May 30 – Not So Action-Packed in Anchorage

I am sure someone could write a slow soap opera using the facts about the Mallards in our yard yesterday evening. Facts: Mallard pair arrives about 7:45 pm, and mostly just sits around and sleeps. Male leaves about 8:35, and 10 minutes later a second female arrives, but leaves 4 minutes later. Male arrives (same male?) about 9 pm. About 9:36 original female and male depart. All they did when here was sleep and slowly walk around the yard poking their beaks in the grass. I wonder if any of these ducks have nests.

Today I began my birding at Oceanview Bluff Park for my fourth and last Birds ‘n’ Bogs survey of the year. The temperature was just above freezing. Basically nothing happened although I did see and hear 19 species, one of which was new for the year in Anchorage, a Gray Jay saying a few things and disappearing (not photographed). I never saw any of the survey’s goal species and only heard a Greater Yellowlegs a couple of times in the hour I was there. A couple of Orange-crowned Warblers sang, as did a Dark-eyed Junco.

After that I drove up Arctic Valley Road.

There was a little more activity there, including three arctic hares hopping on the road, both Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes, some of which were singing, and Fox Sparrows singing. Not photographed were Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, American Robin, Varied Thrush, Orange-crowned, Wilson’s, Yellow (new for year) and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Golden-crowned and Lincoln’s Sparrows and Common Redpoll.

Highlight of the trip though was a munching porcupine, barely moving up in the leafy tree.

Although the video shows that the porcupine is alive (and not a clump of branches) as it munches and scratches itself, it is definitely not lively.

May 29 – Dancing in Spring

I spent the last couple of days dancing at the annual Dancing Bears camp in Wasilla at a lakeside camp. Although various aches and pains remain, the camp (dancing, singing, workshops, friends, food, lake, woods and mountain scenery) was all wonderful! I even donated some time in the future to act as a bird guide to help raise money for the Dancing Bears.

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Although at first the bird population at the camp seemed to be minimal with just a few singing warblers being easily heard (Yellow-rumped and Wilson’s), in a couple of short walks on the camp grounds between dancing time I managed to find 19 species. The first highlight was a calling Common Loon that flew right over my head as I walked from one event to another. I was not even carrying a camera or my binoculars. Later I saw two distant Common Loons on the lake and periodically heard them.

Birds I did photograph included one of a couple of American Wigeons, a Red-necked Grebe and a Swainson’s Thrush. Other birds for the camp were Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Sandhill Crane (distant audio), Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Common Redpoll.

Today at home, I was delighted to find that the male Mallard that has been coming alone to our yard was once again there with a female Mallard. Who knows where (or if) they have a nest and whether we will get to see any of their babies.

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Although we periodically have a female Hairy Woodpecker coming to our suet, today for the first time a male Hairy Woodpecker came a couple of times to different feeders.

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May 26 – Birds Along the Water

Yesterday and today I wandered along some of the Anchorage waterways. Yesterday at Spenard Crossing (which was green and lovely and very different from winter’s icy scene), I got my first close-up view of a Spotted Sandpiper this year.


Mew Gulls were keeping watch, as well as huddled in the grass (not shown).

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While I was waiting for the Spotted Sandpiper to fly back down the stream, I was entertained by a couple of Black-capped Chickadees.

Today I went to Ship Creek at the peak of high tide, the highest I had seen it there. There was very little exposed land in the big tidal lake. Two Sandhill Cranes shared a small island with a Whimbrel and Greater Yellowlegs (latter two species not shown).

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A Hudsonian Godwit walked in the shallow near-shore water near me, the first time I had been close to one this year.

Near the bridge over Ship Creek a Semipalmated Plover also gave me good views as it foraged on the mud.

Finally, there were gulls, mostly big gulls. I usually try to ignore them as just too confusing, but I did take pictures of what I believe is a Glaucous-winged Gull (and was not one of the many nearby Herring-Glaucous-winged hybrids). You gull experts – feel free to comment.

In a couple of hours I will head north to Wasilla, not to bird (although I will of course do some birding), but mainly to dance at the Dancing Bears Dance Camp that lasts all Memorial Day weekend. Hopefully, my body will also last a couple of days.

