August 14 – South and North Anchorage and Home

I’ve not birded as much as usual lately due to rain and manuscript rewriting and other commitments. On Saturday (8/12) I did spend some time at Potter Marsh, where Great Yellowlegs were the predominant bird. There were also a number of Wilson’s Snipe flying around and sitting down next to the water every now and then.

 

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Although they were not doing anything spectacular, I took a video of a few Green-winged Teal that were dabbling in the water.

Today I drove up Arctic Valley Road. Although it started out quite cloudy, by the time I got to the top there was some blue sky.

For the first couple of miles the number of bears equaled the number of birds (2 each), but eventually there was a small number of each of 17 species. Highlights along the road were a Varied Thrush hidden in a berry bush and a small flock of Gray Jays.

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I walked up the trail at the end of the road for a while. There were about ten berry pickers up there. I munched a few blueberries too and got pictures of a Fox Sparrow, a Wilson’s Warbler, and a White-crowned Sparrow before heading back to my car.

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I also spent some time photographing flowers and other vegetation along the path.

At home the Pine Siskins are becoming more numerous, with over 20 around much of the time now, eating at my numerous feeding areas. There are up to 10 Dark-eyed Juncos eating feed too, and of course always Steller’s Jays. Most of the jays are either scruffy-looking juveniles or scruffy-looking molting adults. At least three of the jays are becoming quite accustomed to eating out of my hand but they prefer to get peanuts out of the jar that we have fastened to the porch (note: all that stuff in the background of the jay video is in our neighbors’ yard, not ours).

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The highlight this afternoon was Sandhill Cranes calling as they flew high over our house. I believe that I hadn’t had any for our Anchorage yard list before these.

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August 9 – Yard and Lakes

The last couple of days Black-billed Magpie youngsters are making our yard very noisy. One of the two is very tame, hopping to about six inches of my hand when I hold out a goody such as part of a strawberry or a dried mealworm. But so far that’s the closest it comes, waiting until I give up and drop the treat before quickly eating it. Mostly they just squawk at everything.

Yesterday there were two Wilson’s Warblers in our yard, possibly the first time I’ve seen them there.

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About an hour after a spectacular sunrise this morning I went to Westchester Lagoon to see what the rising tide might bring in. At first there wasn’t much happening other than the Red-necked Grebes still feeding their nearly grown-up youngsters, and puddle ducks and the usual gulls and yellowlegs. I have not seen any of the young grebes dive yet, but one of them seemed to be trying (second video) every now and then while preening, or maybe it was just doing a sort of bath.

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Way out on the flats along the coastal trail there were also a single Hudsonian Godwit, a Spotted Sandpiper, a Wilson’s Snipe and a flyby Killdeer. On the walk back, the dowitchers in the pond along the trail had roused themselves from their usual sleepy pose and were busily eating.

I had a bit of a start when it appeared that a Mourning Dove was perched in a distant tree – a grayish bird with a long pointed tail. But when I got closer it turned out to be somebody’s lost escaped cockatiel.

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While I was trying to get a decent picture of the cockatiel, my first-of-the-year Osprey flew over.

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At Lakes Spenard and Hood, the Red-throated Loon was again not present. There was a small family of Northern Shovelers and both Horned Grebes there amid the scaup and goldeneyes and more Red-necked Grebes.

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Back at home, the magpies greeted me, only slightly disturbing the busily eating Downy Woodpecker.

 

 

August 7 – Coast and Cranes

I birded three west Anchorage coastal and wetland areas today: Westchester Lagoon/coastal trail; the floatplane lakes (Lakes Spenard and Hood); and Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area.

It was just before high tide a bit before 7 a.m. when I got to the coastal trail. There were many ducks (mostly Mallards) and gulls (Bonaparte’s and Mew), a single Hudsonian Godwit, two Least Sandpipers, about ten Greater Yellowelegs and two Lesser Yellowlegs, a single Arctic Tern, a single Wilson’s Snipe, about 15 Short-billed Dowitchers, and about 30 Greater Scaup and at least four Red-necked Grebes on the lake (including a large chick still begging from its parent).

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At the two floatplane lakes, there was no sign of the Red-throated Loon, and only one Horned Grebe was visible (silhouetted photo). Other birds were the usual Greater Scaup and various puddle ducks, and a single Red-necked Grebe.

