Apr. 14 – Oceanview Bluff Park, etc.

I was going to call this post “Nothing” because it was another day of no new birds, but that sounded too negative. The day did start with another beautiful sunrise as I left our house.

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I did actually do some pleasant birding this morning after that, starting at Oceanview Bluff Park, which is one of the areas that I surveyed last spring for Alaska Audubon’s Birds and Bogs project. The portion of the park that I surveyed starts with a steep downhill slope to a flat wet area to a fairly extensive creek area too deep for me to wade, beyond which is a mixed spruce/deciduous boggy forest and then the inlet. Last year in May it was teeming with Wilson’s Snipe, but they have apparently not yet arrived there this year. There were Canada Geese around (seen through branches in photo below), a pair of Northern Pintails and the usual woodland birds.

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I then checked out Potter Marsh from the boardwalk and along the highway. The sun was just coming over the mountains as I walked the boardwalk.

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In addition to the Mew Gulls, Canada Geese, Mallards, Northern Pintails, and Gadwalls, there also was a pair of scaup. Anyone who is reading this – I would be interested to know what kind of scaup you think they are.

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There were also 5 Trumpeter Swans hanging out in their usual place at the southern end of the marsh.

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And that was it for birding today. I needed to finish up our taxes, last minute as usual.

130 species so far

Apr. 13 – Of Ptarmigans and Yellowlegs

Although I had seen the ebird posts on Greater Yellowlegs that were found in Anchorage yesterday, I decided to first try one more time for White-tailed Ptarmigan by going up Arctic Valley Road this morning. I went about an hour earlier than we had gone a week or so ago hoping the birds might be around the lower slopes. Much more snow had melted but there still were large patches in the search area (where others had previously seen these birds). The temperature was about 35 degrees and it was not too windy, so the hike was quite pleasant.

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I went up to the area we had explored before, but the only ptarmigan I found were two Willow Ptarmigan. The first one flew off in a hurry from nearly underfoot, but a bit later, the second one stayed around nervously watching me take photographs. The first picture below has a ptarmigan in it, which you can see if you look carefully. The fourth ptarmigan picture below shows a close-up of the tail and definitively shows that it is not a White-tailed Ptarmigan even though most of the tail is white.

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There also were a couple of mammals around. First there were two ground squirrels (someone I’m sure will tell me their proper name) sitting up on the woody plants and munching vegetation high on the slope.

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On my way driving out the road there was a male moose munching on bark and branches. At first I thought he had light-colored eyes until I realized that I was seeing the places where his antlers had been.

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After that I went to Potter March, hoping for yellowlegs there but not seeing any. So, I went to where the yellowlegs had been reported yesterday. Between Westchester Lagoon and the inlet, I found two GREATER YELLOWLEGS working the stream edge. At first they were quite far apart but as they approached each other the closer one fanned his tail and watched the other one. Both yellowlegs are in the fourth picture below. Unfortunately a Black-billed Magpie dropped down and disturbed them both. I saw and heard the two yellowlegs again later a bit farther south along the coastal trail.

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There were also the usual Mallards, Canada Geese, two Green-winged Teal, Black-capped Chickadees, and gulls around the still mostly frozen lagoon.

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130 species so far

Apr. 12 – Girdwood and Portage Areas

Although I did not visit any area with “reflection” in its name, today was a day for beautiful reflections after a beautiful cloudy sunrise and after  I left the highway. Along the highway I zoomed past Potter Marsh, noting on the way down that there were two Trumpeter Swans and 14 Northern Pintails, plus Mallards and gulls of course.

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In Girdwood, I pulled over to check whether there was anything new at the wetlands across from the gas station. The number of Northern Pintails there had increased to over 25, and there were 12 Canada Geese and one lone Trumpeter Swan.

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I walked a portion of the Trail of Blue Ice beginning at the Moose Flats area on the road that goes to Portage Glacier.

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There were sounds of spring everywhere, including singing Varied Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped Chickadees and an American Robin, all of which were singing. I heard another song which I could not identify and then saw that it was a Pine Grosbeak (which seem to have disappeared from Anchorage for some weeks and I had already forgotten its song). I also heard a distant raptor calling but could not see or identify it.

