December 21 – Solstice at Last

Up here in Alaska, the Solstice is a particularly important holiday when the all-too-short days no longer are getting shorter, and will slowly begin to increase in length. It made the day seem even more special when the sun and blue sky appeared.

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Although it is less taxing to only have a small number of daylight hours in which to bird, it will be great to have more time. Today I limited my birding even more, and just birded our yard. The usual birds were around in modest numbers. I photographed a couple of the Pine Grosbeaks, one of the Black-billed Magpies and two of the 10 or so Common Redpolls that visited the feeders. I did not know  until now that the latter like mealworms as well as seeds. The blueness of some of the photos is how the camera saw it – I have not changed that and all were taken with the same settings.

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307 species so far

December 20 – Frosted Foggy Morning

I first went to Spenard Crossing today, finally getting out to bird, as directed by my car license plate.

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The temperature was mild as Alaska winters go, about 20 degrees. All the branches appeared to be frosted, some of them quite heavily.

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The woods were silent. Eventually I heard and then saw two very distant Black-billed Magpies. Two Common Ravens flew silently overhead. The two Mallards that flew past the woods broke the silence with their whistling wings. I did not go to the parking lot to check on whether the huge Mallard flock was around. The last birds seen in the Spenard Crossing woods were about 25 Bohemian Waxwings. I snapped a quick pictures of them as they disappeared behind a spruce tree (there really are birds in that picture below).

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I then drove out to the airport, thinking perhaps I might see the American Kestrel that has been there for awhile. Unfortunately for birding, but fine for photography, the whole area out by the airport was covered in dense fog. Somehow, planes were still landing and taking off, but not only could I not see any kestrel, I could not see the runway or the planes themselves or hardly anything else. At Point Woronzoff was a lone Black-billed Magpie peering through the fog. No other birds, just atmospheric loveliness.

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307 species so far, and now only 11 days left

 

 

December 19 – Barely Birding

I guess I’m falling down on my self-appointed (non-paying) job of birding and blogging each day during my Alaska big year. As I vowed in late 2015, I have done at least a little birding each day and have blogged each day this year (except when I had no signal). Today’s birding, however, was minimal at best. My glances out the window, in between my various non-birding tasks, did not reveal much activity. The weather was warm, mid-20s, and snowing on and off. Birds were mostly elsewhere and I did not go out looking for them. I enjoyed looking out the window at yet another beautiful day.

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Those that I did see and photograph included a couple of the handful of Pine Grosbeaks rooting through the snow for seeds.

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A few Black-billed Magpies were also around,

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as were a couple Steller’s Jays, including “Beaky”, who doesn’t have a complete beak but seems, although a big scruffy, to get by.

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307 species so far, and only 12 days left!

December 18 – Watching and Waiting

For many people at this time of the year, it is a time for waiting for Christmas, or maybe, for Christmas to finally be over. For many birders it is a time for going out to participate in Christmas Bird Counts. For me, it is all of that but right now it is mostly a time of watching the reports of Christmas Bird Counts around Alaska, posts on the AK Birding listserv and the Alaska Facebook Rare Bird Alert and my emails and text messages and phone messages, hoping and waiting for word of one (or two?) last rarities to appear in Alaska before the year ends.

Meanwhile, in between anxious perusings of all my electronic devices, I still am finding time to look for birds around Anchorage. Today was rather unproductive though. I tried once more to see the American Kestrel that I understand was again seen out by the Anchorage airport in yesterday’s CBC. It would be good to have it on my Anchorage list. The mountains across the inlet were highlighted in pink and orange just after noon when I went out there. Things were really slow, with my bird sightings limited to one Bald Eagle, six Common Ravens and a Black-billed Magpie. I was told that the kestrel had most recently been seen over the northern part of the runway, but all I saw there were the ravens, even though I drove the area a couple of times. It was beautiful, but more stark than recently as much of the frosty coating of the branches is gone.

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When I got back home, the only bird in the yard was a Hairy Woodpecker acting like a seed-eater in spite of there being 4 suet feeders and a peanut butter log nearby.

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307 species so far – Only 13 days left!

 

December 17 – Anchorage Christmas Bird Count

At 9:30 am, before dawn, I started birding my section of the Anchorage Christmas Bird Count, along the Chester Creek Trail and nearby neighborhoods southeast of downtown. I walked more than I have walked in previous CBCs, about 5 miles or more, along the trail and back to my car. I also drove most of the neighborhood roads in my assigned area. I was happy to find 15 species, which is good for a small neighborhood area in Anchorage in the winter.

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It was a beautiful day from before sunrise to sunset, but it began with mixed rain and snow with temperatures just above freezing. So for my first walk, I wore my heavy-duty rain coat over my parka, rain pants and boots. The trail had about 3-5 inches of fluffy snow on it, with many ski and bike tracks.

Birds that I saw include Common Raven, Black-billed Magpie, Bald Eagle, American Dipper, Rock Pigeon, both Black-capped (not photographed) and Boreal Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings on the move constantly and not photographed, Pine Grosbeak, American Robin and Common Merganser. The latter is not on the CBC checklist for the area, so I was especially pleased to see two of them, even though I had to photograph the one that I photographed in the fog.

