December 15 – Christmas Bird Count, Anchorage

Today was the Anchorage CBC. Due to the short days, a full day of birding was about 5-plus hours. The temperature was just below 20 degrees, and there was little wind, so it was a very pleasant though mostly cloudy day to be birding. My assigned area, as for the past couple of years, was along Chester Creek and nearby neighborhoods. Most of my day was spent walking on the newly snow-covered trail along the creek. Most of the birds seen were the usual ones for the area and season, with one notable exception (see below).

Scenes from my walk follow:

Ducks seen were Mallards and a single Common Goldeneye:

Although in previous years there were multiple American Dippers in the area, I only found one of them today:

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Other birds seen by me include: Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Common Ravens, Black-billed Magpies, two Pine Grosbeaks, and a handful of American Robins.

The highlight birds for me, two of them, were Varied Thrushes, which no one else saw today on the count, as they are basically not known to winter here! They appeared to be a male and a female (or possibly a young bird), which were perched with robins and were not seen with each other.

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Scenes from the count-down gathering this evening are below. If you are interested in total bird counts, etc. for the complete Anchorage count circle, you will need to check the Anchorage Audubon website in days to come after everything gets officially tallied.

 

 

 

 

December 14 – Nome & Anchorage in early December

I spent Dec. 4-7 in Nome, where, as I expected, there were few bird species around. Unexpectedly, however, the Nome harbor area was full of gulls. This is apparently very unusual, and every time I tried to post my sightings on eBird, I was asked the same thing: was I really sure that I had seen this many gulls? The video below shows one pan of just one of the gull flocks, so you can get an idea of what fun it was to try to count them.

Gull species were mostly Glaucous, but there were also multiple Glaucous-winged and Herring, a Thayer’s or two and two Slaty-backed Gulls. Below are some pictures of scenery and birds (gull, Gyrfalcon (2 different birds, at least) and buntings, mostly McKay’s Buntings and a couple of Snow Buntings) taken during that trip.

My kind hosts, Remi & Igor, shared their home and wonderful meals with me.

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Since I have been home, it has finally become winter, evidenced by yesterday’s 5-6 inches of snow and another inch or two since then. We now are a 2-snow-thrower family, the “his” version being shown below.

November 24 – They’re Gone; They’re Back

Most of the lakes in Anchorage finally (much later than usual, I believe) have a thin layer of ice across them.

The ocean inlet, however, seems to be ice-free so far.

Most of the ducks, except for Mallards at places where the water is open, such as at Spenard Crossing and Cuddy Pond, and our yard, and a Common Merganser every now and then, seem to be gone for the year. The Mallards in our yard regularly behave as if they thought they were lightweight songbirds as they perch on the bird feeders.

One day only a Rock Pigeon visited along with the Mallards. It seemed to be particularly attached to one of the male Mallards, flying when the Mallard flew and hopping along near it on the ground.

Until quite recently the weather has been unseasonably warm and little birds have been infrequent in our yard, except for periodic visits by Steller’s Jays, Black-billed Magpies, and the absolutely too-cute Red-breasted Nuthatches.

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A couple of days ago, however, when we had a brief cold spell, the yard was hopping, with first-for-the-season Common Redpolls and Bohemian Waxwings.

Today, when a small flock of Mallards was in the backyard, they suddenly took off and in their fleeing midst was a huge (in comparison with everything else in our yard except the Mallards) Northern Goshawk. All disappeared, and since then only a few Mallards have flown rapidly over our yard, clearly afraid to land again. Just now, however, a single male Mallard has dared to land briefly in our yard again. They will be back, and maybe the Goshawk will too. It pays to pay attention to birds, even in a mostly empty back yard.

 

October 28 – It’s here!

Winter, that is. This morning began with rain, cold rain, often heavy. By mid-morning, little snow flakes were coming down but melting on the ground. Even by 1:00 there was still not much snow on the ground up in central Anchorage, but down at our house (in the coldest part of Anchorage), the snow has stayed, and we’ve even had to shovel the porches. There will be more, undoubtedly much more before anything resembling spring occurs, but right now, it’s rather exciting to see the snow.

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There were four unhappy-looking American Robins (or that’s how they appeared to me) in the deciduous trees on one side of our yard.

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On the other side of our yard, our neighbor’s spruce trees look just like Christmas.

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Tomorrow, I fly to Nome for my last scheduled trip for the year. I’m scheduled to give a talk there on Friday night about my Alaska big year (2016). Nome’s temperatures have been fairly similar to ours lately, but I don’t know what their snow situation is now. Depending on what birds are around in late October/early November (I’m curious whether any McKay’s Buntings, which winter in Nome, are there yet), I may come back for a quick trip in December to complete my year of checking out Nome’s birds. Spoiler alert: I’m having so much fun exploring Nome, I’m thinking of continuing this self-defined project next year. Stay tuned.