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The most excitement was at the Natural Area where cranes were loud and active out on the mudflats and grassy areas along the water. Close to the observing area a single parent and a single chick were feeding in the grass, and then welcomed a second chick that flew in. At one point there were about 20 Sandhill Cranes stalking the flats and flying about and calling. The young ones were about the size of the parents but could easily be distinguished by their more mottle plumage and fuzzy heads.

There was also a Northern Harrier working the flats, interacting periodically with a Common Raven (that also was worrying the flying cranes sometimes), and then being dive-bombed by what I believe was a very fast-moving Merlin. There also was what appeared to be a coyote (or whatever comparable mammal lives in Anchorage) out on the flats, which can be seen very briefly at the end of the last video as it is dive-bombed.

 

 

 

August 4 – Anchorage Sampler

For the past few days, I’ve wandered around some of my favorite places in Anchorage, birding and taking pictures. Samples of my sampling follow.

At the coastal trail south of Westchester Lagoon on 8/1 I again saw the Sabine’s Gull, floating on the water beyond the mudflats, but did not photograph it. I did photograph my first-for-the-year Anchorage Peregrine Falcon perched high on the radio tower at the Lagoon.

On the mud there were the usual Canada Geese, and at Fish Creek a rock-walking Greater Yellowlegs.

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On 8/2 I drove up Arctic Valley Road. For most of the drive there were no birds. There was a single hare munching dandelions. I did see what I finally decided must be a young American Pipit running along the roadside, periodically wagging its tail, as I drove slowly along beside it.

I then went to Lakes Spenard and Hood to check on the Red-throated Loon, which was still there, still mostly sleeping. Oddly, while it had its head tucked under its wing, it had one eye exposed and open, and while still appearing to sleep, motored its way unerringly over to me. When it got near, it untucked its head, looked at me, said a few words and went back to sleep.

There were about ten Red-necked Grebes, and the two Horned Grebes were still there, close to where they first were seen days ago.

I next went to Potter Marsh, where I also went today on my way farther south. Today I photographed one of the Orange-crowned Warblers and one of the five Wilson’s Snipe. A Merlin kept diving the marsh, spooking the numerous Greater Yellowlegs, and once went after one of the four Belted Kingfishers. It moved too fast for me to even begin to try to photograph it.

My final birding today was on the Trail of Blue Ice off the Moose Flats roadside area (on the way to Portage). Again, it was mostly silent, but at the boardwalk at the small lake were a couple each of Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers.

I finally found a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, two Fox Sparrows, fly-over Common Redpolls, a Swainson’s Thrush  and a scolding Varied Thrush, the photos of the latter a bit bleached in the very welcome sun.

 

July 31 – Sabine’s Gull Yesterday

I spent most of yesterday not being able to bird. I was aware that a Sabine’s Gull had been seen the day before out on the Anchorage mud flats, but assumed that it would disappear and/or I would not have time to go look for it and/or if I did look I would not be able to find it. I think that I have only seen one Sabine’s Gull before this in Alaska, and it was in Nome a long way from Anchorage.

Important, moving commitments filled yesterday morning and much of the afternoon. Not long after Dave came home from work, we went out to an early dinner to relax and for me to tell him about the day’s events. When I checked my messages on my phone while we waited for our dinner I saw that the Sabine’s Gull had been seen just after 6 pm. We ate leisurely – I still figured there was no point in going to look for the gull. Then as we drove home after eating, I decided to give it a try. As soon as we got home I rapidly got my birding gear together and raced out to the coastal trail by Westchester Lagoon, at what seemed to be the northern end of the beach area where the bird had been reported. I walked much faster than my usual pace along the coastal trail heading south, stopping to scan the mudflats with binoculars and scope wherever there was an opening. It was nearing low tide and the mud flats stretched out to the west a long way from the trail. There were hardly any birds and no other birders. The few gulls that I could see were flying and even I could tell that they were clearly not Sabine’s Gulls.

