February 15 – Sharp Birding (back in Anchorage)

Yesterday I spent a few minutes between meetings checking to see if I could again see the Sharp-tailed Grouse that was the wonder of the Anchorage Christmas Bird Count in December. No luck. Later in the day, I took a few pictures of a very fluffy snowfall that eventually added a couple of inches to the yard.

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Today after lunch I was trying to keep our dog quiet so my husband could nap before heading off to his evening work-shift, and was periodically looking out over the yard.

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Suddenly I realized that there was a bird on the backyard feeders that was substantially bigger than the Common Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks and smaller than the Black-billed Magpies that had just been there.

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It was a Sharp-shinned Hawk investigating the bird feeders, one by one. Of course there were no other birds around anymore. It was fascinating to watch the hawk carefully peer at each feeder and at the remaining seeds as if expecting something to emerge.

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The hawk went up to the nearest birch tree for awhile.

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The hawk next went down to the feeder below its perch and pecked at seeds from the feeder that hangs beneath a suet feeder, where I photographed it. Sadly, I was unable to get a photo as the hawk hovered next to the suet feeder before it returned to a birch-tree perch.

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For the next half hour, the Sharpie perched in the birch tree, looking around, and periodically preening. The only other bird that I saw in the yard during that time was a Red-breasted Nuthatch that briefly landed above the Sharpie and then raced away out of sight of me and the hawk.

After the hawk zoomed away to find a more productive site, about 40 Common Redpolls returned for a quick gobbling down of food before also leaving for parts unknown.

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I love the unexpected among the expected in birding!

February 7 – Not in Alaska

I’m back for a few days in Raleigh (where I lived from 1979-2000) for a Poor People’s Campaign training session, but I came early so I would have time to see some friends and some southern birds. I am staying with my friend, Lena, whose yard is a bird magnet. The pictures below were taken this morning in her yard, and include pictures of birds (and a couple of mammals) not generally, or ever, found in Alaska.

Shown below: Baltimore Oriole (Lena has over the years had up to 14 of them winter in her yard), Northern Cardinal, White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Yellow-rumped Warbler (is in AK to breed, and sometimes to winter), Mourning Dove and Brown Thrasher.

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And the mammals in her yard: chipmunk and gray squirrel.

We drove east midday today to Tarboro where my friend Christina gave an excellent talk on gardening for birds with native plants (and where I, incidentally, sold 2 of my books). I also got to see, but not photograph, Turkey and Black Vultures on the drive there.

Tomorrow morning we will bird nearby, and then my training will begin.



January 31 – Mostly Caster, and A Few Birds

I probably should have done some research on huskies before we adopted Caster (a small part husky). I now know that huskies have a soft undercoat that sheds in an amazing number of fluffy clumps, after which the long hairs of the rough outer coat shed. That appears to be mostly over, for now. I also did not know that huskies, at least Caster, have unlimited energy, almost always wanting to play, eat, be attended to in some way. Caster also has an extremely piercing bark, which he is increasingly inclined to use, especially if there is another dog or a stranger or a bird in view, and he loves to nip and bite things. Sigh. He is a very loving dog, however, and we (probably) will keep him. Right now he goes to “reactive rover” training once a week. Oddly, at this training he is the model dog, doing exactly what he is supposed to do and mostly ignoring the other people and dogs. Time will tell on whether he will generalize this learning to his behavior at home. Following are a few more pictures that show he does sometimes rest between times of playing and running around, and a video that shows a bit of his playfulness with a new floppy squeaky toy.

In between hours of dealing with Caster I have spent a bit of time looking at our backyard birds. Pictures follow of one of four juncos that came briefly to our yard, a female Pine Grosbeak, and a couple of redpolls, one of which is much lighter in color:

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Also, a couple of pictures showing recent snow follow:



January 23 – Snow, Caster and a Few Birds

After days of cold and rather boring weather, we finally got snow, about 4 inches last night and this morning, enough to cover up all traces of our usual duck visitors. A couple more inches of snow are expected tonight and tomorrow, I believe.

Our husky-mix, Caster, was very interested in the new world of snow, nearly motionlessly taking in the sounds and smells. He would probably love to stay outside in the snow.

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The birds continue to be sporadic visitors. Shown are Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and Red-breasted Nuthatches, which along with the Steller’s Jays and Black-billed Magpies, are the most common visitors.

Only rarely do we have Bohemian Waxwings stopping by in our yard, since we have no fruit trees.

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The hawks (Goshawk and Sharp-shinned) have not been seen in our yard lately, and the Mallards only come in the predawn and post-sunset darkness.


January 16 – Gosh – Raptor Rapture

Yesterday (January 15th) began, as many days lately have begun, with birding Anchorage neighborhoods filled with Bohemian Waxwings and a few American Robins, but no Hawfinch.

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So, I thought I’d next try one more time for the Northern Hawk Owl, which I also had not been able to find in previous hunts. This time (about noon), however, as I drove the road where it had been reported (Hood Lake Drive), there it was, perched like a little unmoving knob on a light post. Maybe it had been there before?

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As I watched, it flew to a nearby spruce, and I was able to get pictures through my front windshield.

I drove closer, and got a few more pictures, and it then flew to another spruce, and then another. Wonderful!

I thought that would be it for raptors for the day. After all, it is Anchorage in mid-winter. But a couple of hours later as I looked out into our back yard (which I do regularly, hoping for a return of the Northern Goshawk), a small raptor flew in and perched in a birch, a slender Sharp-shinned Hawk. It stayed less than 10 seconds and flew off. I was able to get a few blurry photos of it through the branches. Wow, two raptors in less than 2 hours!