October 20 – Fall/Nearly Winter in Anchorage

For the last week or so, my only birding has been to two trips to Potter Marsh, in our yard, and to various Anchorage lakes today on an Anchorage Audubon field trip.

Potter Marsh, still open since we have had few days even close to freezing, still hosts various ducks and about 20 Trumpeter Swans. Shown here are scenes (some leaves still on trees on October 11) and Common Mergansers and Trumpeter Swans.

At home, the yard is usually empty of birds except for the usually-present Steller’s Jays and Black-billed Magpies. The skies are now wintery, often cloudy but sometimes the sun does show.

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The home birding highlight is that Mallards (up to 22 at a time, so far this fall) have started to drop into our yard once or twice a day to scavenge under the bird feeders and eat the little bit of cracked corn that I periodically strew in the grass and put in a dog dish. Often a magpie hops close to them, apparently trying to figure what they are finding to eat. This is more than two weeks earlier than they began to come last fall. If they behave as in the past couple of winters, they will become more and more regular and more and more numerous in our yard until the snow disappears in spring.

Today I joined about 12 other birders on the annual fall field trip, led by Andrew Fisher, sponsored by Anchorage Audubon to Anchorage lakes. It was a nice day, low 40s, but the chilly wind across the lakes made me realize how close we are to cold weather.

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While there were plenty of ducks (both goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, Buffleheads, a few Canvasbacks, a few Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, scaup (mostly Greater), the clear highlight of the trip was two (!) Northern Goshawks, an adult and an immature, hunting the lakes. The latter almost got to keep the gull it caught and tried to take off the lake. The adult sat high in a large tree far across the lake after we saw it hunting.

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The immature (gull hunter) perched in a closer tree at another part of Westchester Lagoon at Spenard Crossing.

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At Spenard and Hood Lakes there were mainly Common Goldeneyes and two White-winged Scoters far across the lake. Instead of trying for pictures of them, I took some pictures of the recently whiter mountains.

I  finished the trip by taking a short video of a plane taking off. Soon the lakes will be frozen and they will need to put on skis on the plane.

October 9 -Drive on Arctic Valley Road (Anchorage)

It was a cloudy morning as Dave and I drove up and down Arctic Valley Road today. The mountains, as always were beautiful. They still had some yellow colors and some of the mountain tops had sprinkles of white “termination dust”. We stopped every now and then for photos. The sun did appear briefly a couple of times, changing the lighting on some of the mountains.

There were very few birds on the trip (about 14 miles round trip) – 2 Black-billed Magpies, four Black-capped Chickadees, one Boreal Chickadee, a small flock of Common Redpolls, a Common Raven, and a Northern Flicker, a bird I rarely see around here. The flicker flew past at one of our stops, briefly landed on a spruce top and was gone.

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October 3 – Falling, Fall – or Going, Going, Gone

It is that time, once again to realize that maybe the season of Fall has to do with falling leaves (if you live in a place with trees with leaves). This is clearly the case at Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area (Anchorage) where I walked a couple of days ago (and where I fell off the trail (don’t ask) and skidded and ran down a steep hill and then fell, like the leaves, to the forest floor and rolled to a stop at the foot of a lovely birch tree; my body, though not visibly seriously damaged, still aches all over).

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Yesterday I drove to Lakes Hood and Spenard, where the most evident birds were small flocks of Greater Scaup (no photo) and Common Goldeneyes, soon to be going, going, gone when the lakes freeze over, as will the single Red-necked Grebe that I saw (the dot to the left of the plane is also the grebe shown in the photo to the right of the plane photo).

For those not familiar with these two lakes and how ducks (and other birds) and planes coexist there until the freezing of the lakes causes the waterbirds to leave, I am including the following video – note the ducks flying by at the beginning of the video and the ducks on the water behind the plane at the end of the video, never leaving, just moving as necessary when the planes get too close:

While the “termination dust” (first snowfall) is not yet staying on the mountain tops that we can see from our house, soon when I look out my window I will not see yellows. They will be gone, replaced by white. Of course, it will still be beautiful.

September 27 – Anchorage Birding

We had all these beautiful sunny days recently (many temperature records broken in September due to much higher than usual temperatures), and I was lulled into thinking we’d have more of them – until this morning when a light rain started. Then I raced out to Potter Marsh to try to squeeze in some birding before the heavier rain. By the time I got there it was raining, so I birded by car along the road for a half hour. After seeing some Mallards, I saw two white lumps out in the water and at first was in horror at the thought that it was two dead swans.

