October 11 – Beautiful Anchorage Sunrise

For the second morning in a row I got to see a beautiful sunrise today, this time in Anchorage as viewed from our living room window.


My dreams last night changed my birding plans today. I kept dreaming about finding a Dusky Thrush last night, first at some unrecognizable location that in my dream I knew was in Barrow, and then at a location in Anchorage. Driven by the dreams, today I explored some neighborhoods and parks in Anchorage where I had hope of finding fruit-bearing trees that might attract robins, and maybe a lost Dusky Thrush or two. I did not find any robins or thrushes at all, but had a fine time birding and I found many trees that had potential.



I also saw the usual Mallards at Spenard Crossing, the males looking more like decoys than living ducks.


The Bald Eagle was in same spot as at my last visit to Spenard Crossing.


I also went to Cuddy Park, the site of a wandering Palm Warbler last year. Today the little cattail pond had a partial light coating of ice and there just were a flock of Common Redpolls, a single Black-billed Magpie and lots of fuzzy cattails.



299 spccies so far

October 10 -Beautiful Morning in Barrow

I am back in Anchorage but got to spend a nearly clear morning in Barrow after a spectacular sunrise. It has been cloudy since I arrived in Barrow until today so the sun was most welcome. No Ross’s Gulls came by this morning while I was there. For some reason they have only appeared in the afternoons this year, so far. The whale remains were removed by crews this morning from the easily birded site that isn’t very far from town, so that polar bears won’t be attracted so close to town. Therefore, the number of Glaucous Gulls that were visible was substantially reduced from the large numbers that were around since Friday.





In addition to the smaller numbers of Glaucous Gulls and a few Thayer’s Gulls, a few Long-tailed Ducks were visible along the shore (photo) and others flew by, a distant Yellow-billed Loon flew by and landed far out, and a couple of flocks of King Eiders flew past before I left Barrow.

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I was finally able to get a few photos of Barrow since it was not obscured by clouds as I flew out at noon.



I am planning to be back to Barrow in early November in hopes of seeing an Ivory Gull when there should be ice visible and hopefully near shore for the gulls to land on. Between now and then I’ll bird every day of course, and hope to find some rarity, or to have someone else find some rarity that isn’t yet on my Alaska year list that I can see too.

299 species so far



October 9 – Ross’s Gulls and Polar Bears

Along with Anchorage birders Joanna Hubbard and Cathy Foerster, I looked for Ross’s Gulls in Barrow beginning about 9:30 this morning (just about dawn).


We did not see Ross’s Gulls until just after 2 pm. Even then there were only a few small groups of Ross’s Gulls, mostly quite a ways off shore so the pictures were again still fuzzy.


The Glaucous Gulls are still centered around hunks of whale carcass that remain available to them. Also present with the Glaucous Gulls, as identified by John Puschock, were a handful of Thayer’s Gulls and a Slaty-backed Gull, both of which I have seen earlier this year.


There also were multiple organized flocks of Long-tailed Ducks, each flock zooming by in a different direction.


About noon I took a break from gulls and looked at the Hoary Redpolls at a local feeder.


Later, we took another break and drove south on Cake Eater Road, where a man driving by pointed out two distant polar bears, which happened to be what we were looking for. One of the bears seemed to be looking across the field at us, while the other appeared to be sleeping with its feet up in the air.


I have another morning here in Barrow on this trip and then I expect to return in November to look for Ivory Gulls.

299 species so far

October 8 – Ross’s Gulls in Barrow

A very good day.


After I saw many Long-tailed Ducks, as well as King Eiders and at least one Common Eider, a Pacific Loon, and an arctic fox, and watched the over 500 Glaucous Gulls still eating whale, I finally  saw the first ROSS’S GULL of the day (and of the year) at 2:03 and a couple of small flocks after that. If the gulls go according to the pattern I’ve seen in previous years, there should be more tomorrow and many more on Monday. I will probably miss the big push, but all I needed for my big year was one bird. And I even got some blurry photos. I hope for better pictures tomorrow. Life is good.