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At the Chugach National Forest pulloff area before reaching the Portage Glacier there were more Varied Thrushes and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, plus the apparently resident Barrow’s Goldeneye pair.

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At the fish-viewing area nearer to Portage was a pair of American Dippers While the more distant one was standing on a rock and splashing and bathing, the nearer dipper mostly dozed. Every now and then it would blink and then go back to sleep.

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On the way back toward Girdwood I watched a Bald Eagle pulling a branch off a dead tree, clearly in nest-building mode. It then flew off, dropping the branch as it flew.

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129 species so far

 

Apr. 11 – Palmer and Potter

Early this morning I again checked Palmer sites that I have been checking recently, including the old Matanuska town site road, the Agricultural Experiment Station in Palmer, and and roads in Palmer where Sandhll Cranes have been reported mostly in fall, plus I drove some roads new for me in the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge. Birding was generally slow, with sightings limited to Black-capped Chickadees, Gray Jays, Mallards, Black-billed Magpies and an immature Bald Eagle.

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I then drove to the mostly still frozen Reflections Lake between Palmer and Anchorage and walked the trail, including climbing the tower so I can scan across other areas of the Palmer Hay Flats. Again, birding was slow but a couple of noisy Common Redpolls and Black-capped Chickadees high in a newly budding tree added interest (they are both in the picture but nearly blocked by the branches).

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Finally, after lunch I went to Potter Marsh. Highlights were about 30 noisy Mew Gulls that seemed to be starting to select home-sites, a pair of Buffleheads and four Trumpeter Swans.

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129 species so far

Apr. 10 – Mostly Eagles

It was a windy blue-sky day today.

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All of my birding was in Anchorage, beginning just after noon at the Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area at close to low tide. Although there were Black-capped Chickadees, a Common Raven and a Red-breasted Nuthatch, the most noteworthy birds were Bald Eagles. About 10 minutes after I arrived, I was thinking about cranes and looked up to see if maybe some were flying over. What was up above was a small kettle of Bald Eagles (about 7, including two in adult plumage) gradually going upward, with the whole kettle drifting slowly northward. Down at my level were two immature Bald Eagles and an adult. The kettle was too high to find in my camera by the time I got the camera ready. I was only able to get a picture of the adult Bald Eagle that periodically coasted by just above the treetops.

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After I walked all the trails at the Natural Area, I went to Spenard Crossing where there were seven Canada Geese of various sizes (mostly preening so I could not get much of a view of them) along with the duck species that have been there recently.

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My last stop was at the mouth of Ship Creek. There were few birds there – just gulls (Herring-type but I did not really look at them) and Mallards. It was interesting to see that a huge ship was being unloaded of its colorful cargo, one of the few non-nature things that I have photographed lately.

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At home there were a few birds on the feeders – one Common Redpoll and one Hairy Woodpecker. It appears that with the snow being gone the birds are able to find enough to eat without spending much time at my feeders.

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129 species so far

Apr. 9 – Back to Bald Eagles and Swans

After a day at the hawk watch, today I was back to one of my regular local routes to see if anything new was to be found. I started at Potter Marsh just as the sun was hitting the southern mountaintops (before the sun disappeared for much of the day behind the clouds). The surrounding mountains were beautifully reflected in most of the puddles and lakes.

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From the boardwalk I could see two of the four moose that l later saw from the road.

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Near the boardwalk were three Green-winged Teal that did not stay around to be photographed. Far out in the marsh a Bald Eagle was hopping on the ground just beyond the shallow ponds where there were four Trumpeter Swans, a couple of Gadwalls, four Northern Pintails, many Mallards and distant miscellaneous gulls (likely Mew and Glaucous-winged).

At Girdwood, more Canada Geese had arrived and the Green-winged Teal stayed for photos. The geese were far out across the wetland so I could not tell if the couple that were substantially smaller had a chance at being Cackling Geese. There were at least four Bald Eagles, two immatures of which were hanging out together on a dead tree in the marsh.

