Apr. 30 – Rainy Birding Day in Juneau

Although my meteorologist husband had told me the chances of rain for every day this week in Juneau were very, very high, I was still not psychologically prepared for the reality of the chilly rainy day. I arrived in Juneau mid-morning and Bev Agler agreed to go birding with me. My first goal was the Cinnamon Teal that had been reported a couple of days ago, but in spite of serious tromping around the mudflats and sightings of numerous Green-winged Teal, no Cinnamon Teal was spotted. I don’t know if he is a gone bird or not.


We drove farther out toward the north to a very nice roadside bog-pond. While we stood out in the considerably lessened rainfall, we heard the very low hoots of a distant SOOTY GROUSE. Shortly after that we heard a RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, much closer but also invisible. I expect I will hear both of them again, and will see a sapsucker. Everywhere we went Ruby-crowned Kinglets were singing noisily. There were also a couple of singing Orange-crowned Warblers and Dark-eyed Juncos.



After I dropped Bev off at her car, I birded a couple of more spots in the rain. The golf course, which I have been repeatedly told can be a good spot for Mountain Bluebirds just had more kinglets and orange-crowns.

The Brotherhood Bridge trail was more productive. The greenery was particularly beautiful and lush.  In addition to a Northern Harrier, Steller’s Jay, Bald Eagle, and some singing Varied Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and American Robins, over the river were two twittering gray-brown VAUX’S SWIFTS arcing high and back down. I tried to follow them with my camera but they moved too fast and then they then disappeared completely. After that I was entertained by a pair of very noisy Belted Kingfishers chasing each other up and down the river, over my head and back again. Only rarely did they sit.



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Tomorrow more Juneau birding. I am prepared for the rain but definitely would not mind if there were periods without it.

149 species so far

Apr. 29 – Usual and Recently Usual Birds

My birding today was very limited due to the time needed to do laundry and pack for my trip tomorrow, time needed for a client meeting, and time needed to serve as designated driver/fretter for my husband who had serious dental/sinus surgery today.


So, I opted at 6 am to go yet again to Potter Marsh. It was cloudy but as always beautiful there.


The usual birds (Mallards, Black-billed Magpies, Black-capped Chickadees, American Robins) were there plus the recently arrived, now usual birds (Canada Geese fighting each other, Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, calling Sandhill Cranes, Greater Yellowlegs, Mew Gulls, and singing Lincoln’s Sparrows). There were also two Wilson’s Snipe at the boggy area on the old Seward Highway behind the marsh, one of which was winnowing up high somewhere and one of which was calling from the ground and got spooked up when I came by.








146 species so far

Apr. 28 – Two More Shorebirds

I checked out a number of diverse areas around and in Anchorage today, hoping for newly arrived shorebirds and/or passerines. First I walked the Potter Marsh boardwalk and drove the highway along the marsh. Green-winged Teal were lurking everywhere, two Greater Yellowlegs were having a very noisy vigorous battle, at least three Lincoln’s Sparrows were singing near the boardwalk, and there were five Sandhill Cranes out in the marsh grass, periodically calling loudly. Arctic Terns and Mew Gulls were everywhere too.






Next I drove south down to Girdwood and then back toward Anchorage, stopping at Bird Creek Campground where Varied Thrushes dominated the sounds and Black-billed Magpies were hopping along the road.



I walked the loop at Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area, listening to crane music and seeing a couple of them. I heard an Orange-crowned Warbler, a Dark-eyed Junco, a Wilson’s Snipe and a Yellow-rumped Warbler as I walked. Three Gray Jays arrived silently, which was interesting since I had only seen Steller’s Jays there before.



I timed my arrival at Westchester Lagoon to be near high tide late in the morning, hoping the rising water would force in some shorebirds so that they could be better seen. American Wigeons were the most numerous duck in the grassy areas near the coastal trail behind the lagoon. Apparently it was not a very high high tide so the shorebirds that I did see, except for two nearby Greater Yellowlegs, remained far out. They included three other Greater Yellowlegs, two SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS (photographs just show grayish-brown blurs against the gray mud) and a HUDSONIAN GODWIT (photograph a little better due to the larger, darker somewhat nearer bird). Mew Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls and Arctic Terns were the noisy common birds of the lagoon, and will undoubtedly continue to be so for weeks.






