by afternoon it was full of puddles and the snow was mostly melted. Photographed this morning were one of five Bald Eagles, one of four Song Sparrows, a red squirrel, a young Northern Shrike, a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Common Raven chasing each other, and three flyover swans too high to guess at their identity. I also saw a young Northern Goshawk and heard a Belted Kingfisher.
The tide this afternoon was a very, very high tide in Juneau, flooding the wetlands nearly completely (compare the picture below to the wetlands picture above). Gulls and ravens were snarfing up little flooded-out mammals, and many ducks moved in closer than usual, including a Hooded Merganser.
Tomorrow I take a last-minute trip to Ketchikan before heading back to Anchorage.
300 species so far
Because of my cold and my not wanting to share my germs with rooms full of people or my doctor, I did not go to church or a meeting today and I am not going to my doctor tomorrow. But because of my cold, that freed me up to go birding, which I did. Last night I made reservations to go to Juneau where a second Palm Warbler was reported yesterday, found by Amy Courtney and then seen by Gus Van Vliet, and reported yesterday by both of them. It was a beautiful flight. I took pictures out the window and drank liquids to keep myself from coughing.
I arrived in Juneau about 9:30 this morning, and arranged with Amy and Gus to meet them at the Palm Warbler site, Rotary Park, where I had not birded before. The roads had about 5 inches of new snow, which was still coming down, so I had to drive a bit slowly in spite of my eagerness to get there.
The two of them and I, along with Patty Rose (who I believe had found the earlier Palm Warbler in Juneau) tromped through the falling snow looking and listening. The pictures below show Gus, me and Amy, and Patty and Gus.
Not too long after I arrived, I saw Gus beckoning us to come to where he had just found the bird. When I arrived, there it was, a PALM WARBLER, along with a Yellow-rumped Warbler pal. Both warblers flitted about, often low to the ground, in bushes along the edge of the park pond.
I really did not believe it earlier this year when people such as Gus, along with Aaron Lang and Steve Heinl, had said that 300 bird species were possible in an Alaskan big year, but that is the case. Although there are more than two months left in the year, however, there are very few likely birds that I could add this year, but if they are out there, I will keep trying to add them to my year list!
300 species so far!
I took a quick trip to Potter Marsh today. The open water near the boardwalk is frozen over except for the stream’s winding pathway. The only bird seen on my walk to the eastern end of the boardwalk was a single perched Bald Eagle near their nest site.
I figured all the ducks must be gone but on my way back I saw a single Mallard nervously walking about on the ice.
I drove the highway along the marsh and saw more Mallards in open areas of water.
And then I was delighted to see that Trumpeter Swans were still around. I saw a total of 17 of them, including 3 immature-plumaged birds. I expect they will all be gone soon as the ice gradually covers the marsh and I probably will not get more pictures of these photogenic birds until next year.
299 species so far
Feeling rather low because of the cold that hit me a couple of days ago, I limited my birding to driving, rather use up energy that I didn’t have by walking. I chose to drive up Arctic Valley Road, just north of Anchorage. The 7-mile drive up the mountain gravel road was uneventful, but very pretty. Although the higher elevations had a dusting of snow, the road and roadside areas had none. Only one bird was heard (Boreal Chickadee) on the way to the end of the road and no birds were seen as I drove up the road.
On the way down the road, at about just over 3 miles down from the top, I stopped to look at a distant brown spot on the road ahead of me. It was a Spruce Grouse (male) eating in the dirt at the left side of the road. Gradually I inched forward, taking a few blurry photos through the front window. Then I saw a car approaching from ahead and knew the grouse would be flushed. Rapidly I stuck the camera out the window and tried for a few more photos. The other car stopped before it reached the grouse, however, and then we both inched forward toward the grouse. Every time I stopped I took some more photos. When we were both very close to the grouse, the other car slowly swerved to its wrong side of the road straight ahead of me and slowly drove around the grouse and then past me. The grouse never left the road, so I eventually slowly drove right up to the grouse and took many more pictures. Another car then approached rapidly from ahead and zoomed by, and the grouse just went to the very edge of the road but did not leave it. When I finally left, the grouse was still just off the road, watching.
Very nice. I still have my cold but for half an hour I forgot all about it.
299 species so far
Some birders might think it to be the “bottom of the barrel”, but today I took pictures of European Starlings and Rock Pigeons. The latter species is not even officially countable in Alaska (don’t ask – long story), and therefore is not even on my year list. Neither species is on my yard list either but they are both regularly found around many areas in Anchorage. And they are making their debut on my blog today.
I wandered a few more neighborhoods in search of robins and maybe some rarer thrushes, but no other birds were seen in the beautiful fruiting trees.
Also not rare, but definitely a “good” bird, always welcome in my world, was a single Bald Eagle out near Ship Creek.
Today I also figured out my November travel plans to Barrow, so some progress was made.
299 species so far
The sunrise this morning was a bit more subdued than yesterday, but beautiful too, and when I got to Potter Marsh, the light was beautiful on the water.
I arrived at the marsh quite early this morning to find the only other person there taking pictures of a most unusual (at least for me) phenomenon. There were three muskrats and five Mallards, and at any one time at least one of the muskrats was rapidly chasing the Mallards! The muskrat would race through the water, increasing speed until it neared a Mallard, which would fly and land again not too far away, and the muskrat would race off toward the Mallard again and repeat. I really don’t think muskrats eat Mallards, so were they just being territorial or were they playing or what? I have a few still pictures of that but I also took a video, which I will try to insert at the end of this blog. Weird.
Other than that, I photographed the five Green-winged Teal and a Common Merganser, and also saw a couple of Black-billed Magpies and Common Redpolls.
And now for my first attempt at inserting a video in a blog post (24 seconds long):
299 species so far