299 species so far

October 7 – Arrival in Barrow

I had heard that Ross’s Gulls were not yet being seen in Barrow just before I left Anchorage this morning to come to Barrow for the express purpose of seeing Ross’s Gulls. So it comes as no surprise that I have not yet seen Ross’s Gulls for the year. I’m guessing it’s a combination of east winds and warm weather (34 degrees here today in Barrow), but in any case, I hope something changes soon.

It was interesting, however, to watch the excitement of Barrow residents and gulls alike over the bowhead  whale kill that happened yesterday. Apparently the people here worked all night long last night and today to cut it up, and late this afternoon, truck after truck arrived to cart away parts of the whale. Glaucous Gulls were everywhere feasting. Maybe some other gull(s) will arrive to join in the fun tomorrow.



298 species so far

October 6 – And Bottoms Up

Today’s birding was at Spenard Crossing where many of the smaller trees and bushes still are filled with bright yellow leaves.



Most of the resident birds (Mallard, Bald Eagle, Downy Woodpecker, Steller’s Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper) were well-represented. The Bald Eagle actually posed for its picture but no matter how I tried I could not get a picture of one of the 11 Black-capped Chickadees except for a blurry flight shot.

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The Mallards were as usual resting on the waterway and on the land at the roadside pullout.

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Out on the lake, there was much active feeding with Mallards and Gadwalls spending much time bottoms up. I do like Mallards in spite of or maybe because of their being so common nearly everywhere I have lived.



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Tomorrow I am looking forward to my flight to Barrow where many gulls should take the place of ducks in my observations for a few days.

298 species so far


October 5 – Heads Up!

Heads up – it’s clearly well into fall here in Anchorage.


There are still many beautiful yellow trees, but more than a third of the deciduous trees have lost all their leaves, and many of the others have very few leaves left on them. Many of the fallen leaves have not yet reached the ground but are adorning nearby spruce trees.






When I was out at Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area today, it was so still I could hear the whispery tap tap of falling yellow leaves hitting branches on their way down to the ground. The few little puffs of wind caused clouds of swirling leaves to leave the trees wherever the wind blew.

In the woods, the Steller’s Jays ignored me as they pushed the leaves around looking for food.


There was a flock of Canada Geese on a nearby lake. Out on the flats, a flock of about 80 Canada Geese had also gathered, often they too were in the heads-up mode. Soon most of them will be gone.



Although it is a beautiful time of the year, sometimes it is hard to be a birder in the fall when most of the birds disappear, especially for a big year birder who still hopes for some new bird to appear.


298 species so far



October 4 – Swans and Scenes

I began the day before dawn at the field at the end of Buoy Ave. in the Kenai borough where one or more Great Gray Owls have been heard periodically, including the last two evenings. This calm, crispy cold morning there was no sign of them even though I repeatedly scanned the spruce trees and field. Other than distant barking dogs, all was silent.






Laura Burke joined me for part of the vigil and we then walked the field unsuccessfully looking for Great Gray Owls. We did see a distant Northern Hawk Owl (way too tiny for what we sought) and yet another moose.

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After checking out of my motel and eating a late breakfast I began my drive back to Anchorage, stopping to bird periodically along the way. On the couple of walks that I took, there were essentially no birds seen or heard. My main activity therefore was just driving, counting Trumpeter Swans along the road and taking pictures of some of them, and taking pictures of the beautiful yellow fall foliage, the colorfulness of which decreased substantially the farther north that I got.





My Trumpeter Swan count for the day was 5 in Kenai, 2 at Tern Lake, 7 at Lower Summit Lake, 17 between Turnagain Pass and the road to Portage Glacier, 19 between that road and Girdwood and 21 at Potter Marsh, for a total of 71 (if my math is correct), all in little groups of 2-7 birds. Most birds were in the water and only a few were flying. Only about 7 were the gray-brown young ones. As far as I could tell all the swans were Trumpeter and not Tundra, but some were quite a ways out and hard to see or had their heads underwater most of the time. Although the sunlight seemed to create yellow areas on some of the beaks in the photographs, none were actually seen on the birds.