Recently-scheduled non-bird commitments will keep me in Anchorage tomorrow, but then Saturday I begin my week-long trip to southeast Alaska (Juneau, Ketchikan, Gustavus). I am really looking forward to this trip, which has great potential for new year birds, and even some new birds for the state for me.

146 species for the year so far

Apr. 27 – Canvasbacks and Lesser Yellowlegs, Anchorage

I started the day before dawn at the historical park that I visited yesterday. It was a birdy morning with drumming Ruffed Grouse, calling and singing Hammond’s Flycatchers, and over 20 White-crowned Sparrows scattered across the grounds and singing.



I then began the 350 mile drive back to Anchorage. Just south of Delta Junction two caribou crossed the road and stood looking at the car as I photographed one of them.


I stopped periodically at bogs and various overlooks as I drove. High in the mountains I encountered a couple of snowfalls but the temperature was above freezing and the roads were fine. I did not see very many birds as I zoomed along, other than Trumpeter Swans, Mallards and a pair of Ring-necked Ducks.





When I got to Palmer (about 40 miles away from Anchorage), I took a break from driving to check out the Matanuska Townsite road. I was delighted to finally be able to photograph a pair of Sandhill Cranes for the year.



In Anchorage I went to Westchester Lagoon where Canvasbacks and Short-billed Dowitchers had been reported. I easily found the CANVASBACKS, at least 5 of them far across the lake, but there were no dowitchers visible anywhere. In addition to a Greater Yellowlegs that was in the wetland adjacent to the lagoon, I did find a LESSER YELLOWLEGS where I expected the dowitchers to be at one of the islands in the lagoon. Bonaparte’s Gulls and Arctic Terns, recently new for my big year, were everywhere.





Tomorrow I plan to do some exploring around Anchorage to see what else has arrived.

144 species so far


Apr. 26 – Ruffed Grouse and Hammond’s Flycatcher

There were at least five displaying male RUFFED GROUSE near Bolio Lake this morning south of Delta Junction. It was a beautiful but cold morning. The temperature was 23 degrees when I arrived there about 5 am pre-sunrise, and I think they were drumming to keep themselves warm. They were spaced out along the road on both sides of the road, easy to hear, but not seen at all. I really tried, however, peering through the trees toward their drumming sounds. Because they were on off-limits military land, I could not go in any closer than the road. I stayed there until after 7 am when they seemed to have stopped drumming for the day. Dark-eyed Juncos kept singing the whole time.





I then hurried over to what I had been told was a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek spot in the Fort Greeley area. When I arrived at the lek, the Sharp-tails had pretty much stopped activity. There were still six on the lek, four of which periodically engaged in little cock-fights and then relaxed. One of them did a little pirouette and then started pecking at the ground.




After a brief stop at my room I drove about 20 miles toward Tok to the Barley Way area where I had gone yesterday. There were a couple of Sharp-tailed Grouse there, about three Northern Harriers, a Rough-legged Hawk (dark) and a Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk all hunting the vast open spaces.

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By this time I was thinking about my lack of sleep and that it was time for a nap so I headed west to the Richardson Highway, intending to go back to my room. As I pulled off the road at the Tanana Bridge area, I heard the unmistakable sound of a HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER. There were at least three there, but with the constant traffic and their flitting about in the trees, I could hardly find them much less get a good view. So I continued back on the highway until I found Big Delta State Historical Park with a good tree stand. There I heard another Hammond’s Flycatcher which I finally was able to see well and get a couple of silhouetted pictures.

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I learned this evening that Ruffed Grouse drum in the evening too. I drove the area near Bolio Lake where I had heard them this morning hoping to see one on or near the road. I did not see one, but there was drumming on and off from about 5:50-7:22 pm. A pair of Gray Jays and a moose filled out that part of my evening birding.



I finished the day back at Big Delta State Historical Park tonight on my way back to my room. The Hammond’s was still calling and there were also Ruffed Grouse drumming until almost 9 pm. At 9, a Great Horned Owl started calling.