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About 15 minutes later, about 40 Mallards arrived, followed immediately by the Northern Goshawk, the first time I had seen it in midday (about 2:30). All the Mallards scattered, and the Goshawk disappeared after them, but returned about 10 minutes later to the closest birch in our yard, and then flew to a farther birch. It stayed perched in the birch for about half an hour, preening and glancing about, undoubtedly waiting for the Mallards to come back. But the Mallards did not return. Unfortunately, when it was in the closer birch, its back was to me, and when it flew up to the far birch, the camera focused on the branches and not the bird. Still, I did get a few photos that show that it is a Goshawk.

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I also got photos showing a very unhappy Red-breasted Nuthatch (the little dot at the top of the tall photo below) scolding the Goshawk, before the Goshawk flew.

As I write this, however, at about 8:45 AM on January 16th, the Mallards are back. There are about 50 of them out in the dark in our yard, eating food that I put out for them earlier on the snow. I guess they are gambling on the Goshawk not flying around in the dark, and on no nocturnal raptors happening by.

January 13 – Goshawk, Redpolls, Moose

Although I have spent time looking for other rarer things since I last posted, what I have seen mostly lately is the same old, same old, including a few Pine Grosbeaks and many Common Redpolls, plus two more appearances by the Northern Goshawk in our yard, and miscellaneous moose sightings. Rather than go into more detail, following are pictures of these things.

Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls (at the end of the second video, you can hear our dog barking at all the Redpolls on the porch):

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Northern Goshawk (again in the half-light just before darkness on two different dates):

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Two moose in the Turnagain neighborhood of Anchorage:

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Moose along Northern Lights in Anchorage (I saw six (!!!) moose there that day in a 1/4 mile stretch, but only photographed these three):

Tomorrow we take our dog Caster to his first “reactive Rover” class, the primary goal being to teach him to be less antagonistic to other dogs. Should be interesting.


January 6 – Feeding a Goshawk

Actually what is happening is that I’m regularly feeding Mallards, many of them, and it appears that a Northern Goshawk has come to our yard to dine on the Mallards. I first saw the Goshawk about 1:15 today. I looked up into the trees behind our house and saw a large bird that did not appear to be a raven. Before I had a chance to study it more, it flew and I could see that it was a large long-tailed accipiter. It appeared to be a Northern Goshawk. But it was gone so I couldn’t study it further. Two hours later, I was watching Mallards arrive into our backyard, but when they immediately departed I could see a large raptor right on their tails. Still no photo and not a very good view. A couple of hours later, at about five o’clock and considerably past sunset, more Mallards were briefly out there again and I saw a silhouetted large bird back in the trees behind our house. It was the Goshawk. I was able to get diagnostic, but crummy, photos of it before it was completely dark out. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it tomorrow, of course.

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Otherwise, yard birds have been the usual ones, but with a greater than usual number of Black-billed Magpies.

Other photos are of Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls.

Weatherwise, we have not had any new snow for the past couple of days, and the temperatures have been in the 12-20 degree range. The mountains are beautiful, as always.




January 5 – Birds and Snow

On January 2nd, I birded a few Anchorage sites north of where I live, including a neighborhood swarming with American Robins and Bohemian Waxwings:

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On the morning of January 3rd we awoke to snow, which lasted all day and into the night. We ultimately received something over 3 inches of soggy, wet snow – nothing compared with what people far south of us have received. Following are a few pictures taken during the snow, including of the hungry Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls eating as fast as they could before the newly scattered seeds were covered with snow:

The next morning, way before dawn, immediately after I scattered seed on the snow, hungry Mallards descended into our yard.

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Now the snow is frozen and crusty, and winter continues.



January 1 (2018!) – New Year, Same Birds

Today was in the low 20s during the day, not a bad way to begin the year in Anchorage and much warmer than many places in the Lower 48. It was very dark, however, with heavy clouds (difficult to get good photos).

My 2018 bird list so far looks much like my December 2017 list. The first bird of the year was a loud Red-breasted Nuthatch in our yard, long before it was light out, an every-day bird in most of Anchorage.

Both my December, 2017 and my January, 2018 lists include the wonderful Sharp-tailed Grouse in west Anchorage that probably all Anchorage birders have gone to see at least once. Today it was perched high in a crabapple tree, at first motionless, and then slowly munching.

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Other birds photographed today were Bohemian Waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks, Mallards and a Downy Woodpecker. Today the grosbeaks found my Christmas present to my little backyard birds, another flat-bottom feeder, which most of them seem to prefer.

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Yesterday’s photos include those of a Hairy Woodpecker and Common Redpolls, both of which were on one of the seed feeders but at different times.

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Nonbird photos were taken yesterday of Caster (and Dave)(the spotty toy on the sofa beside Caster is his new squeaky giraffe toy):


December 28 – The Redpolls Are Coming, the Redpolls Are Coming, Again

Yesterday and the day before there was just a single Common Redpoll briefly at our feeders. Today there have been anywhere from 20-30 of them the couple of times that they were around. Usually they only have stayed less than 15 minutes before all taking off. Last winter, their numbers in our yard increased to about 300 at times, and then in spring precipitously dropped to 80 and then 2 and then none. I hope their numbers are huge again this winter, so that they again cover all available surfaces upon which I have put seed. It’s looking good so far.

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Often when the redpolls were around today, the Pine Grosbeaks were too, up to 8 of them.

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And of course, the Mallards continue to come. I have to be careful to only put out food for them after we’ve gotten our dog back in the house. Otherwise, he munches up all the duck food.

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As is clear from some of the bird photos, the feeders and trees are beautifully covered with rime ice from yesterday’s fog. Each of the last two days has begun at a 1 degree temperature, without much improvement during the day. Winter is definitely here (but I understand that Rapid City, SD, where we used to live is even colder than here in Alaska!).