It’s been a long, long time since I wrote in my blog, but I’m back. I just had to come back to tell everybody the exciting news that my third book will be published and available about early April. It is about my adventures birding in my Texas and Alaska big years (2005 and 2016, respectively) and has lots of photos and paintings to illustrate some of the bird finds. I would love to sign copies and send them to any interested people. I might even come up with special deals if people wanted the new book and a copy of one or both of my earlier books. People can email me at email@example.com if they are interested, or call me at 682-365-6531.
My main reason for returning to Nome in late May/early June this year was to see Bluethroats again, and of course, to photograph them. So, on my first full day there, May 30, I drove slowly down Kougarok Road where I’d had the most luck seeing them last year. I recalled that about mile 21-24 or so was the best but I listened intently wherever there was brush. I heard my first singing Bluethroat at about mile 14, followed by another 0.2 mile later and others at miles 23 (after the baby moose adventure reported in my previous blog post), 32 (at twigs protruding from a snowy expanse), 41 (just after Salmon Lake), 49 and 50.5. Two days later I drove Teller Road and had sightings about at miles 14, 22 and 48.
The sound of a Bluethroat is both unlike any other bird sound and also similar sometimes as the singing bird periodically imitates other birds. Sounds just pour forth, musical, staccato, hurried, all over the place, even when the bird is flying up, fluttering in the sky, and coming back down (usually to the same perch as before). Unfortunately, for now I am unable to put videos on my blog, so cannot illustrate this further.
Below are samples of Bluethroat photographs from Nome.
Although my recent (May 29-June 5) trip to Nome was to see birds, some of the most memorable parts of the trip were the moose sightings. If you have been to Alaska, you probably are aware that it is common to see moose, sometimes only dimly, yet most Alaskans just want to see moose even more. than they do.
At this time of the year, however, it is the babies that make moose sightings special. Toward the end of the Nome trip, we were able to see a mother and newborn across the river from us. Even at that distance, the mother appeared ready to charge if we made a move in her direction.
The most memorable moose sighting of the trip came earlier, however. I was driving along Kougarok Road, which runs along a wide river (the Nome River, as I recall). Way off to my left I noticed a moose in the brush. Oddly, she seemed to be slowly turning in circles. Was she tethered or somehow caught in the brush? I stopped to watch, and then realized that mostly hidden beneath her was a youngster.
For some reason, the mother decided it was time to head across the river, aiming apparently for a spot in front of me. I watched them cross the first section of the river, which seemed to go okay. And so did a second section of the river.
But then they came to the main part of the river, clearly much deeper, and the youngster could not quite make it and they turned back. The mother was so intent on this journey, so I was sure they were going to try again, but it was so scary I could not watch anymore.
So I don’t know the end of the story. Go ahead and write a happy ending for yourself, which I hope there was. When I returned later on my way to Nome itself, I did not have any moose sightings.
Note: my computer was not happy today to work with my blog host, and I had much difficulty making progress for a long time. Therefore, I’m not sure what will actually show once I publish this post. Let me know if much seems to be missing or garbled.
Also, I do plan to publish some photos of birds and scenes soon from this Nome trip, assuming I can get my blog stuff to work.
The big news in the Anchorage birding world (and beyond) has been the Falcated Duck that was first reported at Potter Marsh on May 3rd, when I was lucky enough to see it after I raced over there immediately upon hearing about it. Since then, the bird has been seen daily but is not as easily viewable as when originally found. This is the first Falcated Duck that I have ever seen, as their normal range is in Asia and Japan.
Other ducks that I have seen and photographed recently in Anchorage include (in order shown below) a Surf Scoter at Spenard Lake, Buffleheads, Gadwalls, Green-winged Teal, and a mixture of ducks including Gadwalls, Green-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers at Potter Marsh.
There are three loon species around now that I have photographed: Common Loon photographed at Spenard Lake, the tame Red-throated Loon at Hood Lake (which usually calls when float planes take off or fly by as in the video below) and two Pacific Loons at Goose Lake:
The two grebe species now in the area are Red-necked Grebe, which is a common breeder at Anchorage Lakes, and Horned Grebe, which I usually only see on migration, although it does breed in the area.
Although the above loon and grebe species are the only ones now in Anchorage of which I am aware, there are many other ducks around, including Mallards, American Wigeons, Northern Pintails, Ring-necked Ducks, and Greater Scaup, and there are migrating Trumpeter Swans and zillions of Canada Geese as well.
It’s really beginning to seem like spring in Anchorage! Even before May began, as I began to be able to find time again to bird, I found that things were looking up.