Tomorrow I head back to Anchorage for a couple of days before a trip to southeastern Alaska, but first I plan to go back to Big Delta Historical Park to see what it is like in the morning

142 species so far


Apr. 25 – Drive to Delta Junction

Over 400 miles today. I am too tired to write much, so it will just be the basics. Many ponds and lakes along the way had at least a couple of Trumpeter Swans, and various ducks. At one partly frozen lake, I noticed one sleeping swan, and then the head of another one appeared, and I watched it moving vegetation toward it, apparently working on a nest.



About 50 miles south of Delta Junction, I saw a Northern Hawk Owl perched on top of a spruce. I made a U-turn to photograph it and it dove down and disappeared. The next thing I saw was a tiny falcon diving at a Common Raven. For a moment I thought that maybe there had been no hawk owl at all, just the falcon. Then the Hawk Owl appeared on top of a deciduous tree. The falcon was calling as it dove, and I finally saw enough to realize that it was an AMERICAN KESTREL. My pictures of it were fairly worthless, however.


In Delta Junction, I had a brief meeting with Jeff Mason who told me some sites to check out in the morning for my goal birds, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Ruffed Grouse. This afternoon I drove most of these roads to check out their locations, and flushed two AMERICAN PIPITS. My pictures were taken through the windshield so are a bit blurry.


On Barley Way, toward Tok, were three SHARP-TAILED GROUSE. Maybe I’ll see them display tomorrow, but at least I no longer need to worry whether I’ll find one.



As I continued to drive back toward Delta Junction on Barley Way, large numbers of geese were descending far out in a field. At first all I could see were Canada Geese, probably 600 or more. But when I used my camera as a telescope, I realized that there also were  GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, at least 20 or so.



Tomorrow my main goal will be Ruffed Grouse.

140 species so far



Apr. 24 – Anchorage Additions


I arrived back in Alaska in the wee hours this morning, got almost 2 hours of sleep at home, then sang, played hand bells and recited a goofy recitation at our church’s April Aires celebration and then finally this afternoon got in some Alaskan birding.

The first new bird of the day was an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER singing in trees along Northern Lights Blvd. Eventually I will probably get a picture of one but not today.


I went to Westchester Lagoon where the lake was ice-free. I was not studying the ducks very closely but I did notice that there were the usual ducks, including American Wigeons. A few Black-capped Chickadees were apparently eating overblown pussywillow buds.



I did easily get both my goal birds, ARCTIC TERN and BONAPARTE’S GULL, both of which had been reported while I was in Texas. There were about 8 Arctic Terns and about 40 Bonaparte’s Gulls on the lagoon itself and along the mudflats along the coastal trail near the lagoon.



Tomorrow the plan is to head north for a bit of interior Alaska birding.

136 species so far

Apr. 18 – Snipe Hunt

For days now I’ve been listening for and looking for Wilson’s Snipe. Last night there is some chance that I heard a distant snipe, but maybe not. So the hunt continued today.


Today I started birding at Oceanview Bluff Park, which as I mentioned earlier was a great site last year for snipe. Again, a lovely morning, but no snipe detected. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was singing loudly, a flock of Common Redpolls was working the budding tops of the trees, and two Green-winged Teal were dozing in the little stream, until they were rudely awakened by a Mallard swimming by.




I decided that I needed to head out to the airport area where numerous snipe had been reported. On the way there, along Lake Hood Drive, I heard a definitive WILSON’S SNIPE calling from a spruce-filled bog along the road, but did not see the bird. Under ABA rules, it is countable, and I am counting it because of its distinctive sound. It’s not a rare bird of course and I will see and hear many more.


I then walked the trail along the fence at the west end of the airport runway where many trees were budding out.


I had talked to Eric Youngblood on the way there who told me he had seen a Snow Goose on the mud flats and had found an Orange-crowned Warbler along the trail. Although I heard what was most likely the Orange-crown as I walked along, it was distant and theoretically could have been something else. So, I’ll wait to count that species. I did see the Snow Goose, which was not new because in late February I saw the one that had been reported in Juneau.


I had intended to walk north a bit on the coastal trail, but my pathway was blocked by a moose.