May 24 – Birdy Birding Days

Two days ago I enjoyed birding with Don Cecile from British Columbia and yesterday I birded with Bev Agler from Juneau, both days in Anchorage. Birds photographed include Red-necked Grebes and Arctic Terns on nests at Potter Marsh, a White-crowned Sparrow (also in video), a Red-throated Loon at Lake Hood, Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers at Lake Hood, and a Tree Swallow at Lake Hood.


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Today began with birding in the sometimes quite heavy rain at Potter Marsh, and I almost quit. But then, after seeing very distant views of my first Pacific Loons of the year at Goose Lake in Anchorage, I decided to continue birding and went to Lake Spenard and Lake Hood. In addition to photographing a fairly close Common Loon, I spent a long time looking at the 100s of swallows (video below is a very tiny sampling of the swallows that covered most of both lakes except when a floatplane spooked them away for a while), mostly Violet-green and Tree, but also at least 10 Bank Swallows (finally photographed) and a single Cliff Swallow (not photographed). The dowitchers were still around, as were dozens of Greater Scaup and a few Red-necked Phalaropes.

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As I was sitting at the end of Floatplane Road trying to get better swallow photos, I heard a beautiful singing bird, and found a male House Finch singing in a sapling very near me (had thinner belly stripes than I remembered them having, but the song was that of a House Finch). I wonder if it is the same bird that was in Girdwood earlier this year.

May 21 – Back from Kenai Trip

For the last few days I have been down in Kenai participating in the Kenai Bird Festival and birding with friends – a very enjoyable trip. Below are a few of the photos that I took beginning with photos taken on the drive down.

Following are photos of birders on festival field trips, marsh marigolds (I think), Northern Shovelers on Cannery Road, a Whimbrel, a Pectoral Sandpiper, a rear view of a Spruce Grouse in a spruce, a Northern Waterthrush, a Gray Jay, and a very distant Redhead (VERY rare in the Kenai area).


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May 18 – Things Continue Ducky

Because I am heading down shortly to Kenai/Soldotna for the Kenai Bird Festival, this post will be short. In addition to birding every day somewhere because it’s birdy spring in Alaska, for the last two days I had the fun of helping out at Outdoor Week at the Campbell Science Center, showing 6th-graders what fun birding is and helping them learn about birds and birding.

At home almost every day we still have a pair of Mallards coming down to our back yard, eating and drinking and hanging out. Usually sometime during the day we also have a single male and/or a single female duck around, but have no way of knowing how many ducks in total are coming to our yard. In any case, it still is fun to have them around.

Come join me this weekend (starting today) at the family-friendly Kenai Bird Festival. There are great field trips each day, and Saturday night I’ll be talking about my Alaska big year.

May 15 – Time Flies When You’re Birding

I have visited quite a few Anchorage areas looking for birds the past few days. On Saturday (5/13) I went to Potter Marsh with some of the people who took the birding class that I offered earlier this year through the OLE! program. Although it got cloudy and colder as we walked the boardwalk, we still had good sightings of birds, including Tree Swallows, winnowing Wilson’s Snipe, singing Lincoln’s Sparrows, possibly nesting Arctic Terns (photo), and the usual ducks (N. Shoveler, A. Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Mallards). I did add a new year bird identified by audio, at least one Alder Flycatcher.

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I then went to Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area, hoping for and finding my first Savannah Sparrows of the year. In addition, I had a distant Whimbrel walking out on the mudflats, which took off calling after a while (today I had five more Whimbrels at Carr-Gottstein Park). The final new bird for Saturday was a female Northern Harrier also out over the mudflats, first sitting and then flying about showing the distinctive white rump.

I did get out to bird on Sunday at Westchester Lagoon, just seeing the usual birds.

This morning I did my second Birds ‘n’ Bogs survey at Oceanview Bluff Park, and was delighted to hear my first Swainson’s Thrush of the year, as well as the usual snipe and two displaying Greater Yellowlegs. More exciting I guess was the fact that a moose, and then a second moose, walked across the trail I was on between me and where I was parked, with no obvious solution but to wait while the moose that was very close to me just munched and munched its way along the trail, and then finally decided to move off the trail so I could get by.