I passed the Audubon’s Bench and the Fish Creek bridge. Nothing. Along the way to Lynn Ary Park where the bird had also been seen the trail is crowded with alder brush on the inlet side for long stretches blocking any view so I just raced along without an opportunity to see if there were any gulls out there. At an opening not very far north of the park (maybe 5 minutes more walking to get there) there were gulls, many of them, some very close to me. Most were Bonaparte’s Gulls but there was one with the beautiful black, white and gray pattern of a Sabine’s Gull. It was flying low to the mud and puddles, periodically dipping down, and every now and then landing and immediately lifting off again. All the while it was rapidly moving south. I left my scope and raced along the path toward it, hoping to get near enough for a picture. At 7:16 I took two rapid sets of pictures and then there were bushy trees between me and the bird and it disappeared from view.

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As you will note, my pictures of the gull appear as if my camera were set to take black-and-white pictures but that was not the case, which can be seen in the next picture that I took of a sleeping Sandhill Crane that I saw as I walked back along the trail. The distant flats beyond the crane are mostly black-and-white but the grass and crane are in color. I kept hoping the gull would be seen again wandering the beach but it was not. There were other birds coming in to rest on the mud, including Bonaparte’s Gulls, a few Arctic Terns, Greater Yellowlegs, and Hudsonian Godwits.

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A very rewarding ending to a very filled day.

July 28 – Mostly Lake Birding

This morning I first went to Lakes Spenard and Hood. Bonaparte’s Gulls were eating on the water at Lake Spenard.

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Farther down the road at Lake Hood, the Red-throated Loon was sleeping and did not appear interested in me, so I left. When I came back past the lakes I stopped again because the loon was much closer to shore. When I walked to the shore, the loon swam rapidly toward me. When it got about 5 feet away, it turned around and went back out again, apparently to go back to sleep. If you listen closely to the video, you might hear me greeting the loon in sort of baby talk as it got close.

On the south side of the lakes, I could only find one of the Horned Grebes, with many scaup and goldeneyes (not shown).

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I then went to Westchester Lagoon. There were many Red-necked Grebes there, some of which were feeding half-grown young, others sleeping and one that seemed to be still trying to nest on what looks like floating vegetation in an area where people canoe. Probably not a good idea, especially this late in the summer. I also got a series of shots as one of the grebes dove.

At the pond between the Lagoon and the inlet, dowitchers and yellowlegs were also sleeping, and a Northern Pintail was periodically up-ending.

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Out on the mudflats, two Sandhill Cranes were walking around as the tide rose gradually (a lower high tide than a couple of days ago) when I first got there. The first picture below shows the Fish Creek mouth at near high tide and the next three pictures show the water gradually filling in over 1/2 hour or so. The last shows the distant cranes.

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About 40 Hudsonian Godwits were eating out on the mud flats and then took off for somewhere else with a yellowlegs.

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While I was looking out over the rising waters, a Merlin came from behind me and zoomed across the flats and disappeared. About 20 minutes later when I was walking back to my car, I was surprised and delighted to find that the Merlin was perched on dead snags in the pond next to the lake, above the dowitchers and yellowlegs. Although I did not get a picture of the action, I watched the Merlin fly off chasing a  magpie for a while before returning to perch in a distant evergreen across the pond.

 

 

July 27 – Anchorage Birds and a Bear

For a couple of rainy days I did not birdwatch except in our yard. Mostly I worked on revising my book manuscript in response to the reviewers’ comments and worked on client matters. When I did look out the windows I mostly saw (surprise) wet birds and hungry birds. Many were young birds. Photographed birds include Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrow (with junco), Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Pine Siskins and Steller’s Jay.

Today I finally ventured forth, first to Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area.

Three distant Sandhill Cranes, a young American Robin and a Lincoln’s Sparrow were photographed.

At Potter Marsh on the mud, there were at least 50 Greater Yellowlegs (mostly sleeping), a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers, a few Wilson’s Snipe (one also sleeping) and four Least Sandpipers (latter not photographed).

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As was true the last time I was there, many young Yellow-rumped Warblers and Dark-eyed Juncos were flitting about the boardwalk. I photographed an Orange-crowned Warbler and a calling Bald Eagle. I also had a fleeting glimpse of a Blackpoll Warbler but no photo.

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I was about to quit for the day but decided to drive the old highway behind the marsh. There were quite a few singing Alder Flycatchers along the road, one of which I photographed.