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Just past the road to Portage Glacier where the swan concentration has recently been the highest around there were two groups of Trumpeter Swans, with 11 in one spread-out group and 9 in another tightly clumped group.

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The two Northwestern Crows were hanging out around the Girdwood gas station, picking up grass, presumably for a nest going in somewhere nearby. Northwestern Crows are quite rare this far north, and most Anchorage-area birders rely on finding the Girdwood birds each year so the crows can be added to their annual lists.

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On the drive back to Anchorage, I checked out Potter Marsh briefly on the way past and saw a single Red-necked Grebe hanging out with two of the swans.

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My final birding was in the Spenard Crossing area. Signs of winter are mostly gone, with the creek no longer framed by shelves of snowy ice. Only small frozen icy areas remain under some of the trees. Many of the bushes are beginning to show bright green buds on the tips of the branches. It is possible that spring is on the way!

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129 species so far

Apr. 7 – Black Gold

I did a lot of driving and birding today – up to Palmer (about 45 miles north), back through Anchorage to Potter Marsh, Girdwood and Portage (about 45 miles south). On both ends and in between were Trumpeter Swans, Bald Eagles and Black-capped Chickadees.

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It was another lovely day. Down near Girdwood there was a soaring pair high up a snowy mountain of what I thought were Golden Eagles – large, broad wings, all dark. I took multiple pictures as they soared and when I looked at the pictures in my camera they still looked like Golden Eagles. When I got home however and downloaded the pictures, my conclusion changed – I now think they are Common Ravens, which of course do soar as well. The tail of one of the birds looks very wedge-shaped and the bill is sort of raven-like.

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I’ve decided not to worry about what they are. If the weather allows, tomorrow two of us are going up to the hawk watch about 12o miles north of Anchorage where they have been seeing Golden Eagles every day, and presumably they will be there tomorrow. Golden Eagles are not rare in Alaska in the summer. In addition, maybe some of the buteos will be there.

126 species so far

Apr. 6 – A Different Chicken-like Bird

Once again, the goal was White-tailed Ptarmigan. Having heard quite a few reports that one could hike a trail that begins at Basher Trailhead in the Chugach Mountains in east Anchorage and goes to Near Point (not so near as I learned this morning) and sometimes see ptarmigans, I decided to give the trail a try. As it turns out I should have done it when there was snow and ice on the roads and ground, because it appears that all of the ptarmigans have moved higher into the mountains now. But I had been nervous about driving the mountain road to get there. Hopefully, I’ll figure out another place to get them this year. It is good that I went on the hike anyway, because now I have a much better idea of what the trail and the terrain are like.

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I began my hike about 8 am. I could see right away that I did not need to keep the trekkers on my boots as the trail was mostly sloppy with mud until I got way up on the trail. Early on there were spectacular views down into the Anchorage area. The trail goes up and down and then along the top of a cliff and then eventually down to a couple of creek-crossings and the does a long steep ascent to where the still somewhat snow-covered peaks are visible. Right away, I had a singing Northern Shrike along the trail.

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At the beginning of the hike the sun was just coming up ahead of me, making it difficult to look up along the trail, so I was mostly listening for birds and watching the muddy trail to find the best place to walk. As I walked I noticed quite a few cloven moose hoof-prints in the mud and thought about the commonness of these animals in Anchorage.

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All of a sudden I realized that the bright sun ahead of me was silhouetting a moose, and that I had almost walked right into the moose. It was an adult female and she and I were about 10 feet apart before I realized it. I very hastily backed down the trail and she stood her ground, snorting and blowing puffy white breaths into the cold air. There was nowhere I could go to escape her so I just stood there watching and talking to her, and finally taking a few pictures. I figured later that if she had trampled me, someone could have looked at the pictures in my camera to figure out who had done it. Finally, she turned and began walking slowly away from me up the trail, where I was going. I just waited and eventually she wandered off the trail and I sneaked by and kept going past her.

