June 22 – Mostly Moose

This morning I birded south of the city of Anchorage, but still in the Anchorage Borough. At Potter Marsh, it was bright but overcast. Birds were singing but were mostly hidden in the summer leaves.

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Soon after I started walking down the boardwalk, a sleek yearling moose came tripping down the stream toward me, and then swerved to go under the boardwalk just ahead of me and disappeared into the heavy underbrush.

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When I got toward the eastern end of the boardwalk, I saw a large shaggy moose browsing some 75 feet from me, slowly sloshing through the water it grazed.

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Hoping that maybe it was a mother and that maybe there was a young moose nearby, I scanned all around. I was happy to find two rusty-colored ears just showing above the marsh grass about 30 feet from the larger moose. The youngster eventually stood up and went nearer to its mother. Both eventually faded away into the brush, and I went back to birding.

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I then drove south along Potter Marsh, where I photographed some of the Canada Geese, and an Arctic Tern at one of the pullouts.

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Although the weather was somewhat drizzly I decided to go down toward Portage, with the goal of walking one of the trails along the road. By the time I got there, however, the rain was coming down heavily (as seems to be the usual case when I go there), so I headed back north. I stopped in Girdwood just long enough to find a Northwestern Crow. I was about to leave when I heard the unmistakable sound of baby crows. In a large tree near me were two crow youngsters which I saw be fed first by one crow and then another. Northwestern Crows are only rarely found in the city of Anchorage itself. Girdwood is about as far north as this species usually gets (as far as I know), and is where Anchorage birders go to see a Northwestern Crow in the Anchorage Borough. The only other large black bird in most of Alaska is the Common Raven. The American Crow is found far in southern Alaska in the Hyder area.

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June 20 – Dirt & Dandelion Eaters, and More

This morning I first drove up Arctic Valley Road northeast of downtown Anchorage. Although we had a few drops of rain before I left home, on my drive up the road only the skies showed signs of rain and everything around me was sunlit and gorgeous. Along the road I saw many dandelions, as well as a few other flowers.

Birds at first were scarce, but the road was hopping with hares, as usual munching on dirt.

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I drove slowly past the usual singing warblers, thrushes and Alder Flycatchers. About two miles from the road end, I was delighted to find a bear along the edge of the road, digging in the dirt and munching on dandelions. Although I am no expert on bears, it appeared to be rather leggy, perhaps last year’s teenage youngster. After feeding for a short time ahead to my left, it crossed the road ahead of me and munched some more. Eventually I drove on. When I came back down the road, the bear was still munching.

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At the upper end of the road a Wilson’s Snipe was calling and calling from the top of a pole.

Along the road below the snipe were a couple of arctic ground squirrels appearing and disappearing from roadside holes, and also munching on vegetation. I couldn’t tell if they also ate dandelions.

I next drove to Lake Hood. I haven’t been out there recently to see my favorite loon, the oh-so-tame Red-throated Loon that has been coming to the lake for a few years at least. The loon was at one of its two apparently favorite spots. As usual it dove as I got out of my car, walked over to the edge of the water, and said “hello”. It came up to within two feet of where I stood. Eventually it started calling while a nearby seaplane was revving up, and then slowly swam away. Sometimes it seems that this loon becomes more vocal in reaction to nearby planes, but maybe that’s my imagination.

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Also at Lake Hood were three Red-necked Phalaropes, at least one Red-necked Grebe and many buzzily trilling Savannah Sparrows.

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There are so many neat things to see in the Anchorage area!

 

 

 

 

 

June 17 – Quiet times in Anchorage and a few Nome photos

I haven’t been birding too much since I returned from my early June Nome visit. I finally made a quick visit out to Potter Marsh, primarily to remind myself of whether the boardwalk is completely handicapped-accessible, as I am hoping to gather some non-birders out there sometime this summer. After I ascertained that it is indeed quite accessible, I birded a bit, even though I had forgotten to take my binoculars (clear a major sin for a nutty birder). It was a very windy day, and most birds were staying out of a sight, but I did manage to see and photograph my first Alder Flycatcher for the year. I also hope to find them in Nome in early July when I return to Nome.

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Although I probably will never get around to putting many more Nome pictures from early June on my blog, I have added a few below of a very cooperative Arctic Tern and very tame Red Phalaropes and a Red-necked Phalarope.

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Less common, and a very welcome sighting in Nome was the waggle-tailed Common Sandpiper that hung around the Safety Sound Bridge.

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I am very much looking forward to seeing what’s around Nome in early July.

 

 

 

June 2-7 – Nome again

On this trip to Nome I took too many pictures and saw too many birds (as if there is any such thing as too many birds) and have decided not to do a detailed discussion of the trip. There’s just too little time to even begin to tell a coherent story about the trip any time soon. So, for now, I’m going to try to content myself with showing a few highlights. Perhaps I’ll periodically show a few more as the days go by. We were delayed in departing Anchorage for a day, due to not enough visibility in Nome. I spent the first three (it should have been four) days as part of a Wilderness Birding Adventures group wonderfully led by Scott Hauser and Aaron Bowman.