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It was a nice day so I parked the car and walked along the road. I was probably 300 feet or so from the car when I heard brush rustling along the road and there, about 50 feet from me was a BLACK BEAR, a pretty big bear! It was looking at me but did not seem nervous. I was nervous – nervous enough that I forgot that I did have my bear spray in my vest pocket. I didn’t have to worry about it though. I just backed away, getting one photo, and went back to my car.

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I drove forward to where the bear had been, and the bear was still there. It had climbed a few feet up the tree it had been near, but then backed down, and walked quickly back into the woods, letting me get a few more photos as it took a log trail. That was my first Anchorage bear encounter when I was not in my car.

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July 24 – More Stunning Than Watching Grass Grow

It was actually the opposite of watching grass grow – the grass (and mud) disappeared, as the waters rose both nearly invisibly and rapidly.

This morning I went to Westchester Lagoon and the coastal trail to the south of there by the Audubon Bench. It was maybe an hour before high tide, a very high tide of 32.6 feet (as compared to the previous low time of 1.8 feet). Hudsonian Godwits were accumulating on the island in the Lagoon, Short-billed Dowitchers were gathered on the pond just west of the Lagoon and Canada Geese were scattered across the lake.

Out on the mudflats water had started to cover the mud. Two Sandhill Cranes were strolling in the grass and mudflats. A couple of times they paused in their strolling to call loudly.

A few mostly Greater Yellowlegs were wandering about, and all seemed calm. But it was not. The water was rising, rising, rising, and it was almost impossible to see it happen. Gradually the cranes and shorebirds were forced closer to me and whole areas of mud disappeared. The shorebirds (yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers mostly) began to fly about with nowhere to land except in the water. It was clear that there was advantage to having the long legs of the cranes and yellowlegs but eventually they had to fly away.

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After the shorebirds had all departed for unknown more upland sites, ducks and Bonaparte’s Gulls swam in closer.

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Back in the Lagoon the shorebirds had also disappeared. As I walked the trail, all of a sudden a family of mostly grown Mallards came splashing wildly across the lake toward me and the shore. I was confused until I heard the cry of a Bald Eagle above. Maybe they thought I’d protect them from the eagle.

There were many Red-necked Grebes around, both half-grown young and adults. The oddest thing was that two adults seemed to be trying to build a nest on what appeared to be a floating mass of vegetation, since the water of the Lagoon had not before this had a little island at that spot. Very strange.

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July 21 – Way Too Many Grouse Pictures

I just could not stop taking pictures this morning. I was on a drive up Arctic Valley Road  and saw the round dark blob ahead in the road just under two miles from the upper end of the road. Although I have seen one Spruce Grouse this year in the Kenai area, this was the first one for this year in Anchorage, even though I have been looking regularly. I took pictures as I drove closer, and then parked and got out and walked toward him. Although he was clearly keeping a cautious eye on me, most of the time he was eating along the roadside or wandering out in the middle of the road for a while. When another car drove by rapidly and scared him into flying away, I drove to the end of the road and turned around. When I got to where he had been, the grouse had returned to the same roadside spot so I drove up to him and took pictures out the window. He never left while I was there, and eventually even I got tired of taking pictures. Below is a small (really) selection of some of my favorites. Such a beautiful bird, no matter what his pose! It’s very good they are digital pictures; taking old-fashioned slides would have bankrupted me.

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July 19 – Wet Birds, not Water Birds

It’s rained the last couple of days. That and indoor chores have kept me away from wandering around the Anchorage waterways. Instead, I have watched and photographed our wet yard birds.

The Dark-eyed Juncos have been out in force in the rain, usually at least 6-7 are around. One of them has a whiter than usual tail.

The Pine Siskins often outnumber the juncos, with 10 being on the porch and feeders a little while ago. They sometimes share a feeder with the juncos.

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Less numerous are the woodpeckers, although we recently have had multiple youngsters and parents of each species Today there were just a Downy hopping on the porch railing, and a single Hairy Woodpecker sometimes sharing a log with another Downy.

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The Black-billed Magpie that was just around appears to be a wet youngster with a shorter tail.

While some of the birds are looking a bit shabby in the rain, the fireweeds in the back yard are thriving and beginning to bloom. So far they uneaten by the neighborhood moose that we saw yesterday down the street.

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