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But, no they were alive, two adults, foraging underwater. Later there were four more adults and two young swans.

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I was glad I had driven along the marsh because when later when the rain essentially stopped and I went to walk along the boardwalk, I could not see the swans that I had seen when I drove along the south end of the marsh.

In addition to swans, there were a couple of dozen Mallards, a dozen American Wigeons and a few Northern Pintails (not photographed) seen in the marsh as I drove along the road.

Along the boardwalk I was surprised to see that there were still 14 Greater Yellowlegs and a single dowitcher around in addition to a few more Mallards, a Green-winged Teal and a Common Merganser.

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The biggest surprise, however, was the perched up bird along the boardwalk that turned out to be a Townsend’s Solitaire, my first for the year (admittedly most of the year my birding has been in Nome). As I was taking its picture, it dove down into the brushy saplings and I did not see it again.

 

 

September 26 – Nome Miscellany – from Roads to Rainbows (9/17-9/21)

…and things in between.

In my first post about this trip I showed scenes along the three main roads leading out of Nome, but very little of any of the three main roads themselves was shown. So, below are representative photos of what some of the roads looked like, some smooth, some littered with little or big depressions, some seen through raindrops on the window or disappearing into clouds ahead, none paved. Some of the most curved roads are not shown – I dared not stop to take pictures through the window or to get out.

Along the roads, in addition to trees and mountains and birds, sometimes there were mammals to be seen and photographed, which on this trip was limited to a few distant ground squirrels, reindeer and musk oxen:

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The next group of photos is of rainbows. While not much rain fell on me or my vehicle during this trip, there was often rain all around, and the sun was visible, resulting in rainbows, some very beautiful. These photos are of the most brilliant rainbow on the trip. It was fun to play around with camera settings in my attempt to maximize the colors that could be seen in the pictures as well as to show the scenery.

I was going to end with rainbows, but I’m going to throw in a few sunrises for good measure:

My next trip isn’t until the end of October, when I will certainly find that things have changed dramatically, both the scenery and the birds. I will be giving a talk there on November 1st about my Alaska big year of birding.

 

 

September 23 – Nome Birds 9/17-9/21

As expected bird numbers were down, way down from a few weeks ago. Most noticeable was the nearly complete lack of little birds – no warblers at all were seen, and only a few sparrows (American Tree and Fox) and a few small redpoll flocks. There were a few Northern Shrikes around, and on the last day I saw a few Snow Buntings. At Council there were a few Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees.

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Also nearly completely disappeared were loons. I found one Common Loon adult on Safety Sound struggling with and presumably trying to eat some sort of critter, one parent Red-throated Loon and a single chick on Kougarok Road, and a pair of Pacific Loons and their two youngsters in the Safety Sound area. When I returned to each of the areas later on my trip, the adult birds were gone, as was one of the Pacific Loon youngsters.

There were a couple Long-tailed Duck sightings.

There were increased numbers of a few duck species, American Wigeons being the most prevalent, as can be seen in some of the swan photos that I am posting. Other ducks that were around were Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, and Red-breasted Mergansers.

Common Eiders were in low numbers in the ponds, but perhaps there were more offshore.

There were also a few groups of Harlequin Ducks.

 

Most spectacular were the numbers of Tundra Swans when I first arrived (over 1000), followed by the apparent departure of most of them the next couple of days (down to about 300, then up to 750, and back down to about 75 (of course this is just counting what I could see; there could have been many, or none, beyond my range of view). I do not know if they come in waves, or if this big push was it for the fall. I need to read up on it, or just move to Nome and watch all of the time.

As before there were only a few raptors – a Gyrfalcon, a few Peregrine Falcons (two perched on same building at dusk, one of which flew off before I thought to get a picture of the building with them on it), and a handful of Rough-legged Hawks on both Teller and Kougarok Roads.

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Gulls, primarily Glaucous, were around in large numbers, working the major rivers and loafing on the shore areas. Also seen were a couple each of Glaucous-winged, Herring and Mew Gulls, and a Slaty-backed Gull.

The Nome-area Sandhill Cranes were all gone, but for a few glorious moments on Kougarok Road, there were hundreds calling and circling above me, slowly rising out of sight. No others were seen or heard on this trip.

Shorebirds were scarce, with only sightings a couple of times of small flocks of Dunlins, and one sighting of a small flock of small yellow-legged brown peeps (presumably Least Sandpipers but too far away to see well).

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On my last trip I had only seen a few ptarmigan, but on this trip there were a couple of families of Willow Ptarmigan and most that were on the road were reluctant to leave it.