The last three days I birded mostly on my own, taking time to try to nail down a few decent shots of a Bluethroat, which we had seen from a distance on the first day. I now have become very familiar with the unbelievably variable, yet still repetitive song of the Bluethroat. Following are few of the many photos of one of three Bluethroats that I found on Kougarok Road on June 7th, concluding with a song sampling. All three birds were singing and doing their aerial displays as I drove slowly by. Two of them didn’t sing for long, but the first one kept going energetically for about at least two hours, as I photographed it. It flew up and then landed on a couple of prominent shrubs and sang, over and over, sometimes quite near me, where I stood as motionless as I could (should you be interested I did NOT ever play a tape to start or prolong their singing).

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May 22-26 – Nome, Part 4 (final): Other Critters

We come now to the final blog post on my May 22-26 trip to Nome, just in time for me to head there again in two days. This post is about “critters” – non-human mammals from my trip to Nome. If mammals were as prevalent and easily seen as birds, I might be more of a mammal-watcher and less of a birdwatcher. Nearly every time I see a mammal I drop my birding and watch and try to photograph it. Some of the results follow:

Some type of seal on the ice at mouth of the Nome River:

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Arctic ground squirrel (I believe that is what the Nome animals are called):

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Reindeer, mother and young, seen a couple of days out on Safety Sound:

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Musk Ox, seen every time I drove Teller Road, often very near town; there was at least one herd with mothers and young and elsewhere there were individual animals, probably males:

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Moose, one seen this trip on Kougarok Road, coming up onto the road, leaving the road, running alongside the road, returning to the road and running for over a mile ahead of me as I drove extremely slowly before it finally left the road so I could drive on. The second one was out Teller Road:

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For added measure, following are a few pictures of the two moose that make my birding interesting this week, taken in Anchorage on my last Birds ‘n’ Bogs survey at Oceanview Bluff park:

 

 

 

 

 

May 22-26 – Nome, Part 3: More Birds

In my first two Parts in this series of blog posts, I covered scenes from my recent trip to Nome and large birds. This post will cover more birds that I saw and photographed, mostly smaller ones.  The birds are more or less in taxonomic order with related birds grouped together.

Red-breasted Merganser:

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Harlequin Duck:

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Black Scoter:

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Steller’s Eider:

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Pacific Loon:

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Red-necked Grebe:

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Semipalmated Plover:

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Black Turnstone:

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Wandering Tattler:

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Red-necked Phalarope:

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Sabine’s Gull:

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Arctic Tern:

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Short-eared Owl:

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Northern Shrike:

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Lapland Longspur:

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American Pipit:

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Orange-crowned Warbler:

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Yellow Warbler:

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American Tree Sparrow:

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White-crowned Sparrow:

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Fox Sparrow:

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Golden-crowned Sparrow:

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Savannah Sparrow:

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My fourth and last post from this trip to Nome will be about the non-bird “critters” that I was able to photograph there. And then it will be time for my next trip to Nome!

 

May 22-26 – Nome, Part 2: Larger Birds

This post will just be a sampler of some of the larger birds seen and photographed in the Nome area on my recent trip. See Part 1, published yesterday, for pictures of scenes in the Nome area.

Tundra Swan:

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Snow Goose:

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Emperor Goose:

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Brant:

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Eurasian and Common Wigeon:

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Willow Ptarmigan:

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Rock Ptarmigan:

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Bar-tailed Godwit:

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Wilson’s Snipe:

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Long-tailed Jaeger:

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The next post will be a sampler of some of the other birds seen and photographed in the Nome area.

May 22-26 – Nome, Part 1: Scenes

This blog post will show what it looked like as I drove around looking for birds during my recent trip to Nome. Because I took so many photos (about 4000 in 5 days), it is taking awhile to go through them all. I will try to be somewhat selective and will not show them all (my vast selection of scene photos below really is a tiny subgroup of the whole). I will cover birds and animals in my next blog posts, hopefully later today and tomorrow, but possibly after that.

It was clear to me as our flight arrived in the Nome area on May 22nd that it still was a cold world down there.

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Most days while I was in Nome the temperature stayed just above freezing, with the temperatures mostly hovering about 34-39 degrees, only getting above forty degrees by late afternoon a couple of days. The last day it was mostly just at 32 degrees most of the day. There was some melting occurring, and probably the snow was also subliming (I think that’s the word) while I was there, and the snow and ice gradually decreased, especially near the coast. Many of the ponds and lakes were still partially or fully frozen over and some smaller streams still flowed beneath the snow, but grassy and rocky areas were cleared or clearing and the larger rivers were mostly open except along some of the edges. Salmon Lake was still completely frozen over. The ocean itself was mostly cleared of ice except for periodic small bergs drifting by and ice covering small bays and some shorelines. Except in the mountains on my last day, it did not snow (or rain) on me for the whole trip. It varied from sunny to cloudy, usually with a moderate to strong wind.

