January 8 – Redpolls, etc. (corrected title)

I just had time for yard birds today, and today most of my photos were of Common Redpolls visiting our feeders.


I also got a couple of magpie photos, one of which is below:

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The rest of the time at home was spent in almost finishing my detailed review of all my photos from last year. My first PowerPoint on the Anchorage area birds for my first class (this coming Thursday) is also nearly done. Maybe I’ll have time to get back to painting this week. Of course I still need to fit in birding.

January 7 – Waxwings and Starlings…

 

…look nothing like each other really, except their silhouettes are similar when seen from a distance in flight. Today one of my goal birds, the only one that I finally found, was a European Starling. It’s rare that someone actually looks for a starling, but in Alaska they are often hard to find and I didn’t have one on my year list yet. It was a beautiful morning with snow still remaining on the spruce trees.

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At first the closest things to starlings were flocks of Bohemian Waxwings, many flocks of waxwings.

Finally in the Turnagain neighborhood I heard a starling singing after a flock of waxwings flew by and left the area. In a tall spruce tree very near me I found seven starlings, which took off, so I could not add a starling photo to my year list of photos. I had a small flock of American Robins there too but the photos were fuzzy.

After doing a few errands, I went to the Airport Heights neighborhood – more waxwings and more robins. And then, there was a single starling in a tree among a small flock of robins that were feeding in nearby fruiting trees, and I got its photo.

It’s funny how little it takes to make me happy, especially in a non-big year! When I got home, there was another flock of waxwings in our back yard. Although I thought I heard a starling in the distance, I did not see it, so I still do not have starling on our yard list. Probably a good thing, since I recall that they nearly ate us out of house and home when we lived in an area where starlings are common.

January 6 – Mostly Magpies

It was cold today, starting at zero degrees, going down to -5 degrees and then inching its way back up to about 13 degrees. I spent the entire day at home glued to my computer, doing client work and going through more photos from last year, but every now and then I peered out the window. The trees in our yard are now mostly cleaned of rime ice.

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Most of the time most of the birds seen out the window were Black-billed Magpies flying about, eating, chasing each other, perching and staring around.

Other birds included four Pine Grosbeaks, a Black-capped Chickadee, a Hairy Woodpecker and a handful of Common Redpolls. Although the magpies often, including today, sit on the porch railing next to the peanut butter log and eat peanut butter, I was not able to get a picture of that today.

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January 5 – Defuzzing of the Trees

Yesterday I posted about the rime-coated “fuzzy” trees everywhere. Today there was at first a gradual loss of some of the ice so that the birch closest to the house had little clumps of ice and then the wind picked up and the deciduous trees in our yard lost most of their ice. Some snow and ice still remains on the coniferous trees and sheltered deciduous trees.

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Even though the temperature for the first half of the day was about zero degrees, bird activity in the yard was modest, with a couple of Steller’s Jays around, as well as a few Common Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks. A Downy Woodpecker visited the suet as usual.

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In the street in the front of the house, Black-billed Magpies gathered around our neighbor’s trash container, which apparently is seen by them as just another, much bigger, feeder.

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I spent most of the day inside, going through more photos from last year. I’m up to October in selecting slides from my big year to be used for my class presentations. For the first PowerPoint presentation to be used for the first class (January 12) about areas good for birding in and around Anchorage, I’ve added photos taken from January through the middle of July. There will be a lot fewer photos that I will need to add from the last months of the year since most birds photographed then had already been photographed earlier in the year and their pictures are already in the presentation. I’m thinking I will be ready for the first class at least.

January 4 – Fuzzy Trees Continue

The winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15 did not prepare us for this winter of continuously frost-covered trees day after day. Before one coating of rime ice can fall off the trees we get more fog and the trees are covered again even more thoroughly. I can’t get over how beautiful they become, whether it be just after dawn or in full sunlight.

The birds of course just hop around apparently oblivious to the beauty while they are adding to it. Shown below from our yard are Common Redpolls, a Pine Grosbeak and trees with a Common Raven and a Black-billed Magpie.

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The ducks that remain around for the winter, having gotten used to handouts, just sit around and wait both at Spenard Crossing and at Cuddy Park (shown here), and are also unlikely to be admiring the beautiful trees.

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Today in addition to birding a bit and going through more of my bird pictures from 2016, I added a bit to my painting that I posted an early version of yesterday, but I have not gotten the courage to start to add eagles to the picture. Maybe tomorrow.

January 3 -Birding, Talking and Painting

I birded some Anchorage neighborhoods today searching for and finally finding my first American Robin of the year. On the way, I had multiple flocks of Bohemian Waxwings but just the one robin. Everywhere it was foggy, sometimes so foggy that I could hardly drive. The fogginess is evident in the bird pictures.

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The fogginess is also evident in the pictures of the two moose that were out near the airport today. The browsing moose looked smaller. I’m not sure if it was a young one or a small fat (pregnant?) adult.