I have a couple more days in Anchorage before I head to Barrow on Friday.

298 species so far


October 3 – Great Gray Owl, Northern Lights, Shooting Star

I saw them all today (the owl, northern lights and shooting star), but no photos of any of them. Just a sunset photo.

Toby Burke joined my evening vigil tonight at the open field site next to the spruce trees where I had heard Great Gray Owl calls last night. At 8:00 pm tonight (sunset about 7:30), we heard the first calling immature. The calls lasted about 15 minutes, with about 1 call per minute, changing location from very near to us in the spruce forest to quite far away. Just before we stopped hearing the distant calls, we both saw a dark owl silhouette drop from near the top of one of the nearest spruce trees to out of sight. It is our thinking that there were at least two Great Gray Owls, a silent adult that we saw and a noisy juvenile. And that was it for owl sightings.


Later after dark on the drive back to my motel, I pulled off the road at a couple of dark spots and saw the northern lights that Toby and two of his sons had mentioned they were seeing on their walk home after our owling. I also saw a lovely falling star.

Much of the rest of the day today revolved around moose sightings. The first was a bull moose in the morning on Feuding Lane north of Sterling while I was in the car searching for more Great Gray Owls. The second was another bull moose in the afternoon  just ahead of me on a trail walk, between me and my car. This moose actually checked out my car while I waited patiently for it to move along so I could get in the car. The third and fourth moose sightings were of females, both very near to me also. The moose must know that hunting season here is over for the year.






Birds today began with hearing a Great Horned Owl hooting north of Sterling. Photographed were Boreal Chickaees (calling everywhere), multiple flocks of White-winged Crossbills mostly perched on treetops,  a Golden-crowned Kinglet, and a Spruce Grouse on the road to Kasilof Beach (where I did not see the previously reported Mountain Bluebird). Also seen were numerous Black-billed Magpies, Gray Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and two Bald Eagles.



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Tomorrow morning I plan to try one more time to see one (or more) of the Great Gray Owls and then head home. I had thought about trying to schedule a quick trip to look for the Mourning Dove that was reported yesterday in Gustavus, but I learned tonight that it was not seen this morning. Maybe another will show up in southeastern Alaska this fall.

298 species so far

October 2 – Drive to Soldotna and Kenai and New Bird

This afternoon I drove about 2.5 hours south to Kenai past many recently snow-capped peaks.


My plan is to bird here a couple of days in the hope of seeing a Great Gray Owl. Although I arrived in time to try and did try to see one this evening, I did not see one (yet) but I did hear a GREAT GRAY OWL youngster screeching very near me in the spruce trees. The beautiful sunset was at 7:24 and I heard the screeching beginning at 8:15 near me when it was almost dark , and then heard it again and again gradually farther and farther away for the next 20 minutes. The Burkes, who live on this street (Buoy Ave.), have periodically seen Great Gray Owls here and a few days ago they too heard the youngster screech and I understand that they also heard one this evening from near their house. It is a very loud sound and carries well on an otherwise totally silent evening.




For those unfamiliar with birding “rules”, the American Birding Association (ABA) says one can count “heard-only” birds, and I am therefore counting this owl. I will, however, try again for it tomorrow, as well as check out other likely spots. I really want a photograph of course, although I have photographed other Great Gray Owls in other years and places.

Other sightings today were Trumpeter Swans, beginning with ten at Potter Marsh six more later on my drive.

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Other birds on Buoy Ave. this evening in addition to the owl were Boreal Chickadees, three Gray Jays (photographed), a Brown Creeper, Red Crossbills, Dark-eyed Juncos and a fly-over Greater Yellowlegs.

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298 species so far