On April 29th, I went to Hood and Spenard Lakes and Westchester Lagoon and found that the water was all open, with only a bit of ice along the shore. Bird highlights included Trumpeter Swans, Arctic Terns, Red-necked Grebes, and a very tame Bald Eagle. The noise in the background of the grebe video is gulls squabbling on the island at Westchester Lagoon.
On May 1st I went back to Hood and Spenard Lakes, looking for the very tame Red-throated Loon that I have seen there the last couple of summers, and was delighted to find it was back, still amazingly tame (I learned from one of the plane owners that it had returned a couple of days earlier, and he believes it has been coming back for about 5 years, never with a mate).
On May 2nd I drove up Arctic Valley Road, hearing American Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos and Ruby-crowned Kinglets at regular intervals as I drove up the road. The road was clear of snow, although there were remnants of snow along the road and on the nearby hillsides.
As I turned around at road’s end to head back down the road, I heard the unmistakable clucking sound of a Willow Ptarmigan, so I got out to look around. Very near me, on the snow near the rippling creek was a pair of ptarmigan, more interested in each other than in me.
Today’s highlight was along Ship Creek, where there was a resting, preening Harlequin Duck, a bird I have only rarely seen in the Anchorage area, much less downtown.
May has always been my favorite month, even when I was not living in Alaska, and I am planning to get out birding as much as possible. Near the end of the month I’ll be back birding in Nome.
The second half of our trip to Spain was spent in Andalucia in southernmost Spain. Much of the trip was near and around the off-limits central portion of Donana National Park. This area is much flatter and lower than the Extremadura portion of our trip, with many wetlands with a wide variety of waterfowl and other water-loving birds.
A major highlight of this portion of the trip was the flamingos. A small selection of my flamingo photos follows.
Other long-legged wading birds included Black-winged Stilts, Eurasian Spoonbills, Pied Avocets, Glossy Ibises, Black-crowned Night-Herons and a Squacco Heron. Not shown are photos of the Gray and Purple Herons.
Ducks seen include Common Pochard, Crested Pochard, Northern Shovelers, Garganey, Ferruginous Ducks, White-headed Ducks, and Common Shelducks.
Also seen were Great Crested Grebes, Eurasian Coots and Red-knobbed Coots, and Purple Swamphens.
While we saw Hoopoes many days and heard them even more often, only rarely did they allow more than a rapid, fly-by view.
On three different days a bit farther away from the water we saw Little Owls, and on one day got to see two Barn Owls in a next box.
Some of the best sightings, however, were the members of our birding group. A selection of photos of some of them follows taken in both portions of the trip.
I also took many photos of scenes, plus more bird pictures of course, and will try for one more post about the trip.
As part of a Birdwatcher’s Digest Readers Rendezvous trip, I arrived in Madrid on March 15th and met my roommate Laura with whom I birded before the trip began.
On March 17th our group of about 20 birders, led by Ben Lizdas (US), Catherine Hamilton (US), João Jara (Portugal) and Fernando Navarate (Spain) departed by bus for its first main destination, Monfragüe National Park in Extremadura in southwest Spain. We birded there and in the surrounding area for the next 5 days.
Following are some of the highlight birds of that portion of the trip.
White Storks and their nests were perched on many buildings and poles and were flying to and fro.
In the fields we looked for and eventually found Great Bustards, most of which were too distant for photos, but eventually some were a bit nearer to the roads, and others flew over the road.
There also were a few sightings of Little Bustards.
Three vulture species, (Eurasian) Black (Cinereous), (Eurasian) Griffon (most common) and Egyptian (not many) were seen.
In the rocky mountain areas we had a couple of sightings of Black Storks, as well as Blue Rock Thrushes, Black Redstarts, Rock Buntings, Serins, Linnets, and Hawfinches.
Birds seen out in the fields and more open areas included the ever-present Corn Buntings, as well as many Crested and Thekla Larks (very similar in appearance) and Calandra Larks (not shown), Stonechats, and Woodchat Shrikes.
I will continue to wade through my thousands of photos with the hope of writing a Part II soon.
Note: I believe my identification of the photographed birds is correct, but would welcome corrections, of course.
This morning was the ceremonial start for the 47th Iditarod here in Anchorage. The real start will be tomorrow north of here for the over 1000 mile trek to Nome. For the ceremonial start, snow is hauled on to the center of some downtown streets to make a berm-outlined path down the roped-off streets. There are many official-type people & certain photographers allowed inside the ropes, but the thousands of observers crowd the ropes and any surrounding buildings and parking decks as one after by one the over 50 teams are announced and set off across town. Below are some of the photos I took this morning. It was about 20 degrees but getting warmer when I got there.
