February 16 – Sunrise, Sunset, Hawk Owl & More

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.

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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.

January 29 – Hungry Birds

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.

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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.

 

 

January 23 – More Bird Drama

This time the drama was caused by a Sharp-shinned Hawk, much smaller than the Northern Goshawk that has appeared periodically in our yard, but at least as fierce in its hunting. At first all was pleasant and calm with a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a couple of Black-capped Chickadees and a small horde of Common Redpolls at our feeders. Suddenly there was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, swooping under our porch roof, with redpolls and chickadees scattering in every direction and an absolutely paralyzed Red-breasted Nuthatch hanging on a suet feeder on the porch. The nuthatch stayed put as the hawk strode about the porch railing, hopped to another part of the porch, peered around looking for prey and again swooped about the porch before finally leaving. The nuthatch stayed motionless for at least another 5 minutes after the hawk was gone. No little birds were caught, at least in our yard while we watched. For today.

Pictures of some of the redpolls and the hawk follow:

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January 21 – Moon & More (Birds, of course)

Last night was the “super blood wolf full moon” and in Anchorage we had mostly clear skies to view it! Some of the many pictures that I took as the lunar eclipse progressed follow:

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Between trips out to the back porch for picture-taking we came in to warm up. Our dog was delighted with so much in and out the door activity.

A few recent scenic shots:

Some days here have almost no birds, and other days, like today, there have been quite a few (50 or so Bohemian Waxwings and 75 or more Common Redpolls plus 1-2 each of a handful of other species), which is good for January at our house. Pictures below in order taken from our windows since I last posted are of the now fairly common Northern Goshawk on the fence between our yard and one of our neighbors, Bohemian Waxwings, Common Redpolls, Downy Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Shrike, and Pine Grosbeak:

One of these days I need to get outside and actually do some non-yard birding, but meanwhile, it’s great to look out into the cold yard and see what I can see.

 

January 10 – Goshawk Slaughters Again

It was both gruesome and fascinating.

Late on the afternoon of January 8th, the Northern Goshawk, which has been making periodic forays through and into our yard since it killed a Mallard and ate part of it as we watched a couple of weeks ago, struck again. My non-birding husband was home this time, having been instructed by me to pay attention to when the Mallards arrived, since I was off at a meeting and could not note down the hour of their visit for my regular eBird posts. Not only did the Mallards arrive at about their normal time (4:30 pm, when it is just getting dark out), but their nemesis, the Northern Goshawk arrived about the same time and immediately caught and killed another one of them in our neighbor’s yard (these neighbors have moved so no one is there now). My husband did not watch the gory sight anymore, and just told me about it when I got home.

Yesterday morning after a couple of hours working at my computer I decided to go upstairs for a break, and saw that the Northern Goshawk was back on the ground in the neighbor’s yard having breakfast on the frozen Mallard, with feathers flying around it. Every now and then the Goshawk would flap its wings, apparently trying to move the Mallard, maybe to expose more edible parts, and gradually dragging it toward our yard. Some of the following pictures are a bit blurred due to my taking them through the window and through the fog formed by moisture expelled to the outdoors by our hard-working heater (outside temperature about zero degrees F).

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Eventually, the carcass was light enough for the Goshawk to lift it to our neighbor’s wooden fence.

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I was a bit concerned that the Goshawk would bring the carcass into our yard, where our dog might find it, so I went outside with our dog to try to shoo the hawk away. The hawk flew low across our yard dragging the Mallard, and our dog Caster raced out for the chase, barking wildly. It looked for a while that Caster would grab himself both a Mallard carcass and a hawk, but the hawk managed to lift itself high enough to clear the next fence and dive into our other neighbor’s spruce trees. Unfortunately I was so fascinated by the chase that I did not think to take any pictures of it.

Last night, the Mallards returned to dine again at about 4:30, but no Goshawk appeared. It was probably still stuffed with Mallard. Every day when I put out bird seeds, I am thinking of feeding little seed-eating birds, and also, nowadays, seed-eating Mallards that wander in from elsewhere in Anchorage. It’s somewhat disconcerting to realize that I am also periodically feeding “my” Mallards to a Goshawk (which, of course, as a normal wintering Alaskan, has to find food somewhere).

January 5 -Rime & Hungry Birds

It is winter, with morning temperatures not far above zero, and colder weather coming each day. Winter is so beautiful here in Anchorage, especially when the clouds lift and the mountains can be seen.

Overnight low fog has recently settled on and coated the branches with rime, which is beautiful on cloudy days but even more beautiful when the sun shines briefly on it.

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Oddly enough, there are long periods of time when there are no birds visiting any of my many feeders even in this cold weather, but every now and then they arrive, with chirps. song, and quacks.

There is a lot of this winter left in this cold north land, and lots more seed and suet will be needed, I am sure.

 

 

December 28 – Cold, Cruel, Beautiful

I am looking out my home office window and watching in fascinated horror as a Northern Goshawk rips off feathers and pulls out bloody morsels from one of the male Mallards that was just minutes ago eating grain in our snowy backyard. I am trying to see it from the Goshawk’s point of view as I watch the terrible, riveting sight. For almost an hour, the Goshawk has feasted, twice spreading its wings to mantle the duck as a raven flew over, and then a few Mallards actually came down for a few seconds before they saw the Goshawk and fled in terror. The Goshawk flew away when I went outside, and immediately four Common Ravens circled low, looking for leftovers, but I bagged the remains so I could let our dog go out in the yard. Maybe at least for tonight I’ll have a completely vegetarian meal. This is the way Nature is, but oh my goodness, it’s hard to take when it’s so up close and personal!

The pictures below are a small sampling of the zillions of pictures that I took, with the last sets of photos taken through the outside steps because the Goshawk had moved the prey to a different location from the initial kill site.

 

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December 24 – Merry Christmas from snowy, cold, beautiful Anchorage

The title says it all, but I’ll illustrate with a few photos taken from inside our house –

The snow –

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The cold (the time on this readout is not our local Anchorage time, but some meteorological reference, GMT, I believe, entered by Dave)-

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The beauty, with a nearly full moon through the branches west of our house and the pink skies east of our house this morning –

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I wish everyone the best for this holiday season!

 

 

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.