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In the afternoon there were areas of patchy fog, some so dense I could not drive for awhile. When I finished at 3:00, the sun was setting and there were patchy streaks of fog.

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The whole Anchorage count circle had 36 species, highlights of which were new for the count, Song Sparrow and American Kestrel. Birds seen in the count in other areas that I did not see include Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Spruce Grouse, Great Horned Owl, Hairy and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Gray Jay, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren (2nd year on the count), Golden-crowned Kinglet, Northern Shrike, European Starling (1084, an all-time high), Dark-eyed Junco, White-winged Crossbill, Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin.

A few pictures from the CBC count-down dinner follow, as well as a couple of graphs of bird numbers seen on the Anchorage CBC through the years (graphs show humongous starling number increase, varied but increasing Bohemian Waxwing numbers, Pacific Wren at 1 per year for just the last 2 years, and American Dippers at all-time high this year, respectively). The dinner featured various chili dishes provided by the Anchorage Audubon board plus corn bread, salad, and dessert provided by members.

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307 species so far

December 16 – Snow and More Snow to Come

We’ve gotten a bit more snow and more is forecast tonight – just piling on the beauty everywhere. The pictures below were taken at Spenard Crossing this afternoon.

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Birds were few and far between at Spenard Crossing. Although I heard a Black-capped Chickadee as I left, the only bird that I saw in the woods was a single Black-billed Magpie.

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Near Spenard Rd. a few Mallards gathered on the ice, but then flew over the bridge to the parking lot when I walked along the frozen creek. When I drove into the parking lot later, the Mallards, which had been sitting down spread out over most of the parking lot, all got up and started waddling toward me, expecting food. When they realized no food was forthcoming, they all sat down to wait for someone else to arrive.

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307 species so far (tomorrow is the Anchorage Christmas Bird Count – maybe someone will find a rarity)

 

December 15 – Winter Wonderland Continues

Our yard and much of Anchorage remains beautifully covered in rime ice. In addition to watching my back yard birds (includes Red-breasted Nuthatch pictured below as well as all the other usual birds), I went to Ship Creek today, where the only bird species that I found were Bald Eagle (1), Black-billed Magpie (2) and Common Raven (1). So, I took a few pictures through my front window as I drove out the boat dock area, and then took a few pictures of the scenery along the mostly frozen creek.

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307 species so far (which is probably what the final total will be unless a rarity shows up somewhere in Alaska that I can go to in the next 16 days)

December 14 – Shades of White (Mostly)

My goal early this afternoon was to see if I could find the American Kestrel that has been seen out by the Anchorage airport (I believe). Although I’ve seen a couple of them this year, they were not in Anchorage. All along the road, everything was coated in white rime ice – I just can’t get over how beautiful this makes everything! Although whiteness was everywhere, including on the mountains across the inlet and in the water itself, there were all shades of white, from grayish white, to silvery white, to bluish white to buffy white to golden white, and everything in between. Shown below is a selection from the many, many photos that I took.

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On the drive past Point Woronzoff, I did not see any birds at all along the entire road. On my way back, however, I finally saw a single Northern Shrike, first sitting on the airport fence, then hovering high in the air beyond the fence, and then sitting atop a tall tree across the road from the airport, sort of part of the mostly white theme.

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My final picture for today is the view of Anchorage across the inlet, a few more colors than just shades of white.

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307 species so far

 

December 13 – Anchorage Moose and Birds

Yesterday while I was travelling back from Ketchikan my husband at home in Anchorage saw a mother moose and her half-grown youngster in our yard. The mother was lying down and apparently munching grass through the snow in our back yard, while the youngster was on its front knees, pushed up close to the back of the house eating grass that the mower hadn’t reached. It’s been awhile since we had moose visitors in our yard.

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Today I had quite a bit of work to take care of here so did not venture forth to bird. The yard was beautifully frosted with rime ice, and the birds were busily eating much of the day. Bird photographed were a Pine Grosbeak, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Black-billed Magpies, Common Redpoll and Downy Woodpecker.

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307 species so far

 

 

 

 

 

December 12 – Ketchikan, Day 4

It was the fourth day that I did a vigil at the Swamp Sparrow location, and still no picture of it, but I enjoyed the birding anyway. It was a clear morning, but apparently there had been fog overnight forming new rime ice on everything.

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I arrived earlier at the spot than on previous days, giving me more time to watch the same birds. I again phtographed Dark-eyed Juncos, the Varied Thrush, the Spotted Towhee, the Northern Flicker and the Eurasian Collared-Doves.

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For the first time while I was there, the Northwestern Crows came in, eventually 20 of them snarfing up the birdseed.

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I also took time out from birding to photograph one of the nearby harbor seals.

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Along the road a couple Pacific Wrens sneaked around in the grass as did the Wilson’s Snipe. I will try to include a video of the latter here as it bobbed up and down while it fed.

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I’m back in Anchorage, hoping a new rarity is found somewhere in the state before the year’s end and that I can manage to go for it.

307 species so far