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After the survey, I went to Spenard Crossing where I saw a duck that had me very confused. At first I thought it was one of the numerous scaup, but its head was wrong, and then I thought female scoter. Mostly its head was under its wing as if it was hiding from being identified. I never even considered Harlequin Duck because as far as I knew they are very rare in Anchorage itself, but Aaron Bowman, whom I consulted, reminded me that it did look like a Harlequin Duck. Definitely unexpected.

I went to Westchester Lagoon and Potter Marsh, getting pictures of the dowitchers and a Least Sandpiper that was there.

Spring here often feels so frenetic. So little time to try to see the birds as they hurry past on their way north.





May 12 – Busy, Busy Fun Birding

Everywhere (almost) that I have gone recently there are new birds for the year, at least for Anchorage. Some of the highlights follow.  Both yesterday and today I went south to Girdwood, and yesterday I went beyond to Portage. Both days I also birded at Potter Marsh and in Anchorage.


At Girdwood yesterday and today there were many shorebirds, but I did not have my spotting scope yesterday. New year-birds there included Semipalmated Plover (photo), Pectoral, Least and Western Sandpipers, and Lesser Yellowlegs.


At the Trail of Blue Ice beginning at the Moose Flats parking lot there were numerous singing Fox Sparrows and I saw my first Orange-crowned Warbler, Hermit Thrushes, and Solitary Sandpiper for the year.

At Potter Marsh yesterday there was a Northern Flicker, and today there were Red-necked Phalaropes (also seen at Hood Lake in Anchorage).

I walked quite a way up the trail at Windy Point this morning (south of our Anchorage house about 19 miles) and briefly saw two fly-by Townsend’s Solitaires and my first Golden-crowned Sparrows of the year. I also got very close to three Mountain Goats (I believe that’s what they are).

At Westchester Lagoon and Hood Lake I saw my first Bonaparte’s Gulls of the year amid the Arctic Terns.

At Hood Lake the Red-throated Loon that I had seen a couple of days ago landed near me, posing for photos.

There was also a distant Canvasback out among the scaup. I haven’t included a photo here, but right after I wrote the above I learned there were two Redheads at Spenard Crossing and I raced over there and saw them.

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I am including a few recent videos below: 1) singing Golden-crowned Sparrow; 2) swimming Red-necked Phalaropes; and 3) a sometimes noisy Red-throated Loon (with background noise of nearby floatplanes taking off).


May 10 – More Cranes and More New Birds for the Year

This morning I birded at Westchester Lagoon and the nearby coastal trail, Potter Marsh, Lakes Hood and Spenard and the Point Woronzoff area in Anchorage. The birch trees are leafing out in a beautiful delicate green.

Sandhill Cranes were along the coastal trail (4) and near Lake Hood (3).

New year-birds that I have not yet photographed this year were four Rusty Blackbirds flying by at Potter Marsh and a noisy Red-throated Loon at Lake Hood. Also new for me for the year were Tree Swallows flying around Potter Marsh and one that perched for me near Lake Hood.

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Other birds photographed were Mew Gulls, a Northern Pintail with a Gadwall, a Barrow’s Goldeneye, Northern Shovelers, and a begging Common Raven at Point Woronzoff.

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I am also including a short video of the cranes (a bit wiggly unfortunately, but shows all four cranes walking around) and another of a croaking Black-billed Magpie.


May 9 – Birds ‘n’ Bogs, Yellowlegs and Cranes

Early this morning I did my first Birds ‘n’ Bogs observation at Oceanview Bluff Park.



This is a program of Alaska Audubon. I participated in it in 2015 but not last year when I was too busy doing my Alaska big year. In this program, participants monitor a number of species of concern at selected Alaskan bogs in spring. Today, being early in the observation period, was a bit low on these species, and I only saw two Greater Yellowlegs, one of the monitored species (others are Lesser Yellowlegs, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Rusty Blackbird, Tree and Violet-Green Swallows and Solitary Sandpiper).

There were other birds there of course, most noticeable being winnowing Wilson’s Snipe and a singing Lincoln’s Sparrow.


Later I went to Westchester Lagoon and along the Coastal Trail, where the highlights for me were three very close Sandhill Cranes and a perched Bald Eagle.