I won’t be going to Nome to see the end of the cross-Alaska Iditarod, but I will be there to watch and photograph birds from late May to early June.
For awhile now, birds have been somewhat scarce as is usual up here in winter, and I’ve been thinking that I would just have a few sunset/sunrise pictures and nothing more to post.
Except a few for a few days last week there haven’t even been noticeable sunrises or sunsets, just more or less light coming through the fog and clouds. In looking back through my photos, however, I have found a few bird and moose photos, including a few taken today. Although Downy Woodpeckers are our usual yard woodpeckers, a Hairy Woodpecker visited last week and busily ate peanut butter before disappearing.
Of course, there are the Common Redpolls, with 30-60 being around on and off most days.
To keep the redpolls on the alert a Sharp-shinned Hawk lurked around the yard and on the porch a couple of days.
Down the street two days ago, a mama moose and her yearling made an appearance, nibbling on the neighbors’ trees and bushes and ignoring passing cars and the neighbor across the street.
Today when I drove out west of our house to try to see a few birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count, and to try to find the Northern Hawk Owl that has been seen out toward the airport, I first saw many Common Ravens and at first I thought that was all I was going to see.
But right where previously reported, the Hawk Owl was perched up on a snag almost invisible at times in the rapidly falling snow. It flew to another nearer snag, watched me and preened as I photographed, and stayed until I finally decided I had enough snowy photos.
Soon after that I found a grazing moose, which I again felt obliged to stop and photograph.
It is still snowing, and I gather that a total of a few inches is expected today.
Although all the birds up here in Alaska, where it is usually cold at this time of the year, are often hungry in this snow-covered world, I will just mention the three most obvious hungry species in our yard lately, which are Mallards, the previously discussed Northern Goshawk and Common Redpolls.
Lately, every morning even when it is dark, every late afternoon (about 5 pm) and every evening until long after dark, there are Mallards down in our back yard, either eating madly, dozing or rapidly trying to escape our neighborhood Northern Goshawk. I don’t have any Mallard pictures here, but below is a picture of the Goshawk taken three evenings ago, which I watched through the window catch a male Mallard.
As I stared out the window at the struggling Mallard I realized that I needed to try to rescue it. I raced outside, causing the Goshawk to flee at the last minute and the still alive Mallard to dive under the porch overhang into the farthest corner. The Goshawk returned and sat on the fence looking for its escaped prey, then flew up to our closest birch tree and finally left, because I did not leave. The male Mallard stayed put under the porch. Eventually the other Mallards returned and ate, but the bird under the porch appeared too traumatized and/or too injured to come out. Time passed and I eventually decided to see if the cowering Mallard could/would come out. It was still alive and could walk, and I could not see any injuries so I gently herded it toward its fellows. It joined them but did not eat and just sat at the water dish. The rest of the Mallards flew away for the night but this one did not even attempt to fly, so I gently herded it back under the porch, hoping it would rest and recuperate overnight. Of course, later when it was time for our dog to go out I could not let him run free but had to keep him on a short leash away from the duck. The next morning there was no sign of the duck, and no feather piles indicating he had been killed, so presumably, he flew away.
Last night when I put out corn and the Mallards again arrived, the Goshawk immediately also arrived nearly flying into me in its attempt to get a Mallard, which of course scattered the panicked Mallards away. I had hardly gotten up the steps to go back inside when the hungry Mallards returned, immediately bringing the Goshawk back to our yard barreling again into the frantic midst of the ducks, maybe 15 feet from me. Again everyone left, but I stayed outside until the Mallards came back in a few minutes, and I kept guard over them until all the food was gone and the Mallards had all gone.
Tonight the Mallards came and stayed for a couple of hours, but no Goshawk. For which I was thankful. I know the hungry Goshawk will get more Mallards, but I would just as soon that it did not happen in my yard, at least when I am there to watch it. Life is hard for all concerned – the Mallards, the Goshawk and me.
On a much cheerier note, this is clearly a Redpoll winter in Anchorage (and I understand that is the case in Fairbanks as well). Some winters there are very few around our yard. For the last week or so at many times throughout the day they have been coming in waves of 40-300 or more to our yard, swarming over all the feeder and porch surfaces on which I have spread seed (“Redpoll Blend” sold at the local feed store), as well as hopping on the snow-covered ground and clinging to all the birch branches. Although they take off often and flit about a lot, they keep coming back and are very tame. Without much effort, I have a couple of times walked out on to the porch while they are there, approached them with seed in my hands, and had them hop on my hand at eat. While they do have known predators, a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Northern Shrike that have both recently visited our porch too, I haven’t yet had the misfortune of witnessing any Redpoll deaths.