In addition to tell people about birds seen when I post, I also want to use this blog to let people know of when and where I will be giving talks on my Alaska big year. I’m delighted that the number has been increasing. Currently scheduled are the following talks:

February 8 – Mat-Su Birders (AK)

February 16-Anchorage Audubon (AK)

March 9-Juneau Audubon (AK)

April 13-Fort Worth Audubon (TX)

April 20-Golden Triangle Audubon (TX)

May 1-Arctic Audubon (AK)

May 18-Kenai Bird Festival (AK)

Finally, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve finally gotten back to painting. My first painting is intended to eventually have a couple of Bald Eagles soaring over the mountains, but so far I’ve only begun working on the mountains. Right now it looks like this:

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Assuming I finish it I’ll post the final result here.

 

January 2 – Beyond Big Year Dreams…

I drove down the street and turned the corner into the parking lot of a small shopping center where there was a bank and some sort of hardware store. As I pulled to a parking spot, I heard it – the loud unmistakable chirps of House Sparrows. I couldn’t believe it! There were at least five of them, coming in and out of a big parking lot outdoor light fixture high on a pole. I groaned – why couldn’t I have come here two days ago, during my big year? It would have given me another species! And then I woke up!

I really did just have this dream last night. It was so real and such bad timing. For those of you not blessed to be Alaskans and not knowledgeable about House Sparrows here, these birds used to be found in a couple of areas in Alaska but are now no longer to be found. They definitely are not on my Alaska list, except in my dreams. It is so strange how a bird that is so common and mostly unloved elsewhere in the US can remain a goal for me in Alaska.

Due to much recent fog, the tree branches remain beautifully covered in white rime ice. Birds were quite active in the yard today, especially the Steller’s Jays at the peanuts. I also added Red-breasted Nuthatch to my year list.

When I went out side to load up the car to take newspapers to be recycled, I was surprised to see a young moose munching at our neighbor’s hedge, probably 30 feet away from me. I glanced about nervously because when we have moose in our neighborhood, there usually are two of them, a mother and her calf. Only one today.

After my errands, I managed to get out and bird today in spite of my dream (see above) and in spite of the cold weather (just above zero F). I decided to go to Spenard Crossing with the goal of adding American Dipper to my 2017 list, and maybe Pacific Wren. I found both of them, and as was the case in late 2016, only got photos of the dipper. I got another video too, this time of the dipper repeatedly slipping into the water and hopping out with a mouthful, over and over, having quite a feast.

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Although it is difficult to slow down to the casual non-big-year birding lifestyle, it is rather nice to just go birding and not to have to worry about the bottom line number of bird species.

 

 

 

January 1 – My Blog Will Continue (2nd post for Jan. 1)

What am I going to do in 2017 now that my big year is over? Quite a few things that relate to birds as listed below, and I will continue to blog about them, but not necessarily every day. Oddly enough, I have two blog posts today (the other is a thank you post posted earlier today), so some of you needlessly bemoaned the end of my blogs.

First I will continue to bird (probably nearly every day this year and every year). This year I hope to spend more time with birds that interest me, watching, photographing of course, and video-taping, but not being so obsessed about finding new year birds (I still hope to chase birds that would be new for my state list) and definitely not travelling as much as in 2016. Today I started my 2017 year list, which will be a medium year at best and not a big year. Today’s first bird species was a small flyover Mallard flock as we drove home from church. So far I am up to 11 species for the year. Pictures taken today are below, including Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers,  Black-billed Magpies (14 of them seen at once!)  and Steller’s Jays (first one here today was “Beaky”), and Common Redpolls:

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Other things planned for 2017:

2) Paint, especially birds, but also Alaska landscapes, which were so stunning in my big year;

3) Write a book on doing big years in the two biggest states, Alaska and Texas, a project that I have begun but still is really in the planning stages;

4) Put together PowerPoint talks for the Ole! class that I will be doing in Anchorage on places to bird in Alaska and birds that can be found at each area (8 weekly sessions, each featuring a different part of the state, beginning January 12);

5) Put together a PowerPoint presentation on my Alaska big year. I am scheduled so far to talk to the Mat-Su and Anchorage bird groups in February, to two Texas groups in April and to the Kenai Bird Festival in May, and would welcome the possibility of scheduling other talks during the year (no charge but if I need to fly there I always welcome help on the cost of transportation and lodging);

6) Try to figure out how I might sell some of the zillions of bird-paintings that I have previously done so I have room to put the new ones I hope to create; and

7) Keep blogging – I love to show and tell others how wonderful (cute, amazing, bizarre, special, you name it) birds are!

Good birding everyone in 2017!

 

 

January 1- Looking Back & THANKS!

This is the first of two blog posts today.

I don’t often spend much time looking back – it’s too much fun to plan things (like big years) and look forward! But today, I want to thank those who have helped me and who have birded with me this past year. I am including pictures in this post of those I was able to photograph, arranged in random order (by WordPress). I also thank others who have helped me, welcomed me to their part of the state and encouraged me. I know I will leave out many including of course all those whose pictures I did not get, but THANKS TO ALL of you who were part of my Alaska BIG year and to those who followed it on my blog and on Facebook!

As far as I (and others) know, 287 was the previous record of number of species of birds seen in one year in Alaska, but I understand that the people who have done previous big years here have mostly not been quite as intentional/fanatic about it as I was. My total for the year was 307 species. I could not have done it without a lot of help from a lot of people. Now I challenge you other would-be big year birders in Alaska – get out there and beat my record! I’ll help you if I can. You have 364 days left if you start right now!

THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR A GREAT YEAR!!