So, I headed back to my car, and drove back along Lake Hood Drive to try for a sighting of the snipe. What I saw was three more moose, a mother and two yearlings. While I watching the moose, I heard Sandhill Cranes overhead.



I needed to cut short my birding because in a couple of hours, I am scheduled to fly to TEXAS where I will give a couple of talks on my new book, Birds in Trouble, will visit Texas A&M University Press, the publisher of my books, will see some birding friends, and will bird, of course. I do plan to post on this blog about birds seen in Texas, as sort of a southern vacation from Alaska birding. I’ll be back and birding in Alaska on April 24th.


133 species so far




Apr. 16 – Unseasonably Lovely, and Lappies

Today was Anchorage Audubon’s day to come to the Gunsight Mountain hawk watch. It was an astoundingly beautiful day (the picture below was taken from the hawk watch site), and it was not windy and it was not freezing.


I did not count, but there seemed to be 40-50 or more people there at any one time. For some it was a time to catch up with old birding friends, and incidentally to look for hawks. I arrived about 10:20 am as hawks were just beginning to appear. Since I had been at the hawk watch site on April 8th, I knew there was not much chance of a new hawk for the year, but you never know.



For the beginners or those who wished to refresh their memories, Bob Dittrick provided a crash course in hawk identification, very much appreciated.

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Hawks (nearly always Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, or Northern Harriers) and eagles (Bald, Golden) came by sporadically in ones, twos and sometimes five at a time. Sometimes they were  very high and hard to spot and other times they gave us very good looks.





The two Hawk Watch International women (Caitlin Davis and Rya Rubenthaler) probably were glad to have a day with others to help in the spotting as I expect it periodically gets rather tiring to be there on duty day after day. They will be doing the count every day until May 15th.


In addition to the raptors there were also Black-billed Magpies and Common Ravens. We also had two flocks of swans fly by high over our heads.


Early in the day we heard passing Lapland Longspurs and I obsessed over whether I should count them even though I did not see them. I expect to see very many of them when I go west this year, such as to St. Paul Island, and I knew I could wait until then. Still, every bird I can count now is a bird no longer in the bush, but in the hand for the year. In the early afternoon, however, a flock of about 21 LAPLAND LONGSPURS landed along the roadside near us. Definitely countable, and I wanted pictures. A couple of us headed out toward the longspurs, which flitted up and landed back very near to us. Over the next half hour or so, the longspurs stayed and many other hawk watchers walked out along the roadside to watch longspurs instead of hawks for a while (one picture shows Andrew Fisher and how near we could get to the longspurs).













132 species so far

Apr. 15 – Two by Two, Plus Cranes

I got to Potter Marsh boardwalk exactly at sunrise. Most of the birds seen there this morning were seen two by two.


Seen from the boardwalk there were two swimming Northern Pintails, two pairs of Mallards, two Black-capped Chickadees, two Black-billed Magpies hunting for nesting material on the ground next to the boardwalk, two Common Mergansers, two nearby Mew Gulls, and two fly-by Trumpeter Swans.






When I drove on the highway past the marsh, most of the Mew Gulls and Canada Geese out in the marsh looked to be paired up as well, and there were still two adult Trumpeter Swans and two subadults still at the marsh after the other two had flown north.


Not finding any new birds for the year at Potter Marsh and none at Girdwood (in the pouring rain), I returned to Anchorage figuring that would be the entire gist of my blog post for today. I decided to go to Westchester Lagoon and the coastal path south of there to see if I could add the recently seen two Greater Yellowlegs to my two-by-two list, but I did not find them.

What I did find was the sound (and not the sight) of at least one SANDHILL CRANE apparently flying north high overhead in the clouds. I don’t know if they were flying two by two or not, but there was a second call, so it fit today’s theme. While I usually am reluctant to count heard-only birds, I am very familiar with the unique sound of Sandhill Cranes. As I just recently told our Anchorage Audubon president, “There is nothing like a crane.” I’m counting Sandhill Crane for today – I’m sure I’ll have pictures to post soon when the hordes of cranes start arriving in Anchorage and much of the rest of the state.

Two by two today – ’tis the beginning of the season.

My birding expedition ended with a clear view of Denali (formerly called Mt. McKinley). There is only one Denali.


131 species so far