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Other than Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, a Black-billed Magpie and flyover Mallards and Common Ravens, there were no other birds on the way up. Just short of Near Point itself, and a bit less than 3 miles from my starting point, having talked to another hiker who assured me that she had not seen any ptarmigan beyond where I was, I decided to turn around and head down. Going down, though a bit tricky on some of the slippery muddy slopes, was much easier and quicker. The chickadees were still around.

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The only new day-bird on the trip down shot out of one of the spruce trees and crash-landed nearby. It was a female Spruce Grouse, who clucked nervously at me as she gradually eased away into the underbrush. Pretty similar to a ptarmigan and very pretty, but….

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126 species so far

 

Apr. 5 – Just Another Alaska Birding Day

I had the urge to check out the wetland areas south of Anchorage for a couple of species that are beginning to appear in the state but which I had not yet seen this year, and as it turns out have still not seen not that the birding day is over. This morning as I gradually realized that there apparently was nothing new around these areas, I settled back to just enjoying the drive and the birds that were there.

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I began, as usual on my southward drives, at Potter Marsh. The pair of Common Mergansers was still there, so maybe they are thinking of staying around. On the highway along the marsh there was a smattering of duck species – the usual Mallards, plus Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, and Gadwalls, and five Trumpeter Swans. There were also five moose out grazing in the marsh, causing a group of cars to gather to watch them.

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At Girdwood, there were two pairs of Canada Geese. While I watched, one of the geese stormed over to the other pair and there was a flurry of honks and wing-flapping before they settled back into peacefully browsing.

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Today there were 15 Trumpeter Swans along the highway just past the road to Portage in little groups of 2-4 birds spread out across the shallow water.

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My next-to-final birding before turning around to head back to Anchorage was to walk a small portion of the Trail of Blue Ice that extends along much of the road into Portage. The portion of trail that I walked was completely clear of ice and snow, the green moss beneath the trees was lush, and little green plants were coming up in the boggy areas. I then did a quick check of the little lake at the national forest roadside area. This area usually has a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes when the water is open and they were there today too.

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Tomorrow it’s again time to go someplace that’s not on my regular birding route.

126 species so far

Apr. 4 – A Different Shade of White

The goal for today was White-tailed Ptarmigan. To that end, four other people (Louann Feldmann, Mike Herndon, Dave Sonneborn and Keys) and I drove up Arctic Valley Road in north Anchorage to the end of the road. We put on our hiking gear, including snow/ice traction devices for our feet and walking poles, and climbed up to the top of an area where all three ptarmigan species have been seen.

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Today our ptarmigan sightings were limited to Willow Ptarmigan, which although beautiful, were not the goal. We possibly heard a White-tailed Ptarmigan but not surely. We had to inspect the tails of each of the nearly completely white birds that we did see, but in each case, there was a tiny sliver of black and not a completely white tail. So I need to keep trying for them. I’m sincerely hoping that White-tailed Ptarmigan does not become a nemesis bird (see my most recent ABA blog post (blog.aba.org), scheduled to run tomorrow, about owls that have been and are nemesis birds for me).

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The only other bird on the mountain hike was a single Northern Shrike. We were clambering over and across snow and low bushes and tundra vegetation for about 4 hours. Our exertions kept us warm as there was little wind and the temperature was mostly just a little below freezing.

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Shortly after I got home, there was a text from David Sonneborn who had just found a Tundra Swan at Spenard Crossing. In central Alaska, Trumpeter Swans are the usual swan and I has seen many of them this year but no Tundra Swans. So, I raced over there and immediately saw the swan out in the middle of the water. Unfortunately, it was sleeping with most of its beak tucked out of sight. The little bit that I could see did not seem to have any yellow on it and I was worried that it was just a Trumpeter Swan, and therefore not a new bird. Finally the swan pulled its head out a little bit more. When I zoomed in on it and took a picture, I realized that there was a little bit of yellow on the beak and (with Dave Sonnerborn’s help) that the shape of the black around the eye was better for a TUNDRA SWAN than for a Trumpeter Swan. A very, very nice consolation prize for the day.

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126 species so far