The road crews were out removing snow, but by the end of the trip I was still never able to travel the full length of the roads. Of the three main roads, I was able to go about 50 miles out on Council and Kougarok Roads (of the over 70 miles of road for each) and about 63 miles on Teller Road (of the 71 miles of road stretching from Nome to Teller), before I was halted by impassable roads. Many areas that I did drive through were mucky, icy, slushy, and/or slippery muddy, but I was finally stopped in each case by extensive areas of increasingly hard-to-drive road surfaces, where I slid and oozed my way slowly along the roads. In the case of Teller Road it snowed a bit on my drive out there on May 26th and I was stopped by snow banks still over the road that were being slowly cleared by a bulldozer. If it had been urgent, I probably could have gone farther, except on Teller Road, where no one had yet gone through since the most recent snow/drifting. I will plan to do the full drives on my next trips to Nome in early June and July.

Below are sample scenes showing the terrain and the extent of snow and ice cover during these days. The photo groups are in chronological order and are not individually labeled as to the particular road. They are grouped generally by date.

Tuesday, May 22, evening after my flight arrived in early evening, Council Road:

Wednesday, May 23, Teller in morning and then Council Road to the mostly frozen over Safety Sound:

Thursday, May 24, Council Road most of day; short drive up Kougarok Road in early evening:

Friday, May 25, Kougarok Road most of day; short drive on Council Road to Safety Sound in early evening:

Saturday, May 26, Teller Road most of day; very short drive on Council Road before my flight in the evening:

Please note: the last picture above is of a car that is hanging off the edge of the road and is NOT my car , but shows what can happen if you don’t pay attention to the road conditions.

I will be back to Nome very soon, participating in a Wilderness Birding Adventures trip there from June 1-4 and staying to do some more exploring from June 5-7.

 

May 17 – Encounters with BS and Rattled Raven

Bear Spray, that is. A few weeks ago, I accidentally discharged a can of bear spray in my birding vest pocket while it and I were in my car. Very unpleasant, obnoxious and memorable. Today while doing my second Birds ‘n’ Bogs survey I got to smell that nasty smell again. At least it was outside the car and intentional. Early in the survey I had noticed a moose along the edge of my walk down to the bog.

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The moose seemed uninterested in me, so I walked down the other side of the big open area that goes down to the bog. It was a lovely though cloudy day, with everything turning green.

When I got down to the bog, the moose was no longer visible. I watched and listened to birds, all the while keeping an eye and ear out for the moose. After about 20 minutes, the moose appeared, having risen from its nap, and walked down to the bog to drink.

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I have no further pictures of the moose, because then it proceeded to walk straight toward me, calmly, but steadily toward me. There was nowhere for me to hide, so I just watched and tried to move out of its way. I fumbled with the new can of bear spray (now in a plastic bag because I definitely never want it to accidentally discharge again), and did a trial squirt to be sure it worked). It seemed that whichever way I tried to ease out of the way, the moose seemed to aim in that direction. Eventually, the moose passed by me, maybe 15 feet away, and kept going, and I didn’t have to find out whether bear spray would deter a moose. Shaking with relief, I walked in the opposite direction as the moose, only to walk through droplets of bear spray that remained suspended in the still air. It took more than an hour for my lips and face to stop tingling from the oily pepper spray, but all’s well that ends well.

Birdwise, the survey was uneventful, except for the  constant bombardment of Wilson’s Snipe (can be heard in the moose video).

Yesterday’s birding at Lakes Hood and Spenard produced my first Horned Grebes, Pacific Loons and Bonparte’s Gulls of the year (in Alaska), along with the usual scaup and goldeneye, Northern Shovelers, and Red-necked Phalarope.

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Again, the Red-throated Loon was the highlight, coming right up to and within 3 feet of me on the shore.

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I ended yesterday by watching a very rattled Common Raven that appeared to be upset about everything. Some days can be like that, but not recently.

 

May 12 (Part 3): Lakes Spenard and Hood

As is often the case in summer, highlights at these two lakes were loons. There was a Common Loon floating along and preening.

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I saw a Red-throated Loon fly in on the north side of the lakes while I was on the south side. It was at one of its two “favorite” sites, along Floatplane Drive, when I got around to the north side. As last year, it was very tame. After I watched for a short period, it lowered its head and began to make its lonesome calls.

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Raptors seen were a Bald Eagle and an Osprey (the latter photographed nearly over my head through the car windshield).

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There were also at least two Red-necked Phalaropes bobbing in the bumpy waters on Lake Hood.

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The yellowlegs there seemed to be only Lesser, as far as I could tell.

A single Spotted Sandpiper called from near one of the planes.

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I also saw distant ducks (Greater Scaup and Barrow’s Goldeneyes) and photographed Northern Shovelers that were somewhat closer.

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Tomorrow I have a few other things to do than bird, so I’ll need to refrain from birding all the time.